It occurred to me that most talk on innovation has been about culture change or product development. The real-life stuff happens in manufacturing where we are losing our livelihood faster than we can imagine.
Many experts, including myself, give advice on how to improve operations and achieve excellence. In order to figure out how to overcome challenges to manufacturing excellence, first we must be able to identify what obstructs us from achieving excellence.
Most quality programs-actually management initiatives-have been credited for failures at the middle management level. Middle management is the process owner, or the first level of supervision, irrespective of its official glamorous titles in various organizations.
Quality is a measure of excellence in manufacturing. A typical quality department in manufacturing is engaged in designing inspection plans, control plans and setting up control charts. Does it ensure quality? Does it help in achieving manufacturing excellence? Does it make the company more profitable? We need to challenge each department by asking its value proposition.
I used to teach quality improvement to suppliers of a large corporation. I was repeatedly told that the OEM asked suppliers to produce quality product, yet constantly provided poor quality specifications-mistakes in specifications, old versions, incorrect specifications and poor communication.
Since the 1950s expectations for quality have been increasing because of domestic and global competition. In the 1980s Motorola envisioned quality requirements for the year 2000 and realized virtual perfection would be the norm. Competitive benchmarking and requirements for virtual perfection led to development of the new methodology called Six Sigma.
Achieving excellence means producing units virtually defect free. I was practicing the target-driven manufacturing at a manufacturing company. As usual, the company has opportunities for improvement in different areas. For example, too much verification and inspection, too much variety in sample sizes or measurement frequency, high non-conformance rate, high defect rates, customer returns, excessive cost of customer service and the list goes on.