Keep Your Quality Filters Sacred

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 04-04-11

[I have been off the blog for a little while, for which I apologize. Hopefully, my business has given me plenty of interested topics for you, which I hope to publish in a timely manner.]

Last week I was working with one of our consulting partners on an assessment of a quality system. This was for a large organization, and there are many opportunities to disappoint the customer. Therefore, ensuring the quality systems work each an every time should be a top priority. Quality is not a percentage, such as 95% percent of customers received a good product. That’s little consolation for the 5% who didn’t, and in turn told their friends about the problem.

Every does does (or should) have some quality filters in the process. These filters might be inspections, audits, or other reviews. Certainly, you can’t inspect quality into the product, but unless your process is perfect 100% of the time, we some way of knowing how well that process is working. Therefore, the filters must be as effective as the process itself.

How we treat those filters means a lot to their effectiveness. Filters are only designed to handle so much stuff. But what happens when they become overwhelmed? Things start to slip through the cracks that shouldn’t.

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If we start adding more noise to the system, the filters become less effective in distinguishing the good from the bad. The noise could be, and often is, an abnormal amount of problems. But it could also be interruptions, other people’s working overlapping with yours, or trying to complete other tasks while also paying attention to quality. The more variables, tasks, and variation that the quality filters faces, the less effective it will be.

Our job is to reduce that noise, so that we have a clean filter.

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This includes how we design the work, as well as how we manage it.

In terms of design, we must keep the boundaries of work in the filter unencumbered, uninterrupted, and to a degree, isolated. Yes, feedback from these filters, both feedback and feedforward in the process (more on that in a future post), is their connection to the process. However, the more isolated the work of a quality filter is from the rest of the work, the more it can focus on its essential task.


In terms of managing the filter, we must know dynamically when the filter begins to get overwhelmed, and have a reaction plan ready to go. This reaction could be to add more resources, and it could be to slow down the process. But in any case, we must know that if we’re operating these quality filters in a noisy, overwhelmed state, then things are going to slip through. And the worst part is, we don’t know what it is that might slip through our cracks.

Every system has some kind of quality filters, even if the only thing is reacting to feedback from the customer. The question becomes, how confident are we in those filters? Are they reliable? If not, then they aren’t protecting the customer, and in turn you.

What have you done to design quality filters that are reliable and effective?