Focus On Zero Defects

Zero defects is the goal of quality improvement programs run by most companies and departments. It's easy to understand why: Ask any manufacturing expert to name the biggest hindrance to productivity and profitability and this is what you're likely to hear: error; waste, and rework. Companies can regain enormous profits by reducing or eliminating errors.

But there is ample reason to be concerned personally about defects and error Your ability to avoid errors greatly affects how you and others judge your personal quality. Errors can cause heavy costs and be the source of frustration and disappointment for yourself and for others.

It has been proven time and time again that preventing mistakes is much more time- and cost-effective than correcting them. You become much more valuable to your organization when you are zero-defects conscious. And you're making yourself much more desirable for any future position you pursue by having a cost-conscious attitude about the work you do today.


If we want to achieve a total-quality consciousness at work, we need to understand why mistakes occur; so they won't actually happen. The following are some of the most common circumstances under which accidents can occur:

  • When you are in a hurry to finish your work.
  • When your mind wanders and you don't give the task at hand your complete attention.
  • When you are tired and unable to think clearly.
  • When you are upset, and you let it affect your attitude toward work.
  • When you use the wrong tool for the job, or when you improperly use the right tool.
  • When your work space becomes cluttered and unorganized.

If you recognize any of these situations in your own work habits, be careful - they can greatly inhibit your ability to do your job the best way you can.

Keep a list of one or two of your most common “mistake situations” in clear view. Then try to be more conscious of your attitude and surroundings at work. You may be more likely to stop yourself before you go too far the next time and ruin your quality record. And when you make mistakes, learn from them. Correct them. And don't allow yourself to make the same mistake twice.

How else can you zero in and on zero defects? The following information can help point the way.

'Poka-Yokes' Spot Design Mistakes

The supervisor of your new product-development group said you should be “mistake-proofing” your new product at various stages of development. Why? And where do you begin?

People aren't perfect. For that reason, your product needs to be as close to perfect as possible. “Mistake-proofing,” or including “catches” within the design of your product that prevent mistakes, will help.

Many products that you use daily are mistake-proofed. For example, if you drive to and from work, chances are you've left your headlights on once or twice after you left the car. Today, many cars are mistake-proofed with a bell or buzzer that goes off if you open your driver's side door or remove your ignition key with the lights still on.

Japanese quality guru Shigeo Shingo calls such devices “poka-yokes” from the Japanese yokeru, meaning to avoid and poka, meaning inadvertent errors. There are four types of poka-yokes that your product-development group should consider:

  • Physical. To identify errors, these mistake-proofers rely on a product's physical property or operation. It can be as simple as a template or a rule drawn around an area to indicate to customers where an item, such as a sticker or replacement part, should be placed.
  • Sequencing. Sequencing poka-yokes indicate, discourage, or prevent deviation from the order of steps in a process by making the completion of a later step contingent on an earlier one. One such example is task substitution, which requires inserting steps to indirectly ensure that something will happen. Many guillotine presses, for example, require that the operator press two switches simultaneously, indirectly ensuring that the employee's hands are not in danger on the work area.
  • Grouping and counting. This kind of stop-gap is designed to use natural groupings to make discrepancies stand out. Kits can help keep items together logically. Using checklists is a way to categorically group information so that omissions or additions are easily spotted.
  • Information. These poka-yokes are used to get information that might otherwise be misplaced, forgotten, or ignored to the location where it can best prevent mistakes. Bulletin boards, customer mailings, e-mail messages, and more complicated computerized information systems can all assist in disseminating information.

Choose from any one of these ways to mistake-proof your new product.

Three Process Flaws That Encourage Defects

The managements of many companies know what's required to improve quality. But, they often falter in putting needed measures into effect. The three common and critical mistakes are:

  • Failure to bring everyone together. In a manufacturing organization, quality involves employees in design, engineering and processing, monitoring, and inspection. Too often, people responsible for one of these areas don't communicate with those responsible for the others. Work cooperation must begin long before a product goes on-line. This is best done through teams composed of people at each production stage. The goal is to coordinate the product's design, engineering, manufacturing process, and quality assurance.

