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Auburn Technical Assistance Center (ATAC)

Quality at the Source: Practical Leadership Techniques


One of the fundamental concepts of lean is Quality at the Source (QAS).  Typically, lean practitioners discuss QAS from the aspects of error proofing and not passing on defects.  These QAS concepts apply equally well to manufacturing, service, and business processes.


Often overlooked is the concept of proactive quality design.  Everyone knows we need to make good products, but our activities tend to be reactive, responding to problems after they occur.  I would like to remind folks about the proactive approach to quality by offering the following guideline:


Developing a Proactive Quality Process

  • Identify Critical to Quality (CTQ) characteristics
    • Based on customer needs & specifications
  • Map the process, identifying where the CTQ’s are created
    • Process maps, block diagrams, walk the part diagrams
  • Determine the Critical to Process (CTP) characteristics used to create each CTQ
  • Use a Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) approach to reduce the possibility of defects
    • Occurrence X Detectability X Severity = Risk Priority Number Ranking
  • Develop a visual process for monitoring CTQ’s and CTP’s
    • Area Boards & Leader Standardized Work Audits
  • Develop Action Plans for improvement (Kata Approach)
    • Control Plans and First Piece Verification
    • Standardized Work
    • Process Observations, Audits, & Trends
  • Update Maps & FMEA’s as you improve

Although a problem solving culture is essential for success, excellent quality is a result of a proactive approach that prevents problems before they occur.  Starting with the features that are critical to quality, the team members will then identify where each of the CTQ’s is created in the process, working proactively to implement robust processes that reduce the risk for defects.  Once these CTP’s are identified, continuous improvement becomes easier because the process is more stable. 

If you are struggling with recurring quality issues or intermittent failures, go back and follow this approach for proactive quality.  You may find that minor instabilities have entered your process through non-standard work, product & equipment modifications, or deterioration.  Using this model will help you get back on track and find those nagging quality issues.

D. Hicks 4/2/15

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