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Quality and Problem Solving

Posted by admin on February 17, 2014

Years ago we worked for a consulting firm that called its trainee program the “Quality Practice”.  Basically, these were twenty-something year olds with a few years experience who wanted to become consultants.  Each of them spent a few years receiving training and working with seasoned consultants.  The name “Quality Practice” always struck us as strange because the consultants-to-be in the group were not assessing quality or even helping clients with quality initiatives.  They were “trainees”, for lack of a better word.  When we raised this with the leader of the Quality Practice he laughed and said he knew, but, if there were ever budget cutbacks, who was going to cut the Quality Practice?

This example shows how “quality” had taken on a life of its own.  At one time, quality was viewed as part of everyone’s job.  It was the pride people took in making sure what they were producing was the best, given the available resources.  Somewhere along the way it was decided that quality was too important to be left in the hands of line workers. It required dedicated experts who would decide what quality looked like and how it was to be achieved.  Often this included a catchy slogan to motivate everyone to achieve the quality objectives.

Nothing against quality experts, but we think quality should be back where it belongs: In the hands of those closest to the action.  The role of the quality expert needs to move from being the police to being the person who helps production workers by facilitating problem solving.  By giving line workers the tools, skills, processes, information and authority to do what needs be done, manufacturing companies can achieve higher levels of quality and productivity.  This has to go beyond lip service and focus on real authority.  

One of the critical skill sets and processes the line team needs to fulfill the quality mandate focuses on problem solving.  Team members need to be able to identify when a problem is occurring, what information needs to be collected, how to structure this information in a logical sequence to narrow in on the possible cause, how to test the root cause and how to implement the corrective action that will solve the problem.  Quality experts can help by collecting the required data, working with the team on the problem solving process and coaching where necessary.

Also, with authority comes responsibility.  If production teams want problem solving authority, they also must take responsibility for the outcomes. No pointing fingers at other groups and laying blame, as is a favorite pastime in some companies.  By following an agreed upon problem solving process and developing documentation during the process, the production team can show the thinking behind its action and can replicate its process if a similar or the same problem occurs in other parts of the plant or company.

Quality will always be a critical component of the manufacturing environment that is needed to make sure products are meeting customers’ expectations.  But forward-thinking manufacturers understand they need to put problem solving responsibility and authority in the hands of production teams so they can resolve issues as quickly as possible.  This will keep production humming while meeting the expectations of demanding customers.