“It’s not the mistake that matters so much, but how you deal with it,” says Patrik Johansson, who is responsible for claim handling at VPG. Patrik applied his three top tips for improving quality when he implemented VPG’s claim control system. The number of claims fell by 81% in just a year.
Tip #1: Get the data right: You can’t control what you can’t measure
“There is often a reactive culture of just fixing things as they happen,” says Patrik. “It feels satisfying at the time, but it’s not good for consistent quality.” In Patrik’s view, you have to get the right data on quality from the reporting system. “Once that’s in place you can start changing not just processes, but attitudes, too.”
It also becomes painfully clear how many very minor issues keep cropping up. They are small, easy to fix, usually inexpensively – so why change? “It’s an attitude that’s easy to understand,” agrees Patrik. “But our new reporting system and claims process make it easy for us to see how to eliminate these very minor, but quite annoying, quality issues for our customers.” The team is now free to focus on bigger things.
Tip #2: Cards on the table: Communicate clearly and make quality visible
The data opens up opportunities for discussions around those bigger things. Being open with the data is the key, so reporting back to group meetings in the factory is a must. “I worked on the assembly line at VPG for many years, so I’m not shy about telling it how it is!” says Patrik. “And it pays off. I’m confident the solution is out there, with all the experience and expertise we have in the factory, in engineering, and in design. My job is to get as many of those eyes on the problem as possible.”
For Patrik, co-operation is vital: “We have to work together to solve these problems. Assembly workers with designers, engineers with procurement, everybody plays a part.” It is also important for people to be able to see and understand the consequences of quality deficiencies. “We have set aside a new area in the warehouse. It’s a kind of black museum where we keep all the claims, so everyone can see what has gone wrong and generate ideas for improvements.”
Tip #3: Encourage a culture where mistakes are accepted provided lessons are learned: Root cause analysis and the learning organization
Making mistakes is human nature. It is how we gain experience and learn. It can be positive, but there are vital conditions: the surrounding culture must be accepting, and it must be within a learning organization. “Don’t play the blame game,” is how Patrik sums it up. “Be positive, tackle the root causes and introduce corrective measures.”
A recent example at VPG concerned manual entries in the reporting system. “We realized that people were describing something in different ways, or using the same description for different things,” says Patrik. “Some of it was the result of a busy multi-lingual environment, some of it – well, human nature, as I said!” VPG introduced standardized text for the system: pre-written entries available at the time-saving click of a button. They eliminate manual effort and the mistakes that go with it.
“We found mistakes, we learned our lesson, we found a way to eliminate them. No-one blamed, and everybody – especially our customers – happy.” Happiness is not easy to measure, however, and Patrik is keen to point to the facts and figures. “We cut our quality issues by 81% in a single year,” he reports. “And we scored zero complaints on our most recent FAT at Scania. A great result. This whole initiative saves time and money for our customers and ourselves, and it keeps quality-based safety and efficiency at the top of the agenda.”