Silicon Valley Business Ethics Cases
Signing Off on a Substandard Product
Noah Rickling, Hackworth Business Ethics Fellow 2013
Lauren's first job after graduation from Santa Clara University was working as a quality engineer with a highly respected technology company. She had to monitor the manufacturing process and make sure that all products met customer specifications. Just three months into her position, the company booked a very large deal with a strategic customer, helping establish the company's dominance in the industry.
Specifically, Lauren's company was designing a device that would be integrated into another company's product. The customer contracted out this work because they were experiencing rapid growth and cannot meet demand otherwise. They picked Lauren's company because of its good reputation and fast turnaround time. Lauren's role was to test the new device and make sure it met technical and environmental specifications, particularly functionality under extreme conditions, such as high humidity.
The test results showed that the products did not meet the quality standards agreed upon, but only by a very small margin. Her general manager instructed her to push it through anyway, stating that the risk of failure was not great enough to delay mass production. Moreover, the likelihood of the product ever being placed in such extreme situations was so small that the manager did not feel jeopardizing the contract was worth it.
Lauren spoke to her immediate boss, who worked under her general manager, and he also advocated pushing the product through to production. She was faced with the choice of ignoring company protocols or going against management. Sweeping the problem under the rug would require Lauren to sign off on a report that she knew to be fraudulent. She also knew that if she went to upper management her working relationships with her immediate bosses would be strained, maybe even preventing her success in the company. Not to mention, the company would have to delay production and possibly lose the contract.
What should Lauren Do?