Defining Defects


    Flawless products no one wants

    This was sent by my old colleague Darren, a lean guy from Phoenix. He didn't add any commentary, but here's mine.

    The linked article is another one (from syndicated columnist Dale Dauten) that tries to make the claim “quality doesn't matter” as if the Six Sigma or Lean “zero defects” crowd should just stop. Dauten tries to paint a picture that shows the quality folks are single minded and aren't focused on the market or customers.

    He points to survey data that shows large “Six Sigma” companies underperform in the stock market:

    Could it be possible that quality is to the manufacturing business what health food is to the restaurant business: Everybody says they want it, but nobody actually buys it?

    The author uses an example that he thinks proves his point:

    A few years back I heard a story about two cellphone companies. One had virtually eliminated defects, while the other had just ordinary quality control – let's call them the Perfect and Good phones.

    When customers had problems using the Perfect phone, the company had them box up the phone and send it in, and then the company sent it back, saying it was fine. And it was, because most problems were customers not understanding how to use the thing.

    On the other hand, if you called the Good phone people, they would work with you to figure out how to use the thing, and if it was a manufacturing problem, it would send someone out with a replacement.

    The upshot was that the Good phone had higher satisfaction ratings than the Perfect phone. I was told this by someone in the industry, but could never track down the actual data. It makes sense, though, doesn't it?

    The author is defining quality in terms of “# of defects.” I'd argue that quality is really defined much more broadly than that, including:

    • Does the product meet the customer's needs?
    • Is the product easy to use properly?
    • How is the overall buying experience for the customer?

    Of course it's not enough to just focus on the # of defects if you're going to have crappy service when a defect occurs.

    I don't understand the perspective of the “quality doesn't matter” crowd. I don't discount the impact that product design, being fast to market, and other business drivers make. So why does the “innovation crowd” think you have to choose either “quality” (low defects) or “innovation?” You need both right?

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. I’ve found that innovation across the whole product supply/value chain if often necessary. However, low-cost outsourcing to for example, China makes the necessary collaborative approaches difficult, and sometimes impossible. Companies must do more than exploit cheap labour. They must develop the “soft” processes that spur productivity and innovation. China’s have not.

      Rob (lean) (six sigma)


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