The Top 10 SPC Mistakes: Part 5

Me: Okay. Let’s do a quick rundown of the eight items we’ve covered to date in our list of Top 10 Mistakes to avoid when using statistical process control (SPC): training everyone, charting everything, segregating control charts from manufacturing, “pinching” the SPC coordinator, using SPC because it’s a “good thing to do,” using SPC as a data collection exercise, providing minimal or no infrastructure/support, and making production a priority over quality. But there are two more! Let’s finish up our list.
 
You: I’m ready. Let’s do this. Give me numbers 2 and 1.
 
Me: Great! But remember (sorry, I need to reiterate my disclaimer here), please do take the right steps that all the experts in all the books discuss, and don’t commit the mistakes I’ll be listing in this blog and the rest of the series.
 
So, without further ado, let’s complete our list of Top 10 Mistakes to avoid when using SPC...drumroll, please…here are numbers 2 and 1.
 
2. Using SPC without operations backing
SPC is used to improve product and process quality. It’s a manufacturing tool used by operators for the primary benefit of operations. Yes, engineers, managers, quality assurance personnel, Six Sigma specialists, and others benefit from the use of SPC, too. But boiled down to its essence, SPC is primarily a tool used for manufacturing, and the most successful SPC implementations I have seen are driven by operations, not quality assurance or some other support organization. The most successful SPC implementations are those that are conceived, driven, and supported by the operations group.
 
How is it that SPC can fail in the hands of one department, but given the same company, the same plant, and the same employees, thrive when driven by another department? The answer usually involves political power. Departments such as quality assurance (QA), human resources, and engineering exist primarily to support manufacturing—hence, their designation as support departments. However, the primary reason for a plant’s existence is its ability to make things. Right or wrong, many companies treat support departments as an afterthought. The cold reality is that, in tight budgetary times, if QA and operations are competing for a resource, the latter will typically gain the resource at the expense of the former, but not the other way around. Why? Because you must be able to make something before you can support its manufacture. Manufacturing comes first and with it, the political power that operations groups enjoy.
 
The bottom line is that companies must ensure that their SPC system thrives by initiating it and driving it through the operations group. Otherwise, the SPC system needs could be considered little more than an afterthought.
 
1. Managerial indifference
This is the big enchilada of SPC mistakes and the single largest killer of SPC systems. The easiest, simplest way to kill all enthusiasm for SPC is for managers to ignore it. Treat SPC with indifference and the system will die a quick, agonizing death.
 
My best example is that of a small pharmaceutical packaging plant. The original plant manager installed an SPC system that was run and supported by machine operators who cross-trained in different technical disciplines, then trained the other operators. Being run by operators, this SPC system had tremendous buy-in and support from virtually everyone in the plant. It was very successful in improving manufacturing performance.
 
Then the original plant manager took a transfer. In his place came a different plant manager—”Joe”—who was less than enthralled with SPC. Joe had different priorities and thought SPC was a waste of time. I sat in on one of his first weekly management meetings. One of the operators excitedly gave a report concerning the improvement of processes and the interesting information they had learned that week from their use of SPC. As the operator went through his discussion, I looked at Joe. He was yawning and cleaning his fingernails with a pocket knife. I knew it was over. He was sending a clear message to everyone: “I’m bored, and I’m not interested.”
 
To their credit, the operators persisted and continued their weekly SPC presentations. Soon, though, Joe took control of the agenda and pushed the SPC presentations to the end of the meeting. Conveniently, Joe would let the meeting drag on and call “time” just before the SPC presentations, effectively silencing the operators. Needless to say, SPC died a quick and silent death. No memos were sent. Joe never ordered a “cease and desist” regarding SPC activities. Instead, he put the kibosh on an entire plant’s SPC efforts and killed them off with his indifferent attitude and emphasis on his “more important” agenda items.
 
What to do differently? Several incredibly successful SPC systems that I have encountered were ones in which the plant managers became statistical experts and led the push to install an SPC system. Those same plant managers required daily review meetings to summarize the previous day’s control charts, problems, alarms, and process capability indices. One plant manager went so far as to personally oversee the SPC shop floor implementation. He used each morning’s SPC information to focus engineering, problem-solving, and support efforts throughout the plant. Not surprisingly, those plants made amazing strides in product and process quality in a very short period of time. Their efforts are examples of the antithesis of managerial indifference. By driving SPC through their plants and supporting its use, each plant was able to save millions of dollars over several years, while expanding their customer base, manufacturing operations and profitability.
 
In Closing
Thanks for joining me for this list of Top 10 Mistakes to avoid when using SPC. SPC is a wonderful tool for improving processes, reducing costs, and focusing your process improvement efforts. However, whether support-specific, managerially-based, or just an oversight of an important detail, there are many, many (many) ways of bungling an SPC system. I’ve highlighted some of the biggest SPC mistakes that I have seen and the ugly results that are the consequences of those blunders. By avoiding these 10 mistakes, organizations can sidestep critical problems that could be devastating to any SPC initiative, giving hard-earned budgetary dollars the highest probability of positively affecting a plant’s quality system. ‘Til next time!
Douglas C. Fair
By Douglas C. Fair
Chief Operating Officer
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