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Stopgaps

Stopgaps are simply temporary measures put in place to prevent the defects from a known problem within a system, process, or product from escaping to a customer.

This is in stark contrast to a countermeasure, in which a permanent solution is implemented.

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Stopgaps are intended to be temporary, but they should still be well defined. In fact, a stopgap should have an extra layer of scrutiny on it because of the fact that it is meant to address a known problem. If the process fails, defects will escape to the customer.

When a system is consistently poor, the process generally includes an inspection step somewhere downstream. While this is by no means a desirable condition, it is not a stopgap, as there is often nothing in the works to correct the problem.

A stopgap normally begins its life as a direct response to a change of some sort. The origin could be a piece of machinery that is wearing out, a shift in a supplier’s specification for an off-the-shelf product that can no longer meet your product’s requirements, or it could be a side effect of a process improvement that took waste out of another process. In any case, the change means that the process is no longer capable of producing an acceptable level of quality.

So, while a new, better process is developed, or a new machine is installed, or a new vendor is sought, a temporary process is implemented. This stopgap process is intendetd to be a bridge. But because it is hastily developed, a stopgap is generally resource intensive. That simply means that there has been no continuous improvement scrutiny applied to make a low-waste process that delivers high quality. A stopgap trades speed of implementation for the refinement that goes with a well-developed process.

The single biggest risk of a stopgap process is not, as many people think, that it will fail to identify defects. While stopgap processes are far less effective than well developed poka yokes, for example, they still tend to do a decent job of capturing known problems.

The risk is that the stopgap will become permanent. Whether left documented as a wasteful process or undocumented as a hidden factory, a stopgap without a well managed action plan to replace it with a permanent solution will fall through the cracks and change from a temporary exception to the new way of doing things.

Stopgaps are not only a risk to your company’s profit, they are a risk to your job satisfaction. In some cases, the temporary measures will be staffed appropriately, but often the stopgap is added to your job as an additional responsibility.

If you are not persistent in asking about the progress of the permanent solution, or in coming up with one on your own, you will soon find that any previous gains you made in your work area will evaporate.

I recommend against going overboard with the reminders, as your boss will certainly be busy, but a gentle nudge from time to time does wonders. And a nudge with a recommendation or a suggestion about something you’d like to try tends to be far more effective than simply pointing out a delay. The key, though, is to not give up.

Stopgaps present a special risk to you and your credibility. They often occur as a result of some change, and changes are often the result of some form of waste reduction effort.

If a stopgap is left in place as a result of a continuous improvement project in another work area, the perception will be one of shifting work around. And if it is the result of changing suppliers to a lower-cost vendor, it will be viewed as the company accepting slippage in quality as a way of doing business. While both situations are probably not intentional, it is hard to argue with the perception.

The easiest way to keep yourself honest is to make sure that stopgap action plans are prominently posted. Make sure that they are in a place that will embarrass you when your boss walks through your work area. More importantly, though, to maintain personal credibility with your team, do not let the action plan stagnate. Make sure that you are doing something to eliminate the countermeasure.

  • Stopgaps should be temporary. Don’t let them become the new way of doing business.
  • Stopgaps that are used correctly show a commitment to quality. Used incorrectly, they erode a team’s confidence in its leaders.
  • Stopgaps are inefficient. They are hastily developed, and as a result are unrefined.
  • Stopgaps should be documented. Even though they are temporary, they should be followed consistently.

A PDF of this term is included in our Phase 3 Information Series.

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