Building in Quality

Posted on July 11, 2012 by

Have you ever been on the receiving end of numerous inspection steps that feel redundant and of little value to solving your pressing problem? Have you ever experienced lapses in quality as a customer that you discovered? Chances are, most of us all have and worse yet, we’ve become accustomed and even conditioned to this as a necessary way of “doing business.” However, upon closer examination using a process improvement lens, we can begin to see how broken processes and systems build in lots of inspection due to inconsistent results, wide variation, and a lack of trust in our processes.

A case in point is air travel. I recall the last time I flew, I made a conscious effort to count the number of times someone inspected my boarding pass. On this particular occasion, that number was 5: twice at check-in, twice at the security check point, and once before boarding the plane. Mind you, that was all with having already a printed copy of a boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport. A boarding pass serves to verify the name, seat #, flight information, and gate location of the intended passenger. It is a critical and necessary check for both airline personnel and security, but one has to wonder why these same inspections are often repeated multiple times in close succession.

In most cases, inspection has been put in place to be on the safe side, often because of a prior incident or precedent producing an unintended result. It can serve as a symptom of recurring errors that have never been adequately addressed for root cause. Over time, they become routine for staff and customers alike as we treat normal, routine work as “exception processing” to be on the safe side. So what is the right type and frequency of inspection? The answer lies in understanding where errors occur (detection), how/why they are passed on, and what causes them in the first place. Some first pass quality may require crtical checks before work moves, and an ability to solve problems where they occur. At the highest level, inspection is replaced by mistake proofing processes, root cause analysis, and error prevention through product and process redesign. Soon, we can realize that reliable and consistent processes that build quality into our work gives everyone better piece of mind.