Quality: Set it & Don't Forget it.
In this day of super connectivity, it seems that social media is the stage for looking as good as we can. This is not going to be that kind of article.
As a manufacturer, one of the most important things we do is control our quality. Without quality, we will not have customers.
I am sure we have all heard the quote, “When it rains, it pours.” For me, this week was a monsoon when it came to trouble with quality.
One Thing After Another
We have recently moved into a new, much larger facility. With a move like this, growing pains will follow. During our pre-planning prior to the move, I made a point to stress that quality must stay up while we increase capacity, even if production suffers.
Unfortunately, quality suffering was exactly what happened.
During this period, I had a talk with one of our main distributors and he mentioned that the edgebanding did not look as perfect as it normally does. Not five minutes later I got another phone call from a brand new customer that his parts did not line up exactly right, causing them to do some hand work.
After doing minimal troubleshooting, I found the issue in the bander and had it fixed in less than five minutes. Then I addressed the problem with the alignment. The boring machine had lost its home position and all the dowels were drilling about 1 millimeter too low.
1 millimeter. That’s it!
1 millimeter might as well be a mile, because when things are off they just don’t work.
You Must Always Check
Do you think that customer will come back following these mistakes in quality?
No way, no how, and that’s understandable.
To have a customer trust you enough to outsource their production is a huge deal. Then to break that trust with sub-par parts is devastating. These wounds are deep and fresh.
So where did we go wrong? Why did the fail safes that we have in place not work? Why did the edgebanding slide through at sub-par? Why did the alignment not get caught when we test fit the parts?
Because we set it and forgot it.
Just as soon as I thought we were really humming and really had it figured out, we got knocked down a couple pegs because over time, the system of checks and balances slipped back to a point where defects slipped through.
The Effects of Defects
Defects, one of the the primary wastes in a Lean system that must be eliminated, made it through our system.
Defects, something that I have prided myself in keeping at bay, slipped into our system without getting caught.
I just threw up in my mouth a little.
That is how I feel when we have a quality issue. I literally get sick to my stomach. I lose sleep. I drive my wife nuts when I come home that night still talking about it. Although we rarely have a bad review, they never seem to hurt less. They always feel as painful as the first one.
After feeling that way this week, a light flipped on in my head.
I can't be the only one who feels this way when we don't reach a goal, because its not me that makes this business run, its ultimately my team. They are the ones that pull off our typical excellent quality, not me. My employees must have that same gut wrenching feeling in failure, (and feeling of pride in success), if we, as a team, are going to reach the vision we have for our company.
So how do you achieve that?
How do you instill the same passion and standards in your employees as you carry as an owner?
In a recent article we talked about creating raving fans with the experience package, which sets the buyer up for success in each stage of their journey. What if we could create a system that produces raving employees and sets them up for success in each stage of their journey? What if we could cultivate people that will truly foster the ideals of the company?
examine the journey
Let’s start by relating the manufacturing process to the buyer’s journey. The buyer, every buyer, goes through a journey. The journey consists of 3 stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.
As a business, we must create content and processes to assist the customer in each stage of their buyer's journey. The ultimate goal is that, as a company, you can answer all their questions, make a sale, then have a lifetime fan.
The typical manufacturing cycle consists of three stages: planning, execution, and delivery. I think those stages are self-explanatory, but what is not easily seen is how to make raving employees in that process.
With our customers, we provide answers at each stage of the buyer's journey. Could we apply the same logic to the manufacturing cycle to create raving employees?
Let’s dive into each stage to layout a game plan to bring employees closer to action to make the entire company better and more accountable.
In the planing stage, we have to answer all the questions that come up when you first start a job. The answers help us to make sure everything is in place when and where we need it throughout the job. Things like materials, manpower, supplies, etc.
We have always done very well with this step, but now we are adding an additional layer to address some even more important questions that should arise when we take on a new job.
We now answer questions like:
- “Where are the potential failure points in this order?”
- “Where do we need to pay special attention?”
- “Is there anything in this order that we have failed at in the past?”
If needed, we put notes on the order or even put a direct message to the area so the potential failure points are identified.
In the Execution stage, the job is on the shop floor and in the hands of our employees. At this point, the questions that may arise are things like:
- “What quality is expected?”
- “How long should this task take?”
- "What is the sequence for the job and what are the triggers?"
So how can we set a quality expectation when our parts are random, materials everchanging, and other factors apply?
In addition to the critical practice of standardizing systems, I believe we set quality expectations by adding visual clues and hard fast rules that add layers of redundancy to the standardized systems. We have to have enough layers that it would take a catastrophic event for a defect to slip through the cracks.
One way of doing this is a go/no-go gauge or a chart for your products. Something that is a visual for the employee to know if they are doing things right or not. Then there needs to be a process in place that if something is not compliant, a stop in the system will trigger so that defects do not continue upstream.
This is also where our "Trust but Verify" approach comes in to play that we mentioned in How to Build and A-Team.
At this point the product is finished, but not to the customer. We must take whatever action necessary to protect the product and ensure it arrives in the condition it was in at the shop.
If you think packing supplies are expensive, I assure you that replacement or worse, losing a customer over damage, is far more expensive.
Beyond the fail safes we are implementing in the execution stage, we are making a huge change to ensure safe delivery.
As a part of that delivery experience, we are also making big changes in how we follow up on orders. Employees will be brought to the front lines.
In the past, I have always gone out of my way to bring positive letters, emails or reviews to the employees. It is the ultimate pat on the back. However, I have slightly insulated the employees from any bad reviews or issues and instead addressed it in more of a one on one environment.
The problem with that tactic is it does not address the root cause, or the fact there is a flaw in the system.
Now, every week we will have an employee call the customer for feedback on their order. The findings from these calls will be talked about at the morning meeting. Good or bad we will share in the feedback together. No sugar coating, or playing down from the boss. This will be raw feedback delivered from and acquired by the employees themselves. I am bringing them into the ‘bad’ with the same passion and enthusiasm with which they get the ‘good’.
For example, with the customer that recently had some alignment issues, we had a video call and walked through the issues with every employee in the room. Talk about a tough call, but a necessary one.
I am excited about the potential of facing the manufacturing cycle with this mentality and will post follow ups to the program in a few months.
It Starts With Me
I am excited about the potential of facing the manufacturing cycle with this mentality and will post follow ups to the program in a few months. Although I believe making these changes will help my team reach our goals, I know that the most critical step in shaping my team is me doing my part to set them up for success.
While it may be true that some employees don’t care, have you ever stopped as an owner or leader to ask, “What would this employee's approach to a situation be if he had all the knowledge he would need to do, not only his job, but any job in the shop?”
It is our job as owners to give our employees the information, standards, and processes that will set them up for success in each stage of manufacturing. When we fail, it is our job as owners to see how we could have prepared our team better.
share in the good and bad
I am a firm believer that if we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are not doing our jobs. It is hard to talk about the bad things, but if we want to grow, I truly believe that we have to push thru the discomfort and share in the experience, good or bad.
Do you have any experience you can share? Or do you have some systems in place that ensure defects do not happen?
Leave a comment to start a conversation or message me directly. I would love to hear your feedback.