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Quality & You

What does Quality mean to You?

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    [post_date] => 2013-01-19 18:53:43
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    [post_content] => When I ask people, “what does Quality mean to you?” I hear a wide range of answers. For some people, their answer is, “Quality means putting out the best product or service possible.”  Others may say, “Honesty and trust.” Many will tell you, “Quality means doing the right thing at the right time.” Still others will say, “Quality is a resistance to compromise.” However, more often than not, I still hear “ I have no idea, that’s why we have a quality department,” or “Hey let me ask my Vice President of Quality,” or even worse yet, “I’m not sure what quality means to me.”

[pullquote]I would like to see a day when we don’t hesitate about our response toward Quality.[/pullquote]

Ideally, I would like to see a day when we don’t hesitate about our response toward Quality; when everyone has a fearless reaction to Quality just like they do with everyday events.  Bottom line, everyone, needs make Quality a priority, and a part of everything they do.  When we all understand the impact of our actions, how even the smallest action may pay enormous dividends, then that leads to the path of true quality: preventing human error; possessing the kind of oversight and engrained thought that corrects misjudgments before they have a chance to trigger problems.

What a world this could be if we all were that much more attentive; that much more in tune, and truly understood and believed the dramatic impact that Quality can have on all of us!
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When I ask people, “what does Quality mean to you?” I hear a wide range of answers. For some people, their answer is, “Quality means putting out the best...

Quality & Economics

A Moment of Truth for the Solar Panel Industry

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    [post_date] => 2013-06-01 06:47:36
    [post_date_gmt] => 2013-06-01 06:47:36
    [post_content] => I recently read a commentary in the New York Times (“Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels”; May 25, 2013, link), and something sounded familiar.

Solar panels that are expected to have a 25-year life span are failing. Coatings are disintegrating and other defects have caused fires. Worldwide, the reports are coming in. The $77 billion solar photovoltaic industry is facing a quality crisis.

This is a moment of truth for the solar photovoltaic industry, and yet, many manufacturers will chose to ignore the opportunity and instead repeat the same mistakes that the American automotive industry did in the 1970s.

Remember the Ford Pinto that could explode if was hit from behind? What about Chevrolet's Vega that was rusting before it left the factory floor? There were other spectacular flops like the Cadillac Cimarron, Plymouth Volare, Dodge Aspen, all Oldsmobiles, and GM diesel engines: all self-inflicted wounds that damaged once sterling brands for decades and drove sales into the laps of their international competitors.

Then, as now, assumptions are percolating among solar “PV” industry leaders about the “cause” of production problems they obviously do not understand. Is it really just cost-cutting in manufacturing materials that is causing 5.5% to 22% defect rate in solar modules?

I was struck by the comment from Dissigno CEO, Dave Williams: "Quality across the board is harder to put your finger on now as materials in modules are changing every day and manufacturers are reluctant to share that information.” This is the type of thinking that will cost the industry (and their customers) billions of dollars before they resolve this crisis. In fact, isn’t it time to set a firm finger on quality and hold it there until there until something positive happens?

American auto manufacturers learned three valuable lessons from their quality crisis:
  1. “Problem solvers” will solve nothing but they will drill through wads of cash with very little to show for it;
  2. Nearly all product quality failures begin at the design stage with inadequate specifications, standards, expectations; and
  3. No amount of correction at the production and service end will ever adequately “solve” anything; that’s like trying to put out the fire after the barn burns down.
The solar industry must do as the auto industry has done: they must go all the way back to the design stage, dump their assumptions, check all processes, and re-examine everything right down to the basics of how they envision how their customers will use their products. They must deal with the physics involved, even the markets. Late in the 1980s, the auto industry adopted the practice of "robust engineering" - using extreme conditions of operations the basis of design and engineering. Adding to the quality process, they also considered how people work together and how they discuss and formulate solutions. For the first time, designers, engineers, production managers and marketers got together and discussed not only what the product had to do, but how it might fail. When you design for the two most extreme operating conditions that your product will experience, you eliminate 95% of the potential cause for failure. If your product must operate in a particular temperature range, you must ask, "Can we add 10 degrees either way to our operating design?" In the same respect, consider also how the product will be manufactured and sold. In this case, designers did not take into consideration possible price competition. Haven't we learned that cost-cutting is a reality for commerce and therefore qualifies as a "condition of operation"? This crisis of quality is not, as the writers of the story suggests, China's problem. While true that Chinese manufacturing has supplied many panels, it is up to the world industry to set the standard. The companies that purchase the modules must set the quality process, be honest about the product design, and resist any compromise. I appreciate Suntech CTO, Stuart Wenham's commentary that "we need to start naming names." In my book, those names should include the engineering directors and executives who missed the big cues and forgot the important lessons of what it means to adopt and maintain a robust and sustainable quality process. [post_title] => A Moment of Truth for the Solar Panel Industry [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => moment-truth-solar-panel-industry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-09-01 07:00:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-09-01 07:00:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=1239 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [format_content] => )
I recently read a commentary in the New York Times (“Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels”; May 25, 2013, link), and something sounded familiar. Solar panels that are expected to...

Quality & Process

Optimize for Perfection

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    [post_date] => 2013-03-16 21:13:20
    [post_date_gmt] => 2013-03-16 21:13:20
    [post_content] => An executive once emailed me a quote that reads: perfection is unknowable. I’m sure his source was Confucius or Zen teaching, but I also find this thought noted in Western cultures as well.

