Quality Is the Servant

This article, contributed by John Compton, Master Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt, looks at the relationship between technology and the practice of continuous improvement. He demonstrates why, although technology drives your business, maintaining quality is essential to gaining a competitive edge. John is an independent consultant for Printing Industries of America, conference consultant for its Continuous Improvement Conference, industry veteran with executive-level experience, and professor emeritus of Rochester Institute of Technology.

I learned early in my career a simple but important truth about the practice of quality: technology is the master and quality is the servant. By that I mean the goods and services we are able to provide to the marketplace are profoundly impacted by technology and its influence on our materials and equipment. It could be said that technology is what permits us to have a business. Our customers buy the printed products we produce and the benefits those products bring to their businesses. That’s why we call ourselves printing and or packaging companies, not quality companies. 

On the other hand, quality is the servant in that there will always be a need to improve whatever systems that technology has allowed us to create. There will always be a need to produce products with fewer defects, shorter lead times, and fewer mistakes. And there will always be a need to deliver our services with fewer errors and in a more customer-friendly manner. All systems need improvement on a continual basis. None of our processes and operations—for as technologically advanced as they may be—are free from mistakes, errors, downtime, and other cost-generating problems. Yes, technology is the giant that drives our industry, but the practice of continual process improvement is what serves to achieve and sustain competitive position and profits.

Quality improvement practices such as Lean manufacturing, six sigma, and ISO9000 bring needed discipline and structure to our businesses. Numerous presentations made at the recent Printing Industries of America Continuous Improvement Conference provided evidence of just how well they do apply to our industry. One case in particular involved a company that had recently moved to a new all-digital workflow. The new technology was providing benefits in time and cost reduction but was failing to achieve the levels they had originally targeted. The quality improvement manager and his staff diagramed the workflow, identified the critical control points, established measures of performance, and employed a PLAN-DO-STUDY-ACT approach to continually improve this state-of-the-art digital production process. Significant gains in productivity were attained and sustained. A simple example of how technology is the master and quality is the servant.

Remember, any company can buy equipment and the technology that drives it. But without a strategy and structure to continually improve upon its performance, a company’s rate of improvement is limited by that same technology. Think of it this way: your ability to achieve rates of improvement in your systems and processes that are greater than your competitors’ may be your only path to sustainable competitive advantage. That’s why I’m such a strong proponent of quality improvement as a discipline that no business can do without. It’s the servant that exists to help us achieve rapid, continual improvement regardless of our materials, processes, or technology.

If continuous improvement is a priority in your business, Printing Industries of America has resources for you:

Printing Industries of America’s Center for Technology and Research Consultation Services

800-910-4283, ext. 711 or consulting@printing.org.

To speak directly with Karen J. Keller, Senior Training/Consulting Specialist, call 412-259-1711, or email at kkeller@printing.org.

The Continuous Improvement Conference

April 7–10, 2013 Indianapolis, IN, Indianapolis Downtown Marriott

For more information on the 2013 Continuous Improvement Conference, contact Jim Workman at 800-910-4283 ext. 710 or by clicking here.



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