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Departments: First Word

 

  
   

I Hate When That Happens

Defects are inevitable. It’s what you do with them that counts.

by Dirk Dusharme

 

 

Beware of letters that start with a compliment.

“First off, I LOVE Quality Digest magazine,” writes one reader. “It’s one of my most important publications for staying in touch with the quality field.”

Great! And… holding breath… waiting…

“However… “

See? What’d I tell you?

“… I did notice a glaring error that one of the copy editors seems to have missed.”

What? Only one? And it wasn’t one copy editor that missed the error; all of the copy editors missed it… three times.

What a nice segue that is to one of this month’s features, “The Quest for Zero Defects,” by our managing editor, Mike Richman.

In practical terms (maybe even impractical), zero defects over the long run isn’t possible, at least not in a universe where entropy is king. Deming’s little red beads are always going to find a way to sneak in at some point, and no amount of filtering will stop them.

Take our product, for example. If we look strictly at editorial content (not advertising), Quality Digest contains about 30,000 opportunities for error per issue. This includes the opportunity for misspelled words, punctuation errors, misused words, incorrect dates and so forth. One error in the entire magazine means that we’re approaching a five-sigma performance level. Not bad, but still a couple of orders of magnitude from six sigma, and infinitely far from zero.

Our editors take errors seriously, and there is a collective cringe when one slides past. There is nothing worse for a publication’s image than errors immortalized in ink. They never go away. They’re put away on a shelf, maybe for years, waiting for the next reader to pounce on a misplaced modifier or dangling participle. Therefore, our goal is always zero defects. We don’t accept that errors are “business as usual.”

But reality bites. Unlike companies that manufacture heart valves, for instance, publications are produced by that most fallible of machines--us. Too much caffeine, too little caffeine, an argument with your spouse the night before and… oops… an errant comma.

So. What to do? First, we brainstorm to identify how that error snuck in and then devise ways to prevent it from happening again--we improve the editorial process, in other words. Next, all publications employ a sort of self-calibration. Editors constantly correct each other’s grammar and style and ask others when we’re unsure whether this comma belongs in that place. These mini-lessons then become part of the communal knowledge base. Our continuous improvement hinges on collaboration.

This is really what zero defects is all about--attitude, the expectation that what you do should be perfect. It’s also about reality. There is no perfect process, only a willingness to drive it in that direction.