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Quality & You

Redefine the Nature of Quality

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    [post_content] => While it is true that I am advancing a new way to think about quality, I am also reaching beyond common output metrics of a product or service. I believe that we need a fresh approach that can have a profound effect on not only the way we work, but the way we perceive our everyday life.

Think about this. In business, the present concept of quality has been fixture for the past 75 years. But the irony is that while the industry has developed an abundance of quality management tools, most organizations unfortunately still struggle to make sustainable, long term gains that can truly differentiate themselves in today’s global marketplace. That is where my thought process has taken me – to understand why the present concept does not serve us better.

In my analysis, I have found that the focus on the “process of quality” is in fact incorrect. I have discovered that it is the process of managing quality that is primarily to blame. I will say that the intent to manage the process is limiting because it focuses far too much attention on the “outcome of quality,” not the “act of delivering quality.”

Why is this important? Because, Quality touches everything that you do on a daily basis; from discussions you hold with your peers, subordinates and leaders and the interactions you have with suppliers, vendors, and other providers. In fact, Quality touches every aspect of your life – in your business as well as your personal family life.

[pullquote]When has a quick fix ever solved anything?[/pullquote]

We can say that a problem belongs to someone else or we can look at ourselves in the mirror and accept the responsibility of solving the problem ourselves. If each one of us starts with the mindset that the problem belongs to me, then all problems will disappear. When I say that Quality is a part of everything you do, I mean to say that you become aware of both the problem and your ability to fix any problem or deal with any issue whether at work, our personal life, or in our community.

This perspective of Quality also refuses to accept compromise. It also recognizes that lasting solutions require that we do more than “fix” a problem. I ask that you think about this honestly – when has a quick fix ever solved anything? That’s where I believe we have failed ourselves. While we have made some fantastic strides to improve quality, we have sunken into the false security that a “find-and-fix” process is somehow enough. But obviously it isn’t.

This all-encompassing vision of Quality offers a new mindset, a transformational way to think about the actions and decisions that we make. It draws together commitment from people to improve their performance and make Quality a lifestyle choice, a cultural attitude, and a personal belief that refocuses all attention on the “act of delivering quality.”
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While it is true that I am advancing a new way to think about quality, I am also reaching beyond common output metrics of a product or service. I...

Quality & Economics

Whose political crisis is this, anyhow?

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    [post_date] => 2013-07-10 07:00:44
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    [post_content] => I am deeply troubled by the increased pace of self-inflicted crises in our government and economy. We have been witness to one event after another during the last several years, each with seemingly greater levels of consequence and damage. Not surprisingly, this is all happening under the watchful eyes of two of the least productive congressional sessions in history.

Questions persist as to whether our representatives can actually manage the country’s business without wasting time, money, and even lives. From my perspective, it appears that our elected officials and policy makers prefer political theater to resolving problems.

Consider the so-called “sequester,” enacted as law at the start of 2013. It was another impasse; another political crisis. Congressional leaders and President Obama knew they had to do something, but ideology prevented them from doing something constructive.

The Sequester was a flawed policy that nearly everyone knew wouldn’t work. Many people who participated in the decision warned of consequential damages that could eventually increase the cost of operations and decrease the quality of services delivered. And some of those predictions have already been proven to be correct.

No business survives long making decisions in that way. From my perspective as a management consultant for more than twenty years, it is clear that our current government is focused on putting up barriers instead of tearing them down and creating opportunities.

When I train executives and managers, I teach the importance of listening. As a core competency of successful leadership, active listening brings organizational cohesion. It enriches social interaction and optimizes decision-making though mutual interests. When leaders want an organization to grow, they tear down barriers and look for opportunities. Why can’t we get our government to do the same?  We can, but only if we demand it.

Yet, rather than ask representatives to enact such a change, I challenge each of us, as citizens and voters, to begin the process. After all, it is our duty to elect leaders to represent our interests. “We the people” empower the national agenda—we set the political priorities by what we think and what we believe.

More important, how can we ask our government to adopt a new standard for management if we are distracted by political theater? How can we ask for a new quality standard, if we are not willing to practice it ourselves?

I propose a “cause for quality” in which we see past the differences and build consensus. We don’t need a new party platform or a petition to achieve this goal. But we do need a dose of reality. If we stay on the path we are currently on, if “we the people” fail to change course, my fear is that the crises will only continue and our losses will only grow worse.

