Systems Need Effective Learning To Improve Outcomes

By | May 21, 2008

Apart from being owned by the same parent company, what do a UK Lexus and a Botswanan Toyota have in common?

Having been in both cars recently a striking similarity was apparent. A warning label under the CD slot about loading CDs was lifting away, in exactly the same way, in both cars. Nothing else was wrong with these vehicles, both showing the usual Toyota/Lexus rock solid quality, but this was intriguing. A coincidence or something more significant, the right hand end of both labels was peeling away from the fascias.

What does this say about the quality process? Something in the glue formula, or the way the glue or label are applied, or a problem with a reaction between surfaces? Who knows, but what it does show is if there is a failure of process the exponential effect can be significant; in this case crossing brands and continents, replicating many times over.

An effective quality system will deliver a consistent outcome, but when there is a failure of a particular process within that system that failure will be reproduced over and over again.

It’s this failure of process improvement that frustrates customers who can see the same problem reoccur, because there is a failure with a component or process within the system. It’s also the cause of more serious corporate nightmares. If there is a flaw in any production process that flaw will be replicated; at best causing reputational/financial damage, at worst putting peoples’ lives at risk.

To prevent this happening, or to quickly stop it reoccurring, two activities must be built in to the system. Firstly, ongoing Quality Control with very short learning loops, and secondly appropriate user/field testing, again with very short learning loops.

Learning Loops contain five key stages:

  1. Evaluate: what are we trying to achieve?
  2. Plan: how should we best try to achieve it?
  3. Do: perform to specification
  4. Check: measure the output against the standard
  5. Amend: take corrective action

The shorter time the learning loop, the faster change can be put back into the system. They are called loops because each piece of learning should feed the repeated activity. Holding a Learning Loop meeting before each day’s work would give you five opportunities to improve things in a week. Hold one monthly and you can quickly see how learning slows down.


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