So, maybe perfection is unattainable all things, but perfection is what we seek in all aspects of our lives. And it is interesting how we rationalize the contradiction between what we realize is possible and what we expect from our efforts. But is the goal really perfection?

[pullquote]In an optimized organization, all processes move toward perfection.[/pullquote]

In an optimized organization, all processes move toward perfection. That's how we can expect the greatest result from the smallest action. When nothing misses our attention; when every nuance snaps into our view, then we begin to work for continuous improvement toward perfection.

There is nothing really revolutionary about the idea of continuous improvement. It has been espoused by philosophers, coaches and great leaders. I believe that this is the underlying philosophy for every slogan that asks us to look deep within ourselves to reach for greater goals than we might otherwise achieve. That's why the word “perfection” embellishes hundreds if not thousands of corporate mission statements. Those of us who aim for perfection come the rewards that are denied to those who – from lack of will or lack of awareness – give up the effort or never try.

That is why successful organizations seek to improve their quality process – to achieve the highest level of optimization possible. They know that if a company wants to turn out high-quality products or services, the kind that will truly delight existing customers and attract new ones, you need to keep raising the bar on quality.

From the perspective of your deliverables – the products and services that you offer to your customers – things work and fail for all sorts of reasons. When you optimize, you analyze every design and solution down to every detail. Not only are you aware of strengths, but have full knowledge of every weakness. And a plan for optimization is always at your fingertips.

I see Optimization as a three-part process.
  • First, you must accept perfection as your goal. Not just for the organization, but for yourself as well. When you raise the quality level of your products or processes, set the bar high and keep raising it. A better average is not the goal; you want perfection.
  • Second, worry about the details. Make your optimization process the means of knowing every detail about your product or service. Filter good news and bad news through your own protective paranoia and keep asking yourself: “Did we do everything possible? What may go wrong? Will our design and solutions really work?”
  • Third, prepare your team for the pursuit of perfection. Some may not have the passion that you have, but here’s where you must make them understand why ‘good enough’ has to be treated as merely a starting point, not the finish. Show them why the extra effort toward greater quality is a benefit to customers and employees alike.
I know that the optimization process may puzzle and seem counterintuitive to many Westerners. I also agree that if ‘good enough’ is profitable, then that’s a good place to be. But then the next question should be is ‘good enough’ sustainable? What happens if a competitor shows up with a similar product that is better? What then? We need only look back to the so-called Japanese industrial invasion of the late 1960s to understand the implication of sustained quality and optimization. Now, all three major American car manufacturers practice some form of optimization – both with their products but also within their organizations. Once the basic concept is understood, optimization makes complete sense. Perfection may not be knowable in all situations, but sustainable success is achieved only when we constantly work toward it. [post_title] => Optimize for Perfection [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => optimize-for-perfection [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-04-16 11:42:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-04-16 11:42:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=182 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [format_content] => )
An executive once emailed me a quote that reads: perfection is unknowable. I’m sure his source was Confucius or Zen teaching, but I also find this thought noted in...

Quality & Me

Global Quality Awareness (GQA) Initiative

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    [post_date] => 2013-01-07 17:59:56
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    [post_content] => The Global Quality Awareness (GQA) Initiative is a non-profit initiative of the Subir & Malini Chowdhury Foundation created to improve the lives of individuals and their communities around the world by promoting a personal understanding of, and commitment to, a "Quality mindset.”

The plan for GQA is simple - effect positive global change by getting people to make a personal commitment to a simple daily practice. The practice of GQA is centered on Subir Chowdhury’s “LEO” (Listen – Enrich – Optimize) process, which has transformative results—these same principles that when practiced, will generate vast improvement in people’s daily lives.  Subir believes that most of the world’s problems are caused by people who stopped caring about quality or don’t understand the significance of it. Supporters of GQA want to inspire global improvement by first practicing quality as an individual. In essence, Quality starts with us and must be everyone’s responsibility.

Daily GQA practice requires people to follow three simple steps:
  • Listen hard to others and to yourself to seek understanding
  • Enrich the lives around you by giving a little more of yourself every day
  • Optimize everything you do by setting your mind to excellence and refusing to “settle”
The essential teaching is simple. When you embrace quality in your own life, life all around you becomes better. Your actions empower others to embrace positive change. They see the benefits in their own lives. Quality becomes contagious. The initiative spreads. Quickly. Spontaneously. And as more and more people work to improve their corner of the world, the world is transformed. It becomes a better place… because its citizens won't accept less. The GQA initiative is working with schools, from elementary to higher education, businesses, leaders and employees, the employed and unemployed for a total transformation of quality improvements with the vision of inspiring the Initiative around the world raising Global Quality Awareness. According to Subir Chowdhury, “I believe that the ultimate goal of the GQA Initiative is to ensure that “Quality is Everyone’s Business” – ideally I am of the firm belief that to be a Quality person, and live a ‘Quality’ life, Quality must become a part of everything we do, what we leave behind every day of our life, until it becomes a lifestyle choice, not just an afterthought.” [post_title] => Global Quality Awareness (GQA) Initiative [post_excerpt] => Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => global-quality-awareness [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-05-16 23:04:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-05-16 23:04:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=813 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [format_content] => )
The Global Quality Awareness (GQA) Initiative is a non-profit initiative of the Subir & Malini Chowdhury Foundation created to improve the lives of individuals and their communities around the...