by Steve Engelman
Readers of the previous Operational Excellence Insights “Are You Improving or Counting” most likely saw an error immediately upon reading the headline. (The letter “n” was substituted for “m” in the word “Improving”.) After all, it wasn’t too difficult to notice the misspelled word. Seeing this, initial thoughts were probably along the lines of:
- How could these process excellence professionals do this?
- Don’t they proofread?
- That must be embarrassing.
- I wonder if anyone else noticed.
- Don’t they use spell check?
- I wonder how that happened.
- Who’s at fault?
- I’m curious if they’ll identify and eliminate root cause(s).
As readers of Operational Excellence Insights, each of you is a customer of these articles and as such our offering last week failed to meet your requirements (or ours). In our never-ending pursuit of excellence this provided a valuable opportunity to investigate the process, implement improvements, and most importantly, practice what we preach as Lean Six Sigma consultants.
It is unlikely that many people would consider the question in the list above addressing root cause. Normally, the initial reaction is more focused on “who’s at fault.” Being customers of products and services throughout our business and personal lives, we frequently encounter defects or levels of quality that are less than desired.
When such situations arise, we typically are content with receiving credit or some other allowance, none of which has anything to do with getting to the root cause and eliminating it. There are, of course, exceptions to this when key customers require permanent corrective action as a condition of doing business.
Many organizations, unfortunately, begin the problem solving process by asking “who” instead of “what, where, when, why or how”. Why is this reaction so typical? Because it is easier to focus on (i.e. blame) the people involved in the process rather than the process itself. Allow us to explain.
Teams investigating root causes of problems normally utilize cause-and-effect analysis, also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams, as a method for ensuring all sources of variation are considered. To provide guidance, the following categories are frequently used:
- Measurement System
Why is it the basis of this well-known and effective quality improvement method (that people account for only one-sixth of process variation sources) is so often overlooked when confronted with a problem? The one-sixth correlates well with Dr. Deming’s estimate that as much as 85% of all quality problems can be corrected by changing the system and only 15% can be corrected by workers. As a result, the responsibility for improving the system clearly rests with management.
Experiencing lost luggage while traveling is a prime example of this. The agent handling the complaint has no control over an eventual system-wide solution. Sure, they may be rude and uncaring (this is part of the 15%) but identifying and implementing effective solutions for the luggage handling system is out of their control. It remains incumbent upon management to translate customer needs into actionable business strategies and permanent solutions to problems. This is the 85%.
After all, that other common method for getting to the root of problems is known as the “5 whys”, not the “5 who’s.”
By the way, you may be interested to learn that we are adding a checking step to our publishing process. While this is a clear example of inspection (a form of non-value added work), it reflects our view that some non-value added activity is much better than allowing a defective product to reach a customer.
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