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Blog, Lean

Lean Reasoning: A Fresh Look at Quality Control

Posted: April 22, 2018 at 12:35 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

Learning something really new is rare because it means challenging deeper assumptions and mental models. For instance, in our latest book, The Lean Strategy, Dan Jones, Jacques Chaize, Orry Fiume and I show that the default reasoning path in business is 1/ define the problem on paper, 2/ decide by outlining options and choosing the preferred one, 3/ drive the solution through the ranks by getting others to execute and 4/ deal with the consequences when things don’t turn out as expected.

Traditional Business Reasoning

  1. Define the Problem.
  2. Decide on Preferred Option.
  3. Drive to Execution.
  4. Deal with Consequences.

Traditional quality control fits well within this standard way of thinking as products are sketched, design choices are made, then executed in production and then… quality control is required to inspect out the faulty parts. Quality control is fundamentally an expression of dealing with the fact that production doesn’t turn out as expected.   The fault is often looked for in production, rather than working all the way back to the real source: design.

Tradition Quality Control

  1. Define the Product.
  2. Decide on Preferred Option.
  3. Drive to Production
  4. Deal with Quality Control

By contrast, from our study of lean over the past 25 years, we have concluded that lean thinkers learn a different form of reasoning from their sensei on the gemba. First they learn to find the real problems by encouraging and supporting people in solving all small problems, starting with customer issues and employee difficulties, before thinking about changing the process. Then, through familiarizing themselves hands-on with the real issues, they face the real, fundamental problems, the elephant in the room, such as safety and punctuality for airlines or trains, nosocomial infections for hospitals, robustness and ease of use for most products, friendliness for service and so on. Having faced issues, they can then frame them in a way that everyone in the company understands what they are  trying to do – for instance “one-time customer, lifelong customer” explains why every single customer issue is important. This framing then allows everyone to participate in forming solutions together, by aligning the inventiveness, ingenuity and initiative at all levels with the larger issues and building innovation on real capabilities.

Lean Reasoning

  1. Find Real Problems by Solving Small Problems
  2. Face Real Fundamental Problems
  3. Frame the Problem for Common Understanding
  4. Form Solutions Together

From that perspective, quality management is about using every bit of   information out of production or service delivery to pierce the silos and feed back both issues and solutions to the design department to figure out where the design knowledge was faulty – What calculation did we do wrong? Which interface didn’t work out. In this sense, the find-face-frame-form lean thinking reasoning pattern sees quality as a flow of knowledge from customers to production, from production to production engineering, from production engineering to design and from design to marketing, not the other way around.

A good example of the wrong frame would be “Design for Manufacturing” – designing so that manufacturing is easier, which is about making better design decisions in order to make them easier to execute. Lean thinking turns this around in terms of manufacturing for design: the plant is the test machine for the design and the better the plant is run, the more accurate the information and the more relevant the knowledge in context to improve designs – where the real value is.

From this perspective, the endless debates about how to improve quality control are simply as pointless as digging a hole in the sand: the more you do, the more you’ll find. To truly revolutionize your quality you need to look deeper into hidden thinking assumptions and understand what building quality into products really means: using the quality system to pierce the silos and feedback the customer usage knowledge all the way to design choices. It feels silly to expect different results from doing the same thing again and again, and unrealistic to expect doing something different without first challenging the underlying thinking. Without a fundamental debate on the very nature of quality management we keep inventing heavier and more cumbersome quality control systems which burden products with rigidities and unnecessary costs without ever making the company more competitive through truly innovative offers.

Lean Quality Management

  1. Find Hidden Assumptions and Feedback from Production to Service Delivery
  2. Face Design Issues
  3. Frame Quality as a Flow of Knowledge from Customers to Product Design and then Marketing
  4. Form Real Products in Real Places for Real People

This debate about the real role of quality management needs to happen at board level to look for disruptive results from fresh thinking. This is where lean thinking come in – at the real place, with real people and real products.


About the author:

Michael Ballé

Michael Ballé is co-author of The Lean Strategy ( La stratégie Lean) and founding member of the Institut Lean France and Editorial  Board Member of Planet   Additional  information on Michael is available on Linked In at

Books from the author

Copyright information: The article has been published with permission from the author. Title picture is the property of our sponsor and not associated with the original writing.


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