Monday, December 24, 2012

Deliver more for a Raise


Writing about what we get paid or should get paid is a tough ask.  If I argue for a raise, I could be called unreal in tough times; if I argue about no raise, I could be called insensitive to my team; if I ask for a reduction, I am plain mad. Inspite of these risks, Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, has asked this question on his blog. It is possible he has been in a Christmas mood a bit too early. Jokes apart, talking about salary is sensitive and best avoided. But I will take the risk.
Our salaries increasingly depend on what quality function we manage and what outcomes we deliver. Also, how tough are we to replace? Demand and supply law of economics works almost everywhere, and I think it does perfectly well for us as well.
Firstly, I believe there is no longer a shortage of qualified (read certified) quality professionals and this reflects in stagnant wages for the last year. Black Belt certification is now a commodity and Lean is seen more as a sub-set of Six Sigma than a separate improved discipline. As a result, these certifications don’t automatically attract increased wages.
Second, most quality professionals don’t deliver enough value. I have written about this earlier and am convinced that many of us join the profession thinking it is an easy cushy job. And this hurts the entire community. I agree that the value we deliver is tough to identify – for example, multiple audits may still not reduce the risk of a big failure. I think each quality professional should be able to deliver value anywhere between five to ten times of his/her wages.
Assessing value for quality professionals is easier if you work in improvement. Most project benefits can be quantified and if this value is anywhere between five to ten times your wages – you are safe and can even expect a raise.  Life is tough for professionals in other quality functions. Auditing and Quality Control is no longer a domain of ‘only’ quality professional and this drives salaries down.
Finally, exclusivity and an impression of indispensability are critical to salary hikes.  If the skills and results you bring to the table are unique and much more than what anyone else will – you can expect a raise. Certifications alone won’t help if you don’t have a record of delivering on stretch goals.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Right to Quality


We are in the World Quality Month. Earlier this month, I had written to ASQ India members encouraging all of us to take a further step in raising the voice of quality. My mentor and a Quality Guru, Suresh Lulla wrote back challenging me to do something special this month.

In response, I decided to act on my long standing desire to ‘talk’ quality to school students. I was able to convince two schools to let me conduct a session for senior (grade 11 and 12) students.

The talk was titled ‘Right to Quality’ and was delivered to 41 very patient students on 24 Nov 2012 in Bangalore. The participating schools were Presidency School and St. Paul’s School.

So, what is Right to Quality?

The core message of my talk to students was – If you want good quality delivered to you; begin by delivery good quality in whatever you are doing. It is only through this dedication and action for excellence that we can progress as a nation.

I included basic information on Juran, Deming, and Ishikawa in an effort to introduce students to these stalwarts. Surprisingly, students were very interested in knowing more about them.

We also conducted a quick brainstorming and fishbone on why some students secure low scores. As expected, this was a fun session.

5 S was very well received as most students said they could use this straightaway.

Here is a copy of the presentation. Do let me know if you are using it. Right To Quality ppt on SlideShare

What next for Right to Quality?

I am currently approaching schools in Bangalore to conduct this session and am hoping for some support in this effort. If you are reading this and can help by reaching out to administrations of some schools, I will be grateful. I am trying to take small steps in this journey but am aware of the potential of this idea.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Applying Quality Improvement to Quality



Firstly, I hope you are celebrating World Quality Month in November. I know, some will argue that Quality should be celebrated through the year and not on a day or in a month. I normally see that as an argument for not doing anything. I would rather use this month to raise the voice of quality than argue over a utopian scenario. Please go ahead and try to raise the voice of quality. We need a lot more voices than we have.

Paul Borwaski has this month posed an action oriented question – What can we do to accelerate the rate of adoption of quality?

This is a global priority and Paul has rightly indicated that instead of waiting and praying it will help if we do something about it. Here are some thoughts I have and I am sure you all have many more.

Have more Quality Heroes (mini-gurus)

There won’t be another Juran or Deming. Period. But there can be other lesser gurus or heroes. What are we doing to discover, encourage, and promote these heroes. ASQ did an interesting study in 2010 on New Voices of Quality. Something similar could be done annually.

ASQ Fellows are still primarily from the USA. I am sure there are many quality professionals around the globe who deserve this honour. Heroes drive followership and it is important that the world of quality finds new heroes.

Apply The Juran Trilogy to Quality

Juran left for us a classic process management paradigm. The Juran Trilogy of process planning, process control, and process improvement. Are we doing this well? Planning is about developing a standard and setting baseline and target performance.
How many quality programs and professionals think and develop a process to deploy quality. Very few. When we follow the ‘Just do It’ philosophy blindly in quality deployment we don’t win fans. We invite ridicule and brickbats for poor planning and inability to take the medicine we preach.

