There is a “universal sequence for quality improvement,” according to the illustrious Joseph M. Juran, that defines the actions to be taken by any team to effect change. This includes teams pursuing error- and defect-reduction initiatives, variation reduction, or quality improvement by any other description.
Two of the seven steps of the universal sequence are “journeys” that the team must take to complete its problem-solving mission. The “diagnostic journey” and the “remedial journey” comprise the core of the problem-solving process and, thus, warrant particular attention.
Of the “eight wastes of lean,” the impacts of defects may be the easiest to understand. Most find the need to rework or replace a defective part or repeat a faulty service, and the subsequent costs, to be intuitive. The consequences of excess inventory, motion, or transportation, however, may require a deeper understanding of operations management to fully appreciate.
Conceptually, poka yoke (poh-kah yoh-keh) is one of the simplest lean tools; at least it was at its inception. Over time, use of the term has morphed and expanded, increasing misuse and confusion. The desire to appear enlightened and lean has led many to misappropriate the term, applying it to any mechanism used, or attempt made, to reduce defects. Poka yoke is often conflated with other process control mechanisms, including engineering controls and management controls.
To effectively reduce the occurrence of errors and resultant defects, it is imperative that process managers differentiate between poka yoke devices, engineering controls, and management controls. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of each allows appropriate actions to be taken to optimize the performance of any process.
Every organization wants error to be kept at a minimum. The dedication to fulfilling this desire, however, often varies according to the severity of consequences that are likely to result. Manufacturers miss delivery dates or ship faulty product; service providers fail to satisfy customers or damage their property; militaries lose battles or cause civilian casualties; all increase the cost of operations.
You probably have some sensitivity to the effects errors have on your organization and its partners. This series explores strategies, tools, and related concepts to help you effectively combat error and its effects. This is your induction; welcome to The War on Error.
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