There is a story about a consultant, apocryphal perhaps, who charged $10,000 for putting a chalk mark on the part of a machine that was causing big problems for his customer. When the customer complained that the charge was excessive for such a short amount of work the consultant replied, “It’s $1 for the stick of chalk and $9,999 for knowing where to put the mark.” The point of the story is that the value is in knowing how to solve problems quickly and not in the amount of labor it takes to do so. This know-how comes from thousands of hours invested in the past and the fact that the consultant can now deliver this in a short amount of time should be seen as a value, not as shortchanging the client.
But there is another lesson here. In this case the consultant used what is perhaps the smallest step towards improvement: a single chalk mark. It may have been a line, a dot or an x but the point is that a long, fancy presentation was not required to pinpoint the cause of this particular problem. A written analysis of a problem and recommendation of countermeasures would be appropriate for larger, less visible or vague problems, but not to specify the part of the machine that was causing trouble.
It is in this spirit that one of our readers Junaid and his team made a quality improvement in their stitching process. There quality problems in the stitching process of seat covers. Some of the causes included:
- No identification mark to check stitch per inch during the stitching process
- No visual control for stitcher and supervisor
- Difficult and time consuming to set stitch per inch
The countermeasure was as simple as a stroke of a pen.
- Use I-mark to confirm 6 stitch per inch during stitching process
- Proper visual control for stitcher and supervisor
- Easy and quickly set stitch per inch before and during stitching
By placing I-marks on every variable knob the proper setting of machines became easier for the people operating the machines. By marking the nuts and bolts it became possible to know at a glance whether vibrations of the machines had loosened them, affecting quality of the process.
This pen-stroke solution is a great example of the smallest of steps we can take towards improving quality. The next steps may include making the using white-on-black or yellow-on-black marks to visually stand out, creating and posting one-point lessons around the machines, and starting an autonomous maintenance routine to prevent the marks fading or drift out of the target zone. These are just a few examples of the thousands of chalk marks that we can all make once we realize that the these smallest steps towards quality improvement are the most important ones in the long-term.