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Learning BoxDuring the early 1980’s the Quality Circle idea took hold in the electronic and automotive industry. One of the most famous case histories of its successful implementation was at Jaguar cars in the UK, where the workforce from top management to shop floor operator formed teams to understand and improve build quality. At the start of implementation they were not producing jaguars but dogs!! Since then of course the company has gone from strength to strength and they now produce a world renowned quality product.

Quality Circles are a great tool for an inclusive approach in a factory/service operation improvement programme . However, they can still be a bit formal and are essentially led by management as they work with an agenda base and a meeting protocol that is data driven with extended corrective action lead-times.

A more informal, inclusive, customer focused and flexible approach to Quality Circles was developed during my 10 years working in South Asia with IKEA – The Learning Box.

A Learning Box is a container or designated area for rejected articles/materials. This can be the existing facilities in the production inspection areas, either in process or at the end. It is important to label these facilities as the Learning Box for all to see including customers.

Before the well designated Learning Box’s are emptied and remedial work is conducted, the contents should be reviewed, analysed and actions agreed on how to avoid similar rejects/issues happening again. This activity needs to be done on an exceptionally regular basis with selected members of production; the operators, supervisors and managers. It should be an open platform, with a no blame culture, treating the contents of the Learning Box as valuable material in the drive to secure improvements and grow a Customer Experienced Product Quality approach.

Factory’s and organisations can find their own way to do this, dependent upon conditions, culture and opportunity. However, the main points to include in this approach are:

  • Be CUSTOMER FOCUSED and driven
  • Wherever possible work ‘bottom up’ – everybody has the possibility to contribute.
  • Make the analysis of reject articles as regular as possible
  • Find solutions – not who is to blame?
  • If the solution is ‘more inspection’, then it’s not a solution and the chosen method of working with the Learning Box is not working.
  • A solution is a corrective action and it must be as immediate as possible.
  • Use the inspection records to help in the review /analysis. This will provide valuable trends and patterns in helping to find the best possible course of action.
  • Make it a team effort – publicise the team’s work and results throughout the operation.
  • Use the Learning Box to create interest and involvement in all sections of the workforce.
  • Must include a factory operator who has been selected, trained and designated as the Customer Champion. Someone who can use customer eyes in the Learning Box discussions.
  • Include whenever possible the client and customers, so that their valuable input and contribution can be included.

This activity should be informal – avoiding as much administration, data presentations and form filling as possible. The result of the Learning Box should be an improved product quality. However the why to a Learning Box are:

It provides organisations with the opportunity to learn from mistakes and the responsibility to use the different skills and knowledge in their operations to find solutions. By involving as many levels in the workforce as possible, the quality message can be driven through all areas, not just in the inspection/compliance department. Everybody should be working to achieve a Customer Experienced Product Quality.

Mark K. Astley – Robert Vernon Associates Ltd.