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Quality & You

What does Quality mean to You?

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    [post_content] => When I ask people, “what does Quality mean to you?” I hear a wide range of answers. For some people, their answer is, “Quality means putting out the best product or service possible.”  Others may say, “Honesty and trust.” Many will tell you, “Quality means doing the right thing at the right time.” Still others will say, “Quality is a resistance to compromise.” However, more often than not, I still hear “ I have no idea, that’s why we have a quality department,” or “Hey let me ask my Vice President of Quality,” or even worse yet, “I’m not sure what quality means to me.”

[pullquote]I would like to see a day when we don’t hesitate about our response toward Quality.[/pullquote]

Ideally, I would like to see a day when we don’t hesitate about our response toward Quality; when everyone has a fearless reaction to Quality just like they do with everyday events.  Bottom line, everyone, needs make Quality a priority, and a part of everything they do.  When we all understand the impact of our actions, how even the smallest action may pay enormous dividends, then that leads to the path of true quality: preventing human error; possessing the kind of oversight and engrained thought that corrects misjudgments before they have a chance to trigger problems.

What a world this could be if we all were that much more attentive; that much more in tune, and truly understood and believed the dramatic impact that Quality can have on all of us!
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When I ask people, “what does Quality mean to you?” I hear a wide range of answers. For some people, their answer is, “Quality means putting out the best...

Quality & Economics

A Tale of Two Countries

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    [post_date] => 2013-05-20 03:23:54
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    [post_content] => Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile measured 7.0 and 8.8 respectively on the moment magnitude scale. The difference implies that the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger than the Haiti earthquake.

While the devastation in both countries was extreme, structural damage and loss of life were far less in Chile than in Haiti.  The difference in devastation is largely attributed to the difference in building standards.

[pullquote]The impact of one nation's choice to pursue or not pursue quality impacts not only that nation but almost every other nation across the globe. [/pullquote]

Very few structures collapsed in Chile and the number of deaths was far less than in Haiti even though the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger.  In other words, in the case of Haiti, lack of quality can be directly attributable to the damage caused there, while a commitment to quality in Chile minimized what could have been an even greater loss of live than seen in Haiti.

In Haiti, the death toll exceeded 200,000 and the number of buildings destroyed or severely damaged exceeded 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial structures.  In contrast, the death toll in Chile was less than 2,000 and very few structures were totally destroyed.

While the differences in building standards can be rationalized by noting the differences in economic health with Haiti being one the poorest nations in the world, the cost of poor quality proved to be enormous in Haiti.

ART_posts_haiti1Perhaps one of the most critical applications of quality is how it can have an impact on nations and individuals.  The impact of one nation's choice to pursue or not pursue quality impacts not only that nation but almost every other nation across the globe.  These decisions impact how dollars are spent and what they are spent on.  While it's often a difficult decision, especially in third world countries, political leaders who choose to ignore quality risk paying a heavy price.

Natural disasters cannot always be predicted, but you can minimize damage to people and places by integrating quality measures into infrastructures and policies.  Whether it is a hurricane, flood, tornado, pollution, or fire, the impact of the economics of quality for nations and their environmental resources can be devastating.
    [post_title] => A Tale of Two Countries
    [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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Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile measured 7.0 and 8.8 respectively on the moment magnitude scale. The difference implies that the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger than the Haiti...

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 number 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 cancelling 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

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...