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Error Management – How to Systematically Turn Errors Into Knowledge

A man's hand turns the fourth dice with a question mark to a light bulb symbol

What is error management?

Error management is an essential method for quality assurance within quality management. To ensure quality, it must be clear what defects are and how they can be managed. To understand this, you need to take a closer look at both parts of the word and put them in context:

What are errors?

Only what is specified or standardized can have deviations. Accordingly, errors are nothing more than deviations from a given specification or an optimally normalized state. What these deviations are must be determined systematically and with clean methods in order to ensure optimal quality management.

By defining characteristic values, standards and specifications and the work processes oriented to them, deviations can be identified and made usable by generating knowledge from the deviations and thus "managing" errors. What is useful with regard to defect management?

How can errors be managed?

Managing errors means cleanly determining and recording the existing data from actual and target and checking them in comparison. If necessary, there is a difference between the target and the actual - a deviation! The task of management is to find precisely such differences and then systematically close them.

But how is error management related to quality management?

Error management in quality management

The purpose of error management in quality management is to ensure consistency between the target and the actual. Quality management therefore has the fundamental task of maintaining and improving all production processes. A decisive methodology of quality management is not only regular quality control, but also the systematic avoidance of defects:

Error management is an essential aspect and method of quality management! Error management checks the existing specifications, which deviations there are from these specifications and how thesedeviations can be corrected in order to ensure and permanently guarantee the best possible quality.

Which individual tasks does defect management include and how can they be implemented?

Tasks of error management: Implementation in 4 steps

Imagine bugs are weeds in your yard and your beautiful lawn quality. To maintain it, you don't just mow over the weeds, because then they grow back - you remove them, root and all, to give the lawn more room to grow, in short, more quality.

The idea is as simple as that. With the following 4 steps, we'll show you how to put theory into practice with practical methods:

Step 1: Determine and plan!

Starting with the target state, i.e. the specifications, the task of defect management is to plan ahead in the first step and, ideally, to access existing knowledge:

  • Which errors can occur?
  • How can these errors be systematically avoided?
  • What methodology is available?

Locate defect locations using sources: CAD drawing, special features, e.g. from complaints, or with the help of lessons learned; Even errors that have already happened in the past can serve to prevent errors in products or processes. The FMEA software with avoidance measures takes a central position here and is the core of effective error prevention. Likewise, the 8D report for optimal complaint management with the disciplines D5, D6, D7 represents an effective measure for forward-looking planning.

Step 2: Check and compare!

Based on the starting point of the target specification, it is checked whether your planning for error prevention is effective and what the reality looks like:

  • Are these errors really being avoided as planned?
  • Are the avoidance mechanisms effective in at least controlling the corresponding risks?
  • Do the errors still occur or can they occur at all?

Review predetermined metrics or use FMEA software and discovery measures: The effectiveness check of avoidance strategies. Here, the actual state, i.e. the reality, is compared with the target state. Do complaints occur, for example? Can patterns or error systems be identified from these complaints? If this is the case, errors could not be avoided on the basis of the current state of knowledge and error prevention has failed. In this case, there is a clear difference between the target and actual state. Audits also play an important role in error management, both in planning and in the review and execution of the audit. In a process audit, deviations detected reflect reality: how the process should be and how reality is.

Step 3: Evaluate and assess!

Keep the main task of your defect management in mind: The difference between the target and actual state must be closed! You have determined the difference with the help of clean methods. Now evaluate your own implementation: Are planning and assumption from step 1 really complete and exhaustive? Is it possible that circumstances could occur that you have not yet taken into account? Have new errors already occurred that you had not thought of in advance?

Step 4: Seize and act!

If deviations have occurred, the next task of error management is to systematically prevent the repeated occurrence of new as well as known errors and their emergence:

  • How can repeated occurrences of errors be prevented?
  • Which avoidance measures should be used?

Once again, the newly gained knowledge can be processed with the help of FMEA software to preventively
avoid defects in products and processes.

The disciplines D5 D6 D7 in the 8D process can also be helpful tools again.

Tip: Successful error management using the PDCA cycle

For successful error management, companies can use the PDCA cycle as a guide:

P: Plan = The target specification provides the planning for the further methods and corresponding tools, e.g. APQP, FMEA, PLP/test plan, audit.
D: Do = The reality is checked or compared with the planning, e.g. in goods receipt and goods issue or with SPC and initial sampling.
C: Check = Are there differences between target and actual?
This can be checked using control charts, evaluations and specified key figures, complaints and meaningful audits.
A: Act = If errors have occurred, action must be taken in the sense of targeted error elimination in order to avoid the repeated occurrence of such errors, e.g. with action management or FMEA avoidance measures.

This quality control loop is on a constant search for errors, their causes and sustainable solutions. In this way, you guarantee continuous improvement of your processes and thus sustainable corporate success.

How to systematically convert errors into knowledge with the help of error management

With systematic and methodical error management, you can not only avoid the repeated occurrence of errors by optimizing processes, but also gain valuable knowledge within the optimization measures.

Your starting point is planning and acceptance, the existing knowledge base and the FMEA. The process FMEAs already contain everything you need to include in your planning: What defects can occur here and what needs to be considered where and how? 8D uses this knowledge by checking reality in the form of 8D processes, e.g. the occurrence of justified complaints, and accesses the FMEA (e.g. through defect catalogs). New defects thereby provide new knowledge that can be used again later as a knowledge base and in the FMEA.

If already known defects are identified, you know that your previous defect management for defect detection has gaps, because these defects should not occur at all according to the knowledge of the FMEA. To find out where the defect lies, the difference between the target and actual state must be re-evaluated. Ideally, something new is uncovered directly, which has not yet been thought of and consequently no action has been planned. As a result, a new, improved measure management can be developed.

Effectiveness chain review.

The 8D process is the final element in the effectiveness confirmation of your measures: If this finds justified complaints, i.e. errors and their causes, this gives you meaningful conclusions about the quality of the effectiveness of your previous measures. Detection as well as prevention of errors is not too effective in this case. Nevertheless, the detection measures (testing using the test plans in the FMEA) are an indicator of the effectiveness of your prevention measures.

Using the effectiveness chain, you can systematically build and optimize quality knowledge.


Error management is the systematic enlargement of a knowledge base for your quality management!

The tasks of error management are the determination of errors and error sources, the planning of avoidance strategies, the verification whether the measures are effective and the comparison of the target state with reality. Without concrete and systematic planning as well as methodology for the alignment of planning with reality, no error management can be effective, let alone transform emerging errors into quality knowledge for effective error prevention. A valuable guideline for establishing an efficient error management system in your
company is the QC control loop or PDCA cycle: In this process, planning is cyclically and permanently compared with reality, and optimizations are carried out in the event of recognizable deviations - i.e. your knowledge base is permanently expanded with new findings and discoveries for error prevention. As a result, your planning becomes more and more comprehensive and better.

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