The pros and cons of ‘Zero Defects’
Zero Defects is the approach to quality that was developed and promoted by the guru Philip B. Crosby in his book ‘Quality Is Free’.
Forget Six Sigma – this is ‘Infinite Sigma’!
It’s a way of thinking about quality that doesn’t tolerate errors or defects and continually strives to improve processes and prevent errors so that work is always done correctly without needing repetition or rework or generating waste; this is Crosby’s philosophy of ‘right first time’.
These phrases have the benefit of being unambiguous; ‘Zero Defects’ and ‘right first time’ mean exactly what they say.
Think of this issue the other way round; the alternative to Zero Defects is that a certain level of defects is seen as normal or acceptable, as implied by the Acceptable Quality Limit approach; Crosby took a strong line against AQLs for precisely that reason, he saw them as a “commitment, before we start the job, that we will produce imperfect material”.
Zero Defects is based on four key principles:
The key word for achieving Zero Defects is prevention, you don’t get ‘ZD’ by simply taking corrective actions to rectify existing problems, you have to stop them occurring in the first place. And, as I have mentioned before, taking preventive actions is much harder than taking corrective actions.
The case for Zero Defects
Zero Defects addresses the apathy that you often come across: “There will always be errors, there’s nothing you can do to prevent them”; why do we accept this statement for product manufacturing or software design but wouldn’t accept it from our surgeon as we entered the operating theatre, or in our bank accounts?
Crosby explains that defects represent a cost that is often hidden (inspection, waste/scrap, rework, lost customers, etc). By eliminating defects these costs are sufficiently reduced that the savings more than pay for the quality improvement programme; hence his assertion that ‘Quality is Free’.
The case against Zero Defects
Zero Defects is controversial because it’s so difficult to achieve; some people claim it’s ridiculous and counter-productive to have a target of zero that will rarely be attained. They believe it will lead to excessive inspection costs and demoralised staff who keep ‘failing’.
If implemented without sufficient thought it could even cause defects because of the extra stages of increasingly rigorous and expensive inspection and handling of the products.
It also incurs the wrath of people who hate slogans or ‘campaigns’.
Zero Defects is a difficult sell.
In many regards these criticisms, although well-meant, miss the point. Crosby didn’t expect that everyone adopting Zero Defects would always achieve it, or that residual defects should be seen as failings by an individual or group. Nor did he advocate commercially unjustifiable amounts of inspection. As with many areas of quality management it’s about the philosophy and the journey you take from where you are now to being a better business, it is the “attitude of defect prevention”.
When your goal is zero defects it sets a standard against which all your processes can be assessed. It’s about continually striving to work better and not being satisfied with the status quo.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that he didn’t intend ‘ZD’ to always stand alone, it formed just 3 steps out of a 14 step quality improvement programme.
So how do you do it?
I’d love to elaborate but it’s not something that I can easily summarise in a blog. His book describes ‘how to’ in detail, so may I refer you to ‘Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain’ by Philip B. Crosby?
However, you might be interested in some of his related concepts such as how to assess the real Cost Of Quality, so I’ll talk about these in future blogs; watch this space!
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