The Boeing disasters: 4 lessons to be learned
The recent tragic crashes of two Boeing airliners captured the world’s attention but for those of us in the manufacturing sector, these catastrophes are cause for deeper consideration. In light of these events, every manufacturer is likely re-examining their own systems, processes and policies. The reality is that quality assurance is ultimately an exercise in risk management. Manufacturers have to think hard about the repercussions of lapses in quality on one hand and the cost of perfection on the other. It would appear that Boeing didn’t do a good job with that trade-off and there is much that we can learn from that.
Before anything, it’s important to establish that, despite my very practical approach, for us at Algood, quality is paramount. I always say, “Quality is free. Our customers don’t have to pay extra for quality.” If we compromise on quality, we compromise the whole company.
In addition, I am not advocating any position in terms of the extent of Boeing’s responsibility. That will be determined in due course through a variety of processes.
A unique aspect of the Boeing situation is that there were two catastrophic incidents and you have to wonder whether the second crash could have been avoided if there was more scrutiny after the first.
The first lesson to be learned then is that in the face of a lapse in quality assurance, every facet of the process and environment must be examined. One of the first things that I thought about when the Boeing news broke is an approach we use at Algood. It’s a modification of the 5Y system that is part of the Lean manufacturing methodology. Instead of five, we look for ten potential why’s or underlying causes whenever we encounter a production or quality snafu. That allows us to get to the heart of the problem and more importantly prevent it from re-occurring.
The second thing to be learned is that the greatest guarantors of quality assurance are culture and communication. A commitment to quality must pervade an organization, with all employees recognizing that their performance evaluation will be impacted by their contribution to quality. In addition, employees must feel safe in reporting a problem. If someone feels that they will be fired or reprimanded because they report a quality issue for which they were responsible, they will remain silent. It’s only when commitment to quality is a shared value, that companies can proactively and effectively eliminate production flaws.
The next lesson is that errors of omission are symptomatic of poor systems or culture but errors of commission are absolutely indefensible. It’s not a good thing for a caster to go through the manufacturing process and be delivered with anyone noticing a defect. But if someone was advised of the problem and made a conscious decision to proceed anyway that is, in my view, grounds for dismissal. If it turns out that someone at Boeing decided to forge ahead despite being made aware of the software glitch along with its potential ramifications, the legal cost will be astronomical – as it was for Volkswagen.
Finally, we get to the most challenging consideration. The fact is that perfection is not a cost effective pursuit and is not necessarily in the best interest of customers. If we can produce a product that is 95% reliable, it’s unlikely that customers will happily pay the extra cost or wait the additional production time to get something that is 100% reliable. Granted we are producing casters and no lives will be lost as a result of a defective product. But the cost of additional attention to detail is always balanced against the measures of time and money. Sometimes, the determination is that it’s worth it and sometimes not. For us at Algood, finding that balance allows us to be both customer-centred and totally focused on quality.
Over time, the truth will emerge about what went wrong at Boeing. While those findings will deeply impact many companies and individuals, the vast majority of us will be observers. However, we can all benefit from the important lessons that can be gleaned from these tragedies and use those to improve the way we do business.
What do you think?
Leave me a comment and let me know what lessons you take from the Boeing situation? What will you do differently or what are you now even more committed to?