David C. Crosby
Why Zero Defects Always Works
It's your decision to make it so.
Published: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 10:00
About The Author
David C. Crosby
Dave Crosby is president of The Crosby Company, a firm he created to develop and deliver software and training in the field of quality management. His SPC software was the first on the market for the personal computer. His books include, How To Get Your People to Do Things Right, Quality is Easy, How To Run a Zero Defects Program, and The Zero Defects Option.
Crosby served as corporate director of quality for RCA Corp., General Instruments Corp., and Portec Inc. He was awarded the “Outstanding Civilian Service Medal” by the U.S. Army for his work with the Army Zero Defects Program. His web site is www.zdoption.com.
ero defects (ZD) is probably the simplest, most effective quality management concept ever conceived. Zero defects always works and it can’t fail—only the leader can fail. Once a leader accepts ZD as his or her personal performance standard, error will no longer be tolerated and defects will go away; defects will be prevented. When the leader weakens, ZD can falter. Even then, it doesn’t really fail. Like the old Army ballad “Old Soldiers Never Die,” it just fades away.
Check out one of my previous articles in Quality Digest Daily, “The Magic Pill." You’ll learn that The Magic Pill is the realization that people perform to the standard that is set or accepted by their leader. If the leader’s performance standard is zero defects, people will perform to that standard. That’s why ZD works. Some say it’s impossible to produce defect-free work. If you can produce defect-free work some of the time, then you can produce defect-free work all of the time. No? Why not? If you don’t know how to produce defect-free work, ZD won’t help. You better call in a couple of Six Sigma Black Belts to work their problem-solving magic. Of course, if you’re always in the problem solving mode, you’ve already lost the game. If someone’s job is solving problems, they will never run out of problems. It’s like building a rework center in a factory; it’s always busy.
The ZD mantra is, “Do it right the first time.” It’s strange, but that idea has its detracters; can you imagine? If you search the web, you’ll find all kinds of silly arguments against zero defects. Some will say that you can’t reach perfection. Who said anything about perfection? Many software developers get panicky, and claim that zero defects can’t apply to them. Research-type people seem to feel the same way. The American Society for Quality, back when it was the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), had a conniption when the American Society for Zero Defects (ASZD) was formed. They even published a proclamation in their magazine claiming that there was no need for such an organization, or ZD itself. In truth, there was a need for ASZD, and it’s too bad it disbanded. The ASQC treated ZD as a “motivational program” and assigned it to its motivation section, where it faded away.
There is no need to be ZD-phobic; it won’t hurt you. It doesn’t take a lot of courage for a leader to establish ZD as the performance standard. Software can be written right the first time. That doesn’t mean that errors won’t be made during development, but they can be corrected before the software is released to the customer. It’s like me writing this article. I make typos, or change my mind about the use of a word or a phrase. I’ll admit that software has a big opportunity for latent defects. I know from experience in developing my own statistical process control software. A defect in a program can be out there, used by hundreds of people for several years, and work just fine. Then, some guy puts in a comma instead of a decimal point and there's big trouble. I had that happen with my software. It was a simple thing to make a change to the software and update customers. Now we know what caused that error, it won’t happen again.
The same is true with research. I’ve heard researchers claim that failure is part of the process. Maybe so, but the work must be done correctly, with accepted procedures and methods. Edison went through thousands of filaments until he found the right one for the light bulb. Were these defects? I don’t think so, he didn’t do anything wrong. Anyway, it’s silly to even argue about it. If you're happy with things the way they are and don’t think that ZD applies to your work, don’t bother with it. But there’s no reason to preach about its evils.
I’ve had several discussions with a couple of doctors about the performance of their office staff and laboratory. If the lab makes an error, how can the doctor or the researcher make good decisions? A mistake in the office can cause all sorts of problems. A lab error could guarantee a bad diagnosis. Zero defects applies to software, research, medicine, teaching, manufacturing, flying airplanes, and everything else—ZD applies to all work.
The real beauty in zero defects is that it’s a simple concept and easy to implement. It starts when the leader sets a performance standard of zero defects. Unlike total quality management, Six Sigma, and programs of that ilk. The average employee doesn’t understand programs like those. I once checked into a hospital that had a Six Sigma program. I asked a nurse what Six Sigma meant. She said, “It’s something management’s doing.” The ZD performance standard applies to all types of work: engineering, purchasing, human resources, production, quality, clerical, maintenance, and many others, in fact, all others. It isn't just for manufacturing.
Everyone understands what zero means; everyone knows what a defect is. It’s infectious; people think about it. No expensive training, no Black Belts, no complicated procedures, no additional staff, yet it works. How can that be bad? Zero defects works if you build atomic bombs, make Subway sandwiches, publish a magazine, or make hardware for automobiles.
Whatever you do, it can be done right.
This article is about the quality management program. For the American hardcore punk band, see 0DFx.
