Zero defect a Myth or a reality - Organization accountability

In a normal situation, consumers only buy one product and thus the product must be functioning for its intended usage and specification.  This means a product or service supplier to end consumer only get one chance to show their product is of good quality.  Therefore, all products sold to the consumer market should achieve zero-defect or a very low defect rate such as six sigma quality which is equal to 3.4 defects in one million parts.  

Product with zero defects is a dream of every organization.  The next big question would be what it takes to achieve zero defects.  In the modern world, the end product which reaches the end-user or consumer goes through a very long supply chain, from mother nature raw material such metal, silicon wafer, petrol chemical by-product to form into piece part assemble into sub-assembly and then join together to become final assembly. 

All the touchpoint throughout the supply chain will increase error opportunity which could induce defect in a product.  Refer to this link on the concept of the supply chain. 

The most important condition to strive for the perfection of zero defect is an overall product design with design for manufacturability, serviceability, consumer etc in mind.  Quality awareness must start right from the design of the product. 

Unfortunately, most of the design only focuses on the functionality of the product which resulted in poor manufacturability, the limited supply chain of material and complicated product which is not user friendly.
Many organizations did not realize that zero-defect must be designed in from raw material to piece part to sub-assembly to final assembly.  The irony is that those organizations thought manufacturing process can compensate for the poor design and limited material supply base. 

Very often a company tend to take short cut design process of a product to save on design cost and time to market which uses substandard material.  This had created a ripple effect where company have to live with poor design, spend a huge amount of money to hire resources downstream to manage complicated manufacturing process for the infinite duration of time. 

I will share more about design for manufacturability concept which leads to the zero-defect product in the next article. Please do follow this website by clicking on "Follow" on the top right sidebar.   I have created a youtube video to explain more on this topic.

What is the difference between lean and six sigma - Part 1

When I started my career in the electronics manufacturing during early 90s, six sigma was prevalent where every company wanted to achieve 6 sigma qualities at that time.  According to Wikipedia, six sigma approach was pioneered by Motorola engineers in 80s for the purpose of process improvement.  This methodology focus on data collection and statistical analysis of data, using quality tools for root cause identification and action plan to address the root cause thru phase by phase approach.  It is then follow data analysis using statistic to verify if there is significant follow by standardize action plan to sustain the improvement.  It had become a big phenomenon when Jack Welch made six sigma GE business strategy in 1995.  Several American based multinational corporations followed suit and claimed to have huge saving therefore they are making profit and in business the biggest incentive is profit $.  The word is six sigma  became catch phrase for most company top management,  therefore they “force” their organization to establish six sigma projects everywhere irrespective if  it is a suitable approach or not.

When we approach the 21st century, lean concept practice by Toyota caught the attention of the western world when Dr. Womack et al.  release an iconic book about lean (The Machine That Changed the World) in the 90s.  This book was based on their research in MIT about innovative management and production system use in Toyota.  As lean tools are quite simple and easy to adopt, a lot of company start to use the popular tools such as 5s, standard work, poke-yoke (error proof), kaizen etc., with almost immediate results seen. Thus lean slowly take over six sigma as the groundbreaking tool in production and management.

By the time lean become popular, many organizations had already adopted six sigma “culture” religiously.  At the same time most management does not want to lose out to company who embraced lean which had gain a block buster results,  they start to assimilate lean tools and thus the beginning of term lean six sigma.  Most of the training companies start to rid the wave of trend by offering Lean six sigma course.  
Lean six sigma is a very misguided term as both lean and six sigma are entirely different.  Lean is a culture and six sigma is an approach to reduce variation contributed by poor process control.    Six sigma could be part of lean and not vice versa. 
Six sigma is a structured variation reduction methodology.  I found that a lot of engineers who had study or deploy six sigma still do NOT understand the real meaning of variation reduction.  I would like to use the scenario below to illustrate the meaning of variation reduction.    A manufacturing company found that their product could not customer specification for length of 308.50+/-0.30 (308.20-308.80).  Base on the data collected for product length and plotted on the control chart on the left, it seems some data already exceed or below spec.  The company had to reject the product which does mean customer spec.  The quality engineer decided to use six sigma approach to improve the process in order to produce parts which consistently meet customer spec.  After improvement, the quality engineer collect the product length data and plot in control chart (right).  It was found the product length variation had reduced with tighter control limit as compare to the chart on the left.  It also show that the product length can consistently meet customer spec,  Thus variation of the product length had reduced using six sigma approach.

Six sigma phase by phase approach from define, measure, analyze, improve and control is to ensure that variation quality characteristic of the product is reduce or bring to target per customer spec or both.

Six sigma will only meaningful in a process improvement if useful data are collected diligently with big enough sample size to study the current trend and make a statistical conclusion on the population behavior.  Data collection could focus on one or at the most two parameters which are critical to quality identified through mapping customer requirement.  After improvement, data is collected again and analyzed statistically to ensure the trend had improved for overall population.  Therefore it is very statistical based tactical tools to achieve customer requirement be on objective specification of certain critical quality metric and we must be able to measure the quality metric.

Do refer to this video for more details

Proactive leadership in Quality management


Saying no to such work pattern requires a lot of leadership, planning, courage and communications. 

Sometimes we are overwhelmed with so many issues that we are lost and unable to lead ourselves out of those situations. Therefore we continued to firefight for the rest of our working lives and hated our work.

The situation is aggravated if you working for management does not have a clear understanding of what is going on and no objective how to minimize even prevent problems.

 We must treat all problems as our enemy,  lead ourselves and our team to go to war to conquer this enemy.

Know yourself well, know your enemy even better, a hundred battles fought a hundred battles win. 

This is a famous quote by Sun Tzu, a military strategist found in the Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise.  It starts with taking the lead to understand the problem very well, such as asking questions of what, where, when, who and how and gathering accurate data.  This seems to be a simple step; however, many had failed due to lack of knowledge and perspective to look at the problem differently.  Once the problem is well defined,  we should have some insights if the problem is within our capability to solve or there is no immediate solution.   Learn to acknowledge that the problem cannot be prevented with current resources is essential for us to manage the problem.

This is where the problem gets bigger as everyone is only thinking of solving it instead of managing it.  I will discuss more about it in the future.

Once you know the problem, then planning is needed to establish a solution to prevent or manage the problem.  A problem that is well defined will make planning for action is more straightforward.   This will require knowledge gain from learning and experience.  Our knowledge is will help us to search for the eureka moment in planning for a solution.  We must have the courage to plan for a solution which could go beyond the four walls of the manufacturing facility.  

Improvement in minimizing or prevent problem will not happen by just planning.  We need to put the problem and action plan into the right perspective so that we can communicate clearly to the management and team member.

Communication to the management is very important to influence the management to support and invest in resources to make the plan into reality. 

We must eliminate the victim’s mentality and be proactive in leading ourselves towards a better work-life as the first step towards in being control.  If you are in a leadership position, ensure that you are part of the solution to the problem.

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Continuous Improvement Program CIP - 6sigma Methodology