Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ)

Here's another post from the archives, musings from a flight that seem relevant in today's times. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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I am working on a project that requires me to know a great deal about jobs I know nothing about, namely in the manufacturing, cybersecurity and agriculture fields. I am learning a lot from internet research, but one of my favorite methods of gathering unique and relevant ideas for projects comes from a new form of research I am exploring: bothering strangers on planes.

Everyone hates to sit next to the person who talks on the plane. We put our headphones on or take a phone call during the boarding process to send a clear signal to one another: I plan to sleep and/or watch the Crown downloaded from Netflix during this flight. I may not even look up for the pretzels. Leave me alone.

I am usually a headphone person. I fly a lot and often have multiple connections. I factor the flight into my reading or sleeping quotas for the day and I respect that others likely do the same. But I have had a few accidental encounters that have made me rethink my strategy. Now, I am working while flying and getting some really good information!

Take, for example, the engineer from Houston by way of Seattle I sat next to earlier this week. He made a joke about whether or not I would judge him for reading an AARP magazine, which he recently began receiving and was embarrassed to admit how relevant it was to his life situation. He told me he and his wife never had children, preferring to focus on careers and travel and without kids in the house, his own aging snuck up on him. We talked briefly about his reason for travelling (leading a training for fellow engineers with a variety of years of experience on a specific topic) and asked about mine (returning home from a professional development session where I worked with elementary teachers to link up the idea of scientific phenomena and career-based, interdisciplinary PBL). This is where we both learned something.

You see, my AARP engineer friend had recently changed roles and was now expected to train his colleagues. He takes very seriously a business principle called Cost of Poor Quality or COPQ, often expressed as an iceberg:


Now, I don’t understand each of the terms on this graphic, but I get the idea enough to notice the parallels. If nothing else, educators love iceberg metaphors. I’ve been seeing this one a lot lately, for example:



The basic gist is this: there are surface level consequences that belie deeper, unseen characteristics and beliefs that have much more serious implications for institutions. The example AARP Engineer and I discussed was the cost of employee attrition: when we invest in employees who either leave or fail because of poor training, lack of confidence, arrogance, restlessness, grass-is-greener syndrome (his examples, not mine, but plenty of parallels to educators!), there is a surface level cost (paying for new training and waiting for the employee to achieve mastery level on basic work functions), but that surface level cost might reflect deeper structural issues that need to be addressed to ultimately solve the problem. 

AARP Engineer’s hypothesis?

If we provide ongoing education to employees that not only teaches them something, but also provides them with inspiration, hope and camaraderie, perhaps we offer them something that competing companies cannot that might have a value even higher than work perks and salary.

Be still, my teacher heart!

We spent a good portion of the rest of the flight talking about his specific training, me offering pedagogical types to improve it, and him helping me understand what he sees as a deficit in young employers (mainly inability to meaningfully collaborate with others, accept criticism or ambiguity of any kind and a strong moral superiority not accompanied by a willingness to persevere through difficult work or accept responsibility for their own role). We agreed on some things, disagreed on others. 

Ultimately, we both left with a sense of purpose and understanding of how life outside our field can teach us about life inside our field. I think we both might be a bit more willing to talk to the next stranger on a plane.

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My question, 9 months later: What is the COPQ for the 2020-2021 school year? I suspect the stakes are even higher now. What do you think?

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