Efficiency is a 2-sided sword. It’s easy to get infatuated with the bottom-line improvements that process cuts offer, but it’s all for naught if the quality of your product suffers.
Cut processes too deeply, and quality is the first thing to take a hit. Poor-quality products cause a dangerous ripple effect through toxic word of mouth.
The solution: build quality into your daily processes. It’s an integral part of Process Improvement and helps you negotiate the balance between cutting for efficiency and maintaining a top-notch product.
A Culture of Quality
You can improve your processes from the corner office, but the improvements won’t last. To be sustainable (and save some real money), you need workforce buy-in, and for that, you need to define a focus.
Focus on efficiencies in meetings, and people get scared. “Efficiencies” mean job cuts. Tilt the conversation to quality and ears perk up because:
A culture of quality will deputize every worker to ensure that every product sold represents the best of the company. Once they’re empowered to be stewards of quality, they’ll probably be more receptive to hearing about efficiencies in processes.
Mistake-Proofing Your Processes
“Quality control” tends to happen once all the money has already gone into a product—at the end. The farther your defective product gets on the assembly line before it’s pulled, the more expensive that defect becomes.
Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke in Japanese), is about both catching defects early and empowering your workers to prevent them. It builds on the culture of quality that you’ll be reminding people about every morning at your stand-up meeting.
It’s tempting to give workers such clear instructions that they can shut off their minds. Empowering them, and building a Lean Culture, is about asking them to examine and think about the product through every step of the manufacturing workflow.
Every worker who touches your product should be an extension of quality control. Don’t wait until the product is moments from being shipped; empower your team to spot defects and pull the product from the workflow before it costs you another dime.
Jidoka, which complements poka-yoke, is for larger manufacturers who have moved to machines for a portion of their workflows. It works on the same principle.
While poka-yoke is empowering people to think beyond assembly by continually assessing quality, jidoka is programming your machinery to do the same. Whether it’s adding an extra measurement or testing durability, the machine checks and rings the alarm when it encounters any defects.
When a defect triggers the alarm, a person takes over. That’s why jidoka is also called “automation with a human touch.”
The Balance of Quality
Ironically, efficiency often trumps quality when it comes to cost savings, even though quality defines the value of your product. Your customers don’t judge you on efficiency; they judge you by how well your product does what you’ve promised.
“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”
– Henry Ford