Quality Myths-2: Leadership is doing everything right

One of the key management system principles is effective leadership. Let me begin with the myth below.
Leadership ensures a holistic approach, weaving together the interests of customers, suppliers, employees, local community and society at large, setting clear vision, goals and targets, providing sufficient resources – manpower and equipment, reviewing quality policy, and implementing improvements in quality systems. Ideally each employee must be trained and empowered to work with freedom, responsibility and accountability. Leadership encourages and recognizes personal contributions; it works on trust and avoids fear.

Now it is a tall order. Let us face the realities.
If the above were entirely true, there will be right processes and equipment for every job, every employee will be adequately trained for his job, decision making will be decentralized, motivation is by positive reinforcement and not by fear.

Usually when there is a customer complaint, the default option is to find blame with a person, materials, or environment, in that order. The test of good leadership lies in the courage to face errors originating from the holistic systems approach, such as wrong or inadequate processes/ equipment, improper selection of materials, insufficient training, low-morale of workers, etc.

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Quality Myths -1: ‘Customer Focus’ – what is it?

What does customer focus mean? Let us examine some perspectives. I will quote below some oft-heard pieces of conversation.
“Customer focus is providing superior quality products and services exceeding customers’ expectations.”
“When customers snap, the suppliers have to jump.”
“When customer has a problem on the assembly floor, supplier should be willing to crawl on all fours and meet all their demands, even in the night or on holidays.”
“Customer is always right.”

Let us examine the ISO 9001-2008 view on this.

Section #5.2: Top management shall ensure that customer requirements are determined and are met with the aim of enhancing customer satisfactions (See 7.2.1 and 8.2.1).
7.2.1 Determination of requirements related to the product.
8.2.1 Measurement of customer satisfaction

Lean Six Sigma

How about looking at Lean Six Sigma as bringing the design process into the purview of quality? This is the idea in my post.

There are lots of systems like Quality Function Deployment, House of Quality, Total Quality Management, 100 PPM or ‘zero-defects’, concurrent engineering, and on and on and on. At one time, it was thought that Total Quality Management would solve everything! But alas! It didn’t. The simple reason, I think, was that we set up silos around design and insulated it from all quality initiatives, until the Lean Six Sigma bottled the old wine in a new bottle!

Again, visual imagery works better to tell the point. Here is a story about how the horse, a free-spirited runner became a domesticated animal, courtesy of Rabindranath Tagore. I read this story a long time ago. The characters in the story are God, looking down from heaven, crafty man on the ground, and the free-spirited horse. The man hogties the horse in such a way that it can’t run free-spiritedly any more. God, looking down from heaven, has only the top view and doesn’t notice the ropes! Man then reasons with God that He had better assign horse to him as a domestic animal, to which God reluctantly agrees!

Well, the point of my story is that any system can work only as well as its design. Most of the time, faulty design is the reason for quality problems.

Lean Sixsigmaists, donning different colors of belts or not, are SUPPOSED to be mindful of the quality being integral with the design process.

Prioritization of improvements

There are always a zillion opportunities for improvement. But identifying the most important one is the key to substantial improvements.

There is a tendency for going for the trivia and fretting and fuming, not knowing that there are much larger issues that could be solved more easily.

One cartoon that comes to mind goes like this. The scene is security frisking of employees after work. The guards frisk only the pockets and disregard huge and obvious loot as head -loads!

Another example that comes to mind was an anecdote my third-party auditor mentioned a few years ago. An ISO auditor got tough on a trivial safety concern and went into a debate with the warehouse supervisor while he was oblivious to personnel climbing unsafe tall ladders in front of him!

One tool that is extremely important is Pareto Analysis. In plain English the idea is to find the most significant one from a large list. If there are ten possible improvements that you are considering, try to find the most significant one in terms of value.

Only one thing is needed in Operations Management

Why do we love descriptive statistics like averages, standard deviation, range and so on? I heard it long time ago in class room, and I believe it – it is because of the inherent human inability to deal with more than few numbers at a time, say one, two or three. The best choice will be one. Dealing with more than one usually means dealing with none!

So what is the ‘one thing’ I am taking about in Operations Management? It is Operational Procedures. Make the procedure right and you have a firm foundation for excellent quality, ‘lean’ manufacturing, fewer rejections, lower costs, lower overheads, lower lead time, you name it. Would you agree?

If you believe in not getting any action going, there is a lot of gobbledygook out there. Most of it is valuable, but let me simplify: you need only one thing, which is a robust operational procedure.

The often forgotten ‘S’ in 5S

‘5S’ is an excellent tool for organizing. It is possible to use it for creating and improving work procedures in manufacturing or even in office management. Out of the five principles – sort, set in order, standardize, sustain and shine – my personal experience is that the key is ‘sustain’. It will look good to create wonderful and fanciful arrangements for office management or quality control, but the key is whether the owners of the processes will continue to use them or not. If not, the time and money spent on the procedures will turn out to be another waste on top of the chaos that we started out with.

I can give you an example. Consider the operation of different upholstered parts that are laminated with fabric and leatherette. As some mistakes were noticed in the selection of right fabric to laminate, an error proofing was attempted. An elaborate dashboard was created wherein all the samples of fabric had to be cut and pasted prior to starting the work. Guess what? A better and easier error proofing method was found out and this arrangement got abandoned.

The moral of the story in my view is that changes in work procedures must be sustainable. It is the most important test of success in any change in the process.