Inspection is Waste in Any Industry

Monday, March 2, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt

"Cease dependence on mass inspection" was W. Edwards Deming’s third of his 14 points for transformation of American industry.  When I first read this I was working for a an industrial distributor and couldn’t comprehend its meaning.  Manufacturers inspected everything before it went out the door and then the recipient of those goods would in turn inspect (again).  It was the way business was done.  Later when I was working for a manufacturers association I found that those manufacturers still inspecting at this level were going out of business.

What’s the problem with inspection?  Well, other than the fact it is too late, costly and ineffective . . . absolutely nothing!  We do it because that is what is considered good quality, but the waste is built into the system.  Command and control thinking born from scientific management theory is to blame.

I primarily work with service industry now (and have for the past 15 years).  Service industry (private and public) and especially bank management consulting I have done over the past decade has allowed me to see many types of inspection.  However, service industry doesn’t call it inspection they call it:
  • checking
  • review
  • required for regulatory compliance
  • testing (software)
  • checkup
  • "just being sure"
  • audit
I’m know there are many others, but as with manufacturing, inspection in service industry is waste.  Yet I see a lot of it built into the processes they do.  This is the price paid for "dumbing down" processes and people with technology and a low cost mentality . . . this command and control thinking always costs them more.

Technology purchased to help find errors or "edits" in the system are a waste of resources.  The waste has been built into the system. 

Worse, no one is responsible for the quality of the service. It has been taken out of the hands of the service worker and passed to a "reviewer" and/or some technology.  For the command and control thinker they have to have all this infrastructure to assure quality and manage the "dumb" worker.  Building better systems that don’t create errors in the first place is a better way to achieve business cost reductions. Word of warning: if you are doing inspections don’t just get rid of them, improve the system first to avert another disaster.

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