Does Your Quality Need Tweaking?

By Jerry Feingold

Want to improve your company’s quality?

Adding inspection staff or blaming the operators or service providers won’t help.

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]A[/dropcaps] friend of mine called to tell me that the expensive stove he just bought had a serious defect. It seems that the factory painted over contamination and the paint was now flaking off. That got me thinking about the subject of quality: Quality of a service as well as quality of a product.

man and microscope bldgsMost companies rely on some form of inspection to assure quality. It could be a person in an office whose job is to check over the work of people, see if there are any errors and perhaps add a signature to show that the work was approved or that could be in the form of an inspector at the end of the assembly line whose job it is to find defects.

Unfortunately that’s not a very good way to assure quality. Let me illustrate this point. Let’s pretend that you are the final inspector in a factory that produces heart pacemakers. And let’s pretend that the following paragraph in the box represents a pacemaker. Let’s say that every letter “F” represents a fault or a defect. Your job is to find all the “Fs”. Give yourself two minutes to find all the Fs. See how many you can find.

According to the United Federation of Petroleum Retailers, the files kept by most fuel purveyors lack the organization necessary to run a successful business. This surprised Fred Ferguson of Ferguson’s Fuel Depot. He felt that his files were among the best of any filling station he had ever seen. Of course, Fred knew that not all of what he had stuffed into the shoeboxes under his desk was important, but still, frequent and effective filing was the key to his bookkeeping system. Fred, quite insulted, immediately cancelled his subscription to the United Federation of Petroleum Retailer’s magazine, the Fuel Filler’s Forum, for the remainder of the fiscal year.

If you found them all, you know there were 32. If you didn’t find them all, your pacemaker customer will drop dead. It’s very unusual to find all 32 Fs. Most people miss the Fs in the word “of.” Studies have shown that on a simple product, inspectors are only able to find 75% of the defects.

Besides not being effective at finding defects, there’s another problem with relying on inspection as a means of eliminating defects and improving quality. First of all, inspection is expensive (you have to pay the wage of an inspector who adds no value to the product or service). Secondly, the inspectors are not only required to FIND the defects, they are also responsible to take the time to CATEGORIZE the defects and even to find the person to BLAME for the defect. Unfortunately while the inspector is doing all those things, whatever was CAUSING the defect is still going on and nobody is addressing that.

At the beginning of World War II paratroopers were getting killed because their parachutes weren’t packed properly and wouldn’t open when the ripcord was pulled. The rate of these failures was alarming. The general in charge did a really smart thing. He announced to the parachute folders that every week 10% of the parachute folders would be picked at random and be required to jump out of an airplane with a parachute they had just packed. As you could imagine the defect rate plummeted.parachuting

Adding a final inspector to the parachute folders would not have done much good. Neither would adding an inspector to the stove factory. The contamination on the metal that was painted over was probably invisible.

It’s easy to blame the painter. Just like it’s easy to blame the clerk whose error was found by the auditor or checker. But that’s not getting to the root cause of the problem. Edward Deming, the famous Quality guru believed that all inspection should be eliminated from a factory or office. His point being that the process should be designed so that it isn’t even possible to make an error. For example, it’s impossible to insert a floppy disc incorrectly—they only go in one way. At the fast food restaurant, the cash registers have pictures of the product so that the clerk won’t key in the incorrect charge or give the wrong change.

Some companies got the idea that if the operator in the factory had to actually put his signature on the product, that there would be fewer defects. We’ve all purchased garments with the little tag, “Inspected by Number 37.” And that was the garment with the missing buttonhole.

None of these work very well. Remember trying to find the 32 Fs?

It is Management’s job is to give their people processes that work. The stove factory needed a pre-cleaning step prior to painting to be effective. Inserting an inspector or rewarding the painter for defect-free paint jobs would not work very well.

Management’s job is also to make it very clear what the customer is expecting.

The bottom line is that in an effort to improve the quality received by the customer, management often attempts to either add more inspectors, seeking out offenders for blame or to incentivize the producers. The effort has to be put into improving the processes themselves so that variability and ambiguity are eliminated.

There’s an old saying, “Tell me how I’m measured and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave.” A survey by the American Productivity and Quality Center found that only 38.7% of employees thought that there were good, fair performance measures where they worked. People want to be measured. They need to be measured. The only people who don’t like to be measured are the poor performers. Metrics are used in factories to control the workforce. These metrics include simple things like pieces per hour or percent defective pieces per day. Use of metrics such as these not only give the employees an idea of what’s expected of them, it allows management to react to the situation, correct any problems, understand how to improve, and to establish improvement objectives.

While applications of metrics are common in a factory, they are not typical in an office. As a result of having no metrics, quality problems remain hidden and improvement efforts never get off the ground.

America is transcending from the manufacturing age to the service age, much like we did before, going from a farming economy to a manufacturing economy. About 90 per cent of jobs in the United States are in the service industry but most of the books and articles about quality focus on factories. That’s because it’s easy for someone to notice a problem with a product, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint a service problem.

A good way to kick off a service quality improvement effort is to be sure your employees understand what is important to the customer and what metrics are in place to monitor bulls eye worldthose. There are only two important metrics; how long did the process take and was it done correctly the first time. All metrics are just variations of those two concepts.

Metrics to improve quality in an office could include such things as:

• Percentage of bid errors
• Number of unpaid invoices over 20 days old
• Percentage of lost business
• Percentage of unanswered phone calls in four hours
• Dollars not paid versus dollars billed
• Time between order receipt and order entry
• Time between request for service and delivery of that service
• Percentage of rush orders
• Number of customer complaints

Take the Quick Quality Quiz!

Here are some questions to help you analyze where you might want to raise your quality bar:

time paper pen• In what areas do some of your competitors provide better quality than you do?
• What would happen to sales if your quality were better?
• Is it possible that your specifications are too loose? How about too tight?
• Are your suppliers part of your team? Do you work with your suppliers to help them provide the quality you need?
• Are your people working on the right things? Are the right things being measured? Is action being taken on facts and data?
• From a quality standpoint do you know what your customers think of your performance?

If you have additional questions on how to improve the quality of your service or product please contact Jerry Feingold at (805) 643-4216 or by email or take a look at

Jerry Feingold is president of Continuous Improvement Consultancy offering services in the application of Lean techniques. His consulting service specializes in the Kaizen approach which emphasizes a “let’s go do it” approach that is quick hitting, highly focused and unleashes employee creativity dramatically. He has worked in Japan, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Austria, France, Denmark, and the U.S. assisting companies to become competitive on a Global basis. His clients include a wide variety of companies from, service providers, consumer and commercial products, military contractors and food processors.

Jerry Feingold’s books, Getting Lean and Lean Administration introduce lean business concepts and practices in a readable, comprehensive and easy-to-follow format. Getting Lean is written in the form of an entertaining novel that draws on real world experiences to show readers the steps to creating a Lean Enterprise. Getting Lean describes the concepts and processes of lean manufacturing in a practical and uncomplicated manner, so that every member of the workforce can understand these concepts. Lean Administration is a wake-up call to companies that pride themselves on being Lean. Unfortunately, these companies measure their success on manufacturing improvements, but have overlooked the rest of the enterprise where the majority of waste exists. Lean Administration, provides a roadmap and requisite tools for improving the critical administrative functions in an enterprise. Fun to read and highly instructive, this book proves conclusively that Lean isn’t just a manufacturing tool, and illustrates how leaders must drive change throughout the organization- not just the factory floor.

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