This approach to quality can be applied to companies that turn out almost any product or service. An ad agency, for example, may design a layout that looks great on the drawing board but fails in practice because it poses a difficult printing problem.

  • Poor monitoring. Even with efficient monitoring machinery, quality can't be guaranteed. It's essential to periodically remove a product from the manufacturing flow so that it can be examined for irregularities that usually aren't monitored. Overlooked defects often suggest much bigger production problems. As an analogy, many wise home buyers first examine the quality of a house's molding. If the workmanship is poor, it probably indicates overall shoddy construction.
  • Imprecise checking procedures. In the past, companies typically checked a product or part after it was made. Now, many realize that it must be inspected periodically between all manufacturing steps.


When these three flawed processes are corrected, you should emerge with a total solution. Moreover, the quality procedures used in manufacturing can apply to any business. By looking for defects along the way, you'll avoid creating products or services that turn out to be useless.

Watch For 'Warusa-Kagen'

When you detect even the slightest deviation in equipment operations, stop and find out what's happening. If you fail to do so, an accident could occur.

The Japanese refer to such early-warning signs as warusa-kage. At the Tokai Rika plant in Japan, machinists are urged to report any warusa-kagen, or “quasi-problems” they encounter. Management has told them that the number of deviations they discover will indicate their observation capabilities. If they had gone unnoticed, there would have been serious damage to equipment and possible injuries.

JIT: Quality, People, And 'Drumbeat'

“Just-In-Time“ (JIT) is a highly effective, quality-building technique that many companies now are using to improve their operations.

JIT isn't new. It was pioneered by Toyota shortly after World War II but didn't reach North America until the 1980s. Then, the automotive industry and such innovators as Hewlett-Packard and Black & Decker put it to use.

With JIT, less becomes more. Production areas are streamlined and manned by small teams in work “cells.” Inventory is cut to the bone through the delivery of supplies at the exact moment they're needed. Machinery is stopped whenever a problem arises, and the size of each production run is limited to a customer's immediate needs.

The JIT process is pictured as an industrial pyramid. The technical and procedural bricks comprise the top portion. They rest on three massive foundation blocks: quality, people, and “drumbeat.”

If your employer implements a JIT program, here's how you and your teammates fit into its configuration:

  • Quality. “Value-added” quality begins in the design and engineering stages but must also be present at every step until the finished product reaches the customer. JIT is a state of mind, a philosophy. It doesn't belong only to top management. The job belongs to you because you're the expert who knows more about your work than anyone else. You and the other experts must function as a team.
  • People. These as the primary JIT objectives: beat the competition, create a culture of continuous improvement, involve everyone, eliminate waste, and strive for 100 percent quality. But these goals can’t be attained by machinery alone: The key is people power. A redirection of energy may involve a transfer from your current position to one that calls for multiple skills. There's a reduction for the line but not for the facility. JIT gives your company a stable workforce by shifting you to places where production is needed.
  • Drumbeat. This third foundation block consists of all the other internal procedures needed to make JIT work. They include production planning, scheduling, inventory control, and recordkeeping. You need a regular schedule that allows everyone – your team, management, suppliers, and customers – to 'march to the same drumbeat.' The ultimate goal is complete synchronization.

Team Approach Will Help Catch Errors Early

No matter how successful your quality team has been, you can't settle for the status quo. Like quality itself, teamwork constantly evolves. Here are five tactics that will help your work unit attain continuous quality progress:

1. Maintain communication. The success of a project largely depends on how well your team members communicate with each other and anyone who will be affected by your work. For instance, if a team is about to collect data from a working production line, team members should notify all supervisors and operators in advance. Tell them exactly why, how, and when the data will be collected. Similarly, a team studying how office employees use their time should explain that the goal is to identify inefficient systems, not people.

