Quality tools are used by organizations to help monitor and manage quality initiatives. There are several types of tools used but there are seven management tools for quality control that are the most common. Different tools are used for different problem solving opportunities and many of the tools can be used in different ways.
The trick is to become familiar and comfortable with all the quality management tools so you can pull the appropriate one out of the your toolbox when there is a problem solving need.
So what are the seven most common quality tools?
Most of us are familiar with flowcharts. You have seen flowcharts of reporting relationships in organizational structures. Flowcharts are also used to document process flows. This tool is used when trying to figure out bottlenecks or breakdowns in current processes. Flowcharting the steps of a process gives a picture of what the process looks like and can shed light on issues within the process. Flowcharts are also used to show changes in process when improvements are made or to show a new work flow process.
A check sheet is a basic quality tool used to collect data. A check sheet might be used to track the number of times a certain incident happens. As an example, a human resource department may track number of questions per category per day. This check sheet would total the number of questions received. This information identifies opportunities to proactively share information with employees to reduce the numbers of questions asked.
Example Check Sheet
Cause and Effect (fish bone) Diagram
A cause and effect diagram, also know as a fishbone diagram, shows the different causes of a problem. The problem is identified and written in the box (head of the fish) to the right. There is then a spine of the fish and off the spine, list major causes of the problem. Causes are typically separated into categories of people, process, materials and equipment. Causes are identified through brainstorming with a group familiar with the problem. Once all causes are identified, they can be used to develop an improvement plan to help resolve the identified problem.
Example Cause and Effect (Fish Bone) Diagram
A pareto chart is a bar graph of data showing the largest number of frequencies to the smallest. When looked at from the largest to the smallest occurrences, it is an easy picture to see how to prioritize improvements efforts. The most significant problems stand out and can be targeted first.
Example Pareto Chart
Control charts or run charts plot data points on a line over time and give a picture of data movement. It demonstrates when data is consistent or when there are high or low outliers in occurrences of data. It focuses on monitoring performance over time by looking at variation in data points. It distinguishes between common cause and special cause variations. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a good example of a control chart.
Example Control (Run) Charts
Histograms are bar chart pictures of data that shows patterns that fall within typical process conditions. Changes in a process should trigger new collection of data. A minimum of 50-75 data points should be gathered to ensure an adequate number of data points have been collected. The patterns that are detected demonstrate an analysis that helps understand variation.
Scatter diagrams are graphs that show relationship between variables. Variables often represent possible causes and effect. As an example, a scatter might show how satisfied volunteers are that attend orientation training. The diagram shows the relationship between volunteer satisfaction scores and volunteer orientation training.
Example Scatter Diagram
Each tool has advantages for certain situations and not all tools are used for all problem solving. Once a tool is learned, it can be adapted to different problem solving opportunities. As with anything else, using tools properly takes practice and experience. Start small and just start using each of the tools and over time you will become proficient and a great problem solver!