And then there is Samsung

I was in on of the storefronts of my cellular carrier last weekend.  I was there to tie up some loose ends related to my upgrade to the Samsung Note 7.  A week into my new phone experience I was sold.  This phone is fantastic.   The associate who was working with me noted that there wasn’t a single unit in the entire region, and that the phone was on back order.  This surprised me.  I hadn’t heard of massive lines, or runs on stores of iPhone fame.

It started to make sense near the middle of last week, when the rumors started to appear.  Ticker headlines at first.  Friday morning, it big time.  Samsung had ceased sales and was recalling over a million Note 7s world wide.

As a quality professional, these are the types of stories that catch my attention.  Instantly, I wish I could be a fly on the wall at Samsung.

If you’ve spent any time as a Quality Leader, chances are you’ve been on the wrong side of a recall.  I know I have.  Perhaps not to the extent of the Samsung incident, or the …  of recent years, but I have been in a position to guide management through the steps to ensure that the appropriate measures were taken to correct an error,  maintain client relationships, and minimize the damage to our reputation.

From the outside, looking in, it appears that the Samsung is handling the Note 7 Recall with class.  Please remember, the phones were released in the US on August 19th.  The recall notice came less than 3 weeks after that, definitively.

Please indulge me in a trip down the rabbit hole of what I imagine were the sequence of events leading up to the recall.  Please keep in mind, I have no insight as to what actually happened:

Identify that there is a problem

At some point after the first release, reports began to trickle in, that phones were catching fire while being charged.  Eventually there were a critical mass of reports that indicated a possible significance (we’ll leave that number up to the statisticians).  Management begins to realize that there is a problem, and mobilizes a team to investigate, confirm, and evaluate the impact.

Identify the conditions

This team, likely including quality folks, would spend some time investigating the entire process.  They would spend time breaking down each process and evaluating which aspects of the system failed to identify the defects in production.  They would eventually identify that the affected phones were isolated to phones that were outfitted with battery cells from a particular supplier.

The team will then attempt to narrow down the impact.  Perhaps the pattern is limited to production on a specific day, or on a specific line.  They will research the batteries of the affected phones to see if there is a link to specific lots.

Define the impact

Once they rule out the potential variables, they settle on the fact that all of the incidents occurred with units equipped with a battery from a specific vendor.  They identify a connection to specific lots but they are confident that the vendor product is the source of the issue.  That limits the impact, not by much.

Evaluate the risk

With information at hand, the team present the situation to management, along with a recommendation.  At this point, I’m sure statisticians, lawyers, and engineers are brought into the conversation to ensure that all bases are covered.  Equipped with the best information available, and recommendations for moving forward, the management team weighs the risks to the company, consumers, and reputation.

Plan and act

It’s clear that the risks of doing nothing are greater than the risk to the company.  The plans for the recall are drafted, and a statement is compiled.  They prepare to go public with hopes that being ahead of the problem will convince the global consumer of the solidarity of the company’s reputation.


There is no guarantee that the recall will successfully appease the public, or that there will be little fall out as a result.  But for this Quality Manager, a lot can be said, event at this early point in the recall, about the integrity of Samsung as an organization.  They identified a risk, and acted on it, early.  To be that decisive with so much on the line took courage.


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