Business Management Articles
/ Quality Management
MEASURE QUALITY RIGHT THE FIRST TIME
Rene T. Domingo
The need to survive in the competitive marketplace
sparked the quality revolution going on in
many corporations. That meant coming out with
products of higher and higher quality, lower
and lower cost, and faster and faster delivery.
The product battle rightly and naturally shifted
into a process battle in which competitors
tried to come out with the leanest and meanest
manufacturing systems using just-in-time (JIT),
statistical process control (SPC), flexible
manufacturing systems (FMS), and continuous
process improvement (KAIZEN) principles to
streamline operations. The battle was also
fought in another threater: people. To win
the quality war, companies tried to train
and empower their employees using the concepts
of total quality management (TQM), self-managing
teams, QC circles, and suggestion box systems.
In short, achieving quality products meant
achieving quality process and quality people,
the foundation and source of quality.
then does a company know its score in the
quality battle? Is it winning, gaining ground,
stalling, or backsliding? How does one measure
quality progress? It seems that after all
is said and done in the name of quality, more
is said than done. Ask any company known to
be practicing total quality management (TQM)
how it is faring in terms of quality, most
likely it would give you the following reports
and accomplishments: the number of QC circles
or improvement teams it has, the number of
quality prizes and awards the teams and the
company have received nationally and internationally,
and the number of suggestions employees have
made. The company may even tell you that it
has just been ISO 9000 certified and therefore
has the "best" quality in the industry.
Or it may share with you how it has managed
its suppliers to deliver a la just-in-time.
The problem with these responses which focus
on process and people it that they evade the
real bottom line of the whole TQM exercise:
coming out with better quality products. Has
the number of customer complaints and returns
drastically decreased? Has the number of defects,
scrap, and wastage declined? Has quality cost
- the cost of not doing the right thing right
the first time - declined? Has rework rate
gone done and rework operations diminished?
Has the company cut down on delivery delays?
Has it reduced customer order processing times?
A company will usually avoid answering these
quality questions or evade addressing these
issues either because they have failed in
bringing out improvements in these areas,
or it simply does not monitor and measure
these indicators of product quality. In short,
it does not know or bother to know what is
actually going in terms of real quality progress.
Progress and programs in process and people
do not mean much if they do not improve the
quality and delivery of the ultimate product.
Customers care primarily about the quality
of the product they buy. They do not see the
company's process or people, and they will
not give much importance to these if the company
provides them with inferior products and bad
service. A customer does not care how many
QC circles a company has, or how many awards
and ISO 9000 certification it received --
if it is often late in the delivery of the
goods he orders, or if the company keeps increasing
its prices because of high costs. Many so-called
TQM companies place too much emphasis on superficial
improvements in process and people management
to the extent of forgetting the ultimate product
quality and the customer himself. These companies
cannot fool all the customers all the time
through their policy of quality by publicity.
Their days are numbered.
A common response to product quality questions
often heard is "Our quality is world-class
because we received no complaints from customers
- all are satisfied." External quality
or quality after the goods are sold to customers
is not the only indicator of total quality.
A traditional company that does a lot of inspection
and sorting will naturally attain zero defect
and complaints in the marketplace. But a real
TQM company does not rely on inspection, but
on prevention and improvement to achieve quality
- in line with the TQM dictum "do it
right the first time."
Very often, traditionally managed or mismanaged
companies forget about the other dimension
of product quality -- internal quality, or
the quality of the product before it leaves
the factory. This includes defects and scrap
produced or discovered inside the factory;
it also includes rework and recycling operation
costs. Customers do not see internal quality,
but if left unmanaged, this will increase
the cost of production and eventually affect
customers in terms of higher prices. Moreover,
poor internal quality will necessitate an
increase in inspection costs and inspectors
to achieve perfect external quality.
The only way to describe product quality is
by measuring both external and internal quality.
While external quality is more important than
internal quality, a company does not achieve
total quality status until both are improved
continuously, and both external and internal
failures are reduced to a minimum if not zero.
A company that does not monitor and improve
internal quality by reducing rework, scrap,
and factory defects is not a total quality
company even if its external quality is perfect
and customer complaint is zero. A total quality
company constantly and continuously monitors
and improves quality at all stages: purchasing,
manufacturing, delivery, sales, customer site.
Moreover, quality costs are measured for the
whole company and by department, and reduced
consistently. Companies which do not measure
external and internal quality and quality
costs, and show continuous improvements in
these indicators cannot claim to be total
quality companies in spite of the claims,
awards, and certifications they have.