eliminating defectsEliminating defects – that’s something that everyone can agree is a good thing to do – whether it’s getting rid of the bad golf swing, the poor purchasing decision (these shoes don’t match anything I own!) or the manufacturing or design error, we want to eliminate defects from our lives.

Before we eliminate a defect, we have to all agree on what a defect is.

Let’s start by defining a defect, so we’re all on the same page.

A defect, according to Webster’s dictionary, is

1 a: an imperfection that impairs worth or utility : shortcoming b: an imperfection (as a vacancy or an unlike atom) in a crystal lattice
2 [Latin defectus] : a lack of something necessary for completeness, adequacy, or perfection : deficiency

Moreover, the Etymology gives us additional insight into the word: Middle English, from Latin defectus lack, from deficere to desert, fail, from de- + facere to do.

So, defect comes from a lack, from deserting a “do”. Sums it up pretty well, I think. Shortcoming, deficiency – yup, that sounds like a defect.

We can have defects in anything in life – in what we eat, what we wear, what we do, even a pessimist will see defects in who they are.

In some cases, it’s easy to eliminate a defect; in others, it may be much more difficult to do so.

What’s the methodology for eliminating a defect?

The first step in most methodologies is understanding of what the defect is. We’ll call this Definition. Not word definition, as we did above, but defect definition.

What is defect definition?

Simply put, it’s defining the defect or problem in such a way that elimination of it will eliminate the other factors.

The definition is not as easy as it sounds, since it requires that we define the defect in such a way that it can be eliminated. So, we have to ensure that we are identifying the true defect, not merely a symptom of that defect.

How do we separate the symptom from the defect?

One of my favorite ways to do this is to steal a technique from a toddler – the 5 Whys method. When you have a problem you want to eliminate, you want to identify the defect so it can be removed. The 5 Whys help you to do this. Here’s an example of the 5 Whys:

I didn’t have a good time at dinner last night. WHY?

Every time I tried to chat, I had to yell above the noise. WHY?

The restaurant was too crowded to relax. WHY?

A busload of travelers got there just before us. WHY?

The restaurant is a favorite of bus tour operators. WHY?

As you can see, the technique can go on forever – was it that it was too noisy, too crowded, too popular?

You need to decide when you’ve gotten the true root causes. Once there, then you can decide how to define the defect. The noise and the crowd are just symptoms; the root cause is that you were looking for a restaurant where you could chat and relax, and selected the wrong one.

Do you agree that this is the root cause?

Why or why not?