We all make mistakes but what distinguishes industry leaders is their ability to identify root causes and make changes so that costly mistakes such as time and material waste don’t happen again.
Lean tools for quality improvement
If you work in a “Lean Manufacturing” environment you’re familiar with tools like “5S”, “Root Cause Analysis”, fish-bone diagrams, and the “5 Whys”. They’re all powerful tools for managing the workplace, helping you stay organized and preventing problems recurring. What we find a lot of companies struggle with though, is using them effectively.
The key is getting everyone involved. Sometimes we see an engineer or manager sitting alone at a desk trying to solve a quality problem, and that doesn’t work. Usually it takes multiple points of view, preferably from people who are intimately acquainted with the processes or systems. Several managers and lean experts have stated that the biggest issue in quality control is simply a lack of communication.
Each month we’d crunch the numbers and make a few charts or graphs to present quality measurements at our update meetings. The numbers always came out positive, but everyone in the room knew that we should be doing better. We started hosting these brainstorming sessions with the workers to see what we could do to improve. We never figured that they’d tell us the problem was in the communication of what was going on. Those of us in the meetings were always in the know, but everyone else was clueless. So, we started posting the numbers on our Magnatag Quality Improvement magnetic board for everyone to see. It was amazing how everyone took a renewed ownership in what they were making once they became more informed.Quality Control Manager – Medical Device Manufacturer, Minneapolis, MN
Debate matters too. It’s how problems are aired, assumptions challenged, and corrective actions agreed. One approach is to gather the team round a flip-chart. That gets everyone involved, but success depends on the person leading the meeting. They may follow their own biases rather than sticking with a consistent methodology. An unstructured process easily devolves into arguments, hurting feelings without solving the problem.
Benefits of a structured approach
A better strategy is to create a defined problem investigation process. Then, use a pre-formatted quality control whiteboard to make it visible so the whole team can participate.
Magnatag’s “5-Why Root Cause & Corrective Action Assignment Tracker®” is a good example. Every issue is logged on a separate row, and columns guide the team through asking “Why” five times to reach the root cause.
Just knowing why a problem happened isn’t enough though: something has to change if it’s not going to happen again, and our tracking board covers this too. Additional columns provide space to capture the corrective action needed, who is responsible, and when it will be done. There’s also room for logging progress and making additional notes.
Below the rows and columns there’s an area for charts or graphs. By making quality trends instantly visible the team can see if their actions had the expected results.
We’ve found there are four big advantages of using a pre-formatted “5-Why” whiteboard. These are:
- Structure: Having set tasks and central information area helps streamline quality control processes.
- Motivation: Field proven to motivate the team to generate ideas & step up to take on tasks.
- Team ownership – by contributing to the effort, the team really owns the solution.
- Visibility and accountability – leaving names, tasks and dates displayed ensures they get done.
- Organization – there’s no need to “5S” the board because everything is already in its place.
We offer whiteboards pre-formatted for various improvement tasks. These include corrective action tracking, customer complaint logging, total quality management, capturing the seven wastes, and 5 Why root cause analysis boards. Each can be customized with your industry terminology, and they will all help you stop repeating your mistakes.
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