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Business LibreTexts Looking for a Better Way- Improving Production and Operations

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    6. How can quality-management and lean-manufacturing techniques help firms improve production and operations management?

    Competing in today’s business world is challenging. To compete effectively, firms must keep production costs down. At the same time, however, it’s becoming increasingly complex to produce and deliver the high-quality goods and services customers demand. Methods to help meet these challenges include quality-management techniques, lean manufacturing, and technology and automation.

    Putting Quality First

    Successful businesses recognize that quality and productivity must go hand in hand. Quality goods and services meet customer expectations by providing reliable performance. Defective products waste materials and time, increasing costs. Worse, poor quality causes customer dissatisfaction, which usually results in lost sales.

    A consumer measures quality by how well a product serves its purpose. From the manufacturer’s point of view, quality is the degree to which the product conforms to a set of predetermined standards. Quality control involves creating quality standards, producing goods that meet them, and measuring finished goods and services against them. It takes more than just inspecting goods at the end of the assembly line to ensure quality control, however. Quality control requires a company-wide dedication to managing and working in a way that builds excellence into every facet of operations.

    Dr. W. Edwards Deming, an American management consultant, was the first to say that quality control should be a company-wide goal. His ideas were adopted by the Japanese in the 1950s but largely ignored in the United States until the 1970s. Deming believed that quality control starts with top management, who must foster a company-wide culture dedicated to producing quality.

    Deming’s concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) emphasizes the use of quality principles in all aspects of a company’s production and operations. It recognizes that all employees involved with bringing a product or service to customers—marketing, purchasing, accounting, shipping, manufacturing—contribute to its quality. TQM focuses on continuous improvement, a commitment to constantly seek better ways of doing things in order to achieve greater efficiency and improve quality. Company-wide teams work together to prevent problems and systematically improve key processes instead of troubleshooting problems only as they arise. Continuous improvement continually measures performance using statistical techniques and looks for ways to apply new technologies and innovative production methods.

    Another quality-control method is the Six Sigma quality program. Six Sigma is a company-wide process that focuses on measuring the number of defects that occur and systematically eliminating them in order to get as close to “zero defects” as possible. In fact, Six Sigma quality aims to have every process produce no more than 3.4 defects per million. Six Sigma focuses on designing products that not only have fewer defects but that also satisfy customer needs. A key process of Six Sigma is called DMAIC. This stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Employees at all levels define what needs to be done to ensure quality, then measure and analyze production results using statistics to see if standards are met. They are also charged with finding ways to improve and control quality.

    General Electric was one of the first companies to institute Six Sigma throughout the organization. GE employees are trained in Six Sigma concepts, and many analysts believe this has given GE a competitive manufacturing advantage. Service firms and government entities have applied Six Sigma to their quality initiatives as well.

    Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

    Named for a former secretary of commerce, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to recognize U.S. companies that offer goods and services of world-class quality. The award promotes awareness of quality and allows the business community to assess which quality control programs are most effective.

    Administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST), the award’s most important criterion is a firm’s effectiveness at meeting customer expectations, as well as demonstrating that it offers quality goods and services. To qualify for the award, a company must also show continuous improvement in internal operations. Company leaders and employees must be active participants in the firm’s quality program, and they must respond quickly to data and analysis.

    Organizations in a wide variety of industries have won the Baldrige Award since it was first presented in 1987. In 2017, for example, the Baldrige Award winners included Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, an electricity and fiber services utility company, in the small business sector; the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, in the nonprofit sector; and Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, in the health care sector.9

    Worldwide Excellence: International Quality Standards

    The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), located in Geneva, Switzerland, is an industry organization that has developed standards of quality that are used by businesses around the world. ISO 9000, introduced in the 1980s, is a set of five technical standards designed to offer a uniform way of determining whether manufacturing plants and service organizations conform to sound quality procedures. To register, a company must go through an audit of its manufacturing and customer service processes, covering everything from how it designs, produces, and installs its products, to how it inspects, packages, and markets them. Over 500,000 organizations worldwide have met ISO 9000 standards.

    ISO 14000, launched after ISO 9000, was designed in response to environmental issues such as global warming and water pollution and promotes clean production processes. To meet ISO 14000 standards, a company must commit to continually improving environmental management and reducing pollution resulting from its production processes.

    Lean Manufacturing Trims the Fat

    Manufacturers are discovering that they can better respond to rapidly changing customer demands, while keeping inventory and production costs down, by adopting lean-manufacturing techniques. Lean manufacturing streamlines production by eliminating steps in the production process that do not add benefits customers want. In other words, non-value-added production processes are cut so that the company can concentrate its production and operations resources on items essential to satisfying customers. Toyota was a pioneer in developing these techniques, but today manufacturers in many industries have adopted the lean-manufacturing philosophy.

    Another Japanese concept, just-in-time (JIT), goes hand in hand with lean manufacturing. JIT is based on the belief that materials should arrive exactly when they are needed for production, rather than being stored on-site. Relying closely on computerized systems such as MRP, MRPII, and ERP, manufacturers determine what parts will be needed and when and then order them from suppliers so they arrive “just in time.” Under the JIT system, inventory and products are “pulled” through the production process in response to customer demand. JIT requires close teamwork between vendors and purchasing and production personnel because any delays in deliveries of supplies could bring JIT production to a halt.

    Unexpected events like the September 11 terrorist attacks or the shutdown of ports due to Hurricane Harvey and the devastation and flooding caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico can cause chaos in the supply chains of manufacturers, resulting in problems for firms relying on JIT. But if employed properly, and in spite of these risks, a JIT system can greatly reduce inventory-holding costs and smooth production highs and lows.


    1. How can managers use techniques to improve efficiency?
    2. Define Six Sigma.
    3. What was Edward Demming’s contribution to operations management? Looking for a Better Way- Improving Production and Operations is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by OpenStax via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.