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Defining Quality

November 6, 2009
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At this year's Quality Expo in Chicago, two unrelated experiences left me first delighted and then dismayed.

First my editor at Quality tracked me down and told me that my prior blog posts (here, here and here) on data and data value have had a high blog readership in the magazine. I am delighted. Thanks for your interest.

Now the dismay: I ran into an old friend who described a business transaction that left me shaking my head.

My friend told me about a supplier who went to their customer and negotiated a 10% price increase. The customer agreed to it because the supplier was using the increase to fund new high-speed vision inspection equipment. The new equipment would enable the supplier to 100% inspect the product they’re supplying and guarantee that the customer would receive only good parts.

Guarantee! That’s hard to argue with.

Evidently the customer had been very frustrated with this supplier because they had had to put up with a lot of defects. They seemed eager to shift the effort to inspect and sort good from bad to the supplier, and were even willing to share in the cost. They must have felt 10% was a pretty good deal. (Given all the estimates that total cost of poor quality is 30% to 40% of sales, I can see how they could reach that conclusion.)

So why am I shaking my head?

If your definition of good quality is “no bad parts” then this is a perfect solution.

But "no bad parts" is only one definition of quality. And it is the wrong one.

Don’t get hung up on the "parts" language. At the risk of over-simplifying, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the diameter of a metal part, the time it takes to close a call in a support center; the amount of yellow ink printed on a magazine cover, the weight of peanut butter in a jar, or the sales of a particular product by a sales rep. All of these are processes, and all have targets and acceptable limits (specifications).

Regardless of the product or the service, "no bad parts" is a poor definition.

Maybe a picture would help:

What the graphic shows is that the green dot is our target and when our output is on target, it is the best that it can be. It also says that the further you get from target, the worse the quality.

"No Bad Parts" says that "Best" and "Fair" are the same. They’re not.

Think about this: A product that is at the yellow dot is closer to the red dot than the green one. It is closer to Unacceptable than it is to Target. When you’re out there in the boondocks of your specifications, you’re a long ways from target, and it doesn’t take much to push you over the edge.

A far better definition of good quality is "on target with no variation."

Twenty-seven years ago W. Edwards Deming published his 14 Points to guide businesses "Out of the Crisis."

Point 3 of Deming’s 14 points was "Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality." My friend’s story tells me that we’re still depending on inspection to achieve quality. Is there any doubt that we’re still in crisis?

How about you? What examples do you have of inspecting quality into a product? How is it working for you? Leave a comment below and lets get a conversation going.
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Quality and Inspection

Mark Blancett
November 18, 2009
I am from a company like many where quality is only surpassed by safety in the scope of day to day performance. The delima that I have found in the facility that I am responsible for is that without inspection paperwork being completed then the quality seems to slip. So if inspection is not the answer then what is the right approach?

Monitor the Process to ensure Quality

Scott Thomson
November 18, 2009
Our experience at OES Technologies is to use monitoring systems focused on the process. A stable, repeatable process is incapable of making 'bad' parts unless something in that process changes. Process variation monitoring technology (PVM) is designed to provide an alert when a process changes to where it may be making unacceptable parts. As quality drifts towards the spec limits, you want to be aware of it. This article speaks our language - "Don't get hung up on the "parts" language" - focus on the process.

Mistake proofing in transactional processes

Sabyasachi
November 20, 2009
I work in the service industry and here too there is a need to prevent defects. However, this is a challenge for transactional processes. Even use of the 'loss fucntion' concept(as is shown in the graph above), SPC techniquest etc are very rare to find in transactional processes.

Quality and Inspection

Mark Blancett
November 24, 2009
I understand your comment on looking at the process but where my largest problem comes from is that my facility processes are not machine controlled. The product that we manufacture is inclined to have human error which can be driven by a matter of the person had a bad day. That sounds simple but that may be all it takes for the process to break down. Is there a solution for that?

Article response

Steven Clow
November 28, 2009
I'm disappointed in this article because, in my opinion, conclusions are being drawn without understanding the specific process in question. Only in the world of utopia are there processes with zero variation and where only Green or on target values are produced. In the real world you have to look at each process and determine the ability and cost required to reduce process variability. In some cases it may be more cost effective to use an inspection system (like a vision system) to inspect out defects, then it would be to reduce the variation that creates these defects. The rule I use is if prevention is not practical and if detection methods are effective and reliable, then the inspection method is the right choice. When detection is difficult or not reliable, then prevention efforts must be taken. I don't think it's fair to use this example to try and sell the idea that we need to free the world of inspecting in quality. Let's not judge others until we've walked in their shoes and gain an understanding of the limitations of the process they are dealing with.

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