Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How do you sell Quality?

Paul Borawski, CEO ASQ, asks in his latest blog how we "sell" quality to executives. In my business travels throughout the U.S. and across the globe, as I seek to educate, train, teach, coach and consult to promote quality and Lean Six Sigma it has been my experience to frame quality in terms that most impact the respective business leader: "Where is your organizational pain - high waste? low productivity? lack of process speed? low sales? high costs? high customer complaints?".

While high costs may be a barrier to growth it must be remembered that cost is an outcome; a result. An improvement approach that seeks to reduce costs for cost's sake can actually have unintended consequences that could result in lower quality to the customer.  Remember the Deming Chain Reaction from his book Out of the Crises: A focus on improving quality leads to reduced costs and improved productivity allowing the enterprise to capture greater market share, resulting in growth and increased jobs. Though "quality" is defined by the producer (e.g. conformance to requirements), quality is ultimately judged (perceived) by the customer. Furthermore, value is described as what the customer is willing to pay for. Customers do not care about the producer's costs; they want a quality, reliable product, at a price they're willing to pay, and the product must be available when they want it. Customers are not willing to pay for the producer's waste and process inefficiencies or other nonvaue-added activities.

In further dialogue with the business leader we then discuss the organization's challenges to growth and where quality systems and processes can have a positive impact. Challenges such as lack of organizational agility, lack of strategy deployment and execution, lack of innovation (in products, services, processes and systems), talent management and employee engagement, increased globalization, more sophisticated customers and the rapid rate of change. 

While many business leaders still think of Quality in terms of "little q" activities associated with auditing, conformance, inspection, root cause analysis and corrective action, I choose to promote the greater societal role that "Big Q" can play in serving the community, protecting the enterprise, delivering the promise, improving operational excellence, strengthening organizational performance and increasing customer satisfaction. Rather than a focus on product (or service) quality alone, I encourage organizations to think in terms of improving the end-to-end "Total Customer Experience" for differentiating competitive advantage.

Finally, think strategically; lead holistically. Genichi Taguchi defined quality in terms of Loss to Society. This definition is the foundation of today's push for Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Product Life Cycle Management.

Expressed in these terms, I believe Quality sells itself.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the importance of focusing on the big picture. The total customer experience is a great focus. Thinking holistically is also wise. The point on Taguchi is missed by so many people. Deming and Toyota (thus the best lean...) have a big focus on society.

    I think it might be very hard for many traditional executives to understand these things (their actions seem to indicate this to me). Thinking systemically instead of analytically is confusing for many people.

    Focusing on things the person you are trying to sell is also wise - by wise of course, I mean, something I agree with :-) Good old confirmation bias leads me to like this post by you.