It’s imperative in Lean Manufacturing that quality is assured. In a Lean environment you eliminate waste, and there’s no greater waste or cost to eliminate than a quality issue. Between lost hours and lost material, quality issues are costly to your company and, ultimately, to your customer.
One thing I’ve found in my many years involved in quality assurance, is that a company’s quality successes and failures come down to two variables: your people and your processes. This is especially true in manufacturing. But no matter your industry, your quality standards are directly correlated with how well you’re approaching these two subjects.
Quality is not a department
Every aspect of your company is affected by the people you have working for you, and quality is no exception. Quality starts with people, and it’s your job to help your team members understand that “quality” is not a department; it’s a responsibility that starts with them. You have to create a culture of quality-minded team members who take that personal responsibility upon themselves.
For a lasting change in quality assurance, you should take a departmental approach that trickles down from higher management. The leadership should lead by example so that team members out on the floor can see their leaders and supervisors approaching tasks with a quality-first mindset. This helps you create more buy-in for quality assurance and helps you create a higher quality product.
Educate team members
Now, you need to properly train and educate your team members. Make sure they know:
- The cost of quality and how that cost affects them
- The quality expectations of the customer
- The procedures that allow for a quality product
Create a feedback loop
Third, give your employees an outlet for reporting their quality concerns. This could be through a more formal tool or an informal conversation. The important thing to remember is that you should always provide feedback to those employees, even if their solution is not being implemented. When employees are part of the process and feel their feedback is valued, they’ll help you create a successful solution.
Quality Control vs. Quality Assurance
The second aspect of a successful quality program revolves around the processes involved. To understand how processes create quality, you have to understand the difference between quality control and quality assurance.
Quality control is used to identify defects in products that are already produced. This is a reactive approach to quality.
Quality assurance focuses on the process by which we build these products. In quality assurance, we manage defects on the front end, before they happen. This is a proactive approach to quality.
In quality assurance, it’s all about the process, and that process needs to be perfected from beginning to end. Applying a quality design process into the design of products helps eliminate the potential for defects on the front end. That design needs to be able to be tested before production with a clear set of parameters to adhere to.
Phases of production
During each phase of production, the internal stakeholders in that product must be taken into account. This can be accomplished when each phase of the operation views the next operation as their internal customer with quality expectations that must be met. This type of atmosphere creates personal responsibility among the employees.
Getting employees involved
As we discussed, employees should be trained on and involved in these processes. This will help get the necessary buy-in for quality assurance. And, who better to help you update a procedure than the person who utilizes that procedure the most? But, in order for that employee to help, you need to communicate any changing needs of the customer to make sure their information is up to date.
When you want to create quality products, you have to create quality processes and get buy-in from your employees to adhere to those processes. Quality by design is key in most of the products we buy, whether that product is a material handling solution or a children’s toy. We want our items to work for a very long time, and to create those products we need our people and our processes to be successful.