Six Steps for Achieving Quality

We all intuitively understand quality. It’s that “something” that makes us appreciates a product or service; but describing that “something” can be difficult. 

From a customer’s perspective, quality is what the customer is willing to pay for. From the organization’s perspective, quality relates to a product’s or service’s conformance to specifications. And these specifications are not only according to what the organization prescribes, but they also relate to the customer’s expectations. 

Organizations that spend money on achieving quality systems and programs are, in the end, more profitable than those that do not. This is because quality management programs not only prevent poor-quality products or services from reaching the customer, but they also continuously improve on existing quality practices to ensure that products and services are done right the first time.

Here are six steps (adapted from Operations Management by Nigel Slack, et al) to help you or your organization produce a quality product or service.

  1. Define the quality characteristics of the product or service. These characteristics will be different for every type of product or service, depending on the industry. For instance, you may be evaluating on functionality (how well the product or service does its job), appearance (sensory characteristics), reliability (consistency of performance), durability, or some other quality.
  2. Decide how to measure each quality characteristic. Depending on the quality characteristics, how will you measure functionality, for example, a restaurant, airline, bank, or computer? What characteristics of appearance are quality characteristics? What about reliability? And so on.  
  3. Set quality standards for each quality characteristic. This is the level of quality that defines the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable. This can be difficult. For example, if one restaurant customer out of every 1,000 complains about the food, does that mean the other 999 are satisfied and, therefore, quality is good? Or are there other equally unhappy customers who did not complain? If this level of complaint is similar for other restaurants, do we regard this as satisfactory quality?
  4. Control quality against those standards. When standards are set, the organization needs to check its product’s or service’s conformance to those standards. This means that product or service delivery is “done right the first time every time.” As part of this control, the organization needs to decide where in the process that checks should occur, whether every product or service should be checked (or should checking be confined to sampling), and how the checks should be performed.
  5. Find and correct causes of poor quality. Implement total quality management tools and techniques to find and correct poor quality.
  6. Continue to make improvements. As with step 5 above, total quality management tools and techniques will help the organization cut its costs of poor quality and improve overall quality.

As your organization implements quality programs, remember to include employees in all quality improvement initiatives. If your employees are not happy, there is a strong likelihood that your customers are also not happy (even if customers are not complaining – see note under Step 3 above).  

Consider this evidence compiled by the British Quality Foundation:  About 68 percent of customers will stop doing business if they perceive an attitude of indifference from your staff. However, only 14 percent will leave if they are dissatisfied with your product or service, while nine percent leave for competitive reasons.

Include your employees in all quality programs for a healthy work environment and bottom line.

The Big Lollapalooza: Exposed

Lollapalooza: an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or  event;
an exceptional example or instance.

When was the last time you experienced a lollapalooza? Well, these days it seems that Lean and Six Sigma are the big lollapaloozas, although Lean and Six Sigma are nothing more than common sense approaches for efficiency. And getting work done efficiently is never an exception to how organizations are (or should be) practicing. Along with effectiveness (doing the right job), efficiency is essential to ensuring productivity.

Efficiency has a long history, starting with scientific management in 1899 with Frederick Taylor’s industrial experiments to Edwards Deming’s Total Quality Movement (TQM) and influence on the Japanese following World War II, to Peter Drucker’s management philosophy in the 1980s and Concept of the Corporation, and, of course, many other influencers in between. Their goal was to enable individuals and organizations to do their best for the least possible cost and maximum gain. Efficiency can save you and your organization time and money, and sometimes in a big way. Let me give you an example.

Client X (not his real name) had a problem with the way his organization’s decentralized branches were managing and delivering services to their customer. Specifically, management felt that branches were duplicating work both within and between branches. One example I was given was that some branches were calling on each other to invite ‘guest staff’ from one branch to speak at another branch for the purpose of sharing vital information that the recipient branch could incorporate into their own processes. Client X clearly needed help.

The first step to solving Client X’s problem was to convene key staff in one room to create a value stream (flow) map of their processes. For this initial meeting, in person attendance was mandatory. Using sticky notes, staff wrote and illustrated each branch’s process(es). When all the sticky notes were posted on the wall, it was clear that branches were duplicating multiple steps that had no value to delivering customer service. In addition, for one process alone, there were six different methods for getting the job done. From here, staff wrote down the time required to perform each step. Then participants had an opportunity to pinpoint areas where delays and complexities were the greatest. With just a few simple improvements, they were able to eliminate 20 processes out of 40, streamline another 15, and reduce waiting time for their customers by 95%. Not bad for a couple of days’ work in the boardroom!

So did Client X and their staff have a “lollapalooza” moment? Sure, they probably did. My take on this, however, is that through Lean and Six Sigma concepts, efficiency and effectiveness have been re-invented in order to help a worldwide sagging economy. We needed something new, something trendy, so that people and organizations would stop throwing time and money away. If you haven’t jumped on the efficiency and effectiveness bandwagon, you must have money to burn.