Sunday, November 25, 2012

Accelerating the Adoption of Quality

As we celebrate World Quality Month this November, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks the Quality community what can we do to accelerate the rate of adoption of quality? A big part of the solution, I believe, is to promote the broader role of "quality" in everyday life. This month the leaders of the MN Section of ASQ organized several community service projects partnering with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to "build a House of Quality". We strategically chose two Saturdays in November with Habitat for Humanity to both recognize World Quality Month and to demonstrate the role of quality in design (e.g. environmentally friendly homes) while building stronger social communities. I am extremely proud of our MNASQ members who quickly filled both November dates to participate on indoor and outdoor new home construction projects. We also had a few members who could not physically participate, and chose instead to contribute via charitable donation towards community playground equipment. Habitat for Humanity was so pleased by the quality of our work and contributions that they asked us to sponsor a Saturday in December. Our members have asked the Section leaders to also consider sponsoring a community service project this spring.

Sponsoring community service projects is just one tactic the MNASQ section is using to define and promote quality as "Total Customer Experience" (TCE).  Total Customer Experience is defined as the overall customer impression based on perceptions and experiences of a company's products, services, people, partners and solutions at every touchpoint. Regardless of whether one subscribes to the notion that the U.S. is shifting from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, fewer people involved in continuous improvement today align themselves with traditional 'Quality'. Hence, one explanation of the decline in ASQ membership since its peak in the late 1980's (Total Quality movement). Today's continuous improvement practitioners are organized around such labels and efforts as process improvement, operational excellence, customer satisfaction, patient safety, etc. Early adoption of quality principles in manufacturing made intuitive sense -  it is much easier to view work as a process in the manufacturing environment where supplier-customer interactions are obvious, requirements are generally known, defects are understood, and data are frequent and numerous. Contrast the manufacturing environment to the transactional world where process thinking is not intuitive, the customer is not always identified, the "product" may not be well understood, defects may not be defined, and data are not systematically collected.

Following the "Diffusion of Innovation" model, (Everett Rogers, 1962), service and transactional quality may be regarded as laggards in the quality improvement journey yet hold great potential to delivering significant gains in performance excellence and business success.

In today's difficult economy with increasingly global competition and sophisticated customers, excellent product quality is a given. Dr. Joseph Juran defined quality along three key attributes: free from defects, features, and reliability.  Following that definition, competitive advantage today is achieved through superior, consistent, reliable product and service performance that delivers unmatched Total Customer Experience... every transaction, every touchpoint, every time.

To help activate the adoption of quality in transactional processes it helps to visualize the cross-functional nature of most business processes. Whereas most functions are defined as silos, most processes are cross-functional. Keys to transactional process improvement are recognize where the  internal supplier-customer hand-offs occur and fully understand the internal customer requirements. A critical role of Quality in transactional processes is to manage the organizational white spaces within each cross-functional process.  Many organizations today are applying lean tools and concepts to help them drive speed and improve efficiency through the elimination of waste and non value-added activity.

Dr. Deming is quoted to having said, "Change is not necessary. Survival is optional". Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, CAPA, etc. are all valuable methods of problem solving and continuous improvement to help assure competitiveness of the enterprise. But I define Quality much broader than continuous improvement alone.
Quality is the intentional alignment of mission, vision, values, leadership, planning, customer focus, work systems, workforce and continual improvement for organizational success. I prescribe to the "hamburger" model of the Baldrige Criteria where continuous improvement is just one crucial ingredient to performance excellence of the organization.

Quality is achieved by flawless execution at the speed of the customer. So how do we measure flawless execution? The Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) metric and a measure of customer satisfaction (or even better - customer loyalty) are two key indicators.
COPQ Iceberg illustration from
Traditional measures of COPQ track the measures that are relatively easy to observe, such as waste, scrap, rework, inspection costs, disposal costs, warranty and complaints costs, etc. Though these measures are relatively easy to obtain (i.e. "Visible" costs), more often the greater opportunity for operational excellence and customer experience is in the "hidden costs" of excess inventory, numerous engineering change orders, lost sales, costs to expedite shipments, limited product availability caused by the lack of speed, flow and synchronization of one's key value streams, etc.

Illustration from
As quality costs are reduced, profits are increased.  As value streams are optimized to increase velocity and flow, customer satisfaction is increased due to improved "product" quality and availability.

So, back to Paul Borawski's question of how can the quality professional accelerate the adoption of quality... Quality must be defined much more broadly than product or service quality. Competitive advantage today is achieved by a relentless focus on delivering Total Customer Experience including exceptional product/service/transactional quality, consistently good customer service, a warm, inviting customer experience, a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Politics aside, I like Chick-fil-A and Caribou Coffee as two role model organizations in this regard.

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