Zero Defects (or ZD) was a management-led program to eliminate defects in industrial production that enjoyed brief popularity in American industry from 1964 to the early 1970s. Quality expert Philip Crosby later incorporated it into his "Absolutes of Quality Management" and it enjoyed a renaissance in the American automobile industry—as a performance goal more than as a program—in the 1990s. Although applicable to any type of enterprise, it has been primarily adopted within supply chains wherever large volumes of components are being purchased (common items such as nuts and bolts are good examples).
"[...] Zero Defects is a management tool aimed at the reduction of defects through prevention. It is directed at motivating people to prevent mistakes by developing a constant, conscious desire to do their job right the first time.":vii — Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance
Zero Defects seeks to directly reverse the attitude that the number of mistakes a worker makes doesn't matter since inspectors will catch them before they reach the customer.:4 This stands in contrast to activities that affect the worker directly, such as receiving a paycheck in the correct amount. Zero Defects involves reconditioning the worker "to take a personal interest in everything he does[,] by convincing him that his job is just as important as the task of the doctor or the dentist.":4
The development of Zero Defects is credited to Philip B. Crosby, a quality control department manager on the Pershing missile program at the Martin Company, though at least one contemporary reference credits a small, unnamed group of Martin employees.
Zero Defects is not the first application of motivational techniques to production: During World War II, the War Department's"E for Excellence" program sought to boost production and minimize waste.
The Cold War resulted in increased spending on the development of defense technology in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the safety-critical nature of such technology, particularly weapons systems, the government and defense firms came to employ hundreds of thousands of people in inspection and monitoring of highly-complex products assembled from hundreds of thousands of individual parts.:10 This activity routinely uncovered defects in design, manufacture, and assembly and resulted in an expensive, drawn out cycle of inspection, rework, reinspection, and retest.:12 Additionally, reports of spectacular missile failures appearing in the press[note 1] heightened the pressure to eliminate defects.
In 1961, the Martin Company's Orlando Florida facility embarked on an effort to increase quality awareness and specifically launched a program to drive down the number of defects in the Pershing missile to one half of the acceptable quality level in half a year's time.:12 Subsequently, the Army asked that the missile be delivered a month earlier than the contract date in 1962. Martin marshaled all of its resources to meet this challenge and delivered the system with no discrepancies in hardware and documentation and were able to demonstrate operation within a day of the start of setup.:14¡V15 After reviewing how Martin was able to overachieve, its management came to the conclusion that while it had not insisted on perfection in the past, it had in this instance, and that was all that was needed to attain outstanding product quality.:15
Management commissioned a team to examine the phenomenon and come up with an action plan, which became the organizing, motivating, and initiating elements of Zero Defects.:15 The Department of Defense also took notice and in 1964, began to actively encourage its vendors to adopt Zero Defects programs. Interest in the program from outside firms, including Litton Industries, Thiokol, Westinghouse, and Bendix Corporation,:16 was keen and many made visits to Martin to learn about it.:16 Their feedback was incorporated and rounded out the program. In particular, General Electric suggested that error cause removal be included in the program.:16
Martin claimed a 54% defect reduction in defects in hardware under government audit during the first two years of the program. General Electric reported a $2 million reduction in rework and scrap costs, RCA reported 75% of its departments in one division were achieving Zero Defects, and Sperry Corporation reported a 54% defect reduction over a single year.:17
During its heyday, it was adopted by General Electric, ITT Corporation, Montgomery Ward, Rolls-Royce Limited, and the United States Army among other organizations.
While Zero Defects began in the aerospace and defense industry, thirty years later it was regenerated in the automotive world. During the 1990s, large companies in the automotive industry tried to cut costs by reducing their quality inspection processes and demanding that their suppliers dramatically improve the quality of their supplies. This eventually resulted in demands for the "Zero Defects" standard. It is implemented all over the world.
In 1979, Crosby penned Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain which preserved the idea of Zero Defects in a Quality Management Maturity Grid, in a 14-step quality improvement program, and in the concept of the "Absolutes of Quality Management". The quality improvement program incorporated ideas developed or popularized by others (for example, cost of quality (step 4), employee education (step 8), and quality councils (step 13)) with the core motivation techniques of booklets, films, posters, speeches, and the "ZD Day" centerpiece.
Absolutes of Quality Management
According to Crosby, there are four Absolutes:
1. "The definition of quality is conformance to requirements"
Newcomers to manufacturing bring their own vague impressions of what quality involves. But in order to tackle quality-related problems, there must be widespread agreement on the specifics of what quality means for a particular product. Customer needs and expectations must be reduced to measurable quantities like length, or smoothness, or roundness and a standard must be specified for each. These become the requirements for a product and the organization must inspect, or measure what comes out of the production process against those standards to determine whether the product conforms to those requirements or not.:17 An important implication of this is that if management does not specify these requirements workers invent their own which may not align with what management would have intended had they provided explicit requirements to begin with.:78
2. "The system of quality is prevention"
Companies typically focus on inspection to ensure that defective product doesn't reach the customer. But this is both costly and still lets nonconformances through. Prevention, in the form of "pledging ourselves to make a constant conscious effort to do our jobs right the first time", is the only way to guarantee zero defects. Beyond that, examining the production process for steps where defects can occur and mistake proofing them contributes to defect-free production.
