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Quality Control Flowcharts: Your New Best Friends?
While a quality control flowchart may not pant or give you affection, it can be a quality improvement project manager's best friend. Quality control flowcharts seek to understand the flow of a process from beginning to end so that quality efforts can focus on areas that may need improvement. As with other quality control tools, the quality control flowchart can help you to visualize the items being talked about.
Putting together a TQM flowchart doesn't have to be too much different from constructing other flowcharts, like the gap analysis flowchart. Begin by spending some time studying what the different flowchart symbols mean, so you'll be ready to put together your own flowchart.
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Developing Your Flowchart
After you've familiarized yourself with the symbols of the flowchart, you should at least know:
- Oval - starting and ending point of a process
- Box - an individual step in the process
- Diamond - decision point
- Circle - one step is connected with another
- Pentagon - one process is connected with another
- Flow LIne - shows the order activities take place
You will need to make some decisions regarding your flowchart. The first decision you will need to make concerns the level of detail that you will be including in your flowchart. Generally, there are two levels to a flowchart: the micro level - an incredibly detailed picture of your processes that documents every step and decision involved, and the macro level - a generalized view of the process. When producing a qualitly control flowchart, you will want to construct your flowchart, in most cases, at the micro level.
Next, you will need to document every step and decision that is taken in a process. In order to do this, you may need to observe the process from beginning to completion, interview individuals involved in each stage of the process, or outline the process as a group. It is absolutely vital, especially when you are undertaking the production of a flowchart as a quality improvment tool, that you are accurate in recording each and every step and decision involved in the process.
Once you have elucidated each component, you can then construct your flowchart either using Microsoft Word or a flowchart creation program. Depending upon how complex your processes are, you may need to break the process up into its component parts and create a flowchart for each part of the process.
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Interpreting a Quality Control Flowchart
It's not enough to be able to construct a flowchart! You're also going to need to be able to interpret what you see on the flowchart! Again, before you begin, familiarize yourself with what the symbols mean. If you see unfamiliar symbols, don't be afraid to look them up. After you have made sure you unerstand what the symbols mean (kind of important in interpreting eh?), then you will want to examine things in the following order:
- Problems! You might find bottlenecks (places where the process slows down), weak links (where there's a lack of ability, skill, or adequate equipment), or steps that are either poorly defined or redundant.
- Too Many Decisions! Look at each decision point. Is the person currently making the decision the best person for the job? Does a decision really need to be made there? Are decisions being skipped or defaulted on?
- Too Much Repetition! Are employees backtracking too much? If there's to many places where checks are in place, you could be slowing down your process or creating enormous amounts of waste.
- Unnecessary Activities! Is every step absolutely integral in adding value to the process? If not, can you eleminate or alter the step so that the only activities completed are necessary ones?
By implementing the use of quality control flowcharts into your project management efforts, you can better visualize where improvements need to occur.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LampFlowchart.svg