Finding opportunities in quality

quality controlQuality has gone through many evolutions over the last twenty years driven by the popularity of gurus like Juran, Deming, and to a lesser degree, Crosby. Different concepts have caught on like Total Quality Management (TQM), ISO 9000 and its variations, Six Sigma and more recently its latest iteration Lean Six Sigma. As a general observation, Lean Six Sigma appears to be more influenced by lean concepts as opposed to Six Sigma concepts. Six Sigma was originally a very data-intensive, engineering-based problem solving approach driven to virtually eliminate defects. Lean has similar intent but is more throughput oriented. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (nor maybe overly relevant), but the original intensity and meaning of Six Sigma seems to have been somewhat lost.

Finding opportunities in quality departments really depends on the type and purpose of the department. For our purposes we’ll ignore the internal groups more geared to performance improvement and focus on the quality departments genuinely designed to fix or reduce defects in products or processes. This type of group is fairly standard in manufacturing industries where there are specific quality checks throughout the operation (e.g. receiving, process inspection, packaging, etc.) Opportunities here are based on how effective the quality interactions are in actually improving quality which can be assessed from studying the results and corresponding response actions. Where quality interacts with the process is also important. Sometimes there is too much inspection performed after a constraint which unnecessarily wastes capacity (this is not so much a quality opportunity as it is a throughput opportunity).

Opportunities to improve the productivity of the quality department can include looking at why and how many quality checks are done at different stages and for different products. Suppliers and products tend to operate at varying levels of consistency but often quality checks are more generic (i.e. 100% inspection of all incoming parts). Like most support departments, scheduling can also be a source of opportunity if waiting is a significant cause of lost time.