Granted, there are significant differences between running a country and running a company. When businesses fail to embrace quality, customers complain, and sales drop. If there are no changes, poor quality will lead to even more lost sales and the business may ultimately fail. However, companies can reorganize, re-invent, re-invest, and recover.

What happens when quality fails in government? The effects are invasive and long-lasting. When government leaders fail quality, economies falter, institutions fail, and individual futures are destroyed. The country can rebuild – we’ve done it before – but no one can replace personal suffering. Just think of the long recession we had to endure. Do you want to endure another?

The root cause of the current failure in Congress and the White House is our own—we lack a true understanding of what is going on and are not engaged in any significant way.  To me, the threat of failure is clear and the answer obvious. We either build up and strengthen the very foundations of this great democracy, or leave things as they and allow the country to continue to erode. We must not tolerate another self-inflicted crisis.

To begin, we all need to stop playing the blame game. It’s not just your representative’s fault, the President’s fault, or the fault of anyone in government. It is our collective failure to recognize poor judgment. It is our fault for accepting poor quality decisions instead of demanding more from the process. The economic advancement of any nation depends on how its citizens practice quality. We are all shareholders in the United States of America.  As such, we have the responsibility to participate and work toward meaningful change.
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I am deeply troubled by the increased pace of self-inflicted crises in our government and economy. We have been witness to one event after another during the last several...

Quality & Process

Meet Your Future

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    [post_content] => Change is everywhere. In nature, change is an undeniable force. Even mountains succumb to the ever present, never diminishing force of change.

Why in business should we expect any different?

The fact is, change is hardwired into human nature. Individuals and society as a whole enjoy change – like the changing seasons. And there are other changes – changes in taste, changes in lifestyle, changes in expectations and aspirations. Therefore, any effort to push away change and hold on to the present—to maintain the status quo indefinitely—is a waste of energy and resources, and ultimately leads to failure.

This is why companies that do not adapt to new trends and ideas will eventually see their markets dry up and wither away. This is the fate of organizations, large and small; from large multi-national corporations to mom-and-pop shops down the street.

[pullquote]We must embrace change as though our future depends upon it.[/pullquote]

And let’s be clear. When I say “change” what I mean is “future.” In business, change is opportunity. Therefore, we must embrace change as though our future depends upon it. Among forward-thinking and successful companies that I have examined, change in the marketplace is no more difficult, no more traumatic than changes in the season. And how does that happen? Because they have adopted change into their management process:
  1. They have built flexibility into the organization. They possess a culture and mindset that can easily adapt to marketplace demand.
  2. They actively look for ways to improve products and services. Since the shelf life of goods and ideas is so short, they always live in the future.
These are the lessons that the top executives at a particle board manufacturer learned one year. They received several complaints that desks and tables made from its boards were breaking under heavy loads. When the complaints grew in number and urgency, the vice-president of the company – who also led the production unit – took his managers along on a fact-finding mission. Their original goal was to gather as much data as possible from furniture builders and customers and to solve what they believed to be an easily solved manufacturing problem. Their first stop was a furniture builder and their largest customer. There they learned that people do not just write on their desks, they sit on them and place heavy objects on them. The president of a furniture company gave them a demonstration. The management team watched in horror as their client leaned on the edge of a newly completed conference table and the corner cracked and broke away. The team saw numerous other failures; more than they ever imagined; and returned to their offices charged with a sense of urgency. Their first realization was that they never fully understood how their boards were being used. Their product was not flexible – both literally and figuratively. This was no longer a small problem; it threatened their position in the marketplace. That’s when the fault discovery process became an innovation process. They analyzed the strength of the boards in different situations and began a detailed research on the manufacturing process itself. Their goal was not to fix what they had but to make their product stronger than ever before. They tested composites, glues, wood chip sizes, and pressurization techniques. After about a year of work, they optimized their entire manufacturing process. Not only did they improve board strength, they also decreased manufacturing cost. They ended up with a stronger product that was a higher quality and priced competitively. Dealing with the rapid-fire changes in the marketplace requires that businesses possess a built-in survival process that allows them to be innovative and operationally flexible. Changes happen. If you are not prepared, you will meet a future – but it may not be the one that you expected. [post_title] => Meet Your Future [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => meet-future [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-04-16 11:28:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-04-16 11:28:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=175 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [format_content] => )
Change is everywhere. In nature, change is an undeniable force. Even mountains succumb to the ever present, never diminishing force of change. Why in business should we expect any different? The...

Quality & Me

Valuable Trash

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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...