Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Opportunities for Quality

In his September 2013 blog post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks, "What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?"

I work in manufacturing - the traditional focus of most quality methods and tools. I continue to enjoy a 33 year career in product development, process development, business process redesign, quality engineering, quality management, leadership, Six Sigma and Lean. But I also have the distinct pleasure of being able to share my acquired knowledge and skills in the role as a Baldrige Examiner to help improve organizational performance in healthcare, education, small business, local government and nonprofits.

It is my experience and opinion that two areas ripe for continuous improvement are back office transactions and front office customer service. Even within a manufacturing operation, it is estimated that 70% of all cost reduction opportunities lie in transactional process improvement. The challenges to improving transactional processes are well documented: a general lack of process thinking, lack of customer-supplier relationship and understanding of requirements, lack of defect understanding, and the lack of data. Lean principles offer the thinking and tools to help organizations begin their journey of transactional continuous improvement.

Customer service - or more accurately, the lack thereof, is a huge opportunity just begging for improvement. Whereas the new definition of quality in today's highly competitive, ever changing global environment is about delivering consistently superior Customer Experience, it seems that customer service - across a broad cross-section of the economy - has taken a back seat to impersonal automation in the name of efficiency and productivity. Missing is the emphasis on human interaction for overall effectiveness, increased customer loyalty and improved organizational outcomes. Deming's System of Profound Knowledge teaches managers that appreciation of a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge and knowledge of psychology help to transform business effectiveness. I believe that effective Quality training coupled with customer-focused improvement efforts build employee empowerment and engagement leading to sustainable processes and outcomes.

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