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Quality comes “Before the Floor”

Customer quality expectations are rising. When you buy a new TV, computer, iPad, (insert your shiny new gadget here) you expect it will work and be free of defect from the get go. You don’t want to take delivery and find a defect.

Let me say it again, customer quality expectations are rising. We’ve all been trained to expect “perfection”. This perfection is expected throughout the entire supply chain. If you took a typical supply chain at its most basic level and backward chain it, it would look like something like:  “End” Customer (retail or commercial) > Seller (retail or commercial) > OEM > Tier 1 Supplier > Tier 2 Supplier > Tier 3 Supplier…

At every point in the chain improved quality drives improved schedule, improved costs, improved RONA, and improved process efficiency. In lean lingo, defects/scrap are one of the 8 deadly wastes. Within each link, your customer needs your parts to be defect free in order for the manufacturing processes to be defect free. The end customer will thank you. (Or at least not write a negative review on Yelp.)

Quality starts and ends where everyone internalizes and participates in the quality cycle. Everyone. But where does all this “improved” begin? I’m inclined to think it starts “before the floor”. Before you go all chicken/egg on me… let me explain.

Nowadays we have enough computer models and “invisible” processes which are the norm in the manufacturing world. SO much so that we can take them for granted. I come from an era where Deming wasn’t always as popular as his legacy is today. But these invisible processes are foundational to the manufacturing floor. Quality inputs deliver quality outputs.

And just as the hard working folks on the floor assemble, mill, measure, or wire something to create an assembly, knowledge workers add, subtract, input and shape data to create and maintain the process(es). Any error in the data causes rework or “information scrap” in the form of time wasted.

Just as floor craftspeople strive to build it right the first time, knowledge workers strive to deliver the report, spreadsheet, system conversation, product design — “right the first time”. Surprisingly, lean concepts for the floor, such as poky-yoke, also work for the knowledge worker. Six sigma and black belts work for the floor and the office.

A culture of quality starts when each of us strive for less errors and more execution of excellence. No matter what our job is.

Be Intentional,

Could Columbo solve this manufacturing “whodunit”?

One of my favorite book genres are “whodunits”. There are many to choose from and they have been popular for decades. Great crime solvers such as Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe were always willing to pull apart fact from fiction to get to the truth.

Television has given us many additional detectives like James Rockford, Columbo, Jessica Fletcher, Quincy or more recently Monk. Each detective sets out to gain an understanding of the situation, gathers the evidence and finds out “who did it and why.”

In the same vein, I think “manufacturing spills” are like “whodunits”. Something happened that wasn’t intended to happen.  There is investigating, questioning and more importantly listening, tediously poring over data, and brilliant insight. Like Abby on NCIS – data is gathered and a picture of what happened falls into place.

Fishbone Diagram

My husband’s fishbone on why his NCAA brackets performed poorly.

One tool that helps unravel the complexity of all the inputs is a fish bone diagram. It is a simple tool – you don’t need a fancy software package, or an expensive piece of measuring equipment. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. Heck, write it on the whiteboard, just don’t use a permanent marker.

First identify the main categories that could fail. In manufacturing the “usual suspects” are: man, machine, method, material. These become the main “bones” of your diagram.

Next – based on your investigation (i.e., going to the floor and having conversations with people, uncovering the extant data), you begin identifying what could possible fail for each category. These become the tributaries of the main bones. Then, using your “5 whys”, establish why these failures happen.

Using this data, each path can then be addressed:

  • How likely is it?
  • Who is a player, who is not?
  • What is worth further investigation?
  • Is a solution established?

Some of the paths may just be “innocent bystanders” pretending to be the real issue but are not. However until you lay it all out, the complexity of the moment can become an emotionally charged powder keg. Certainly you could yell at each other but who’d win? Nobody. So don’t do that.

Instead, like Columbo, Bones or Jethro Gibbs, gather the clues, pull them apart piece by piece, strip out the emotion and you can get to a focused, causal solution everyone can agree on. Then take action!

The deductive route is not easy and can be painstaking. But the changes are lasting.

Be intentional