3. "The performance standard is Zero Defects"
Workers, at least during the post–World War II economic expansion, had a lackadaisical attitude on the whole toward work. Crosby saw statistical quality control and the MIL-Q-9858 standard as contributing to this through acceptable quality levels—a concept that allows a certain number of acceptable defects and reinforces the attitude that mistakes are inevitable.:80:79-80 Another contributor is the self-imposed pressure to produce something to sell, even if that thing is defective.:72-73 Workers must "make the attitude of Zero Defects [their] personal standard.":172
4. "The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance"
To convince executives to take action to resolve issues of poor quality, costs associated with poor quality must be measured in monetary terms.:121 Crosby uses the term "the price of nonconformance" in preference to "the cost of quality" to overcome the misimpression that higher quality requires higher costs. The point of writing Quality Is Free was to demonstrate that quality improvement efforts pay for themselves. Crosby divides quality-related costs into the price of conformance and the price of nonconformance. The price of conformance includes quality-related planning, inspection, and auditing; the price of nonconformance includes scrap, rework, claims against warranty, unplanned service:209
The main criticism is the amount of effort required to verify every person's performance in an organization.:121 Confidence in the program, and therefore compliance to it, fades without this verification.:118
Point 10 of Deming's 14 points ("Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity.") is clearly aimed at ZD.Joseph M. Juran was also critical of ZD.
Another criticism is that Zero Defects is a motivational program aimed at encouraging employees to do better. Crosby stated that "Motivation has nothing to do with it...It is merely setting performance standards that no one can misunderstand and then starting a two-way communications exercise to let everyone know about it." He blamed management actions and attitudes for creating the opportunity for defects.
- ^For example: "AIR FORCE ROCKET SAID TO FAIL TEST; 1,500-Mile Missile Reported to Have Fallen and Burned at Florida Launching". The New York Times. January 1, 1957. , "ATLAS SWITCH FAILED; Cutoff of Missile Launching Caused by Defective Part". The New York Times. July 14, 1958. , "A 3-ENGINE ATLAS FALLS IN FLAMES; Most Powerful U. S. Missile Is Airborne Only 2 Minutes in Cape Canaveral Test". The New York Times. July 20, 1958. , "Nike Zeus Anti-Missile Missile Destroys Itself in Test Failure; Soars to Two Miles in a Few Seconds Before Automatic Device Sets Off Explosion in the Second Stage". The New York Times. October 8, 1961. , "A MISSILE FAILURE LAID TO HUMANS; Psychologist Tells of Error Over-Electric Sockets". The New York Times. September 5, 1962.
- ^A Guide to Zero Defects: Quality and Reliability Assurance Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower Installations and Logistics). 1965. p. 3. OCLC 7188673. 4155.12-H. Retrieved 2014-05-29.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnoHalpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 567983091.
- ^Harwood, William B. (1993). "27: "Zero Defects" Was Invented Here". Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737.
- ^Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 11. OCLC 567983091.
- ^Pettebone, E. R. (1968). Riordan, John J., ed. Zero Defects: the Quest for Quality. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. p. 46. OCLC 3396301. Technical Report TR9. Retrieved 2014-05-29.
- ^"More Bang Per Buck: 'Zero Defects' Plans Cut Contractor Costs". The Wall Street Journal. New York. 1965-04-06. p. 1. ISSN 0099-9660.
- ^"Revivalist zeal in the drive for perfect parts". Business Week. New York. 1965-05-08. p. 159. ISSN 0007-7135. OCLC 1537921.
- ^"Zero Defects Campaign Gets DOD Impetus". Aviation Week & Space Technology. New York. 1964-11-30. pp. 63–65. ISSN 0005-2175.
- ^"More ZD reports". Quality Assurance. Wheaton, Illinois: Hitchcock Pub. Co. August 1965. OCLC 2449963.
- ^Harwood, William B. (1993). Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737.
- ^ abcdCrosby, Philip B. (1979). "8: Quality Improvement Program". Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 127–139. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
- ^ abCrosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 97–120. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
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- ^ abCrosby, Philip B. (1996). The Absolutes of Leadership. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co. ISBN 9780893842765. OCLC 34077426.
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- ^Crosby, Philip B. (1996). The Absolutes of Leadership. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co. p. 79. ISBN 9780893842765. OCLC 34077426.
- ^ abcCrosby, Philip B. (1996). Quality Is Still Free: Making Quality Certain in Uncertain Times. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 191. ISBN 9780070145320. OCLC 32820340.
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- ^Larson, Alan (2003). Demystifying Six Sigma. New York: American Management Association. p. 161. ISBN 9780814471845. OCLC 50808933.
- ^Deming, W. Edwards. "The Fourteen Points For The Transformation Of Management". www.deming.org. Palos Verdes Estates, California: The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
- ^Salsburg, David (2001), The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, pp. 250–251, ISBN 0805071342, OCLC 45129162, retrieved 2013-02-23,
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