Why do quality systems fail? Five factors that contribute to likely recalls

Barb ClearyWhen giant companies known for the quality of their products and services find themselves suddenly in the news with massive recall efforts—think Volkswagen, Toyota, John Deere, Craftsman, Chipotle, and others—the question arises: “What went wrong?”

Before jumping to the conclusion that quality systems really don’t work (so why bother?), one must look to some of the reasons that established improvement efforts may fail.

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SQCpack 7: Not your father’s SQCpack

Barb ClearySQCpack has been around for a long time. PQ first developed and released the product in the early 1980s, before PCs were widely used, when statistical process control was beginning to make an impact on manufacturing processes. For many years, one upgrade after another appeared in ads in quality magazines.

Most people we speak to have seen or used some version of SQCpack during their quality improvement careers. The program has been the flagship of the PQ Systems products for over 30 years, moving from Apple to DOS to Windows and beyond.

With this history, you might think of a new release as just another upgrade. However, SQCpack 7 is new from the ground up. The rebuild focused on simplifying the work and amplifying the results of using SPC software.

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Improving quality in the supply chain—by talking about it

Barb ClearyWord of mouth may have the greatest influence when it comes to sharing information—both positive and negative– about products and services, most will agree. We think of a neighbor raving about his new lawn mower, or a co-worker sharing a positive experience with a plumbing service. While consumer products come to mind when we talk about word of mouth, the same process applies when it comes to the supply chain that produces these products.

Large automotive manufacturers such as Ford or GM depend on countless purveyors of parts and services that go into the final product, and count on these suppliers to provide quality products to support the final product quality. Certification to standards such as the ISO 9001 requirements are created to assure that this will happen.

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Better than an insurance policy: Maintenance agreements give peace of mind

Barb ClearyIn every organization, one can find someone who continues to use old versions of major software programs long after everyone else has upgraded several times, not wanting to move outside a comfort zone that’s worked well, perhaps for years. It may be that he or she is not even aware that newer versions of the software—with features that may make life easier—are available and offer painless transition. Or oblivious to his or her status as a butt of MIS jokes about old fogeys using 10-year-old software.

Why upgrade, after all, if you have software that works? And why purchase a maintenance agreement if you’ve never had any problems that you couldn’t work out by calling your tech-savvy nephew in Chicago? After all, upgrade and maintenance agreements involve expense and paperwork, and force you to keep track of the multiple software programs that you use. And you may never have a question for a technical support analyst (especially if your nephew continues to help). Why bother?

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Take your pick: Available options for learning are expanded with technology

Barb ClearyDifferences in learning styles can be no more apparent than in responses to the challenge of assembling something ordered from a catalog that comes with “some assembly required” notice.

Some of us read the enclosed instructions, perhaps laboring over not-so-clear directions related to Part A and Slot B. Others dig right in, trying our own hand at putting the thing together. And others just give up and ask someone else to assemble that wet-dry vac that we ordered.

The same differences are true when it comes to learning about process control—both the system of process improvement itself and the tools that advance that system, including software programs. When it came to the theory, process, and tools of improvement, the traditional way of learning often involved travel, hotel stays, and full days of seminar training. Companies sent learners to conferences, where they participated in sessions selected for special interest or need.

All that has changed. While conferences and seminars continue to offer value in the learning process, technology has made it possible to expedite that learning, saving money and time. Webinars, for example, where participants in distant sites share their interactions with each other and with trained facilitators, allow a more highly customized approach to individual needs.

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An affinity for organized thinking: A diagram with many uses

Barb ClearyEvery statistician knows that basing a decision on limited data is certain to generate problems. Non-statisticians, however, may find making a decision without any data a bad habit to break. “Point mentality” – responding immediately to data that seems to indicate a change but may just be a reflection of natural variation – is even more endemic to daily decision making. The recurring question is: How can outcomes be evaluated when there are multiple options involved, including ones that no one has anticipated?

Enter the humble affinity diagram.

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Organizations need customers—and systems to serve them

Barb ClearyWith a variety of approaches to process improvement, including programs and regimens that have come and gone without a trace, a new generation of business owners, educators, and healthcare providers is ready to get to the heart of improvement and to understand the basics about quality of products and services. Unlike earlier generations, they do not have time to take extensive courses or attend multiple conferences in their quest for this understanding. So let’s boil down the essentials of quality improvement, beginning with the customer’s experience.

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