Quality Requires Measures

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Quality is required. There is no longer a question of whether or not to implement a quality program. You must have one to survive. Yet, many are failures. The question is why?

Quality is like any other business process. It must be managed to be successful. Too often, a business will spend all of its resources on the quality program (TQM, CIP, and other three letter acronyms) and nothing on managing for results. Management is where the good ideas get implemented. Management makes change happen.

Quality requires a process of change. Change is disruptive and therefore, humans will resist change except to reduce pain, in response to fear or for ego and greed. Measurement and rewards are the easiest tools we have to accomplish productive change.

The basic role of management is to move numbers. It does not matter if the numbers are customer complaints, return shipments or lost sales. Good managers move numbers by encouraging people to do the right things.

The first thing a manager needs to succeed is an understanding of “where we are” and “where we want to be.” The company’s leadership must establish the vision and supply support for management. Without clear direction, even the best managers will fail.

Next, it is possible to define what is to be measured and how? Given a quality goal, it is necessary to define how we can measure progress toward that goal. For example, one measure of quality purchasing may be the number of return material authorizations (RMAs) approved due to shipped product which does not meet our customer’s quality specifications. Now that we know what to measure, the next question is how?

Where is the best place to capture the information? Is it when the returned goods hit our dock? Or is it when the customer service organization issues the RMA?

Timing may be critical. Old numbers, long after the fact, are impossible to use meaningfully. Numbers must be available in real time if they are to support active management. Most numbers need to be available every work day.

The time must not only be fast, but it must be consistent if we are to measure our ability to move them. If we normally measure in the morning, and then suddenly switch to the afternoon, it will may skew the results and lead to mismanagement.

Next, a starting point is required. In many cases, starting numbers will be unknown until we attempt to capture them for the first time. The initial results require careful monitoring and analysis. It is important that the measurement and corresponding results are understood. Otherwise, decisions will be made where the results can not be predicted.

Finally, it is possible to set goals. Provide some leeway for the first actual measured period. It may take some experience to understand how fast the numbers can be moved and their consequences. Without guideposts, we might cause change without direction.

As a base of experience is developed, the managers need to have flexibility in establishing rewards and recognitions to encourage staff to make the goals.

For example, there might be rewards for any “picking team” with zero errors. This is important. It should not be for the team with the least errors, as that might imply that in a tie, everyone looses. It could also set up some unproductive competition to force other teams to have errors. Be careful. Improper rewards will cause harm. People learn to win within the systems that are given to them. Set your measurements and rewards carefully. They will affect the way people work and what they produce. Do not get surprised by the results of carelessly established policies.

Rewards for change must be made in public and be considered valuable. Some changes will require risk on the part of your employees. They need to know that their effort will be valued by the company before they are willing to risk anything.

In cases where reengineering has led to layoffs, it is difficult to get cooperation from a second department. Why should anyone risk their future by helping to eliminate their job? The only way around this is to reward those who helped with promotions or other tangible benefits that will encourage others to do the same.

The rewards and measurement must work together to invite actions which support the direction of the company and the expected results. Poor definitions in these two areas can have disastrous consequences for any organization where quality must be improved to survive.

Include front line employees in setting up goals, guidelines, and rewards. Everyone will buy into the program and have a higher level of commitment. Change is the essence of progress. Only with meaningful change can we improve as companies and grow into the future. New systems, better performance and accurate measurement of progress will ensure that quality change is positive and long lasting.

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