Tag: tools

Top 5 Manufacturing & SCM Resources

Over the years, we have collected several “Useful Links” that we incorporate into our quarterly newsletters. Our Top 5 related to manufacturing and supply chain management include:

1) Manufacturing Metrics Checklist

As part of a recent metrics survey,  the manufacturing metrics listed were identified as being the most utilized by discrete, process, and hybrid/batch manufacturers.  From OEE to Engineering Changeover Cycle Time, the key indicators are here.

2) How Stuff is Made (Visual Encyclopedia)

How Stuff Is Made (HSIM) documents the manufacturing processes, labor conditions and environmental impacts involved in the production of contemporary products. It’s an excellent resource for learning or to stimulate creativity and innovation.

Fishbone Example: Rejected Pre-Shipment Inspections

We like Ishikawa’s fishbone diagrams, also referred to as cause and effect diagrams for good reason.  They’re great for figuring out why something isn’t working.

For our clients, it is not uncommon for pre-shipments inspections to uncover trends in failures.  When this happens, we want to know why the problem is occurring so appropriate corrective actions can be taken.

We shared a useful four minute overview of fishbone diagrams some time ago, but also decided to put together a general example specific to our experience in the quality industry.  ASQ and Mind Tools also have great resources and templates on the subject as well.

The following process took place to create the fishbone diagram example below.

  1. We talked about the problem and defined it in a way that was specific and relevant.  In this case, there were a series of rejected pre-shipment inspections where paint defects were exceeding AQLs as part of the visual evaluation.
  2. We brainstormed categories that would have an effect on this problem.  We read about and do find the use of sticky notes to be a very effective way to organize this information.  Also, looking through examples can help with this, as there are a handful of very common categories used.  The categories are used as the branches off the main arrow.
  3. We brainstormed the issues digging deeper into each one and including them where they fit best in the categories.  Keep asking why to get a more in-depth evaluation.  Layers in the branches can subdivide out the issues further, as necessary.
  4. We analyzed the diagram and did further research into the causes we listed.  When identifying causes and incorporating corrective action, follow-up metrics are very useful in determining if your actions have produced the desired result of effectively resolving the problem you stated.


Top 5 Quick & Invaluable Quality Reads for 2013

A thread in the ASQ LinkedIn group piqued our interest a few months back.  It got us thinking about our favorite quality related books and provided some excellent insight into a few we haven’t read yet.

We know life is busy, but we all know the importance of continuous improvement   Our list of quick and invaluable quality related “must read” books includes:

The Daily Drucker: 365 Days of Insight & Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done (Peter F. Drucker)  – This little gem is a quick and easy way to start the day thinking in a quality mindset.  More than a few great ideas and inspiration came from this one, and it can be used more than once.

The Five Most Important Questions (Peter F. Drucker) – This is a very quick read, perfect for a short flight.  In it, Drucker discusses self-assessment, the customer, providing value, measuring results and planning.  This one is likely to require “pen and paper” or Evernote to get the full benefit.  You’ll want to document your answers.

Quality Improvement Made Simple & Fast (Matthew J. Maio) – We have done a write-up on this book before and continue to highly recommend it.  While the length, only a 44 page booklet, may be deceiving, the content is rich and ready to be applied.  This book will guide you through Plan>Do>Study>Act and is written in a way that’s fun to read.  The templates in the back are invaluable.

The Quality Toolbox (Nancy R. Tague) – This book should be standard reading in college courses and a staple on any business person’s bookshelf.  In it, you will find a way to answer any question (or problem) you have.  It gives you the tools you need to get stuff done.  Rather than trying to read it cover-to-cover, this one works best if you make a goal of reviewing one tool per week.  There’s even a chapter on “How to Use this Book.” 

101 Good Ideas: How to Improve Just About Any Process (Karen Bemowski & Brad Stratton) – This book is conveniently segmented in a way that lets you skip around and pick what you want to learn.  It offers examples and tools for improving a process, communicating quality, training for quality, getting feedback, managing meetings organizing/analyzing data, auditing and more.  The ideas presented are general in nature, but provide enough information to get you going in the right direction.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  ~Dr. Seuss

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”  ~Oscar Wilde

S.M.A.R.T. quality planning & goal setting…

Planning and goal-setting are certainly two of the most challenging tasks an organization faces.  However you look at it, macro or micro, strategic or tactical, short or long-term, planning seamlessly finds its way into all functions of management.

Quality tools, such as flowcharts, fishbone diagrams, histograms, etc. add tremendous and inarguably invaluable assistance with this process, but the success hinges on whether or not you’re using the right one.  And, which one is the right one?  The most relevant answer is found in identifying the objective and subsequent details as accurately as possible.

This is where S.M.A.R.T. comes in… Planning and goal-setting effectively to work towards meeting or exceeding the objective.  It sounds quite simple, but using S.M.A.R.T. forces you to think broader and effectively ask the right questions that will later turn into result-driven action items.

