Let’s talk about quality today. Producing quality products isn’t something we’ve only recently focused on.
I suspect that since the first human carved something and traded it to someone else, quality has been an important part of work. But Quality has a spotty history.
Back in Medieval Europe, craftsmen banded together to create guilds that would prescribe and enforce quality standards for a variety of products. The guilds would conduct inspections and put some kind of mark on the product to indicate that it met their quality standards.
Many craftsmen recognized the value of a consistent string of quality marks and added their own mark to all of their products – yes, this is the birth of the Trademark. Consumers could trust certain marks to consistently provide high quality goods. For the most part, that hasn’t changed.
But sometimes, we get a little mixed up. As we evolved through factory age and the industrial revolution and supplying products to meet surges in demand, as in world war II, our focus frequently drifted from quality to quantity. Guilds, factory managers, and government customers responded to this with a heavy emphasis on inspection.
This legacy of inspection lingers and production planners today will build schedules to release more material than actually necessary so they can satisfy the day’s demand despite a percentage of products failing inspection. In other words, if they need to deliver 100 dishwashing machines today, they would release material and order the build of 125 because they know that some will fail inspection. 25% failure rates are extremely high and extremely rare, but this is happening everyday, at a tremendous cost.
Walter Shewhart introduced the world to the concept of process quality and process control. The idea is that if you design an excellent process and keep it excellent and in control, it will consistently delivery the required quality. This means you can build exactly what you need to deliver without the extras to cover failures.
The US relied heavily on this during world war II and began inspecting samples instead of everything. This was necessary because we lacked enough skilled inspectors. We also put into place a Training Within Industry program designed to teach supervisors how to train people to keep the process in control, to do the required work properly and quickly, and to improve the processes and methods.
But at the end of the war, that all changed for us, but not for everyone. I’ll tell a couple of those stories in future episodes.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.