How do you manage the quality of your product? Inspections won’t improve the product’s quality on their own. Instead, learn how to build in quality from the start.
Preventing a wildfire is always easier than putting it down. Similarly, building quality into products from the start is more efficient and effective than patching the issues after they cause damage.
Unlike traditional management, that is exactly how Lean Management proactively addresses quality management with continuous improvement tools.
To understand how to build quality into our products from the very beginning, we need to understand why this is not happening naturally.
The most common way of preventing defects from reaching customers comes down to introducing a great number of inspections and countless KPIs or metrics into the process.
The problem with this approach is that it is reactive. And wasteful.
If we think in the context of the value streams, neither inspections nor metrics add any value to the customer. At best, they help you discover and react to already produced defects. At worst, they encourage playing the system – you get what you measure.
Now, don’t get it wrong, both KPIs and inspections are undoubtedly useful and necessary quality management tools. The problem is that they do not actually prevent quality defects from happening, so relying on them alone to produce quality is just not enough.
In the end, reactive quality management makes us generate more associated costs and still get plenty of bugs in our code or defects in our products.
That being said, how do we shift to proactive quality management?
The way Lean management views the issue of quality and defects is through the lens of value and continuous improvement.
In fact, built-in quality is a natural outcome of successful company-wide adoption of continuous improvement mentality and Lean principles.
After a team develops a Lean mindset, continuous improvement becomes the glue that holds everything together. Every Lean management principle gets translated into action, influencing the way quality is perceived throughout the product development process.
Thinking about your work in the context of the value stream and the team's workflow, department, or even company affects how you view your work and prioritize tasks.
The proactive quality improvement process starts working when everyone on the team (including the leaders) starts thinking about their work in the context of Lean values.
The continuous improvement culture needs to start influencing every work process, decision, and policy that shapes the workflow and the quality control system.
Here is how this mental paradigm and principles can be translated into practical workflow policies that build quality at every stage of work:
For example, in the software development industry, many bugs discovered in quality assurance processes turn out extremely small and easy to prevent. The fact these basic bugs are discovered at the testing stage shows the developers did not perform primary quality check of their work.
In turn, this wastes the time of both testers and developers, creating unnecessary iterations and stealing the attention from the more important issues.
Applying proactive continuous quality improvement principles here means everyone in the development teams starts thinking about the value on the level of the whole flow.
Every time a task goes back into re-iteration solely because of negligence – it is a waste.
Some waste is unavoidable, but when you proactively seek improvement opportunities, you try to minimize the preventable waste.
That’s how proactive quality policies and culture make a feasible difference. Failed inspections or tests help us signal issues and show where improvement is needed.
However, continuous improvement sets both the prerequisites for success and the principles for actions when things do not work.
As soon as you let the value-centered mentality and continuous improvement practices guide your quality management efforts, you’ll discover many strong benefits:
The key is the continuous nature of this improvement. Lean principles and practices are not a one-time checklist but an ongoing effort.
In the beginning, the Lean transformation leaders will need to be coaching and teaching the team.
However, as the team reaches higher levels of work culture maturity, they would need less and less management involvement.
With continuous improvement at the core of your production process, the quality will get built-in from the start. Moreover, you’ll need fewer resources to deliver much more value. All of that with less strain on the workers and the production process.
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