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Quality & You

Empathy for Quality

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    [post_content] => There’s an old saying, “walk a mile in another man's shoes.” It means that before you criticize someone or pass judgment on them, you should take a look at the world from their point of view.

To have empathy for someone means you are putting yourself in a position to feel what that person is feeling. The world could use a great deal more empathy. It’s easy to see that we could decrease disputes and disagreements by being more empathetic, and we’d quickly clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions. Taking it one step further, empathy becomes strategic as new channels of data open to us.

To illustrate this point, meet Cooper, the owner of a large family-owned insurance brokerage in Los Angeles. It was during the time when everyone was still getting used to email. Due to the nature of their business, Cooper felt that the company needed to keep a paper record of every client email.

Cooper’s office manager disagreed. She predicted enormous paper waste, but he was adamant. So the rule went into effect without further discussion. After all, Cooper was the boss.

Two years later, Cooper was working late on a presentation for a new client. The printer in his office malfunctioned, so he routed a document he needed to a shared printer in the main office. As he waited for his presentation to be printed, he looked down at the trash can and was startled by what he saw: enormous but neat stacks of printed emails. What a waste of paper, he thought to himself.

The next morning, he asked his office manager about the trash and what he heard surprised him even more: the waste was the result of his own email policy two years ago.

Fortunately, Cooper realized he needed to listen to his office manager when she explained how much waste had occurred in terms of dollars and cents: $300 a month, $7,200 since the email policy was passed, and more than $14,000 in total costs when she added toner and staff time.

After talking with his sales agents and staffers, he learned that everyone thought that the policy was wasteful and inefficient. Initially, he was frustrated that no one took the initiative to explain it to him, but then he realized that they did not because he was so adamant.

When team members employ empathy as part of their day-to-day management, it becomes a powerful tool that opens new insight and understanding about problems and situations they may not have realized existed. Instead of one or two perspectives, you can open yourself to three or four perspectives all at one time.

Just about every position in a company can benefit from empathy. In fact, I cannot think of a single job description where an ounce of empathy would not help improve productivity, team cohesion, and, most of all, the quality of output.

In a world where everyone wants to improve quality, everyone must contribute, and everyone must have a voice. By being empathetic, we also gain commitment to make quality an integral part of life both at both work and home.
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There’s an old saying, “walk a mile in another man's shoes.” It means that before you criticize someone or pass judgment on them, you should take a look at...

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 )
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

Watch Your Flow, Keep Control

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    [post_date] => 2013-02-25 21:02:10
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    [post_content] => When I watch organizations, I am reminded of a swiftly flowing river.

Starting with raw materials at the river’s source and ending with finished products or services flowing from its mouth, overlaying processes flow into and onto one another. When everything is running smoothly, it is a wonderful thing to behold. But much like a river, no production runs perfectly straight and smooth. There are twists and turns where the flow must adjust and maneuver around obstacles that get in the way.

However, the "flow and process" is often broken by changes in policies or conditions in the delivery chain, employees that overlook important issues, and staffing arrangements that leave us waiting in endless lines. And that’s the reality. Companies of every size and from every industry contend with flawed process flow as energy and profitability slowly bleed away.

Managers at a large mid-western hospital were spending their days and weeks tearing out their hair, trying to figure out the source of unacceptably large numbers of no-shows and last-minute cancellations for medical tests.

[pullquote]At the end of the day, rather than waste your energy trying to straighten out the flow, focus your effort on flattening out the curves and minimizing interruptions as much as possible.[/pullquote]

The problem was long in running. In some cases, patients were not receiving tests they needed therefore causing disruptions in the hospital’s schedules and lost revenue. To compound matters, staff time had ratcheted up as administrators and practitioners scrambled to stem the day-to-day scheduling problems and reschedule the canceling patients.

Management suspected that a major source of the problem was due to patients’ inability to obtain timely approval from their insurance carriers for the tests. We turned to our Listen methodology and asked staffers to call patients themselves. The subsequent interviews revealed that many patients had forgotten their appointments. Many others didn’t know which of the hospital’s many buildings they were supposed to go. Still others who remembered their appointments and managed to find the correct office, discovered at the appointment window that they had failed to follow pre-test preparations (e.g., fasting) and had to reschedule. Insurance, as it turned out, was of minimal consequence. It was clear to all that the patient preparation process was either non-existent or completely ineffective.

At my suggestion, managers examined best practices at other hospitals. They cataloged some common sense ideas for managing patient preparation procedures and paid special attention on departments in their own organization that seemed to be dealing with the situation better than other departments.

In a matter of a week or so, they had drafted two ways that the hospital staff could rectify the situation. First, patients must receive full explanations in print regarding their test, including a map that showed exactly where they had to go. Then, all patients received a phone call reminder for their appointment, plus a reminder (when applicable) about pre-test preparations. After the new patient preparation process was up and running, the hospital reported a 50% reduction in cancellations. The flow was fixed.

No company’s operations ever achieve total perfection. Among the companies that handle the twists and turns quite well, they move around the flow a seasoned sports team. Attentive members use strong communication between other members to assess changes quickly and make on-the-spot adjustments as situations require.

At the end of the day, rather than waste your energy trying to straighten out the flow, focus your effort on flattening out the curves and minimizing interruptions as much as possible. Work toward perfection, but don’t expect it to achieve it today.
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When I watch organizations, I am reminded of a swiftly flowing river. Starting with raw materials at the river’s source and ending with finished products or services flowing from its...

Quality & Me

Maruti-Suzuki and the Quality Way

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    [post_date] => 2015-05-19 12:07:34
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    [post_content] => PIC_chowdhury-C4Q-1Quality is defined by the customer. It happens when we are willing to listen to each other, enrich our experiences, and optimize our opportunities to improve. Quality comes when we have a mindset for honesty, integrity, resistance to compromise, and ethical behavior. What we want is for quality to be an automatic response to everyday encounters. When this mindset becomes part of the organization's DNA - its very essence - then we can say that Quality is everyone's business.

Please complete the form below. You will be emailed seminar materials that will help you along the way to achieving a Quality Mindset. Cause for Quality is a collection of essays that Subir Chowdhury has written to help guide the way.

sc-app-pg1You may also want to check out Subir Chowdhury's iPad app. Click the image and you'll be taken to Apple's download site. The app is compatible only with iPad.

 


Please complete the form below. Your copy of Cause for Quality will be sent to you via email. [contact-form-7 id="1356" title="maruti_suzuki_meeting"] [post_title] => Maruti-Suzuki and the Quality Way [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => maruti-suzuki [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-05-21 17:47:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-05-21 17:47:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=1358 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
Quality is defined by the customer. It happens when we are willing to listen to each other, enrich our experiences, and optimize our opportunities to improve. Quality comes when...