Be S.M.A.R.T when planning or goal setting at any level…

S – Specific

For example, a quality problem identified with poor performance coming from a factory abroad isn’t solved by simply acknowledging there is “some” problem and then throwing different solutions at it to see if things get better.  By starting out specific, you lay out a roadmap for resolution.  In order to be specific, data collection is often required.  For example, are there any specific trends noted in the quality problem, such as raw material inconsistencies or labor shifts tied to production lots?  Are there seasonal or shipment quantity considerations? Figure out what is exactly the issue causing the poor performance.  Those trusty quality tools really come in handy here. But, if you define something in a general way, you’ll likely get a general result.  The same happens when you start by asking the wrong question.

M – Measurable

Part of being specific is to help identify what metrics can be employed so that there’s reliable and valid data available to determine progress and further action.  In the example above, use the trends identified to place values on improvement.  This expedites the corrective action process as well because decisions are made easier.  How do you know when you’ve succeeded?  You have to know the specific problem in order to get the specific data you need to measure the performance.

A – Attainable (Achievable)

Can the quality issue here be resolved? How can the goal be accomplished? Is that achievable based on the data gathered?  It may turn out the problem has a deeper root-cause, such as issues at the factory management level or raw material supplier inconsistency.  Some of the solutions may not be achievable based on the other requirements.  Remember, they all work together to form an organized system of goal setting and general planning.  If it turns out the solutions presented aren’t attainable, redefine the issue and subsequent corrective action as in this example.  Contingencies are important here.

R – Realistic (Relevant)

Is it realistic to focus on the actual quality defects noted or the process creating the defects?  Is it something that fits in with the existing goals of the organization?  Based on the information gathered, is it realistic to believe the problem can be resolved to an acceptable degree?

T – Timely (Or Tangible)

Especially when you’re dealing with issues that affect customers, timeliness is critical.  Gantt charts are excellent for determining the time requirements of a specific issue.  Using measurements as checkpoints often ensures timely execution.

For more information on S.M.A.R.T. goals and planning, we like these sites:


Quality tools beyond Pareto, PDCA and root cause analysis…

If asked what your favorite quality tools are, you’d likely tell me Pareto, flowcharts, PDCA or root cause analysis.  I know this because I’ve recently reached out via Pro QC’s social network to get some insight.  It seems these tools are also the very same ones I’m most often working with… And, I know there’s more out there and wanted to expand my repertoire through an ongoing effort of trial and error.

I’ve reviewed the Quality Toolbox in the past and do believe this is the ultimate source on the topic.  And, anything not immediately understandable there can easily be Googled.   It’s really just a matter of taking an extra moment or two to pick the best tool for the specific problem.  It’s that “extra moment” that gets you when there’s a to-do list screaming for attention on the other side of the desk!

Dedicating some time to rediscovering existing quality tools that I can use in new ways has given me a few new favorites.  These include:

Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa) – One of the Seven Basic Tools of Quality, this is a popular choice for identifying as many possible causes for an effect or problem.  Our engineers use it quite often in the field, but I’ve only recently realized there are so many more applications than originally thought.  I’ll admit the feature I favor most is its simplicity.  It mirrors a customizable checklist that adds the additional benefit of direction.  Focusing on people, methods, machines, materials, measurements and environment organizes information very well.  Rather than sticking too long on one topic, I’ve found just getting it all there at first and then attacking them individually generates more ideas. Try it as a tool for identifying the root cause of a reoccurring product defect.

5W2H Method (5 Why Analysis) – I love this method of asking questions about a process or problem! I’ve noticed its return to many of the business textbooks and can’t think of a more fun way of getting some really constructive brainstorming going.  I’ve seen it work brilliantly now both in the classroom and during professional meetings.  I’ve also started using it to help me organize and research articles. I think there’s something reminiscent of grade school that’s fun to get us thinking who, what, when, where, why, how and how much/many! Try it as a tool for developing inspection criteria.

Affinity Diagram – Any large whiteboard just screams for sticky notes, so this is perfect.  I’ve even heard of people putting the sticky notes on the door to organize the information (ideas) into what’s been described as their “natural relationships.”  I’ve used this tool in the past but quite honestly think my initial attempts were disorganized and maybe even missed the point. I decided to give it a try again not too long ago and have had much different results.While I had used the tool as a group effort in the past, I’ve found individual application is much better and removes some of the chaos I had associated with it before.  What’s great about it is that it works really well at something you’re trying to figure out and can keep hanging around for as long as necessary.  So, I add sticky notes to that big whiteboard whenever I think of something on my pending issue… Or, I’ll move them around after something I figured out during an entirely separate event.  It’s the best visual device I can think of that’s also tangible.  Try it as a way to evaluate supplier performance.

Any other recommendations and/or applications of those mentioned are welcome and appreciated!