Who is Anti-Quality?
I would dare say that in a room of 100 people not one would raise their hand in response to that question. We all want a “quality of life”. As consumers we all want quality products; quality in the foods we eat, in the goods we purchase, in the cars we drive. We may not consciously think, “I want to buy a can of quality vegetables”, but we sure do all want to believe that the vegetables are of a certain quality with a certain taste and processed with a high level of sanitation and safety. We all seek quality if not once but numerous times a day even if it isn’t a conscious thought.
As I was perusing the July 2012 Quality Progress magazine, I came across a quote that stimulated my thoughts for this article. Govind Ramu, the Director of Quality Assurance for SunPower Corp. writes, “Based on 20-plus years of quality management experience in different parts of the world, one thing I am more than sure of is that no one is anti-quality”. I thought this statement was pretty profound.
One thing that I am pretty sure of is that with our renewal surveys, we’ve documented the deficiency of managing the Quality Improvement program more often that I’d like to see. Therefore I thought I would use my pen (ok keyboard) and offer an article to possibly break the “quality beast” in to bite-size segments.
I have personally adhered to a structure of Plan-Do-Study-Act as a framework for quality improvement spanning throughout my career. This cycle, also known by Plan-Do-Check-Act, or the Deming Cycle was developed by W. Edwards Deming and originally implemented overseas long before managing quality in an organization was heard of.
How does one PLAN for quality? Planning comes about mostly when something or some process performs with less than the quality that is expected. In other words, ask yourself what areas are not functioning as well as you expect, what areas seem to be costing us more than we would like to be spending, where is there a higher level of waste than we’d like to see, are products being returned at a higher rate than we’d like? What are the areas that are costing your company excessively? Pick one of those areas and gather as much information as possible as to the possible causes of the results you currently are seeing. Employees are usually the best resource, and of course your customers are too depending upon the process you are reviewing.
At HQAA, when we recognize that a process is not functioning as efficiently as we’d like, we begin by interviewing all staff that directly ‘touch’ that process. We learn in great detail where they get the work to be processed, what they do with it and where it goes or who it gets handed off to when they are done. All employees know the Input-Throughput-Output methods to their work.
Once a process has been identified as needing improvement, conduct a session to review all preliminary information gathered from looking at how the process currently works. Then, planning for how to improve it can become the focus. That can start with brainstorming ideas, or drill down to specific descriptions as to how things can change. The problem at hand really dictates how detailed or how long of a planning session should occur. The ultimate goal for your end result is to have a plan that you will improve the process by saving money, or creating efficiencies, or improving the rate of returned equipment, or a combination of other identified objectives. Everyone should agree on the plan, and everyone should have a day or two to “simmer on it” to ensure that every aspect has been analyzed as much as possible. Planning for how to measure your success, or improve outcomes should also be done in this phase. How will you know that your planned change is working, or that it’s increased efficiency, or that it has improved your service? Make this clear now so that when the implementation phase is complete you will have concise direction to know if your plan worked.
Once agreed upon and planned to the best of your abilities (not all plans work perfect the first time), then it’s time to “DO”, or implement. Determine how long you will give this portion of the cycle. For example, will you collect customer satisfaction via phone calls for 3 months…6 months….or 12 months in order to determine its effectiveness? In your planning stage, identify a target time frame that you will implement before coming back to do the next portion of the process.
Implement your process or change and let it run as planned for your specified amount of time. Of course if unexpected negative results occur right away, quickly go back to the PLANning-board and re-work it.
There are no concrete walls between the four steps. An appropriate action in your DO phase is to watch to ensure that opposite effects aren’t occurring. If something goes haywire or wrong, stop the change and plan again. This is an important learning phase, this “space” between each step. Take note of what went wrong and why and next time you will better prepared in your planning.
Improvement. That’s what it is all about and it can occur at any point along the way.
As your period of time for testing of the new process concludes, or the change has occurred, gather the information needed to evaluate if the plan was successful. In most cases, indications of success at any level become apparent as the time of testing approaches its end. Were your goals achieved in making the planned changes to the process? If not, talk through and review data to determine why. In this phase I like to rely upon a technique that I learned in my graduate phase of education; ask “why” at least 5 times in order to really get to the root cause of the problem. In this portion of the process, really STUDY every aspect of your planned change. What worked, what didn’t? Analyze what occurred and what results were found.
The next step then is to ACT upon that which was learned in the STUDY phase. Make the changes; improve the parts that weren’t up to par or expectation. Rework it and then implement again. Standardize the new process or the change and then communicate it completely. Share how the process occurred and what led you to decide to change, how you changed things, and the results of the change. Understanding why work flow and processes change is key for the persons who have to ensure it works.
Continue to watch and analyze this new process to ensure its success. Documenting all these steps along the way and then bringing the information to your Quality Improvement / Process Improvement meetings is ideal. Report on progress in each of the steps at the meetings. Get feedback. Design improvements and insert them in to the PLAN – DO – STUDY – ACT model.