2. Fix obvious problems. As your team learns how to study processes, you'll uncover more problems that need fixing. Explore each trouble area in depth. Gather data to support your belief that you've found an appropriate solution. If a problem is obvious and can be eliminated with ease now, go ahead and make the change. Don't wait until the entire project is completed. But, before you act, think ahead. What could happen if this solution doesn't work? How tricky and costly would it be to undo the change? Would that delay other activities?

3. Look upstream. Most quality problems are only symptoms of other problems buried upstream in the process. For instance, variation in product quality may be the result of variations in raw materials. Mistakes in a customer’s bill could be caused by errors in the original order or any steps in between. Make long-lasting improvements by seeking out those causes and finding ways to prevent them. Also, when your team faces a problem, try to identify upstream conditions that may be the cause.

4. Document your problems and solutions. Some organizational problems are “solved” over and over again - after you try something that fails, you experiment with another solution. When that also falls short, somebody comes up with yet another idea. By documenting each attempt at a solution, real quality control can be achieved.

5. Monitor changes. Rarely does something turn out exactly as you planned. Though careful planning reduces the chances of unexpected problems, there's no guarantee. The only sensible plan is to monitor your actions so you can quickly catch errors and prevent them from becoming major problems.

Teams Partner To Solve Company-wide Problems

Production problems often manifest into other problems throughout an organization. That is why many companies are encouraging teams to partner with other departments and form specialty teams - or sub-teams - to research problems and develop encompassing solutions.


Below is a seven-step process for quality improvement. These steps can benefit teams in any industry.

1. Establish the reason for improvement.

2. Evaluate the situation.

3. Evaluate the information.

4. Create countermeasures.

5. Review the results.

6. Standardize the solutions.

7. Set future plans.

Here's One Way To Guarantee Zero Defects!

At the onset of World War II, American Army paratroopers suffered from what can accurately be called a “quality problem.” Some of their parachutes weren't opening. Not many were defective. In fact, if totals were kept and the number of non-opening parachutes were considered in comparison to the number that did open properly during a time span of sufficient length, it could be shown that the number of failures was actually “well within variance.” Variance, however; is a tough concept to explain to someone who is hurdling toward the ground.

The solution was to go to the parachute packers and - in today's vocabulary - involve them in what amounted to a tightly-focused quality process by saying, in essence, “Congratulations! From now on, every now and then, on a random basis, you get to jump . . . using the last parachute you packed.”

The percentage of correctly packed parachutes immediately jumped to 100 percent and stayed there throughout the war.

What Hazards Are Lurking At Work?

“Don't run in the halls!” is probably a familiar echo from your childhood. But the warning remains a valid office-safety rule today. The absence of easily recognized hazards often fools people into believing their office environments are completely safe. But danger can lurk around each blind corner and open file drawer

Here are a few suggested safety rules to follow at your workplace:

  • Use a lid to contain beverages that you carry to your work space.
  • Walk, don't run to get that ringing phone.
  • Check the “fish-eye” mirror for oncoming traffic at blind corners.
  • Never leave a top file drawer open.
  • Pick up all objects that fall - even a paper clip or piece of paper. They can create slipping hazards.
  • Wipe up all spills.
  • Store heavy objects flat to avoid getting your fingers crushed.
  • Never wear loose chains, ties, or floppy sleeves around machinery with moving parts such as shredders and fans.
  • Don't use a chair for a ladder.
  • Stand away from doorways to avoid getting hit as a door opens or closes.

Prescription For Disaster

Wearing personal-protective equipment (PPE) is no guarantee against workplace injury - but not wearing it is an invitation to harm.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires engineering controls to be established as a first line of safety in a manufacturing environment. However; when hazards cannot be entirely eliminated through product or process engineering, OSHA standards require employers to furnish and employees to use suitable personal-protective equipment.


PPE should be used when there is a reasonable probability that injury can be prevented by using such equipment. If you notice a coworker not wearing the proper equipment on the job, explain how you don't want to visit him or her in the hospital.

Focus On One Improvement At A Time

Your team is assigned to look for ways to improve productivity without increasing costs. It sounds like a good idea, but you don't know what to do.


