A FEW BASIC TENETS OF QUALITY
Before any intellectual discussion about quality can begin, a few basic tenets must be discussed and understood. The first is the definition of quality. Ask 10 people to define quality, and you'll likely end up with 10 different definitions. Herein lies one of the primary problems with implementing a quality process: there is simply no common understanding of what quality really is. There is a multitude of quality philosophies organizations can follow, including Crosby, Juran, Deming, and others. Each follow specific guidelines and processes, and organizations should use caution in selecting the appropriate program that matches the values and philosophies of the organization itself. Each offers proven strategies for overall quality improvement.
Regardless of the philosophy chosen, some basic tenets must be understood. First, the definition of quality. Philip Crosby defines quality as "con-formance to requirements." As such, any process not meeting requirements is considered a nonconformance. It is the nonconformance that is measured. In essence, every process has at least one requirement. What is measured is whether or not the process, product, or service conforms to that requirement. If it does not, it is a nonconformance, and is documented (measured) as such. If you can measure the nonconformance, you can likely link a cost to that nonconformance, and this begins the process of identifying the price of nonconformance (PONC), or what it costs to do something wrong.
Understanding conformance to requirements requires identification of exactly what the requirements are, and that means communications with the customers to determine what their requirements are. The objective, of course, is if you know what the requirements are, you can meet those requirements.
MAKING QUALITY HAPPEN
But quality efforts will only go so far in the absence of management support. Individuals can start the process, and gain management support through efforts that are inexpensive and easy to accomplish. The primary technique for beginning the quality process, and one that will continue in a formal process, is measurement. Whether you're just beginning a formal quality process, or want to justify the need, measurements are key. In simple terms, to know where you are; to know how often nonconformances occur; to realize the cost impact to the organization, measurement is critical. And to know whether you're improving, and sustaining that improvement, measurements must continue.
One of the least understood characteristics for measurement is that they never stop. If, for instance, you're measuring a process nonconformance, and through that measurement process, corrective action is taken to eliminate the problem (nonconformance), individuals tend to eliminate supporting measurements because the process has improved. However, if measurements are discontinued, and attention to that process is diminished, how will the organization know if problems recur? In the absence of measurements, and the visual oversight they provide, the feedback loop to notify the organization of problems will likely be the customer. If nonconformances are allowed to reach the customer, it's too late to take corrective action to ensure conformance to requirements, and the customer may be lost. Measurement is likely the single most important aspect of quality improvement. It's where quality starts, and it communicates change in that quality environment. Measurement allows a visual indicator to identify errors or nonconformances before they reach
the customer. They are the visual indicator of whether a process is improving. For this reason, measurements never cease. The regularity of measurement may shift, from daily to weekly or weekly to monthly—or taking averages versus exact measurements—but measurement must never stop.
Measurements come in various shapes and sizes, but are as simple as a check-sheet listing nonconformances and identifying each time that nonconformance occurs by means of a checkmark or tick-mark. Once measurements are conducted over time, the information is converted into a pareto chart, listing the nonconformance with the highest number of ticks or checks first in a bar chart, followed by the next highest number of nonconformances, and so on. This pareto chart allows a visual means to identify the single biggest problem, followed by all the rest. It is this measurement chart that begins the process of eliminating the nonconformance from the work process. Having specific numbers on the precise process problems allows the organization the ability to set in motion the process of corrective action.
To Be Continued
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