Statistical process control (SPC) is a management philosophy that relies on straightforward statistical tools to identify and solve process problems.
By systematically identifying potential problems in process control, managers can proactively make corrections before quality outcomes suffer.
SPC methods are useful in helping managers to measure whether their processes and products conform to design specifications, and they also help organizations to improve productivity and reduce waste.
SPC methods are used extensively in manufacturing settings but are also relevant in the service sector.
Statistical process control (SPC) is an optimization philosophy centered on using a variety of statistical tools to enable continuous process improvement. Closely linked to the total quality management (TQM) philosophy, SPC helps firms to improve profitability by improving process and product quality. Although initially used in manufacturing, SPC tools and methods work equally well in a service environment.
SPC methods are used extensively by organizations to enable systematic learning. Using methods developed in the 1920s by Walter Shewhart and subsequently enhanced by quality consultants William Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, organizations are able to use a set of straightforward statistics to find out whether or not their processes conform to expectations. Furthermore, the use of SPC methods can help to identify instances of process variation that may signal a problem in the process. By identifying process variation and potential nonconformance with design expectations early in the production or service environment, managers can proactively make corrections before the process variation negatively impacts quality and customer perceptions.
Although SPC is enabled with statistical analysis, the management philosophy that underlies SPC is much broader than a set of statistics. To improve a process systematically, managers must first identify key processes and key variables of interest. Every organization has hundreds, if not thousands, of processes and variables that can affect product and service outcomes, and one challenge is to focus on the processes and variables that are of key concern. SPC tools can be useful in identifying areas that need attention, but managerial insight is needed to use the SPC tools strategically.
Managers can directly influence organizational performance using SPC practices. Their choice of key processes and performance variables creates a feed-forward signaling device to the organization about key performance indicators. This causes attention to be paid to these processes and variables. Feedback is then received through the SPC information, enabling evaluation of the data and an opportunity for corrective actions to be taken. Thus, SPC is not merely a set of statistical tools, but a management philosophy that helps organizations to improve performance through feed-forward and feed-back loops.
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