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Quality & You

LEO Revisited: The benefits of “Listen, Enrich, Optimize”

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    [post_content] => I have mentioned “Listen, Enrich and Optimize” in previous articles and I'll probably mention them again. They are the main principles of my LEO methodology and they are integral to "Quality is Everyone’s Business” (QIEB) philosophy.  We use QIEB to ensure that everyone in the organization is driving toward the same goal of Quality. LEO helps ensure that this transformation is sustainable.

Why must we as individuals “listen” better to our customers, suppliers, co-workers and our competition? All too often, we dedicated ourselves to collecting data associated with a problem without asking deeper questions like “why” and “how” that might give us better clarity about the processes behind the data. Watch and observe what works and what doesn’t.  Understand and empathize with all your stakeholders until you “get it.” How they express what they need; how they define their expectation of Quality; what it takes to make them delighted and enthused with you, your employees and your company – these are the realizations that will ultimately redefine the level of service you offer and provide.

[pullquote]We use QIEB to ensure that everyone in the organization is driving toward the same goal of Quality. LEO helps ensure that this transformation is sustainable.[/pullquote]

When I say “Enrich,” I mean to point out a process that guides us toward what we should do once we have full knowledge of the situation. In other words, if listening leads us to lessons of how we may improve, then enriching means putting those lessons to work thereby increase our potential to achieve a successful solution. Here we apply some logical organization to how we are going to use our data. What does the data tell us about how we currently do things? How can we implement the data and when? If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should, since it echoes many of the aspects of the Quality Mindset that we constantly refer back to in QIEB: Honesty, Integrity, and Resistance to Compromise.

Ultimately, once you and your entire organization have gotten the processes and procedures honed down and working to meet and exceed the needs, wants and desires of your customers, both internal and external, then you must keep raising the bar. That’s the point of “Optimize.” The goal is not just to put out a fire but also to prevent it from happening again. We can challenge known solutions and compare them against other solutions you have discovered; select the best ones and constantly subject them to every situation they may encounter. When you have corrected for any and all possible shortcomings, start the process over. Ultimately, we will never settle for just “good enough” again.

We can spend quite a bit of time on sharpening our LEO skills. By Listening, we don’t get complacent. By Enriching, we strive for perfection. And by Optimizing, we look at Quality as a universal, everyday goal, not an exception that rests with a few people. Ultimately, to be successful, quality must be “everyone’s” business.
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I have mentioned “Listen, Enrich and Optimize” in previous articles and I'll probably mention them again. They are the main principles of my LEO methodology and they are integral to...

Quality & Economics

A Moment of Truth for the Solar Panel Industry

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    [post_date] => 2013-06-01 06:47:36
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    [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

How to Fix a Broken Chain

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    [post_date] => 2013-04-05 20:46:30
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    [post_content] => I was visiting a friend of mine who at the time was the chief executive officer of a large consumer products company. Although we had spent many months prior to my visit discussing quality problems that the company was experiencing, he was reluctant to even talk about it now that we were sitting face to face in his office.

Finally, he exhaled sharply.

“Listen, Subir.” I could tell he was very frustrated. “We have spent a lot of money on our program deployment, but…” then he drifted off, waving his hand.

He looked over my shoulder to make sure his door was closed and then he leaned forward.  In all the years I had known him, I had never seen him so uneasy.

[pullquote]The 4Cs is a script that adds potency to upper management’s decision to deploy whatever management program or other process they choose.[/pullquote]

“It’s not working,” he hissed. “Every time that I think we have achieved some milestone, it slips away.” He shrugged helplessly.

I nodded. “Maybe you have a broken chain.”

“A broken what?”

