For Built-in Quality, Simple is Best

As part of our Lean manufacturing benchmarking trip we visited a bus manufacturing plant in Japan with a group of executives from an aerospace company on February 27, 2006. We spent 6 hours observing their Lean manufacturing operation in action and asking about their kaizen efforts and management philosophy for continuous improvement. Among the many things we learned was the “simple is best” approach to built-in quality. They way they guarantee quality through gemba kaizen (immediate, on-site improve) is quite ingenious.
The production line had “Quality Gates” between each major process where inspectors would check the quality of the work performed by the workers in the process being checked. At first glance the number of inspections and checks might make you ask “is this built-in quality?”
What was unique and smart about the whole operation was that the quality checkers were all production employees with lots of experience in the process they were checking. If they found a problem, they would call the employee over and show him or her what the problem was and how to fix it. The employee would then fix it and return back to their workstation.
In this case, the quality function was being used as a training tool and a way to do kaizen. If the employee who was having problems with quality improved their performance they were rewarded with a gift certificate for beer. The management summarized the thinking behind their approach to quality kaizen as follows:
1. A person who knows the job, and who has done the job well is your best inspector because they know what aspects to watch out for.
2. It’s easier to take instruction from a person who has actually done the work before than from an inspector who is not part of production. A person who has done the job before will be your best trainer.
3. The employee who made the mistake is called out of the area and he or she will have to fix their mistake. At this time the trainer can show them any short cuts or impart some wisdom on the subject that the employee may not have grasped fully.
4. By training the person immediately after the mistake is made, they will understand the countermeasure needed and remember it most easily.
5. Recognizing that people may feel bad after being told they have produced bad quality, and in order for people not to feel like this process is punishment, once the worker shows improved performance based on the new standard they are given a reward. In this case they figured that beer would be a nice touch.
This was a classic case where the company asked itself what results it wanted (quality kaizen, people involvement, built in quality) then found the simplest and most direct method get them there.


  1. ttganesh

    March 13, 2006 - 5:56 am


  2. Patrick Ng

    March 15, 2006 - 5:44 pm

    Hi Brad,
    I have read TPS recently, and I must say that your article motivates me. Thank you.
    Patrick Ng

  3. Harjono

    August 23, 2006 - 5:22 am

    good and very interesting to read.