Can operators be trained to improve quality?

"A bad system will beat a good person every time"

– W. Edwards Deming, Total Quality Management).

William Edwards Deming, one of the pioneers of statistical product quality, thought a lot about solving problems on the factory floor. He came to the conclusion that most problems, at their root, were almost never caused by the people operating the machines.

Denning believed the first step to solving any problem is getting over the idea that it's someone else's fault.

I've had the chance to speak with many process managers. I've always tried to make the case that investing in changing their production systems will have the biggest impact on quality. But it's not always an easy sell.

For example, we recently worked with clients who are trying to standardize performance across plants. They're trying to figure out why one plant is reporting better performance than all the others. But the reason is unclear.

So they're faced with a choice: should they put more resources into operator training at the lagging facilities, or invest in changing their production processes?

If they asked Deming, he'd tell them to do what Peter Scholtes, another pioneer of quality, recommends:


"Improvement efforts should focus on systems, processes, and methods, not on individual workers. Those efforts that focus on improving the attentiveness, carefulness, speed, etc., of individual workers — without changing the systems, processes, and methods — constitute a low-yield strategy with negligible short-term results." 

The truth is operators will always be confined to working within the system that management creates.

So any lasting changes to performance will come from changes to the system.


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