Is 99.9% Good Enough?

How important is it for your company to produce products with zero defects?

How important is it for your company to produce products with zero defects? How important is zero discharge to your operation? Do you strive for perfection or would 99.9% be good enough?

A recent issue of The Working Communicator featured an article "Strive for Perfection—OR ELSE!" The article notes that often 99.9% is not good enough. If it was good enough two million documents would be lost by the IRS this year. Also, the IRS will incorrectly process 103,260 returns this year. (What is the actual percentage?) For you photo buffs, 811,000 faulty rolls of 35-mm film would be loaded this year. (I wonder how many rolls would be loaded faultily?) In the next 60 minutes, 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account. Every minute 1,314 telephone calls would be misdirected by telecommunication services. Every day 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents. As many as 268,500 defective tires would be shipped in the next year. Two airplane landings daily at O'Hare International Airport would be unsafe. In the next hour, 18,322 pieces of mail would be mishandled. In the next year, 55 malfunctioning automatic teller machines would be installed. This year, 291 pacemaker operations would be incorrectly performed.

So, is 99.9% still good enough for your operation? I always thought that even 95% was good enough. However, I was quite wrong in my thinking. Ninety-five percent may earn you an A in school, but it doesn't cut it in manufacturing and technology.

If you finish a million pieces each year and 5% are defective, that equals 50,000 defective parts. That adds up to a lot of money: stripping, refinishing, labor, chemicals, etc. Not to mention the toll it takes on your reputation for quality and on-time delivery.

If 5% of all the passenger cars manufactured in 1997 proved defective, at least 296,340 consumers would be pretty unhappy (using data from the AAMA). In December of 1997, the editorial focused on the chipping paint problem automobile manufacturers and consumers were experiencing. Only 0.6% of the cars had paint chipping problems. I thought that was an acceptable percentage. Well, plenty of people let me know that I was wrong (including immediate family).

So what is perfection? Zero defects? Zero discharge? Yes, if you want to put it in concrete terms. How do you attain it? It means providing the same finish on the same part every time. It is having the right color, thickness, composition, coverage and environmental resistance as every other part just like it in the run. However, even more important than being perfect is striving for perfection. It is that 99% perspiration as opposed to the 1% inspiration that really makes a difference, according to Thomas Edison.

And, English Statesman Lord Chesterfield suggested, "Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable."