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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

Cutting Corners

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    [post_content] => Over the last 50 plus years, Toyota has led the automotive industry in quality and cost. As a result, the company rose to become the world's largest automotive manufacturing corporation and Japan's largest corporation with revenues of $230 billion in 2009.

However, this once untarnished icon of Japan's status as an economic powerhouse, is now in decline and the impact on the company and the entire country is tangible.

As Dr. Masatomo Tanaka says, a professor at the Institute of Technologists, a university that specializes in training engineers, "If Toyota is not healthy, then Japan is not healthy." As goes Toyota, so goes Japan.

Toyota has long enjoyed near hallowed status in Japan as the greatest practitioner of "monozukuri," a centuries-old ideal of perfection in craftsmanship central to ancient pottery and sword-making.  The pride of craftsmanship, burned into Japanese culture as the apex of accomplishment, was turned loose on the factory floor and was once the secret to Japan's postwar "miracle."

Then something changed. Yes, the earthquake and tsunami last year was a serious blow to Japanese manufacturing, but the decline at Toyota was clear long before the natural disaster. About the time the company achieved its global dominance, rumors began to filter out that management was cutting corners on quality – fewer people on the factory floor, lower quality raw materials and suppliers, reductions in research and development.

[pullquote]Shaving a few dollars off the cost of each car has resulted in billions of dollars in recall costs, not to mention the billions of dollars in legal costs the company has incurred from lawsuits filed by customers and government regulators – and in a few cases, possible loss of life.[/pullquote]

The result has been devastating. Shaving a few dollars off the cost of each car has resulted in billions of dollars in recall costs, not to mention the billions of dollars in legal costs the company has incurred from lawsuits filed by customers and government regulators – and in a few cases, possible loss of life. The damage has also been broadly felt: dealerships have lost sales, negatively impacting local economies, and for a time Toyota’s global position fell. But Toyota’s once unblemished record of quality is now questioned in the media and among many customers.

To compound matters, as Toyota moved away from quality, some of its competitors have moved in. Some have embraced their earlier methods to the extent that their products are now surpassing Toyota. Korea's Hyundia-Kia is rapidly gaining on once dominant giant and Detroit's big three have partly adopted Toyota's engineering and manufacturing methodologies and improved their quality as well.

Toyota had the quality mindset before it become the largest corporation in Japan and the largest automotive company in the world.  The company’s actions proved that quality can be the principle driver of efficiency and profitability, but also market dominance. Now the company is learning a new lesson about what happens to giants when they cut corners too often.
    [post_title] => Cutting Corners
    [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? 
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Over the last 50 plus years, Toyota has led the automotive industry in quality and cost. As a result, the company rose to become the world's largest automotive manufacturing...

Quality & Process

Optimize for Perfection

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    [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 )
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

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...