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Dave Heberling

Quality Insider

Fifth-Grade Wisdom

Tips from a ten-year-old

Published: Sunday, June 15, 2008 - 16:00

When my daughter, Anna, was in the fifth grade, her teacher asked the students to write down their personal goals. Anna’s goals are still displayed in our home, so we obviously feel that there was something special about this assignment. Not bad for a fifth grader, huh? Could you do better? How? Is there a similar list of goals posted for you and for your company? If not, you could learn something from a 10-year-old.

It recently dawned on me that Anna’s list cuts to the heart of what manufacturers strive for and what many quality gurus recommend. I’ll try to explain the connection.

Please consider the importance of having your goals or objectives clearly identified for all to see. (If you can’t explain where you want to go, how can anyone tell if you’re making progress?) In manufacturing, we also like our goals to be concrete and measurable, so we can quantify how much progress we’re making. We’d also like to widely distribute convenient status reports, sometimes known as metrics.

Let’s consider Anna’s goals:

Help others
This involves giving back and making sure that the needs of others are met. For a manufacturer, others include customers, coworkers, employees, those managing the company, and all who live and work in the immediate vicinity. Helping these people includes meeting their requirements, answering their questions, maintaining great relationships and a great place to work, ensuring that you deliver desired results, and even being a good corporate citizen. Does your company give back to the community? Do you have measures in place to prevent or minimize all types of pollution? My company’s quality policy is evidence that it is headed in the right direction. It’s focused on meeting the needs of our customers, our employees, the company itself, and those around us.

Get good grades
For manufacturers, this can mean several things. An obvious connection is in customer satisfaction, an area in which companies typically receive customer evaluations indicating how they’re doing. The customers do the grading, and if they’re not happy, the assessments reflect that. Wyoming Steel sends out annual surveys to customers, tabulating and distributing the results throughout the company, and pays attention to all improvement opportunities. More broadly, this goal requires us to keep learning and to put what we learn to good use to attain desired results or improvements. Do your employees know more now than they did last year? Are they using what they’ve learned to help your company operate more effectively?

Speed up work
There are many approaches and levels to improving productivity. There’s more to it than simply keeping busy or working fast. How error-proof and efficient are the work processes? Everyone could be busily creating bad products or completing tasks that don’t contribute to the bottom line. Manufacturers today must be highly productive while they continuously improve quality, perhaps by implementing corrective and preventive measures, holding kaizen events, etc. If your workforce is trained and empowered to help eliminate waste from the operation, great strides can be achieved in a manner that all employees can take pride in. That’s what lean manufacturing is all about.

Be a little bit neater
Anna’s intent was to make her work more legible and to organize her important items, so she could find whatever she might need. Manufacturing also needs documentation to be easy to comprehend, so we can avoid misinterpretation. We also need to store our items—tools, raw materials, parts, documents—so that it’s clear where everything belongs and such that anything not in use will be found at its designated location. This helps ensure that we provide a safe workplace (see goal No. 1) and that we don’t waste time looking for things (see goal No. 3), and it’s clearly a 5S concept to maintain “a place for everything, with everything in its place (see goal No. 4).”

Anna’s goals touch on crucial concepts underlying much of what we do today as we strive to apply the ideals of quality management to manufacturing. As it happened, Wyoming Steel Supply was active in all these areas when I made the connection between its efforts and Anna’s list. See the table below.

Quality Policy

Wyoming Steel Supply will actively demonstrate our full commitment to serving the needs of customers, employees, the company itself, and the community, as detailed below:

Commitment to Customers
Commitment to the Company
Commitment to Employees
Commitment to the Community

Providing quality products and services through:

Ensuring financial strength and viability through:

Sustaining individuals’ well being, through:

Being responsive to the needs of:

  • Dedication to fulfilling requirements
  • Relationships and collaboration
  • Seeking win-win scenarios
  • Maximizing value for the customer
  • Qualified, committed employees
  • Technical support
  • Standardization
  • Business planning
  • Responsible growth
  • Cost management
  • Embracing change
  • Maximizing profitability
  • Continuous improvement
  • Registration
  • Maintaining a safe, healthy environment
  • Treating each other like family
  • Recognizing contributions
  • Cultivating trust, fairness, and respect
  • The community around us
  • The general public
  • The environment

Anna gets points for her goals’ simplicity and for her wisdom beyond her years. Good luck in your efforts to use goals, metrics, lean manufacturing, 5S, and other quality tools to drive continuous improvement in your company.


About The Author

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Dave Heberling

About the author
Dave Heberling has spent 27 years in labs and quality departments being responsible for characterizing sheet steel products, developing quality systems and improvements, and helping resolve customer issues. The biggest chunks of that experience were at Armco/AK Steel and SOS Metals. Dave is now pleased to be directing the quality effort at Wyoming Steel Supply Inc., a steel service center in southwestern Ohio that is registered to ISO 9001:2000.