Are You Managing Defects Properly?

by | Mar 23, 2017 | AQL, Product Inspections, Quality Control

The classification, recognition, and remediation of defects can be confusing. A defect that has zero negative impact on the product’s appearance and usage may be “critical” – the most severe category. A defect that renders the product completely useless, however, might not be critical. How does that make sense?

And then there’s subjectivity around how to classify product defects. Even though you and a competitor make a very similar product, a minor defect for them may be a major defect for you, or vice versa. How do you determine what’s right for you?

We’ll address these questions (and more) in this post. Figuring out the best ways for your business to manage defects is easily one of the most important pieces of the puzzle in QA and inspections.

Defect Categories in a Nutshell

1. Minor Defects

Minor defects are the most straightforward because they are exactly what they sound like. A minor defect is a small deviance from your product specifications, but it doesn’t make the product unsafe, unusable, or unsalable.

A few examples of a minor defect would be a small scratch or smudge, a slightly off-center logo, or maybe an inconspicuous hole. Usually, a minor defect is a defect that your customer either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care about.

2. Major Defects

If a defect is likely to prevent the product from being used properly or otherwise render it not fit for sale, it’s a major defect. If a product with a major defect is put up for sale, it will usually be passed over or returned.

Examples of major defects include missing or broken components, large scratches on the front/top of the product, and large stains, discolorations, or holes.

3. Critical Defects

A single critical defect will fail the entire inspection, so this category is reserved only for defects that make the product hazardous, dangerous, or otherwise unsafe for the user.

Examples include sharp edges, broken safety features, poor structural integrity, or (at the risk of belaboring the obvious) a smart phone that bursts into flames while in use…

Three Ways to Optimize Your Defect Classifications

1. Become Extremely Familiar with Your Product and its Usage Patterns

Knowing from first-hand experience how your product is used and what the user expectations are will be your foundation for how to classify defects. For instance, we have a client who sold a boxed game set on Amazon – let’s say that a sample box set that they open up during inspection has a piece missing – what defect category should that be?

At first glance, you’d think that one piece missing from a game would just be a minor defect, but this is where the product knowledge comes in – which piece is missing? What if it’s impossible to play the game without the missing piece?

Another common scenario in our world is fashion jewelry that tarnishes. Of course, fashion jewelry is cheaper because it isn’t made with precious metals and will tarnish eventually, but seeing it tarnish too quickly is a problem.

A knowledgeable client will be familiar with the duration that a given piece of fashion jewelry will remain fashionable and in use. From there, they can determine how long a piece needs to remain untarnished to be acceptable, as well as the longevity thresholds for minor and major defects.

2. Glean Insights From Online Reviews

Always look at product reviews – of your own product and/or a competitor’s – when revisiting your defect classifications. Common complaints and reasons for low star ratings will provide clarity to what defects you should anticipate and how important they are to the salability and usability of your offering.

3. Be Specific and Objective

If your factory produces shirts and your inspection team finds a sample with sleeves that are just a little too short, then that could probably pass as a minor defect.

But what counts as “a little too short?” A similar question applies to cosmetic defects like scratches or permanent markings. A “small scratch” is probably a minor defect, but who’s to say what “small” means? You!

This point, like many others, leans on the first principle – be familiar with your product. But it’s not enough to know what’s acceptable and what isn’t; you have to codify and clarify that for your inspections team so that someone with zero knowledge of your product can conduct the inspection and still properly recognize and classify defects.

It’s your job to define what small scratch is – maybe it’s 1 centimeter or less, depending on your product. Perhaps a scratch greater than 1 centimeter would count as a “large” scratch and constitute a major defect if on the front of the product, but only a minor defect if it was on the bottom of the product.

Empower your inspections team to put your customers’ interests first by spelling these things out crystal-clear for every possible defect – and let us know if you’d like some help!

Insider Tips:

Remember that labeling and packaging problems, while important to catch and remediate, are not defects. Only an issue with the actual product should be classified as a defect.

Be sure to reserve the “critical” defect label only for defects that make the product unsafe or hazardous. Don’t risk failing an entire inspection by calling a major defect “critical!”

Be aware that your defects list and classifications will probably evolve over time.

If you’re ever on the fence between classifying a defect as major or minor, we’d recommend going with major – you can always review the exact inspection findings after it’s over. However, a low number of minor defects (depending on your AQLs) will still allow a shipment to go out. If the defect should really be major, you probably wouldn’t find out until you started getting returns and negative reviews.


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