Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TQM Explained, Part 1

Here's part one of a TQM training video made by a group of students at a Scottish university. Check out the German-Scottish-Yoda accent! I'll post part two soon.

Just Do It!

What I really meant to say. . .

As a small-business owner I face an array of challenges every day: finance, marketing, human resources, quality, customer service, new product development, inventory control, and the like. Of course, this is in addition to being a husband, a father, a son, a friend, and looking after my own physical and mental well-being. I constantly struggle with making the right choices at the right time. I know that I’m not alone in making these choices. Whether you’re a small-business owner like me or a quality manager or an auditor or a machine tool operator, you’ve got a mountain of choices of your own to make every day.

Luckily, there are countless time-saving options for all of us overworked, overstressed, overlooked heroes. For example, there’s software, which promises to automate just about any aspect of our lives: time management, document control, weight management, planning, you name it. Of course, you’ll have to determine which software package comes closest to your particular needs.

Once you choose your software package, you’ll then need to whine beg plead convince your boss to authorize its purchase. Once you have approval and you make the purchase, you’ll then spend countless hours on the phone with technical support install it and learn how to use it. (Of course, if others in your organization are to use it too, you’ll have to force it on them to do some significant training.) After you’ve used it for a while, you’ll discover you’ve wasted a lot of time and money you need to modify it to fit your particular needs. Remember, once you’ve become proficient in its use, it will suddenly become obsolete the manufacturer will update it, so you’ll have to relearn the software and retrain everyone to use it. Of course, keep your fingers crossed that Microsoft doesn’t release some new operating system that will make your new software obsolete remember to plan to replace your software every few years.

There are other time-saving options besides software. Maybe if you knew more about a particular aspect of your job, you’d do it better and have more free time. Why not attend a seminar? Of course, you’ll need considerable whining time to convince your boss to send you. But just imagine the horror it: An entire day or two or maybe even a whole week learning to do your job better. Plus, you’ll probably get to travel to the cheapest and nearest seminar location some exotic locale. (Maybe you can even learn a few things about quality, productivity and efficiency from those cheerful TSA folks as you wait in line at the airport.) Ah, but you’ll be worn out superproductive when you return. (At least that’s the way to position it your boss when begging for requesting permission to go.)

Of course, someone will have to cover for you while you’re gone, so you’ll have to work overtime set aside some time to train the other person to do your job for you. This person probably won’t really do anything but screw things up have time to effectively do his or her job and yours while you’re gone, leaving you with even more work to do when you get back, so be sure to set aside some extra time for that when you get back. Oh, and don’t forget that your boss will be expecting a report on what you learned at the seminar so the cheapskate won’t have to send anyone else to a seminar you can share what you learned with everyone else in the organization.

You’ll probably learn that you know more than your seminar instructor you’ve been working with complete idiots doing things totally wrong less efficiently than possible, so be sure to allow a good amount of time for second guessing analyzing your current system when you return. Of course, after a good deal of time has been wasted invested, you’ll discover that the whole thing was a waste of time the way things worked before you went to the seminar was a hell of a lot better probably good enough. Be sure to allow some time to put things back the way they were.

If a seminar isn’t your cup of tea, why not use the Internet to save time? Take some time from surfing porn playing games instant messenging doing market research and Google your way to better time management. Just type in whatever you need and tons of useless listings the answer will instantly appear on your computer screen. For example, I Googled “time management” and got back 1.12 billion responses. What a waste of time. Amazing isn’t it!

I narrowed my search to “learn Klingon” “time management for curmudgeons.” Wow, 908,000 hits for “learn Klingon” only 37,000 hits. (Who knew there were so many of us?) OK, don’t get discouraged. You can immediately toss out the paid listings that show up. Your boss isn’t going to cough up any dough after that failed software implementation and you’ve spent your training budget on that useless seminar you attended. So, now we’re down to a more manageable 36,974 listings.

These are just thee options to help you manage your time more effectively. Maybe if I spent as much time just getting the job done as I did trying to do it better, I might actually get something done.

What’s your favorite time-saving trick? Post your thoughts here. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Do the ISO 9000 Dance

Now, here's somebody really happy about his company's ISO 9001 certification.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Prescription for Success… Or Failure?

