Whose job is it to control quality?

On an industrial assembly line, whose job is it to ensure the quality of the components being manufactured?

Is it the job of the QA department? Is it the job of a person with a clipboard, who looks at finished products in the line and removes defective pieces? Well, in most factories, this was (and still is) the case. Quality is one department’s job, and it is that department’s responsibility to deflect defects before they reach the customer.

But at Toyota, they did things differently, and this turned them into world leaders in quality manufacturing.

At a Toyota factory, when any worker on the assembly line spotted a defect in the line, he/she would pull on a cord called the Andon cord to stop the entire assembly line. As soon as the cord is pulled, a sequence of events follow in quick succession

  1. ‘Go see’ – The plant manager walks over to see the defect for themselves, rather than have somebody reporting it to them.
  2. ‘Thank you’ – The manager then thanks the worker who pulled the cord for presenting an opportunity for the company to improve.
  3. ‘How can I help you’ – The manager then asks the worker who pulled the cord, ‘How can I help you fix this issue. The key word here is you – the worker who pulls the cord is given the responsibility and the resources to fix the issue. This fix is assigned the highest priority.

At Toyota, improvement of daily work took precedence over merely performing it, through a principle called Kaizen – continuous improvement. In a Toyota assembly line, quality was everybody’s responsibility.

When a worker stops the assembly line to point out a defect, there are two roads an organization can take. They can see the worker as a disruption, and consider the break as an interruption that costs the company millions of dollars in lost revenue. The road less taken is to thank the worker for identifying an opportunity to improve, and see the time spent as and investment towards better quality.

Toyota chose the road less taken and it has made all the difference.

Inspiration: The Andon Cord

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