Inspectioneering Journal

The Inspection Paradox: Adding Value Through Quality Control

By Joey Poret, Asset Transition Project Lead at Chevron Thailand. This article appears in the March/April 2020 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Harold S. Dodge famously said many years ago, "You cannot inspect quality into a product" (Deming, 1986). This business proverb is often repeated by miserly project managers looking to reduce staffing levels and sharpen project budgets. While the wisdom of this statement may be true in a pure Lean Manufacturing context, does it hold true in the complex world of Engineer, Procure, and Construct (EPC) project management? If not, at what point in the project lifecycle does using quality control (QC) resources add the most value? The world of Oil & Gas (O&G) equipment construction is rife with source inspections, third party witness points, and Inspection & Test Plans. Does adopting a “Lean” approach mean abandoning the inspection paradigm carefully established by mechanical integrity and quality experts over the past several decades? This article attempts to shed some light on how quality activities add value to a project and when in the value-chain should these activities be executed.

Inspection and Cognitive Dissonance

The quote cited above is actually taken from a business improvement book written in the 1980s by quality management pioneer W. Edwards Deming, entitled Out of the Crisis. Deming’s book was a call to American companies, specifically organizational leadership, to transform business effectiveness through quality improvement. The exact quote about inspection and product quality is:

“We cannot rely on mass inspection to improve quality… As Harold S. Dodge said many years ago, ‘You cannot inspect quality into a product.’ The quality is there or it isn’t by the time it’s inspected.”

As an industrial engineer, this concept has always interested me, and Deming’s logic is hard to argue with. Inspection activities do not inherently add value to the actual fabrication of the material or equipment being procured. The activity of inspection isn’t exactly extruding pipe, forming heads, or welding structural steel. That is to say that the product isn’t physically changed by the inspection process. Inspection and QC activities are only “valuable” in the sense that they add a level of assurance to the purchaser that the product meets product specifications and/or regulatory requirements. If one had a fabrication system or process that could produce a product with zero defects, 100% of the time, QC activities would be redundant, and Deming’s theory would hold true. However, I have also been an API certified inspector for almost 20 years, and it is difficult to tell any inspector that his craft and life-long passion doesn’t add value! In the field of psychology, the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs is known as cognitive dissonance. Understanding and believing that inspection could be a non-value-added activity while also believing that inspection adds tremendous value caused me to have mental discomfort for much of my career as an inspector / industrial engineer. That is, until I was able to test Deming’s claim.

The Problem with Projects

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Knuth Schweier on May 5, 2020
Dear Joey, frankly speaking i was a bit... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Joey Poret on June 8, 2020 (Edited on June 8, 2020)
Knuth, Thanks for the feedback. I hope my... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Knuth Schweier on June 9, 2020
Dear Joey, thanks for commenting. Seldom I see... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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