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Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 1: About Quality Tools

 

Welcome to a new column on the tools of our trade! I hope this first article will set the stage and whet your appetite for future discussions.

 

What do we mean by 'tools'?

In beginning a column on tools, perhaps the first question that must be asked, is 'What do we mean by tools, particularly in the context of quality?' Quality tools may be described as, 'Structured activities that contribute towards increasing or maintaining business quality'. Let's look closer at this description:

'Structured activities' means doing things in a repeatable way, using a defined set of rules.

'that contribute' means that they add value.

'increasing or maintaining' means that they can be used for all areas of quality improvement, control and management.

'business quality' means that the company benefits from their use.

Overall, this says that quality tools are serious and valuable, and are not used simply because they are the 'latest sexy method'.

 

Tools may be used at the organisational level, structuring the way people work together, or at the individual level, helping people and groups to solve problems and do their jobs. In a list of organisational-level tools, I would include such as Quality Circles, Quality Management Systems and Business Process Engineering. Having said this, I do not, at least initially, propose to cover tools in this arena. It is more at the individual level that this column will focus.

 

Three areas to use tools

Broadly, individual tools are used to manage information in three areas:

1. Collecting various levels of numeric and non-numeric information.

2. Structuring that information in order to understand aspects of processes and problems.

3. Using the information to identify and select information and plan for specific actions.

 

 

So what are the individual tools, and where do they come from? There are several sources:

 

Seven tools and more...

The Japanese have collected (and even invented some of) two sets of seven tools, although just to confuse us, there are conflicting views on what these are. For example, some descriptions of the first seven tools include Flowcharts, whilst others include Bar Charts or Line Graphs.

Work Study, a predecessor of modern quality, has given us tools for measuring our work, for example the Flow Process Diagram and the String Diagram.

Specialised quality areas, such as reliability engineering, have give tools such as FMEA.

There are a number of general management tools for planning and decision-making, such as Gantt Charts and Decision Trees.

Computer programming has given us several tools for mapping out processes, the most common being Flowcharts.

There are many other areas that yield useful tools, for example SWOT Analysis from marketing.

 

The articles in the series will pick and dip into all of these areas, sometimes exploring strange new tools and sometimes shedding new light through old windows. Overall, I hope they will be of practical use to you in your work. I will also endeavour to keep any mathematics to a minimum - where sums appear, they will be carefully explained.

 

Finally, let's round up the column this month with a relevant example of tool use: below is a Matrix Diagram taken from my forthcoming book, used to relate a number of individual tools to the three application areas described above.

 

 

 

Next time: The Force-Field Diagram

 

This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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