Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quality Afterthoughts

I've been writing about quality issues since 1984—23 long years. In that time I've interviewed hundreds of quality professionals, gurus, practitioners, authors, consultants, you name it. Although each person had a unique perspective on quality, each claimed that improved quality (usually as a result of following his or her quality recipe) was right around the corner.

Unfortunately, I don't think we've turned that corner. In fact, in my humble opinion, quality for the most part still stinks. (I say for the most part because the "hard" side of quality—metrology—has made tremendous strides in the last two decades. Unfortunately, the "soft" side of quality—the human side—has fallen farther behind in many quality aspects, particularly with regard to service quality.

Although we see excellent examples of design, product, and service quality all the time, I'm afraid the bad (or more precisely, the mediocre) still outweighs the good.

It's getting to the point where we can't even trust the food we eat, the bridges we drive over, the toys our children play with, the cars we drive in, and the pills we pop. And when we do have a problem, we can't really trust the so-called "customer service" representatives who are supposed to help us through our hour of need.

It's frustrating that after going through zero defects, quality circles, total quality management, reengineering, benchmarking, ISO 9000, Six Sigma, lean, and all of their derivations, that quality is still so bad.

I know that many organizations have had great success with each of the aforementioned programs. Unfortunately, many have not. It seems to me that the ones who have been successful (and by that I mean have high-quality products and/or services; a happy, involved work force; a large and growing market share; and happy stockholders/stakeholders) have made these programs their own. They don't do ISO 9001 for the sake of meeting customer requirements. They don't have an employee involvement program because it's hip; they don't implement Six Sigma because the CEO's golfing buddy's company does.

A more telling sign of an organization's success with these quality initiatives is that they are done because the organization knows that they will result in better products and services, a happier work force, better sales, and long-term growth. The company integrates these "programs" into the company works. It doesn't have to make them separate fiefdoms and wage war against the company culture. It's just the way things work; it's not some onerous process.

Before, you send me the "Duh!" e-mail, stop and think about it. How many programs have you seen come and go over the years. Think about the successes and failures in your own organization. Think, too, about your experiences as a consumer. Are you really happy with the products and/or services your organization produces? More important, are you customers? How do you know? As I asked last month, how do you know you're improving? How do you know your customers are satisfied? Are you actively working to make sure that your customers are satisfied now and will be in the future? Are you really satisfied with the goods you buy? Are you getting the kind of service you think you should?

If you're like me, the answer is no. I'm not satisfied as a business owner with my organization's products and services. I want to make them better. As a consumer, I constantly amazed at the poor quality products I buy and the lousy service I receive. I am constantly amazed at the poor service I receive from customer service reps. I am leery of the food I eat. I worry that my children might be playing with lead-tainted toys. (For this I blame the company whose name is on the product, not the entire nation of China.) It just seems as though things are worse now than they were 20 years ago in many respects.

For example, flight delays and airline dissatisfaction are at their highest levels ever. New whiz-bang products are increasingly difficult to use. Online products and services are great unless they don't work or you have a question, then good luck finding a real person to talk to for help. In fact, many companies go out of their way to avoid interacting with you. How many times when you call for help are you told to "go online"? And, perhaps most telling of all, aren't you just delighted when you receive good service? If I actually get help with a problem or see someone go the extra mile to help it really stands out, even though that's what should happen every time.

You may be a quality manager at an organization. Your job may be to ensure that the widgets your company makes get out the door according to spec. But what are you doing beyond that? Are you collecting data on customer satisfaction with your products, your services, your billing, your technical support, your Web site, your product design, your distributors, your packaging, your advertising. If you say those aren't your job, you just might not have one down the road.


At 8:22 AM , Anonymous Dell said...

I agree completely. Are you sure you are not Dr. Deming reincarnated? Fantastic post, get back to the basics America.

At 5:46 PM , Blogger 梦云 said...

Hi, i can't find the right place to leave a comment about your article "I want a leader, not a politician." As a result, i may just write it here.
Leadership in politics seems be forgotten these days, but one thing here I want to mention is that time has changed. We are not in the time when wars are around us. People are not starving and suffering from the pain that the war brings to us. Even we hear what is going on in Iraq everyday from newspapers, TV, and radio reports, people just take it as normal news. It is not happening inside USA, and we don’t suffer from the war in Iraq. And people may think that why they should even bother to worry about that. Compared with what happened in Iraq, we may pay more attention on things like looking for a job, household loan, and our children’s education. The thing is people only care about their own things, and people are just so numb. What makes a country’s leader turn to be a politician? What changes the president’s election into a competition of pretense and untruthful performance? Let’s think about it. We are not in the time when our nation is disintegrated, and as the situation changes a leader has other meanings now. “I want a president who knows where he or she wants the country to go and works hard to get us there.” I do agree what the author said in this article. Maybe someone will say no matter how the situation is changing, the spirit of a leader remains the same. And I agree too, but a politician cannot do what a leader should do only until he/she becomes the president. It is us, you and me, who select our president, and who believe she/he will be the leader that knows where this country should go and works hard to get us there. The civilization, the law, the culture force them to be a politician first, and a leader second, so who should we really blame? “Politicians are rarely great leaders.” That’s true indeed. Nowadays, can anyone be a country’s leader without being a politician first? We always memorize the heroes who sacrificed their life for the country in the past, but how many heroes do we know who once lived around us? Sometimes we should just stop carping at the things that we cannot even do it well. Let’s just have faith in any one of those candidates that one of them will be a good leader.

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At 5:57 PM , Blogger dogbertpacman said...

I agree. We conduct formal customer perception audits and look at a measure called "net promoter score" - would our customer recommend us to others.

At 2:34 PM , Anonymous Billy said...

The Leadership Strategist said....

We are in a leadership crisis in America. Our leaders have moved from service to the people they represent selfishness. Their only concern is perpetuation of their political power. There is no longer a concern for the citizens. Special interest have taken over.

Americans need to get more involved in the political process and hold every elected official at every level of government accountable to taxpayers. We are getting what we have allowed to happen and we are the only people who can return sensibility to government service.

The energy crisis has been a catalyst for a long needed awakening of how truly bad our national every level...truly is.

As you look through candidates running to be our next President, please don't forget to thoroughly examine their leadership experiences and their record of service and leadership capability. It you do, the choice becomes very obvious. We can no longer afford to make poor choices!!!

At 5:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Articles! Thanks. I have worked for 4 mfg companies owned by major corporations over the last 20 years. My positions have been in Quality (non management). In each company, no matter the "flavor of the month" quality initiative (you name it I've seen it implemented and fail), no matter the many major management changes (top to bottom), I have yet to see anything except selfish leadership. The "me first" management style. Quality concerns for product quality and customer requirement go out the door fast when managment is more concerned with keeping their jobs and having that next pay check. When the top guys don't care about anything except profits (ie sales to most), there is never any lasting improvement. Management has a mentallity that if I don't rock the boat, I keep my job. And Quality is definitely not a popular boat to be getting on. It is a sad thing that company executives focus on making money, and miss the fact that if the company processes would improve they might just do that. Quality? What's Quality? As a Quality employee I feel useless most of the time and wonder why I love working in manufacturing as I do. Is this a result of a greedy society? I'd love to hear what others think is causing this.

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