Who doesn’t have a horror story to tell about some product containing some manufacturing defect that rendered it useless? This is the subject for this week’s edition of classic wastes. We’re talking about everyone’s favorite waste, the waste of defects.
Even the most marketing challenged person can understand that repeatedly shipping defective merchandise will ultimately result in a loss of business. With very little effort, a company can destroy an otherwise neutral or positive market image by shipping products with defects.
There was a time when the damage caused by the occasional defective product was easy to contain. If Joe Smith’s lawnmower arrived from the factory with a carburetor that lasted one summer, he could pay to get the thing fixed at the beginning of the following year or buy a new lawnmower. He would just change his own mower preference and perhaps tell a friend that this or that model of lawnmower was junk. He might successfully change a couple of minds about brands to consider.
These days, things are different; now Joe has real power. Now, Joe will take his tale of woe to Facebook, Twitter, Angie’s List , maybe his own personal website or blog. He might go to multiple store sites and fill out product review forms attached to that particular lawnmower model relating his experiences to anyone comparing mowers on that site. Anyone who buys products online knows how compelling some of the product reviews can be, positive or negative.
Over the past 15 months, I’ve purchased a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a tank-less water heater, several musical instruments and two televisions. All of those buying decisions were made after reading the online reviews for assorted product makes and models posted on the web sites of the stores with whom I do business.
If you are a manufacturer, you simply cannot afford to have defective products make their way into your customer’s hands. Abused customers seldom grant second chances and they seldom give manufacturers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to relating bad experiences involving products or services.
The loss of future sales is an expensive price to pay for shipping defective product.
However, defects cost manufacturers much more than lost future sales. If the manufacturer implements a serious quality program, then finding defects is only the beginning of reducing defect related costs.
You can’t just focus on preventing the shipment of defective product; you have to eliminate the defects before they occur.
The costs associated with defects are numerous. There is the lost production time; the lost parts that went into the defective assembly, the time spent reworking the assembly into something approaching a sellable product. All of this time is time forever lost to producing quality sellable products.
The goal must be to eliminate, not just locate, product defects. Obviously, it is much cheaper to avoid producing the defective product in the first place then it is to fix it after it has already been produced.
Transforming a manufacturing company from one that tolerates defects into one that eliminates defects is not a quick or simple process. You can’t just hang mission statements around your corporate offices. You can’t just set up a few quality teams and then advertise your new zero tolerance policy for defects. These are all nice activities, but for most part, your Marketing Department can accomplish this for you.
Marketing is a great tool for boosting your image, but it does not replace real, meaningful change.
If you really want to enrage an already unhappy customer, force them to listen to your quality message while they are on hold with your service department.
This transformation must take place somewhere other than in the minds of the marketing team. Some would say the very culture of a company must change in order to pull this off. That is because, at the heart of this change is the requirement to involve and empower workers to make decisions that were previously restricted to the supervisors, managers and even directors of the company.
Most of us are quite familiar with how the Toyota Production System empowered virtually any assembly line worker to stop the production line. This was revolutionary to the stratified plant hierarchy of the post industrial revolution. “Little people” weren’t supposed to be controlling anything. If they couldn’t cut it on the line, they were happily shown the door.
That kind of boss vs. worker, us vs. them thinking focuses both workers and management on issues that usually have little to do with delivering quality products to the customer.
Employee performance is monitored to assure that they are on station doing their jobs. Yet, management isn’t interested in listening to what the employee has to say about improving a given process. This type of management team isn’t likely to see any benefit to equipping the employee with the power to prevent defective product from moving down line.
Is it any wonder at all that this system frequently produces crummy products?
The prevention of defects starts with evaluating the production processes, not the people working along the line. Systems and processes must be designed to prevent defects rather than facilitate them.
In many manufacturing processes, this is critical. Repetition encourages complacency. The system must prevent us from doing the stupid things we naturally and normally do when our minds wander, we get bored or we get distracted.
If your job on the line is to join part “a” to part “b”, you will have a much higher success rate if parts “a” and “b” are designed so they only fit together in the correct way. Think of those organizers in your flatware drawer, you have a spoon shaped slot for spoons, a fork shaped slot for forks and so forth. There is no way a knife can mistakenly be placed in the spoon slot because it won’t fit.
Part assemblies should feature that same concept in terms of connections, slots, tabs and mating surfaces. You “can’t make it wrong” beats “easy to assemble” any day.
Recently I had the pleasure of purchasing a desk from Sauder, the knockdown furniture company. I’ll mention their name since I’m guessing they won’t mind my positive comments about their product.
You could tell these people really thought about how this desk would be assembled. Even without the documentation (which by the way was some of the best I’ve ever read or used) you could not assemble this desk incorrectly. The sizing and positioning of the pre-drilled holes, the types of connectors used and the overall design of the parts prevented you from messing up your desk.
This product was clearly not exclusively designed by marketing and engineering management. The employees who actually built these things must have participated in their design and contributed content to the user documentation. The entire experience was positive.
This is what defect free production is all about.