Try these suggestions:

1. At your next team meeting, suggest that you and your coworkers focus on one improvement area at a time. Whether it's decreasing waste, improving safety building customer relations, or increasing work-flow efficiency, brainstorm with team members on how to improve.

2. Suggest that each team member develop at least one suggestion for an area of improvement, a means of implementation, and proposed results. Make sure that all suggestions are concrete, attainable, and ready by the next team meeting. Your team leader probably is already aware of some areas in which management would like to see changes made, so ask him or her for guidance.

3. When suggestions are made, discuss each one as a team. Ask: “How can I help implement that suggestion in my area?” “How much will it cost to make that change?” “What will the organization save as a result of this improvement?” The answers will help you decide which course of action to follow.

4. Be a team player when adopting the suggestions. You may not completely agree with the solutions, but each member of the team must be committed to what works best for the whole team if it is going to be successful.

As suggestions are implemented, do your part to make sure the changes are given a fair chance to succeed. If possible, bring up the results of the changes at each meeting and don't be afraid to make suggestions for making the improvements even better. As the positive results of your efforts begin to develop in one area, your teammates will be ready to make other improvements. And your team will be stronger for its efforts.

Quality In Good Times And In Bad

Your team's vow to uphold quality should be for good times and bad. Quality isn't a “feel-good” tactic. It should be something ingrained in your team structure. Once it is, you won't need momentum to carry you through. Momentum is not what keeps the quality process moving Necessity and success push quality along. Once people learn to work this way, they will not want to give it up. If something is worth doing, it will continue, regardless of temporary setbacks.

So, rather than accepting that poor profits indicate poor quality, set out to show how high quality can dictate high profits. Analyze how your team can contribute to raising profits in the future. Then get started working toward that goal.

Quick Tips

  • Identify defects. Trying to identify the offending defect in a failing process? Look closely at areas of transition - when a process is moved from one machine or one person to another. Anytime attention must be diverted from the process itself to change machines or people, the chance for errors increases.
  • Set goals. The act of setting a goal is more important than how a goal is set. Work groups with specific goals consistently outperform groups who are given a task and simply to “do their best.” For greater success, make specific goals that can be monitored.
  • Gradually improve. You and your fellow team members should improve performance step by step instead of tackling too much at once. Then offer each other immediate feedback - both positive and negative - on each other's progress.
  • Celebrate often. Don't limit team celebrations to major achievements. Marking lesser accomplishments can help motivate your team.
  • Don't ease up on quality efforts.
  • Type it out. Illegible handwriting is for doctors. If people can't read what you write, get in the habit or typing instructions or comments, so they won't be misconstrued. This is especially true when you’re including numbers such as costs, dates, and figures.
  • Identify your weaknesses. You'll strengthen your product or service quality when you ask a teammate to portray a salesperson while you pick on every possible weakness that comes to mind.

Focus On Zero Defects

Striving for zero defects is the cornerstone of all quality programs. People expect perfection and in many ways take it for granted; for example, if even only a one percent error level was allowable, there'd be 200,000 incorrect drug prescriptions filled each year, and no electricity, water, or heat for 15 minutes of each day. Organizations strive for zero defects by eliminating process flaws such as poor monitoring and imprecise checking measures. Manufacturing processes like just-in-time (JIT) help eliminate waste and create a culture of continuous improvement. Suggestion programs give employees an opportunity to find problems and offer solutions. Other companies encourage teams to form partnerships with other teams to research problems and develop solutions. Your ability to avoid errors greatly affects how you and others judge your personal quality.

What You Can Do

  • Check your work before handing it over. Try to locate the possible reasons for mistakes.
  • Strive to remove the causes of defects and problems, not just the symptoms.
  • Be happy when you discover a mistake. See it as an opportunity to prevent problems down the line.
  • Wear protective equipment and avoid potential hazards.
  • Don't compromise quality. No one should be afraid to jump with a parachute you packed and checked.

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