In this first issue after summer some thoughts about the relation between lean and quality, guided by an interesting example.
The example is a company offering a unique service to a number of large technology companies. As could be expected the client companies have clear and strict requirements on supply conditions: not late, not early but just in time. To meet these requirements the primary process has been designed based on the well-known lean principles: small batches, consequent use of pull-methods (the next step in the chain collects the material required at the preceding step in stead of stacking up work in progress material) and minimal stock levels. Consistent use of these methods enables the company to meet customer requirements most of the time, but not all the time.
Despite the consistent use of lean methods and an ISO 9001 certified quality management system every now and than there is a delay in the supply to the customer, immediately impacting other delivery commitments.
One of the causes happens to be late, incomplete or damaged supply of products or material ordered. If noticed directly after receipt that is not a major problem but when one finds out only when the product or material is required, delay is unavoidable. Apart from that also other, often small disturbances can cause delays if not detected in time. Once a delay has happened the precise, just-in-time planning prevents compensation for the delay without jeopardizing other supply commitments…
The next level of investigation towards the root cause yielded that the quality management system is very well capable of detecting problems in the product to be supplied but the processes used are not equipped for timely identifying other (potential) problems in the operational processes. No or insufficient process controls were implemented and, if controls were installed, the information was not available at the right time and place.
This case demonstrates nicely the relation between the use of lean methods and quality management. Using lean methodologies makes the organization much more vulnerable for disturbances and that vulnerability dramatically increases the importance of preventing such disturbances or making sure disturbances are timely identified and mitigated. Consistent attention for optimal control of the various processes is the method of choice to provide optimal protection against these vulnerabilities and their, sometimes large, consequences.
This example is a good illustration of how effective quality management is a primary condition for successful implementation of lean processes for the provision of products and services. Therefore, make sure to use an integrated approach when implementing lean methods and by doing so prevent that the advantages of lean are lost due to unexpected disturbances.