Quality At The Source: Mistake-Proofing Your Operations

Quality At The Source: Mistake-Proofing Your Operations

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Imagine if you were at your favorite burger joint ready to partake in a sandwich you were looking forward to all day. You open the wrapper and can’t believe your eyes. The burger only has half a bun. This would be surprising to any normal consumer who considers placing the patty in the bun a pivotal part of the burger-making process. Someone behind the counter should have noticed this was missing, right?

Now a quick service restaurant may not be the prototypical assembly line (this is typically associated with manufacturing), but the operational principles are not that dissimilar at heart. Like an assembly line, the job of preparing a hamburger for consumption relies on a process and, most likely, a standardized one. In the above example there is one glaring problem with the output of this process: poor quality was passed to the consumer.

For our company, the concept of quality-at-the-source is crucial. In lean terms, this mentality is often associated with the term “jidoka." Jidoka, as defined by the Toyota system can be described as “automation with a human touch” (http://www.toyota-global.com/company/vision_philosophy/toyota_production_system/jidoka.html).

As a member of the operations team, my daily standard work revolves around a group of inter-connected and related processes required to keep our customers’ supply chains running smoothly. Whether I’m creating route reports or working on improvement projects, I’m never the only touch-point to the work. Accordingly, it is crucial that I use a system of checks on my work and react appropriately when problems arise to prevent passing them on to my teammates (thus ensuring quality at the source). There are several strategies that I employ to ensure that the information I am distributing is as accurate and error-proof as it can be. These are:

  • Implementing Poka Yokes whenever possible. Built-in safeguards in our tools that catch minor/oversight related errors. These allow fixes to be applied in a way to benefit multiple customers.
  • Having a "stop and fix-it" mentality. Much like an assembly line, by pausing the process to make the necessary preventative changes when an error is identified, we can prevent the same mistake being made repeatedly. Sometimes this "fix" can be as simple as correcting packaging information on a part or as complex as reconsidering the way a route is running.
  • Promoting standardized work. If the work is standardized, defects become more obvious when they occur. Corrective measures can then be implemented and standardized as well.
  • Performing a root-cause analysis. Problems may not have a simple source, so using the 5-Why’s or a similar technique to question your way to the answer can be necessary. A supply-chain has many moving parts so any number of inputs could be part of the problem.

The jidoka philosophy was applied recently when we were alerted of a blow-out situation with one of our customer’s trucks. What essentially happened was that a milk run was planned with more materials from suppliers than could actually fit on a standard truck. Upon learning of the situation and forming a recovery plan our team stopped to determine the cause of the blow-out.

After looking at the data we used for the planning phase and speaking to one of the suppliers, we determined that incorrect packaging information was the culprit. The packaging information was immediately corrected so that we would no longer be passing inaccurate information for that part through the system.

One of our guiding values is “brilliant processes = brilliant results." A quality-at-the-source state of mind is a direct correlation of this. I may not be on an assembly line at a manufacturing plant or at a fast-food restaurant, but I do understand the importance of the flow of high-quality through a process. As a lean thinker, I naturally want to pass it on to those striving for operational excellence.

Written by Clint McCrystal, Lean Logistics Specialist at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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