As much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, not even our most fabulously improved processes are perfect 100% of the time. As NBC’s The Good Place Eleanor Shellstrop put it – “pobody’s nerfect.” 

Overview: What is a defect? 

A defect is a product or service that fails to meet agreed to customer requirements. It could be a manufactured part that has a chip on the surface, or a consulting group that failed to deliver all of the items outlined in their statement of work.  

3 drawbacks of defects 

When buying a product as either a business or an individual, there is the expectation that a quality product will be delivered in exchange for payment. If this expectation is not met, it can harm the reputation and profitability of the organization providing that product. 

As a result, defects are something companies look to avoid and either prevent subpar items from getting to the customer, or work to eliminate defects altogether. 

1. Wasted resources 

It takes resources to produce a given product: labor, capital, machine time, etc. Any defects that come out of a process are considered waste and have a negative impact on the organization’s bottom line. 

2.  Safety concerns

Depending on the item, serious safety concerns could arise from use of a defective product. For example, putting a defective part in a car engine could lead to engine failure and potentially fatal consequences if this failure results in an accident. 

3. Hurt reputation 

Customers expect to get what they pay for. If defective products make it out to customers, this can result in increased complaints, poor reviews, and possibly developing the reputation of being an unreliable supplier.   

Why are defects important to understand? 

Understanding defects can help companies avoid their associated drawbacks and ensure smooth and profitable operations.  

Help understand true requirements

There are times when we may not actually know what our customer requires. If we don’t consider a product defective, but a customer comes back with a complaint about it, it helps us understand what the customer truly needs. 

Help understand conformance

By tracking defects, we can understand how well our process is adhering to established standards, both internally and externally set. 

Serve as baseline for improvement

When we track defects, we can work to understand the root cause of their production. Once the root cause is identified, we can work to improve our processes so that we reduce the number of defective products produced – or eliminate them all together.  

An industry example of defects 

Search “product defect” online, and you’ll find many examples of companies whose defects have caused serious problems for their customers. One notorious example is that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 defective cell phone batteries. 

In 2016, Samsung had to recall almost 1 million cell phones after serious burns and fire hazards occurred. While thankfully there were no deaths caused by the defective phones, there were at least 92 reports in the U.S. of the phones overheating. The decision to recall the Galaxy Note 7 cost Samsung ~$10 billion plus damage to their reputation. 


3 best practices when thinking about defects 

In order to reduce or eliminate defects, we need to be able to know what they are and how to respond when they occur. Here are some best practices for understanding and addressing defects.

1. Understand the defect type 

Is something the wrong shape? Would its use lead to catastrophic failure? Understanding what type of defect occurred and what the implications are helps with risk assessment and determining how to improve the process. 

2. Keep tracking simple 

While it is important to track defects to understand them, it is also important to make sure the tracking method used is simple. If tracking becomes too complicated, people may cease to use the method and fail to recognize defects when they occur. 

3. Understand what “good” means 

If you don’t understand what a good product is (i.e., a product that meets all customer requirements), then it will be impossible to determine when a product is defective. Talk to your customers to truly understand their needs, and ensure that all personnel know the difference between “good” product and “bad” product.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about defects

What makes a product defective? 

The short answer is that failing to meet customer requirements makes a product defective. However, there are near infinite possibilities as to what in a given process actually caused the defect. This is why it is important to track and understand when defects occur so that they can be prevented in the future. 

How do I identify defects? 

Many companies use inspections to identify defects. What the inspection process looks like can vary based on the product, process, resource availability, etc. While it is good to have inspection steps to avoid sending defective products to customers, defects are still waste, and their creation should be reduced as much as possible.

What are the most common defects in manufacturing? 

This also depends on the product and process, but in many cases, the root cause of a defect can be attributed to poor material quality and/or negligence. 

Pobody’s nerfect, but… 

While we know that nobody is perfect, we can work to get our processes as close as possible in order to minimize the number of defects produced. This helps ensure customer safety, satisfaction, and organizational profitability.

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