After a tornado or a hurricane, a series of questions inevitably arise: How do we recover? How long will it take to get back up and running? How much will it cost to rebuild? Is rebuilding worth it?
No one talks about preventing tornadoes. The closest we come to the idea of prevention is to build sturdier buildings and other measures to mitigate their effects. It is all about managing the consequences of these massive storms. It is not about preventing them. We are naturally fatalistic about their occurrence, defined as “resignation in the face of future events considered inevitable.” In contract law, we speak of an act of God, a legal term for events outside human control, for which no one can be held responsible. We confine our actions to reacting to them and mitigating the consequences.
The spate of recalls in recent months in the frozen vegetable industry, and the fact that all kinds of recalls keep occurring, naturally brings up the question:
Are we relating to recalls as if they were tornadoes or hurricanes?
Are they “acts of God”?
Or are they the results of negligence by humans?
To answer the question about our responses to breakdowns in supply chain quality management, we must look beyond any individual recall and seriously consider the fatalistic mental model which is allowing them to occur.
One approach to gaining clarity in this important domain is to look at what has happened in other arenas that either have or are in the process of transforming their mental model. One example is the history of workplace safety.
Through the Eye of the Needle in Workplace Safety
Over the past seventy-five years, workplace safety has been slowly moving away from merely reacting to and mitigating “the inevitable,” i.e., moving away from fatalism. There was a time when companies wrote a certain number of deaths and injuries into their plans. Fatalities and injuries were assumed to be inevitable, “acts of God”, beyond human control. In fact, the word “fatality” contains the root “fate” which can tell us a lot about the mindset.
In the 1940’s, Congress passed the Worker Compensation Act which, for the first time, held companies liable for workplace injuries. With a stroke of the pen, these occurrences were moved from God’s to man’s domain. The fundamental assumption became that they were something that could and must be prevented.
Change has come slowly. Consultants like JMJ Associates* thrive by focusing exclusively on the mental model that permeates corporate cultures in order to help them move “through the eye of the needle” and commit, from top to bottom, to “zero.” Zero means no fatalities. Zero means no injuries. It also means no excuses. One of the ways a company knows that it has gone “through the eye of the needle” is when an ordinary worker stops a production line when he or she observes a safety violation and is rewarded for doing so, rather than punished.
Over time it has become clear that accepting any deaths or injuries is unacceptable. The commitment to “Zero” is moving beyond the large production/plant management corporations and oil and gas giants, with all the dangers their work involves, and into mid-level organizations with smaller scopes.
Six Sigma, a term coined by Motorola for its quality management system in the 1980’s, was more than an assortment of statistical tools, but a philosophy that embodied the concept of prevention. While many think of it as an arcane array of statistical techniques, it was and continues to be, something designed to break down the mental model of fatalism permeating manufacturing. It challenges the assumptions that only a certain level of quality is possible.
The challenge is embodied in a simple formula: Y = f(x) + e, meaning that all Y (Results) are a function of (x) inputs, acted upon by a process (f) plus a small element of uncertainty (e). If you are committed to changing the outcome for the better, you need to affect and change the inputs or the processes. To do that, you must understand the inputs, rather than pointing to fate or inevitability to explain any specific result. Among the many tools proposed by Six Sigma, the key tool is the use of statistics. Statistics, and Statistical Process Control allow people to observe the behavior of processes over time and help identify inputs that either steer the key processes into compliance with specifications or take them outside.
The Eye of the Needle in QA is the use of SPC to analyze and hone processes in a way that prevents re-work, the wasteful “hidden factories” in which materials and subassemblies need to be circulated through the system several times due to defects. It also makes manufacturing more efficient by surfacing the inputs that work together in producing key outcomes, such as “delighting the customer.” This allows for prioritization, i.e., investing time and attention in what counts. Six Sigma has saved companies billions of dollars while improving quality.
The Eye of the Needle in Supply Chain Quality Management
Current approaches to supply chain quality management (material variability management) often appear to echo the early days of safety management, when deaths and accidents were considered inevitable as if they are like tornadoes and hurricanes: the only possible approach is a reaction after the fact. There is a gap between new legislation which increases the stakes companies have in preventing breakdowns in supply chain quality (for example the new Food Safety Modernization Act and risk-based preventative controls of HARPC) and the implementation of approaches that come close to guaranteeing success. Too many companies are content with audits when it’s clear that the only way to prevent, rather than react; to breakdowns (in the form of recalls) is ongoing testing of materials as they move through the supply chain.
To move through the Eye of the Needle in Supply Chain Quality management, companies must ask themselves whether they are willing to do what it takes to stop responding to recalls, and instead, declaring their commitment to “Zero.” The most certain way to achieve “zero recalls” is to implement the following:
- Testing of all lots moving through the supply chain by responsible parties
- Documenting the test with electronic (rather than PDF or paper) Certificates of Analysis (COA)
- Managing COAs using Statistical Process Control in close-to-real time
- Ensuring that contaminated lots cannot be shipped
- Ensuring that out-of-specification materials cannot reach the consumer
The technology to step through the Eye of the Needle is available. It is cost-effective and can be implemented as a Software as a Service solution requiring no new software inside the company.
Contact us to learn how GSQA customers for manage material variability and acceptable quality at each checkpoint in their supply chain for quality assurance that lowers incident and defect rates, provides for supply visibility and specification driven material performance.