I instantly understood his problem. No matter what program you deploy – Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, Lean Management, Design for Six Sigma – if you don’t have a robust management chain, you are risking failure. Understand that all of the process programs I’ve mentioned are excellent tools that have been used all over the globe by hundreds of companies, large and small. Many of them have a long history of success. But the caveat is that they will only work if you also deploy what I call the 4Cs:
  1. Commitment. Every member of the management team must align with the program deployment. They must be active, knowledgeable participants in the planning stage, strong advocates. They must be dedicated to the program success and have intimate knowledge of the program goals.
  2. Consistency. Management must undertake very close monitoring of the program deployment; be engaged in every step of its progress to ensure that goals and procedures are fully honored. Moreover, they must also ensure that personnel and financial resources are available as needed for a successful implementation.
  3. Competency. Management must ensure that they have full understanding of the implementation process; that individual deployment leaders are fully trained and fully aligned with the goals of the program. Management must also establish an environment of full trust and patience during the deployment.
  4. Communication. Management must commit every means available for full and open communication including intranet, ‘town hall’ meetings, and personal workplace visits. Every member of the management team and all deployment leaders must encourage two-way communication (good or bad) with other members in the organization about the deployment progress.
These 4Cs are the management chain describes separate and overlapping processes. Together, they form a managerial imperative that must be ‘in play’ at the highest levels of the organization leadership. At some level, you can call them common sense measures, but in fact they are more important than that. The 4Cs is a script that adds potency to upper management’s decision to deploy whatever management program or other process they choose. They give guidance to all managers on their conduct; a check and balance for every detail in the deployment. Depending on how strongly the senior managers emphasize their use, the 4Cs become ethical anchors for self-measuring effective leadership and productivity. Back to my friend. In order to make sure that his management team understands the importance of success, he still uses the 4Cs as part of his agenda in his weekly management reviews. [post_title] => How to Fix a Broken Chain [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-fix-a-broken-chain [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-04-15 09:45:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-04-15 09:45:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=153 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [format_content] => )
I was visiting a friend of mine who at the time was the chief executive officer of a large consumer products company. Although we had spent many months prior...

Quality & Me

Valuable Trash

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    [post_date] => 2013-08-15 07:07:42
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    [post_content] => Not all waste is created equal. Some of it is extremely valuable; especially when it teaches us something about the way we run our business. The owner of an insurance brokerage in Los Angeles, CA – we will call him “Cooper” – relayed this story to us recently.

Cooper was working late one night on a presentation for a new client. The printer in his office malfunctioned, so he routed a document he needed to the printer that the staffers shared. As he waited by the printer, he looked down at the trashcan and was startled by what he saw: heaping but neat stacks of printed email, dumped straight into the round file. At the time, his office had about 35 employees, so he imagined that it was an isolated incident. But he knew that he should take a closer look.

The next morning, he asked his administrative manager about the trash and what he heard surprised him even more. Two years earlier, he had set what he thought was a mundane office policy to require a paper record of all emails relating to client business.

Email was still a relatively new business tool. Cooper didn’t know that people tended to communicate with each other via the “Reply To” function. As a result, many emails grew into long strings of messages that included every comment made with the important details sprinkled all over. Outlook and other email managers help search for the important bits, but when you print, you get the whole enchilada including every joke, recipe, sports prediction, birthday greeting, salutation, and thanks.

Because of the policy, agents were forwarding customer emails to staffers. At the close of every day, the staffers printed everything, kept what they needed and tossed out the rest.

Cooper measured the stack of paper and found that it was almost even with a fresh package of paper, or about 500 sheets. The real shock came when the manager revealed that this stack was light. Not only did the process occur daily, many times the amount of waste was double, even triple what Cooper had seen.

Cooper and the manager estimated that the cost of wasted paper from printing emails was running up a $300 a month bill; $7,200 since the email policy was passed. When they added toner and staff time, the total cost soared to more than $14,000.

Talking with agents and staffers, he learned that everyone thought that the policy was wasteful and inefficient. And yet, no one took the initiative to anything about it.

Not long after this incident, a non-paper solution was adopted and Cooper was pleased that he could reduce cost and increase efficiency from one small change. Then he realized that this one example was a symptom of other perhaps more costly problems and worried where they might be. About a year later, “The Ice Cream Maker,” was published.

Cooper bought a copy and read it one afternoon. Inspired by the concept of using quality as the benchmark of behavior throughout his business, he bought a copy for everyone in his office. To this day, new employees receive a copy as part of their training.

Another underlying message in this story is the fact that many businesses pass office policy without attention to a quality process. Had Cooper focused on the outcome rather than the solution, he might have avoided this problem entirely. Luckily, the trash was the clue. In my experience, the cost of such mistakes can produce even greater expense.

Something to think about the next time you’re in a position to set what you think is a mundane office policy.
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Not all waste is created equal. Some of it is extremely valuable; especially when it teaches us something about the way we run our business. The owner of an...