The Role of Feed-Forward in Your Quality System
Last week I shared some of my thoughts on quality loops and quality systems. I continue that theme with an explanation of the feed-forward loop.
One workstation feeds the next. One process feeds the next. One plant or building feeds the next. And at every point there is a risk of poor quality. To accommodate this, we build feedback loops. Feedback loops provide feedback to a previous step in the process regarding any quality variation or defects. The feedback should be consistent and rapid, so that the offending parties can take corrective action as quickly as possible. Any process should have effective feedback loops.
What is not thought of is building feed-forward loops.
Feed-forward loops give information forward into the process. How does this help?
Imagine you have a last quality check of the work product before it goes out the door to a customer. If a previous step in the process was having problems, wouldn’t it be helpful to pay more attention to that at the end of the process?
Feed-forward is letting downstream processes know about process variation issues and problems. With this information, they can add or modify inspections or controls. This will be more effective than just hoping downstream quality filters catch the problem.
This should include external supplier connections. When their quality is still within specifications but having difficulties, feeding that information forward to the receiving process can help weed out issues.
As I’ve written, the more issues you throw at a filter, the easier it is for problems to slip through the cracks. If the filters know what to be looking for, they can be fine tuned to focus on the right variables.
Feed-forward is not a common practice in building quality systems, but it can be just as important as feedback.