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Quality & You

Abolish your Quality Department

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    [post_content] => For decades now, we’ve made the Quality Department the epicenter of our quality policy. But has this attention been misplaced? My contention is that the reason we have failed to deliver resilient and sustainable quality from American businesses is that we are too focused on the metric of quality. We have turned a qualitative question into a quantitative one, and that simply will not work.

My latest endeavor, an extension of my philosophical backbone to make quality accessible to the masses, centers on the notion that Quality is Everyone’s Business or “QIEB” as I call it.  What I propose is that we expand our notion about Quality beyond the quantitative mindset of controls and processes. As I see it, Quality is about relationships – relationships that involve all people, all the time. Taking that idea one step further, that definition of Quality, especially in the business world, has far greater reach and impact than the controls and processes exercised by one department. If you really stop and think about it, the impact you seek can and should be felt everywhere. Why then should we limit ourselves?

I have come to see that there tends to be one function inside most organizations that really has both the ability and the need to reach every person on a regular basis: it’s Human Resources. Human Resources is the wheelhouse of the workforce; the one department function that holds the interest of every employee at every level of the organization.

[pullquote]I believe that it is of fundamental importance that there is a new Quality message – that Quality is Everyone’s business, not the responsibility of one department.[/pullquote]

Human Resources is often perceived as non-threatening, but also powerful and influential. It’s the one place where management goes to implement training, company-wide policies, distribute compensation and make regular communication with the workforce multiple times throughout the year. And ideally, as I seek to make Quality everyone’s business, who better to lead that effort than someone (some organization) that has the ability to touch everyone in the organization? That’s why I believe that HR is the ideal standard-bearer to carry out what is essentially an acculturation program for the members of the organization – changing the age-old notion that responsibility for Quality should reside solely within the quality department.

Whatever the source within the company, I believe that it is of fundamental importance that there is a new Quality message – that Quality is Everyone’s business, not the responsibility of one department. I believe the pursuit of “key” or “critical to success” factors to be the utmost responsibility of everyone in any organization, but especially Senior Leadership. Leaders in the organization must play that vital and essential role of ensuring that the rally around Quality is consistent, sustained, and properly understood by everyone, each time, ever time.
    [post_title] => Abolish your Quality Department
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For decades now, we’ve made the Quality Department the epicenter of our quality policy. But has this attention been misplaced? My contention is that the reason we have failed...

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

Walking and Talking Quality

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    [post_date] => 2013-01-11 06:08:17
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    [post_content] => I used to open our management meetings with a simple question: “Which makes the better sense: invest time and energy to avoid problems or to solve them?”

It’s not a trick question, but I’m surprised by how it causes so many managers to squirm. And it is fascinating how many of them get it wrong. Most of them will first answer that solving problems is best – and that is the obvious answer. But the honest ones will come back with a list of apologetics that begins with how busy they are jumping from one crisis to another and ending with a quiet aside (as though it is a terrible secret) that they’re lucky if they can get their regular jobs done. In effect, they tell me that they never avoid problems – they only solve them.

Meanwhile, we watch at a distance as the people who really “get it” shake off the intimidation and the pressure, and simply roll up their sleeves. I remember the hotel manager who drove two hours in her own car, on her own time, to return a credit card to a Japanese guest boarding a flight to Europe. I think of the hydraulics engineer who volunteered to parachute into a wilderness area to fix one his company’s new water pumps. I smile at the memory of the shipping clerk who shouldered past jokes and ridicule from fellow employees as he carefully packaged every order as crisply and neatly as possible.

These are the heroes of quality. They are not ‘firemen’ who not rush to douse fires. They are the fearless fire preventers who jump into the arena to answer the call to stop the fires from starting. Often, their efforts draw scant praise, if they are noticed at all. But how we need these “extra mile people” in all aspects of our operations.

[pullquote]When leaders walk the talk of Quality, the organization moves as a cohesive social group that is better equipped to solve immediate problems and long term ones, and they may prevent problems that you haven’t foreseen.[/pullquote]

I’ve seen some organizations proclaim their commitment to quality, and yet go on crafting flawed processes that produce flawed products and services that rely on heroic efforts for day-to-day rescue. Lacking a strategy to take corrective actions and address the causes of the fires, eventually a situation will arise that even heroic efforts shall fail.

What should happen is that the organization must walk the talk of quality – bring quality into the corporate culture from the top down. And it can starting with encouraging those basic human skills of communication, interaction, and implementation, or as defined in the LEO methodology: listen, enrich, and optimize.

Imagine what would happen if we made a sincere effort to improve communication with our customers, suppliers, co-workers and even our competitors? What would happen if we really listened to them? Maybe instead of keeping our noses to the spread sheets, perhaps we we’d start asking questions like “why” and “how” and listen to people who might give us better clarity about what is going on NOW.

With meaningful interaction, we enrich the organizational culture and encourage everybody to do more. We open ourselves up to lessons on how we may improve, where we may improve and when. We may even increase the opportunity of keeping problems from occurring in the first place.

Equipped with better communication and interaction, now we are better prepared to implement a renewed awareness throughout the organization. Not only are we putting out the fires; we are preventing them from happening. We are optimizing our relationships both inside and outside of the organization.

When it is delivered to every member of the organization – from top to bottom – LEO becomes the trigger-point for high level communication skills that I found among the best organizations. When the leaders of the organization walk the talk, they are the example for everybody to follow. That’s how leaders engage every member of the organization and gain commitment to an unprecedented level of quality. 

When leaders walk the talk of Quality, the organization moves as a cohesive social group that is better equipped to solve immediate problems and long term ones, and they may prevent problems that you haven’t foreseen. When this level of communication is achieved, then it doesn’t matter when a problem eventually crops up (because we know they will), because now there will always be enough fire preventers ready to take action.
    [post_title] => Walking and Talking Quality
    [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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I used to open our management meetings with a simple question: “Which makes the better sense: invest time and energy to avoid problems or to solve them?” It’s not a...

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...