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Quality & You

Four Cornerstones for Change

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    [post_content] => Do you want to change your organization - to transform the rank and file members so that they WANT to achieve true Quality? Of course you do - who doesn't.

But even the most perfect retraining process will fail if you do not gain firm commitments from the people you are asking to implement the change. And that would be everyone in your organization. I have learned that when companies force a process on their workforce without first receiving their commitment to participate, the rank and file employee will become resentful and they’ll fight change – even when they know that change is for the better.

Now, I ask you to apply that reality to other situations – government, education, business, your family – without willing and full cooperation of everyone involved, implementing even a small change is difficult if not impossible. When we want to bring about change, we must ask for the utmost commitment from every active member – including ourselves. This is also true for my own change process, "Quality Is Everyone’s Business" (QIEB). I cannot ask a client company to implement a change in their quality process without first knowing that certain fundamentals are met.

In my book, The Power of LEO, I laid out these fundamentals - I called them the “Four Cornerstones.” These are the basic ground rules that can make the difference between a process that fails, or one that leads the organization toward a sustainable pathway of change.

First, I ask that people say to themselves and others, “Quality is MY responsibility.” This personalizes the pathway as a self-actualized mission. Quality is not someone else’s problem. Quality is the personal pursuit that is reflected in every aspect of “my” work. Thus it becomes their personal belief that they can make a difference.

[pullquote]What is important is the belief that the change is making a difference.[/pullquote]

Second, everyone must accept that Quality must involve ALL the people, ALL the time. In effect, you will deputize the rank and file members of your organization to recognize a problem and solve it. If trashcans are overflowing with trash, the janitor is empowered to request larger receptacles. People must act as they would if they saw a burning fire – filled with the belief that they have the solution to make a lasting impact.

Third, everyone must adopt an “I-can-do-it-Mindset.” There is a straight line between the leader’s policies and the behavior and attitudes of the employees that follow, and that line continues on into the quality quotient. For the Quality transformation to be sustainable, management needs to instill confidence among rank and file members of the organization; build up the belief that responsibility is the only answer.

Finally, we must also assume that ‘one-size’ does not fit all. It’s always tempting to look for a policy (framed by some handy slogans) that can be applied across the board to any and all situations. It would make life so much simpler. But haven’t we already learned that such solutions are counter-productive? In an earlier article, I demonstrated how individual response to quality can be very different from person to person. Moreover, there are so many special cases and exceptions that any set policy itself becomes irrelevant the moment it is enunciated on the organization. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to allow every individual to arrive at their own reason to believe in Quality?

I have seen situation where these Four Cornerstones act as a catalyst for acculturation. People tend to push each other along toward improvement. And as people improve, they are encouraged to do more. At the end of the day, it isn’t the process of change that’s important. What is important is the belief that the change is making a difference. That’s how I believe that Quality will become Everyone’s Business.
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Do you want to change your organization - to transform the rank and file members so that they WANT to achieve true Quality? Of course you do - who...

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

Optimize for Perfection

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    [post_date] => 2013-03-16 21:13:20
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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

Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service

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    [post_date] => 2013-03-20 17:53:51
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    [post_content] => LOGO_Frances-HesselbeinWhile reading a book titled The Leader of the Future and co-authored by Frances Hesselbein and others, Subir Chowdhury was keenly interested in Ms Hesselbein’ s leadership style and ideas on how leadership and organizational development would be impacted in the new millennium.  This was back in 1997 and thus began a long relationship between Hesselbein and Chowdhury. Eventually, through intellectual exchanges with Hesselbein, Chowdhury was inspired to write Management 21C, a book that drew on thoughts of 26 of the world’s top thought leaders on management, including Hesselbein.

To honor his mentor and friend, in 2012 Chowdhury and The Subir and Malini Chowdhury Foundation provided a lifetime endowment for The Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service. The award is bestowed annually to a cadet who best exhibits excellence in mentorship and leadership by example at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In May of 2012, The Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership (BS&L) at the United States Military Academy at West Point awarded its first Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence this past May to Cadet Chris Jarrett ’12. Going forward, BS&L will hand out this award annually to the cadet who best exhibits superiority in mentorship and leadership-by-example at the United States Military Academy at West Point as determined by peers and faculty.

[caption id="attachment_805" align="aligncenter" width="300"]ART_posts_Frances-Hesselbein-Medal1 From L-R - Cadet Chris Jarrett ’12 – Inaugural Winner of the Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service, COL Bernie Banks (Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership), Frances Hesselbein, and Subir Chowdhury.[/caption]
    [post_title] => Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service
    [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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While reading a book titled The Leader of the Future and co-authored by Frances Hesselbein and others, Subir Chowdhury was keenly interested in Ms Hesselbein’ s leadership style and...