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If you were to ask someone how he or she defines quality, that person may very well stumble to articulate an appropriate answer that captures the essence of the general meaning. Quality, or at least the definition of quality, requires some other reference to which it can be compared. Quality – as it relates to business, engineering and manufacturing – has a pragmatic interpretation as the superiority of something. Most people consider quality to be how much better something is when compared to a similar counterpart.
Quality in manufacturing usually has a very defined and precise meaning. As previously mentioned, when referring to the quality of a manufactured product, its perceived quality is the product’s superiority of something. That something is a list of precise specifications and criteria against which that product is measured. Any product that falls outside of these precise specifications and criteria is considered a defect. Many businesses strive to achieve as few defects as possible using a business management strategy called Six Sigma.
Six Sigma Defined
Originally developed by Motorola in 1986, Six Sigma was originally designed to improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes and all but eliminate defects, building on other previously developed quality improvement strategies. It later became a useful tool in other aspects of business processes.
A Six Sigma process is one that produces only 3.4 defective parts per million opportunities (DPMO). The term Six Sigma, or 6s, is meant to represent the number of standard deviations between the mean of a process and the nearest specification limit. The idea is that if there are six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit, there will be only 3.4 items that fail to meet this specification. Of course, there are categories for efficiencies of less than Six Sigma:
One Sigma = 690,000 DPMO = 31 percent efficiency
Two Sigma = 308,000 DPMO = 69.2% efficiency
Three Sigma = 66,800 DPMO = 93.32% efficiency
Four Sigma = 6,210 DPMO = 99.379% efficiency
Five Sigma = 230 DPMO = 99.977% efficiency
Six Sigma = 3.4 DPMO = 99.9997% efficiency
Now that we have a way to measure quality in manufacturing, the question is, how do we manage quality? Or more specifically, how do we manage quality in maintenance and reliability projects?
Quality management is a way for project managers, maintenance engineers, production supervisors and others to ensure that any project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken, and that procedures required to design, develop, implement and execute a project are efficient. Project quality management consists of three main sub-categories: quality planning, quality assurance and quality control.
Quality planning: In simple terms, quality planning is the task of identifying the standards by which you will measure the quality of a specific project as well as identifying how to satisfy these standards. Several tools can be used for quality planning. A cost-benefit analysis is an effective tool to determine what the benefit of fewer defects, less rework and higher productivity will cost. This will apply to products, services or other business processes. When you fully understand the costs associated with a level of quality, the standards by which the quality of a project is measured can be selected.
Quality assurance: Quality assurance (QA) is the process by which we apply systematic quality activities like audits and checks and use feedback from these activities for continuous improvement. A traditional tool used in QA is the quality audit. These audits are formal, structured reviews conducted independently to determine if the project is in compliance with the quality standards identified in the planning stage. Also, process analysis is often used as a quality assurance tool. Process analysis, in many cases, will include root cause analysis to help identify any underlying quality issues with specific components to a process, service or product.
Quality control: Quality control is the task of monitoring all of the processes we have in place and being able to apply corrective action when anomalies are identified. Quality control has many tools and techniques; seven of these are known as the “Seven Basic Tools of Quality”. They include: cause-and-effect diagrams (also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams), control charts, flow charts, histograms, Pareto charts, run charts and scatter diagrams.
Quality is no Accident
It is inevitable that at some point you will need to deal with low quality in projects, products or processes. Though good quality planning will help overcome low quality, it is ultimately a marriage of all quality management concentrations and a good project manager that will have the greatest impact on quality. Quality should be a result of proper planning and ideal management. Quality is never an accident and should always be planned in, not inspected in.
Putting the Concepts into Action
• Cost-benefit analysis – to determine the value of a well-designed and properly executed lubrication program
• Benchmarking – to compare our current program against others in the same industry and in other industries
• Audits – to help us understand the gaps in our current practice and to further define the most pressing issues
• Statistical sampling – as the project continues to mature, statistical sampling will help us monitor the accuracy of the work being done
• Pareto charts – to help monitor the issues and allow for focus on the most pressing issues