W&WP January 2000


Managing Quality in Your Department


How would you like to make your department the pacesetter for your organization this year?

While I prefer to see a company-wide initiative for positive change or continuous improvement, I want to begin the new year by focusing on what you and your own department can do to be more efficient. If you can get the point of this article and apply it in your department this year, you can save thousands of dollars a week. If you share it company wide, the savings can be millions. This applies to every department in the company from the lumberyard to the shipping department, as well as the "office."

Every year or two a new management system, geared to solve all your problems, comes around. Books are written and the authors go on the speakers circuit. The latest is six sigma mania described within Implementing Six Sigma: Smarter Solutions using Statistical Methods by Forrest Breyfogle III.

However, 20 years ago, Philip B. Crosby wrote a timeless book -- Quality Is Free -- outlining a quality management system that is just as relevant today as it was then. It will remain a potent 21st century management philosophy of continuous improvement that should not be overlooked by any woodworking company or anyone supplying this industry.

There are three key interactive components of the Crosby quality management philosophy which will be discussed below: Produce Quality Products using DIRTFT and ECR.

1. Produce Quality

First and foremost to be successful, your department must produce quality work. Quality is defined as conformance to requirements. The key question is whose requirements or specifications are we shooting to satisfy? Ultimately, your customers set the requirements and you should strive to keep them happy. (I discussed this concept in a July 1999 article, "Quality, A Strategic State of Mind.")

Let's assume throughout this article that you are the leader or foreman of the machining team at Tetragon Cabinets, a kitchen cabinet plant in Sanford, NC. Who are your customers? Your first reply might be those to whom your company ships its end products. While this is true, I urge you to take a closer look. Your customers are also the next departments or people who are going to continue the value-added process your department has performed.



Take Care of Your In-Plant 'Customers'

Your customers are not only the ones who buy your company's products. They are also the next person or department who is going to receive the work you just completed.


I assume you know the requirements for the work you are doing for your in-plant customers. If not, you must get them defined. If you don't know the requirements with which to conform, you cannot produce quality products as we have defined them. Unfortunately, too many companies do not have their process requirements adequately defined and documented and, as a result, one department is constantly letting down those in the next department.


Do you look at the next operation as your most important customer -- one that you want to give the best products and service possible? Wouldn't you like to have the cutting department treat you that way by sending you the right quality and quantity of dimension stock -- on time? Imagine the positive influence this would have on your company if everyone adopted this attitude.


The second key component of good quality management is a means to achieve the conformance to requirements mentioned above. One simple but powerful philosophy that has been around for a long time is known as DIRTFT (pronounced "dirt foot") -- Do It Right The First Time! You have heard it, but do you and your department achieve it day in and day out? The goal is to have Zero Defects -- none, zip!

Many managers and supervisors have told me over the years that Zero Defects is impossible or too expensive to achieve and, thus is a silly, unachievable goal. With that type of negative attitude, they are prone to repeat the same mistakes over and over again! Some of them never grasp the underlying benefits of DIRTFT and instead buy into the idea that if everyone would strive to do everything according to requirements there could be Zero Defects. Never mind that there might be flaws in the system, faulty equipment, etc.

DIRTFT and Zero Defects are attitudes. If your department does not embrace these attitudes, your scrap rates and labor inefficiencies will always be at unacceptably high levels as you will see in the following illustration.

For Example

A tenon machine operator in your department processes a load of rails improperly. However the mistakes are not caught and the parts go to his "customer" -- the widebelt sander operator. Since her focus is sanding the pieces before assembly, they sail through her machine in just a few minutes and are sent to the storage bin for future use.

The next afternoon, the production order calls for cabinets requiring those rails. The parts are collected and sent to the assembly station where it is discovered that the rails do not match up with the stiles. Compounding the gravity of the situation is the fact that 200 frames are needed for the order to ship that night!

As a result, extra costs are incurred because the requirements for this product were not met. Why? Because the quality was not there. To make amends the following occurs:

* The assembly operator stops what she is doing to find out if there are any good parts available. Someone has to inspect the entire lot in the storage bin and determine if they are all bad or not. If all the parts are bad, assembly of this product will have to be halted and the operator will shift her attention to another product.

* The assembly person is idled while the parts in question are being inspected and sorted. At least three other people may get involved in sorting out this mess. The other parts that have been collected for assembly of this cabinet have to be moved out of the way by someone to make room for the next items on the schedule.

* You, the machine department leader, have to get the defective parts cut down into a smaller size for future requirements. If not processed immediately these parts may get lost or damaged. Meanwhile, some of the other parts of the cabinet are already getting scattered and possibly damaged.

* Someone has to make up a shortage list and more lumber will have to be cut to replace the defective rails that are holding up this order.

* A bright orange expedite ticket is prepared and the machinery is set up again to run this "HOT" item. It is likely that you will designate someone to drop what they are doing to "walk" the parts through the processing to get them machined, sanded, and into storage -- ASAP.

* Meanwhile, the shipment goes out that night with the shortage back ordered. The builder, who is already mad at the sheet rock guy for holding up this house, is beginning to spit nails over the missed deadline for the cabinets. He needs his next draw from the bank to make his payroll on Friday and must have his kitchen cabinets installed to qualify!

I'll stop here. All of this extra activity -- I'm sure you can think of more -- creates extra strain and costs that aptly illustrate why you cannot afford to let flaws and inefficiencies in your system go unchecked. If the tenon work had been done right the first time, this entire chain of events would never have happened.

3. ECR

Once you realize there is a problem at the tenoning operation, what do you do? Bless the operator, out? Fire him?

This brings us to the third key component of good quality management that enables us to DIRTFT -- Error Cause Removal or ECR.

Admit it, many problems you encounter in the course of a day or week get fixed with a band-aid approach, a "let's stop the bleeding and move on" philosophy. The problem is that your company is not like your body. It will not heal itself with just a little care. Problems will not correct themselves in your department; you should know that better than anyone.

How many times have you put a band aid on a problem today only to find it back to haunt you again in a month or less? You have to be proactive. The error at the tenon machine must be defined; the cause(s) need to be identified; a plan of corrective action determined; and finally you must conduct what Crosby calls Error Cause Removal. That process entails doing just what it says -- remove the reason that caused the problem to happen in the first place.

Was it operator error? If so, why? Does he need more training? Are specifications unclear on the routing ticket? Did the machine "move?" Is there a maintenance problem? Does the machine need new guides?

Once you remove the cause, that problem will not surface again. Removing causes of errors leads to the ability to DIRTFT and that, in turn, results in a better quality product for your customers at a lower cost to you.

So, what about you?

* Are you totally committed to making quality products in your department?

* Do you believe in doing it right the first time?

* Are you committed to getting everyone in your department equally committed to finding the real cause of problems and to correct those causes once and for all?

If you can answer "yes" to all three questions, you and your department have the opportunity to become a pacesetter for your company.

(Note: If you have not read a Philip Crosby book, I suggest you get a copy of Quality Without Tears or his new autobiography Quality & Me.")


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