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Mike Richman

Quality Insider

Drowning in Duplication

Is your organization experiencing a disconnect between quality and lean?

Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 10:38

For those working in quality or regulatory environments, waste is a mortal enemy. The Japanese call it muda, which in my own oddly mnemonic fashion I’ve always associated with mud slung into high-speed gearing or splattered all over clean rooms. It’s the opposite of smooth, efficient operations.

Muda can take many pernicious and persistent forms. Take the processes used in lean projects or for maintaining an ISO 9001-compliant quality management system, for example. Many of the ISO-compliance processes are intricately linked to the processes required for proper management of a lean enterprise. ISO 9001 requires that management establish and monitor a quality system based on customer requirements to create suitable products and services. Operationally, fulfilling these requirements is hardly possible without tactical approaches such as gemba walks, just-in-time production systems, or kaizen projects—the same methods used in lean.

Yet the (usually white collar) professionals responsible for ISO registration and those working (generally on the shop floor) to undertake lean improvement not only don’t coordinate efforts, they barely speak to each other. Because of this lack of communication, each group ends up generating its own system to handle work in its own way. The result is often a shockingly wasteful approach to document control: One team manages the quality management system documentation in accordance with ISO 9001 requirements, and the other creates and manages extremely similar documents for the lean system.

When we step back for a moment, we can see how silly and harmful such redundancies can be. One of the main benefits from ISO 9001 registration and lean systems is optimizing your operations (i.e., to eliminate waste, reduce defects, and improve quality). So why do you need completely separate (and often adversarial) functional business units to handle the same tasks? Wouldn’t it make more sense to house those duties under one department speaking the same language and using the same systems?

Systems exist, of course, that can help smooth over these speed bumps on the road to performance excellence. What’s odd is that both groups often use these tools and systems, but they are independently administered. It’s a situation that is ripe for chaos, and chaos is usually what results.

Consider the following fictional example, which unfortunately too-often mirrors real-world experiences. A new version of a standard (let’s say ISO 9001: 2015) is working its way through the committee drafts and will soon be released. Your organization, a registrant to the standard, needs to look closely at the revised language to ensure compliance, not for the purposes of passing an audit (although that’s what many will focus on), but to continue providing the best possible products and services to your customers.

The “quality” team sequesters itself to look at the organizational processes inside and out to address the revised requirements. After perhaps weeks of research, internal stakeholder interviews, debate, and compromise, the group is ready to present suggested changes to the quality policy to top management. There’s just one problem: Nobody consulted the “lean” team on the changes, which will likely materially affect operations. But that’s OK, because in all likelihood, the lean leaders on the production side of the house have been evolving their tactics over time as well, and they never consulted the quality people on any of those changes, either.

The result? Strategy and tactics never meet, the adversarial relationship between quality and lean never gets better, and the customer (yeah, that guy over there, jumping up and down with his hand raised) never gets the benefit of the improvements that everyone up and down the value stream so clearly want to provide.

The solution? These groups need to communicate with each other. Again, the tools are out there to do so, but first there must be an awareness of the problem and a desire to solve it. Sadly, in many organizations, the bottleneck is found more in the latter than the former.

Is your organization experiencing a disconnect between quality and lean in which you are drowning in duplication? Are you attempting to bridge the gap? What tools are you using to do so? Your comments are welcome.


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Mike Richman