What Is First-Time Quality? (Definition, Benefits and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

First-time quality is a quality management approach that aims to eliminate defects. It's common in manufacturing and construction, but its principles can be useful to any organization that provides goods or services to customers. If you work in such an industry or are interested in applying a zero-defect approach to your work, understanding first-time quality and its relation to total quality management can be helpful.

In this article, we define first-time quality and total quality management, discuss the benefits of first-time quality and provide tips for improving it for your organization.

What is first-time quality?

First-time quality, also known as "first-time yield" and "first time right," is both an approach for completing a process free of defects on the first attempt and a metric for measuring the extent to which this is successful. First-time quality is an approach to total quality management that has its roots in Six Sigma, a methodology for improving efficiency and effectiveness. It can be useful in almost any industry for its ability to identify areas in need of improvement and prevent losses. If it's successful, there's little to no waste, less risk and no need for replacements or repeat work.

As a metric, first-time quality compares process input with process output. For example, if an apparel manufacturer produces 100 shirts per hour but five don't meet quality standards, the measure of first-time quality is 95%, with the remaining 5% being scrap. As a system, first-time quality comprises five steps, known collectively by the abbreviation DMAIC:

  1. Define the problem.

  2. Measure the extent of the problem.

  3. Analyze the problem, seeking its cause.

  4. Improve the process by addressing the cause and making improvements.

  5. Control the level of improvement through monitoring and support.

Related: What Is Six Sigma? Definition and Certifications

What is total quality management?

Total quality management is a business approach and philosophy that focuses on providing optimal customer satisfaction. At the core of total quality management is the idea that long-term success is achievable if all the members of an organization continuously strive to exceed quality expectations. The result should be, at least, a well-made product that meets the standards of both the organization and its customers.

Here are the primary elements or principles that drive total quality management:

  • A focus on the customer: All products, services and efforts should meet the expectations and requirements of the customer. Otherwise, the organization's work lacks quality.

  • A total commitment of all employees: Every member of the organization should be aligned with total quality management goals, and they should receive the training and resources needed to achieve them.

  • A process-centered approach: A process-centered approach focuses on well-defined steps for producing desired results. It helps to ensure consistent, fast results.

  • Integration: All of the roles, departments and contributors within an organization are dependent on one another. Total quality management highlights these interconnections to produce higher-quality results.

  • A strategic, systematic approach: Striving for quality should involve planning that defines the organization's strategy and mission when it comes to delivering quality.

  • Continuous improvement: The organization should always strive to deliver better quality, particularly in response to changing customer needs.

  • Data-driven decision-making: The organization should also continuously collect and analyze data relating to performance, its customers and the market to make better-informed and accurate decisions.

  • Communication: Constant communication of goals and methods helps to align efforts and improve the potential for success.

Read more: What Is Total Quality Management?

Benefits of first-time quality

The following are some benefits of using first-time quality as a metric and system in your organization:

It helps to identify areas in need of improvement

Ideally, an organization would measure first-time quality after every process in its operations, and the rate of defects after each process can show which processes could benefit from refinement. For instance, garment manufacturing involves numerous stages of production, including pattern-making, cutting, bundling, sewing, pressing and dyeing. If cutting, sewing and dyeing appear to generate a larger number of scraps relative to the other stages, then it's evident those areas need to be improved.

It leads to faster resolution

The faster you isolate the cause of a problem, the more quickly you can take steps to resolve it. In the above example, the garment manufacturer knows which parts of the production process need resolution, so it can begin to direct resources at finding out what's causing the defects. Analyzing two stages of the production process should involve much less time than analyzing the metrics of every component of the system.

Related: 16 Process Metrics To Track

It can measure process efficiency

Process efficiency refers to your level of productivity relative to the amount of time and money you put into a process. First-time quality is a simple metric for determining your production efficiency, showing you how many sellable items you create per sample. Thus, if you have a first-time quality ratio of 80%, this gives you an idea of how much improvement you need to make to reach a more desirable level of efficiency.

Related: Definitive Guide to Process Efficiency

Tips for improving first-time quality

Defects can result from various causes, so it's important to identify which are affecting your yields and address them at their root. With that in mind, consider these tips for improving your first-time quality:

Check your raw materials

The quality of the materials you use in your production process can have a significant effect on the products you create. Sometimes, a supplier may have inadvertently let substandard materials pass on to you, so try to examine samples of your raw materials when you receive them. Identifying and removing defective materials can prevent defective products on your end down the line.

Maintain your machinery and equipment

If your raw materials are up to standard, your machinery or equipment may be responsible for defects. Though sophisticated, industrial tools lose calibration and effectiveness over time, leading to malfunction. You can resolve these with inspection and repair. Perform routine maintenance on your machines and equipment to ensure they execute functions as intended. Regular maintenance has the added benefit of preventing waiting-time waste resulting from machine breakdown.

Practice proper process documentation

Process documentation refers to the ongoing activity of recording all of the necessary information and steps for carrying out a business process. It's important for first-time quality, particularly in instances of personnel changeover or when under-experienced employees take over an activity. Proper documentation ensures that everyone knows how to perform the right tasks in the right order and the right way to ensure consistent outcomes, thus preventing defects resulting from human error.

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