What Is Your In-plant's Culture of Quality?
Consider this: the typical in-plant will lose 30 to 40 percent of its total sales due to poor quality issues; for every $100 earned, that translates to $30 to $40 lost due to defects of some sort.
To address these quality failures, we as print managers must analyze the culture of quality that is present either by our design or by default in our organization. The culture of quality refers to your organization’s definition of operational efficiency and how it is responding to problems associated with poor quality—defects, scrap, rework, low employee morale, etc.
The most popular way to pursue operational efficiency is to implement quality management systems such as Lean/Six Sigma. While there are copious amounts of resources available that are Lean-centric for print, there are few, if any on Six Sigma. While Lean is great for reducing waste, as managers of print our journey to achieve operational efficiency must go deeper than going after waste; we need to go after the defects that are plaguing our organizations.
When we use the term Six Sigma, it means that we are adhering to methodologies to achieve a level of operational efficiency that will produce no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. For example, in order to be Six Sigma, a mailer of 1 million fully versioned VDP postcards would have no more than 4 postcards with defects; the rest (999,996) would have been correctly printed and mailed.
To achieve these lofty goals, Six Sigma utilizes improvement efforts, performance metrics and quantifiable tools to locate and eliminate variation, defects and rework in a system. Because results are quantifiable and data driven, a typical Six Sigma improvement project, if successfully executed, normally reduces operational costs by 40 percent, sometimes more.
While we cannot go over Six Sigma specifics in length in this article, I would like to suggest some Six Sigma steps that can improve the culture of quality in your organization.
Your perception of quality might differ from that of your employees; your folder operator’s definition of quality might be skewed (pun intended) to focus mainly on how well the score hits the folds rather than how well the press hit solid ink densities. While there are legit levels of quality that the customer may choose to spend more on (i.e., foil stamp vs. PMS metallic) there may be degrees of quality based on how much money the job is worth as high profile customers get the preferred treatment while the average walk-up gets what they get.
In Six Sigma every product or service has to have a solid definition of quality that is universally known by the organization; having any variance in the definition of quality is asking for trouble.
The term “voice of the customer” (VOC) is used in Six Sigma to describe customer requirements. In order for us to define what quality is, we first have to locate the VOC. Six Sigma defines quality as conformance to the VOC. Conformance means that you are capable of meeting the VOC while non-conformance means that you are not. Products or services that have defects, require rework (reprint due to our errors) and produce scrap are examples of non-conformance. Six Sigma seeks to justify conformance costs while eliminating non-conformance costs.
Define Your System as Cradle to Grave
Six Sigma views manufacturing and service processes as systems. Holistically consider your system as the supplier that services the customer after the product is delivered. From printing to invoicing, every part of the system has to be in conformance; everything has to meet the requirements of the customer, we cannot rest on how well we print; in our system we need to be great at everything.
Be Serious About Addressing Quality Problems
Over the last 50 years it has been proven that management is the root cause of 90 percent of all quality problems. As managers of print, we create and endorse the culture of quality in our organization and so we are responsible for most quality problems that occur. Inadequate training, incomprehensible or neglected standard operating procedures and poorly designed processes are just a few of the areas where we fail in achieving quality. We cannot expect our employees to bail us out of quality problems; that task falls on our shoulders alone. If we have not adopted Lean/Six Sigma or another quantifiable quality management system we are inviting someone else to make a pitch to our parent organization that they can do the job better and cheaper.
Develop a Culture of Prevention, Not Inspection
Inspection does not create quality; it only alerts you when it’s not there. While there is a need for inspection in our systems, we should not rely on it for the assurance of conformance. The only assurance of conformance is by preventing defects from occurring at all. The new culture of quality does not tolerate rework (reprinting because of our errors) as perfection is the new goal.
Become Less Reliant on Indispensable Employees
The fact of the matter is that good employees are hard to find and retain. By focusing our efforts and resources in improving the system it will put less emphasis on employee performance. By our improvement efforts we can “employee proof” the system and not be as dependent on hiring and maintaining excellent employees.
Stop the Practice of Comparison Benchmarking
One of my favorite quotes from the quality guru Phillip Crosby regarding comparison benchmarking is “you can always find someone uglier than you.” Relying on data based on how well your in-plant compares to another is a risky bet, since the in-plant you might be benchmarking to might be benchmarking itself to a lower performing in-plant. Doing what we said we will do and doing it right the first time is the ultimate world class benchmark.
Utilize Dashboard Metrics
If you’re to use just one performance metric, I would recommend Philip Crosby’s Complete Transaction Rating (CTR). The CTR is an effective motivator because it indicates how much money we are losing on each job (transaction) due to poor quality. Calculating your CTR involves knowing two cost totals:
- Price of Conformance (POC): All the costs associated with producing a product or service right the first time (e.g., materials, labor, equipment, facilities, utilities, etc.)
- Price of Non-conformance (PONC): All the costs of having to produce a product over again because it was done wrong the first time. In addition to POC costs, you would add tangible costs, such as loss of production time/resources, and intangible costs, such as low employee morale and loss of company image due to poor quality issues.
The formula for the CTR is:
POC ÷ (POC + PONC)
The ideal CTR is 1; any number less than one indicates a loss of money due to poor quality. For instance a CTR of .85 would mean that you are losing .15 cents out of every dollar due to poor quality.
After explaining the CTR concept to your employees, share a major jobs’ CTR with them, most likely you will start a dialogue on how your in-plant currently pursues quality—which happens to be a necessary activity for analyzing your in-plant’s culture of quality.
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Gordon Rivera is a graphic communication lecturer at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo and is the supervisor of Campus Graphics, an in-plant provider of traditional and digital media for Allan Hancock College, a community college in Santa Maria, Calif. He is a certified G7 Print Professional and has successfully completed both Lean/Six Sigma training and a Black Belt level project. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your print experiences in the pursuit of quality.