The continuous improvement world is full of buzzwords. Two of them are seemingly at odds with each other.
The first is zero defects. The theory is that a company should never be tolerant of defects, and should strive for perfection from all their processes.
The other buzzword is ‘better, not perfect‘. This theory advocates spending your time and resources in the areas where they deliver the biggest bang for the buck. Once the returns start to diminish, it is time to move on to a more pressing problem where the time can be better spent. This theory also promotes the idea that you don’t have to make processes pretty. As long as it works better than the old way, it is good enough.
On the surface, the two seem to be incompatible. If you know of something that can be done to make a process better and you intentionally choose to leave the issue unresolved, you are violating the principle of zero defects. But if you overspend your resources for a small gain when there is a bigger gain available somewhere else, your actions violate the ‘better, not perfect’ principle.
So, which is right?
In short, both are. You get closer to zero defects by continuously applying the principle of better, not perfect. The truth, though, is that nobody has ever actually gotten to zero defects. Perfection is an elusive concept. The challenge is to keep moving towards it, despite knowing that you will never arrive.
Treat zero defects as your ‘North Star’. It is more of a navigation tool than an actual destination. Strive to move toward it as fast as possible. That is accomplished by embracing the ‘better, not perfect’ principle. The more you get out of your limited improvement resources, the higher your improvement velocity will be.
Read more articles by Jeff Hajek at the Gotta Go Lean blog.