Quality Beliefs Determine Behavior

Quality Beliefs Determine Behavior
What is the definition you use in your work to gauge where
a process or part is on the scale of poor to perfect quality?
A few years back, I helped an international holding company assess the operations of their portfolio of companies. They wanted to know things like, “How Lean is the operation at each company?” “How far along is each company in its Six Sigma improvement journey?” And “What are the common opportunities and strengths we can build upon?” I visited company sites, reviewed operation activities, collected data, and interviewed executives and staff. I found that in many ways, the foundation for excellence in operations can be boiled down to a single, simple question: “How do you define quality?”

I don’t mean “Philosophically, what is your idea of quality?” Rather, I mean, “What is the definition you use in your work to gauge where a process or part is on the scale of poor to perfect quality?” Responses to this question—whether from a CEO or from a production worker—immediately revealed the status and direction of the individual’s and the company’s continuous improvement journey.

Why does this simple question cut directly to the crux? It’s because all work behaviors originate from underlying beliefs: what a person or a company believes defines quality and determines their actions towards quality.

If someone believes that quality is defined as “Falling within the specification goalposts,” then he will stop improvement as soon as a process crosses within the allowable spec boundaries. When parts fall just outside spec boundaries, he will spend effort in trying to figure out a way to get the parts to pass—tweaking the measurement system, asking for a waiver or deviation, etc.

Genichi Taguchi  (b. 1924) formalized a definition of quality based on true principles. He stated that, in reality, customers desire a process or part to hit an ideal, single target value. The further the process or part deviates from this target, the more the quality of the process or part degrades. This is the basis of the famous Taguchi Loss Function. With this definition of quality, there is no end for improvement; there is always the need and opportunity to improve quality, even when parts or processes are within allowable tolerances.

Belief drives behavior. Below is a comparative table I use to illustrate the behavior changes that naturally occur when individuals accept and adopt a definition of quality based on true principles:

Ask yourself, how do you define quality in your work? Are you shackled to an outmoded belief? Or are you on the path of continuous improvement? 

Gygi served as the principle consultant and managing director at CKGygi LLC, a firm he founded that specializes in assisting organizations implement Lean and Six Sigma methods, establish and measure critical metrics for key business processes and provide advanced analytical and quality engineering expertise for engineering, design, production and back-office projects and programs. He also served as director of aerospace quality and operational excellence at ES3 and as director of operational excellence at Fiji Water. He was the founder, president and director of software development for TolStack, Inc. With more than 18 years’ experience applying and leading continuous improvement, Gygi is a recognized leader in the quality industry. Gygi received both a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from BYU. He may be reached at cgygi@mastercontrol.com.