The city in which I live—Chico, California—is a wonderful place. It’s a relatively small city (about 75,000 residents), but it’s home to California State University, Chico, so there’s always a lot of fun stuff going on. Chico is safe, clean, and has most of the modern amenities considered vital in today’s world: Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Costco, etc.

Oddly enough, however, Chico only has one 24-hour pharmacy: Walgreens. This is problematic for those of us with small children, who are prone to get sick after the doctor’s offices and regular pharmacies have closed.

A few days ago, all three of my kids came down with some nasty bug. So we loaded up the minivan and headed off to the local after-hours clinic. The doctor phoned in three prescriptions of antibiotics for the kids. Walgreens was our only option. After we loaded up the kids for the ride home, my wife remembered that we had a little bit of antibiotic left over from the last illness so we decided to pick up our prescription the next day.

The following day I head to Walgreens to pick up the prescriptions. I wait 10 minutes in line only to be told that they haven’t been filled yet. I remind the woman behind the counter that the prescription had been called in 16 hours earlier (remember, this is a 24-hour pharmacy). She tells me that the best they can do is fill them in about 10 minutes.

I wait 10 minutes and then get back in line for another 10-minute wait. When I get to the counter again, I am told that they didn’t bill my insurance, so I’ll have to wait another 10 minutes while they do the insurance billing.

OK, at this point, the Quality Curmudgeon’s blood is boiling. I am mad, mad, mad! Such incompetence! I vow never again to use this pharmacy (even though I know I will have to). I realize that my anger really was out of proportion to the situation. So, being the nice guy that I am, I didn’t say anything. I just waited along with everyone else.

After another 10-minute wait, I am called back to the window and told that Blue Cross doesn’t seem to have my daughter in their system. OK, I was about to lose it at this point, but something curious happened. My anger at Walgreens and Blue Cross turned into sympathy and compassion for Andrea, young woman who was helping me. Rather than just say, “Sorry, I can’t help you,” she called Blue Cross and spent 15 minutes on the phone arguing on my behalf. When a supervisor at Blue Cross finally told her that my daughter didn’t exist and there was nothing Blue Cross could do, Andrea just hung up and called back. She spoke to a different person who was able to find my daughter in the system and (hopefully) fixed the problem for good.

I thanked Andrea for her help. “This happens all the time,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “It’s no big deal.”

Andrea then told me that she had to have a pharmacist check the prescription before she could sell it to me, so I had to wait another five minutes. When I was called back to the counter to pay, Walgreens’ computer system wouldn’t let them sell me one of the prescriptions. At this point, I wasn’t really so much angry as I was amused. Five different employees tried in vain to override the computer system. Finally, one of the pharmacists told the cashier to just manually enter the info and sell me my prescription.

I was in the pharmacy for over an hour. In that time, I went from annoyed, to angry, to exasperated, to sympathetic, to amused.

So, what lessons did I take away from all of this? Who’s fault was it? Mine for not encasing my children in a plastic bubble? Greedy lawyers for driving up the cost of health insurance with frivolous lawsuits? Incompetent management at Walgreens for not designing a better process? Computer software manufacturers for not designing better software? Blue Cross for a lack of training and inefficient processes? So how can I improve this situation for the future? Let’s examine my options:
• Move to a bigger city.
• Encase the children in plastic bubbles.
• Try to get to the doctor earlier in the day so I can use a different pharmacy (though given the state of health care these days, there’s no guarantee that I will have a different experience with a different pharmacy).
• Switch insurance companies. Again, there’s no guarantee that would be a better solution.
• Accept the fact there are some things that I just don’t have any control over, do the best that I can and not be so intolerant of those caught up in the process.

I think the last solution is probably best. I know that Andrea and the other people at Walgreens were doing the best they could with the system they had to work in. The same is probably true of the reps at Blue Cross. Many of our readers face similar scenarios every day. You’ve got to follow somebody else’s processes and make the best of it. Isn’t that what this quality stuff is all about? Making the best of somebody else’s process and adapting your organization’s capabilities to meet the customers’ (external and internal) needs.

What processes drive you crazy. Share your experiences here.