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From Inspection to Implementation: Quality Assurance and Control in Utility Vegetation Management

Sept. 8, 2023
ROW management is about partnership, and partners must communicate effectively.
Quality. We all have a few ideas that come to mind when we look for quality. More than likely, you’re envisioning your favorite brand of jeans, one restaurant where the food always tastes just right, or even your favorite style of pen. We determine quality based on a range of criteria, but usually, it involves a mix of reliability, consistency, and superior materials. We also are familiar with paying more for quality products. However, in our people-centric industry, the cost of quality is far more than just a dollar sign.

The first step in implementing quality assurance and quality control is to determine what success looks like.

In the same way you pick your favorite jeans, restaurant, and pen, utilities must decide what quality looks like in their rights-of-way (ROWs). Outage data, cost, and even an inventory of species all play a part in what a successful management plan looks like. Without an end goal, how will we know how to get there?

Quality assurance and quality control are originally based in the manufacturing industry. While the concepts translate, the implementation of QA/QC looks much different on a right-of-way as opposed to an assembly line.

QA/QC concepts can seem lofty and unattainable because our landscape looks vastly different than a factory. ROWs are dynamic areas with the added component of human interaction. However, with a little translation, the concepts still ring true from factories to ROWs.

Quality assurance focuses on the methods or procedures that prevent quality issues. Here are some common QA processes courtesy of Indeed:

  • Documentation: This tool involves recording QA practices to measure them against the outcomes of the production process.
  • Employee training: This QA activity helps to ensure every member of the production team has knowledge of QA processes and understands how to implement them in their work.
  • Auditing: This is a formal process of observing and measuring the effectiveness of QA procedures. Companies can conduct these audits internally or hire a third-party auditor to review their processes.

Quality control typically uses different processes for inspection purposes. These tools help verify the quality of a product or detect issues with its quality. Some common QC processes include:

  • Product sampling: Product samplers may test a small portion of finished products to assess the quality of all products, including those outside of the sample.
  • Validation testing: This type of testing involves evaluating a product to ensure it meets quality requirements or customer preferences.
  • Process inspection: QC teams can use process inspections to evaluate the quality of materials or equipment used during the production process.

Ultimately, clarity in communication is the greatest quality assurance component that we possess. A manufacturer may be concerned with the clarity in the programming of a robot while we are concerned with clarity in our interactions with each other. Setting expectations within our ROW management allows maintenance to be performed efficiently and effectively. Straightforward specifications for trimming and clearances allow everyone to have the same opportunity for success.

Quality control leads to success. Indeed shares how outcomes such as lowering costs and improving production all lead back to QC.

  • Encourage quality consciousness: Quality control encourages employees to keep quality in mind throughout the manufacturing process, which can help the company achieve the desired level of quality each time.
  • Lower production costs: The process used for quality control checks the production of items that don't meet quality standards, correcting any problems and bringing down the cost of production.
  • Increase customer satisfaction: Quality control ensures that customers receive products free from error or defect, which typically increases customer satisfaction overall.
  • Enhance goodwill: Producing high-quality products that meet all of an organization's quality control requirements generally indicates that the products consistently satisfy the customer's needs, raising the established reputation of the business.
  • Raise employee morale: When employees recognize that they're producing high-quality products that deliver value to consumers, it can improve overall company morale.
  • Improve production methods: Quality control processes help streamline and improve production processes, which means improved methods and designs and often higher productivity.
  • Boost sales: Consistent quality control can help the company develop a reputation for quality, which may attract new customers and increase sales.
  • Ensure effective use of resources: Quality control ensures that a company is effectively utilizing resources by minimizing product and material waste and increasing efficiencies.

ROW management is about partnership, and partners must communicate effectively. Utilities who provide clear expectations for planners can expect clear manifests which leads to clear expectations for tree vendors and homeowners, which leads to reduced complaints and rework.

In quality assurance, we implement policies and procedures that help to ensure everyone is on the same page and the work is completed correctly.

Quality control comes in after the fact and provides a checkpoint for anything that the systems for quality assurance might have missed.

For a utility vegetation management (UVM) plan, it might be a secondary partial audit system that verifies the work. If a work unit is found to be incorrect, the quality control process focuses on that item and investigates further to find other potential inconsistencies.

From there, it is on us to fall back to our QA framework and retrain, recommunicate, and adjust as necessary to correct the issue.

QA/QC may feel like an insurmountable task, but with clear goals and vision, implementation is one audit away.

Anna Davis is an operations manager at ACRT. She is an ISA Certified Arborist and Utility Specialist and oversees the ACRT Ready Force® team. Davis is a member of the ACRT Services family of companies’ Wellness Committee, a member of the ACRT Safety Committee, and formerly served as chairwoman of the Area Safety Representative group for ACRT. She also serves on the ACRT Services Board of Directors and its governance committee. Davis holds a bachelor's degree in Geography with GIS from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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