Strategy AssociatesInsights Basic Tools for Improvement

Basic Tools for Improvement

Everyone doing their best is not the answer. Everyone is doing their best. It is necessary that people understand the reason of the changes that are necessary in order to achieve production capacity. There’s no substitute for knowledge, and a figure by itself is not knowledge, said Dr. Deming. It is necessary to outdo specifications, to move continually toward better and better performance of the finished product, the shoe.

It is necessary in this world to outdo specifications, to move continually toward better and better performance of the finished product.

— W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis

The appropriate tool should be selected and implemented properly to solve problems and make lasting improvements. The Quality Journey is one of the recommended processes that can be used to determine the cause of the problem and identify what must be done to solve it. Originally developed as a 10-step process, the Quality Journey has been streamlined down to a systematic, seven step process for use in this toolkit as part of the Roadmap for Excellence.

This systematic approach will help you select the best tool(s) to solve the problem and properly apply the method, using the Quality Effectiveness Toolkit:

  • Understand the Problem and Current Situation
  • Set the Improvement Target
  • Analyze the Factors
  • Discuss the Improvement Proposal
  • Implement the Improvement Plan
  • Evaluate the Results
  • Standardize the Improvement and Make it Permanent

This section of the Roadmap for Excellence introduces the use of the nine Basic Tools for Improvement:

  • Affinity Diagram: uses the affinity between partial, piecemeal items of verbal data to help understand systematically the structure of the overall situation or problem.
  • Brainstorming: is a method of generating ideas for improvement by bringing together a group to freely suggest and develop new ideas based upon the comments of others, with no criticism or constraints allowed, in order to encourage participation and generate a great quantity of items posted on a flipchart by a facilitator.
  • Cause and Effect (Fishbone) Diagram: is a useful method for clarifying the causes of a problem by classifying various potential causes thought to affect the results of work, indicating with arrows the cause-and-effect relationship among them.
  • Checksheet: is a form, in a diagram or table format, prepared in advance for recording data, by making a check mark on the page in the appropriate box or column.
  • Flowcharting and Process Mapping: are tools for showing a picture of a process and the sequence of steps involved in producing a product or service. Process Maps are flowcharts depicted in a structured manner with predefined bands of functions or players shown on the left-handed column and activities, shown as symbols and boxes, moving from left to right in a sequential manner.
  • Histogram: this is a frequency distribution diagram that displays the distribution of data, usually in the form of a bar graph composed of columns representing the frequency at which data appears in various sections of the range.
  • Pareto Diagram: is a specialized bar graph that can be used to show the relative frequency of events, such as bad products, repairs, defects, claims, failures, or accidents. It represents data in descending order, from the largest category to the smallest, with points plotted for the cumulative total in each bar and connected with a line to show the relative incremental addition of each category to the total.
  • Relationship and Matrix Diagrams: are used to analyze problems when the causes have complex interrelationships. The matrix diagram is used to array relationships in grids of rows and columns, using symbols to show where the rows and columns intersect.
  • SPC and Control Charts: Statistical Process Control and Control Charts are used to assess and maintain the stability of a process. A center line and upper and lower control limits (collectively called control lines) are drawn on a graph. Data is collected over time and the values are plotted on the graph, with the control limits serving as guides to the control state of the process.

Table #1 indicates the stages in the improvement cycle in which each of these nine tools is most useful. In order to make the best use of these tools, the following fundamentals are suggested in applying each tool:

  • Clearly understand your objective. The first priority is to understand the actual situation, to define the problems clearly, and to understand the goals and objectives of the improvement effort.
  • Use the data that reflects the actual situation. Knowing the origin of the data being used is essential if objective judgments are to be made on the actual situation. Therefore, objective data is needed to evaluate the situation, not just convenient but unreliable data that conceals it.
  • Understand the advantages of each tool. You should meet the preconditions for using each tool in the most effective manner. The organization will be better able to apply these nine tools if their range of applicability is known, as well as the procedures for use and how to explain the results.
  • Make the appropriate explanation for the results obtained. If statistical methods show a deviation, correlation, or unacceptable variation, determine the technical significance of these statements and the premises upon which these evaluations are based.
  • Determine the technical and economic effects of a decision and action plan, based upon the conclusion. It is important to find a way to combine the new method with existing and new technology if it is going to be used effectively.
  • Quality improvement stresses fact control. Organizations must have the facts and data that reveals the condition of its services, products, and processes. Many different types of data are collected in the workplace every day. The purpose of data is to: grasp the situation, adjust and control the process, inspect and evaluate, and analyze and improve. Often it is unclear why a great deal of the data is collected and what purpose it serves. Conversely, a great deal of useful data goes uncollected. Good data is that which has a clearly defined purpose and can fulfill the purpose for which it is intended. The purpose of the Quality Effectiveness Toolkit is to enable the proper handling of tools and data to drive the improvement efforts towards high-performance and excellence.

A Quality Tools Assessment Survey can be used to determine the organizations readiness for utilizing the Basic Tools for improvement.