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How to Effectively Address Recurring Quality & Efficiency Issues in Factories

August 27, 2020

 by Renaud Anjoran

Factory worker checking the quality of a weld

Books are full of advice on how to improve quality, efficiency, and lead times all at the same time. This can be very inspiring, but how to train quality and process engineers to take the right steps?

Art Smalley, President of Art of Lean, recently came up with a great book, Four Types of Problems: From Reactive Troubleshooting to Creative Innovation, in which he categorizes four types of problem-solving approaches—listing their pros and cons and when to pick each approach. We found his advice to be highly applicable in day-to-day operations in manufacturing.

Today, I wanted to cover one particularly useful classification. Let’s say an issue comes up. What type of countermeasure will you put in place, in order to prevent recurrence in the future?

3 Types of Countermeasures to Prevent Recurring Issues in Quality, Efficiency and Lead Times

1. Administrative Measures (fast, but often weak)

Factory workers receiving instructions on how to use equipment

This is the often tempting and obvious answer. Add to the human management of the process.

Smalley gives the following examples: “job instruction or worker training, standardized work, inspection, audits, containment, visual aids, alerts, anything like that that gets posted as a way to affect the individual or remind people to do something”. In some cases, well-thought visual aids (for instance, with color codes) can do wonders. In many cases, it adds to paragraphs of text that nobody reads.

It is well-intentioned and could work as a short-term solution. If people really do as prescribed, the issue it targets won’t come up again, or it will at least be detected and addressed early.

However, have you analyzed the problem deeply and come out with 1 or 2 root causes? Have you done the harder work of fixing the problem at the root? Probably not.

2. Detection Measures (better and often, harder)

A go no-go plug gauge for detecting issues

If you can find a way to have the problem detected without relying on human work (inspection, an extra process step…), it is usually cheaper, more reliable and more likely to stick in the long run.

As Smalley describes, “It goes farther and looks at the process and says, what can I do in the process with gauges, sensors, devices, techniques that automatically detect the problem situation, if and when it occurs, and stop it from getting out of the process and going downstream or to the customer or anything like that?” We gave many examples of error proofing techniques before. They fit in this category.

3. Prevention Measures (best)

If you do the hard work of root-cause analysis and of making adjustment to processes, you aim at making that issue disappear entirely. The table below shows a few frameworks and methodologies you can use for your improvement projects.


Of course, applying all this is easier said than done. People without relevant training often make the mistake of skipping important steps. In Smalley’s words, “Prevention is best because it doesn't just administer the process through training or some other mechanism. It doesn't just detect the problem, but you're going after the real root cause and the underlying conditions and factors which allowed it to happen in the first place.”

Further Resources

To learn more about Administrative, Detection and Prevention measures, and how you can put them into practice, you can watch Smalley's 2-part video series explaining these concepts in further detail. The first part describes each of these countermeasures in depth, while the second part looks at how different COVID-19 responses fit within these 3 categories.

Over to you. Do you have any examples of these types of countermeasures in practice in your own factory?
If so, please share them in the comments below!

22 Signs Of Good Factory Management in China eBook

Topics: Quality, Mistake-Proofing, Process Improvement

Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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