Lean Part 9: Quality at the Source


“Fix your situation before it becomes a condition.” Author Larry Winget.

Mr. Winget’s warning can apply to almost anything in our own personal lives, whether it’s our financial state, our relationships with loved ones, or even the pesky orange check engine light on the dash.

It also sums up precisely what is meant by Quality at the Source from a Lean management standpoint:

Be proactive, not reactive.

In quality management systems (QMS) and manufacturing processes, quality is more than just the responsibility of your quality control staff. The process by which your product is manufactured should be established in a manner that allows the recognition of errors before they become defects. Quality at the Source is predicated on the idea that the responsibility of catching errors is placed at the hands of those near or at the earliest point of production, while quality output is measured at every step of the production process rather than at the end of the production line. Getting to the source of a problem before it becomes a bigger one – fixing the situation before it becomes a condition – will help minimize production waste quicker and more frequently than with any of the other Lean application that has been examined over the past two months.

Successful implementation of this tool, however, requires a drastic shift in how both supervisors and operators look at quality. The development of a proactive culture within the facility is a necessity, with a renewed mindset of error prevention rather than reacting to problems after they have already come to pass.

Below is a list of questions to help identify the state of your business as it applies to Quality at the Source. You may be applying some variation of the process already, and don’t even realize it. Ask yourself:

  • Are line workers required to perform specified incoming and outgoing checks on every unit?
  • Does the production line or work area have sufficient quality-check tools?
  • Do your operators or line workers have the authority to stop production or a production line if a quality problem is found?
  • Is there open communication of standards, performance, and processes among the entire production team?
  • Do you have a system of proper data collection and tracking of quality faults?
  • Is the focus more on the methods than it is on the output?
  • Are there gauges to measure the key parameters of the production output at all work stations?
  • Are corrective actions performed immediately after a problem is discovered, or are they performed once a week or at convenient intervals?
  • Do you perform root cause analysis and/or other quality analysis tools to determine the causes of problems?
  • Do you have a system in place to continuously evaluate quality and make further improvements?

When properly implemented, the advantages of Quality at the Source are many, including a reduction in work expenses and production waste, improvement in overall equipment effectiveness, and most importantly, better informed employees and a cultural awareness of the importance of quality to the customer.

Next time you are facing a production issue, ask yourself this: would you continue driving on a flat tire, likely destroying not only the tire, but the rim too, just because you don’t want to take the time to change the tire?

While it will take time to change the culture of the workplace and the ethos of its workers who might have previously relied on end-of-line checks to ensure quality, it is an extremely powerful management system that can produce significant results even if not used in a complete Lean implementation. In this Lean system, quality is everyone’s job.

For more information on the application of visual controls, please contact Business Development Advisor, Ralph Brown, at 914-393-9876, or ralph.brown@hvtdc.org.