Each time I prepare to send out an electronic newsletter I follow a standard process that has been designed to ensure that a defect-free email goes out. The process includes proofreading copy before it goes into the newsletter format, testing links, and even testing the email format. Over the years we have refined this process multiple times to help us assure quality at the source.
The principle assure quality at the source is part of the continuous Improvement dimension on the Shingo Model. The way to assure quality at the source is through processes that are designed to make it easy to do things the right way and creating standards that produce the desired outcome. Assuring quality at the source is the opposite of a quality control department that is aimed at catching errors after they occur; it focuses on how to ensure that errors don’t happen in the first place; but if errors occur they are not passed down the line. If the end goal is to create value for the customer, it is important to focus on quality in all stages and areas of the business.
Here are some things that are necessary to assure quality at the source:
First it is important to define what quality is so that everyone can start on the same page. Determine what attributes would make your product or service high quality and which attributes would signal a defect. Make sure that everyone understands these attributes. It would help to have an example of what good looks like.
When we began working on the e-newsletter process we needed to define what quality meant to us. We defined it as engaging copy with correct spelling and grammar, links that go to the right place, and a format that is easy to read. This definition helps us to identify defects.
Don’t Pass on a Defect
Another behavior that is necessary to assure quality at the source is to not pass on a defect. Everyone involved in the process needs to know that it is okay and necessary for them to raise defects when they are found. People can overlook defects if they feel that the pressure to meet a target is too high or that they will be reprimanded for calling out a defect. If you want people to report defects, you better make sure that you provide a safe environment for them to do so.
When we are creating a newsletter one of the steps requires that there must be a second set of eyes to check spelling, punctuation, grammar, and that links are working properly. This person’s role is to pull the Andon cord (so to speak) if there are mistakes that need correcting before we send. In the standard work this person knows the importance of this step in the process and feels very comfortable stopping defects from moving forward. I think our company culture is such that it is easy for us to call out errors. We know that this is not a criticism, rather it is done to help create a better product for our customers.
Follow Standard Work Consistently
Standard work is a very important element to the principle assure quality at the source. Standard work is the best-known method of doing something. Just like a recipe, if you follow the standard work you should achieve the desired outcome. If you do not follow the standard work the outcome is not reliable. Without reliability, you cannot assure quality at the source.
In my experience producing the Catalysis newsletter I have found that following the standard of asking someone to check the links is critical for assuring the quality of our newsletter. If our readers cannot access the content that would be frustrating to them and would not be a value add for anyone. I usually ask the same person to check the links, grammar, and spelling because she likes this kind of work and is good at it; however, there are occasions where this person is on vacation, or may not have time to complete the task. In that case I ask another team member to check in her place. I would never send it out without this step as I know through experience that this is necessary.
Maintain and Update Standard Work
Not only is it important to follow standard work regularly, it also must be maintained and updated. This means that you need to observe the process from time to time to be sure that it is delivering the expected outcome. If not some of the steps may need to be adjusted. If the same defect keeps occurring this is also a sign that the standard work should be adjusted. If the process changes update the standard work and be sure to train others to the new standard.
One way that we maintain and update our standard work for the email newsletter is to periodically have a person who does not normally perform the standard try it for us. Occasionally this shows us that there is a discrepancy between what we do and what the standard says. This can happen naturally without you realizing it. But is it always best to get tweaks to the standard down on paper rather than keeping them in your head.
According to Shingo, “perfect quality can be achieved only when every element of work is done right the first time.” It is also important that you create safety within your culture, so people are comfortable raising defects with the understanding that the purpose is to assure quality at the source. Some behaviors that will help with this principle are defining quality, a don’t pass on a defect mindset, following standard work consistently, and maintaining and updating standard work.
Please share with us ways that you assure quality at the source.
Sara Thompson, Communications Manager