What do we do control a quality program. I have reviewed 100s of quality programs and find a control mechanism missing most of the time. Most quality professionals live in the delusion that it is the job of Senior Leaders to monitor and not ours. Please remember, Senior Leaders has several other headaches and it helps us if we make their job easier.

Finally, how often do we improve a quality methodology? Not very often. I have reviewed Six Sigma programs in organizations which are run the same way as they were run five years ago. This may be good consistency but it closes our eyes from learning from our processes. Also, it is plain boring.

Globalise Quality

Taking quality to different countries, different industries, and demographics could be the key to accelerate its adoption.

There is a strong need to develop a project management discipline within quality. I can see most quality professionals lacking in project management skills. We do projects at our pace and ultimately allow business leaders to draw negative conclusions about our ability to finish things off. These two disciplines need some convergence.

Having an agreed quality curriculum is an increasing necessity now. There are way too many interpretations floating around and this distracts new-comers to the subject. I understand that a subject like quality cannot have ONE definition, but we could atleast have some beginner’s kit from a body like ASQ.

Quality is still not integrated with most engineering and management curricula. I have been trying to convince some schools to allow ASQ Bangalore to conduct sessions on problem solving and basic quality tools and can tell you this is not easy. But it needs to be done.


In summary, if we don’t take the bitter pill we want others to take, we will soon need surgery. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Quality of Design - The Holy Grail of Quality



Expectation vs Reality
Let’s try to encapsulate how the quality function is understood ‘traditionally’. The lack of attributable empirical evidence allows me to rely on conversations with veterans in the quality profession and on my experiences gathered over the years, these seem to suggest that a quality function is expected to be –
Proactive but is perceived as reactive
Quick as a hare but is considered to be slow as a snail
 Pragmatic but is often accused of being riddled with theoretical ideologies
Quality function is expected to be forward looking but is usually found looking in the rear view mirror.

Although a quality function is most active within mainstream activities in either manufacturing or service provisions, inherent practices are agile and adaptable.

Common knowledge clearly shows that companies that win apply quality to all functions. Both Toyota and General Electric are examples of larger all encompassing philosophy
Applying quality to only specific functions is the equivalent of working only on one muscle of the body, the result of which are just as narrow as the effort expended  

Quality in All Functions
If quality can be applied to all functions, who then is a quality professional? Aren't managers in all functions also quality professionals? 
Tough one – if quality professionals give up their knowledge and skill and let everyone become a quality professional then we are no longer required or important. If we don’t do this, quality doesn't become all-pervasive and we will anyway be no longer required.

Can/ How is quality be applied to more functions than production or service provision? Let’s look at some of simple and fairly easy to recall examples from various industries -

Design
Apple - A company known for this excellence in design apply principles of quality function design (without probably using the tool) which has taken their design to a new high.
Recruitment
Several organizations have cut recruitment cycle time using six sigma projects.
Vendor Management –
Companies are reaping benefits of paying vendors on time as a result of improvement projects
Marketing
 Companies have used FMEA to assess what can go wrong with a product launch.

Making Everyone a Quality Professional
Toyota and GE did a brilliant job of making everyone a quality professional. They still have a quality function – which specializes in the subject, manages projects/programs, and pushes the envelope on knowledge and skills. The regular knowledge and skills are transferred to staff. GE popularized the 18-24 month Black Belt role which resulted in building a vast pool of quality-enabled senior professionals.

While I agree that quality is a specialist function, it is important for all functions to have quality specialists. If structured and documented quality tools and methods are moved to the quality professionals in other functions, the core quality function can raise its own game. In other words if the core quality function continues doing auditing and improvement projects only, I don’t see the function breaking any fresh ground.

What’s Next - The Holy Grail for Quality
With an army like that, there are only greater heights to conquer.
Less glamorous challenges confront quality professionals – managing the tail ends of the distribution and exception processing. Straight through processing will be enabled by technology and will become faster, cheaper, and better. It will be the exceptions and tail (of distribution) that will increase processing costs.

Quality in design, I believe, will be the Holy Grail for quality professionals in future. Customers will have little patience to get products repaired. They will want quality built into the process. The more you embed you quality in the process the better the rewards. Reactive repairs and fixes might not be an option in the future.

Of course Dr. Deming would have said – you don’t have to do all this, survival is not essential.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A slow and steady Tortoise won’t win the Quality race today


We all would have read the story about slow and steady Tortoise racing with the fast and energetic Hare/Rabbit. Who won?
It is time to revisit this story.
When Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, posted earlier this month about the speed of change and the need for quality profession (and professionals) to respond I could hear my smile, loud.
What business expects from the quality profession is changing, if not already changed. Improvement cycles are much shorter and quality professionals who want to remain rigid about an established improvement methodology are soon finding themselves alone. Painfully alone.
In the last few weeks I have been involved in discussions around number of improvement projects and the duration of these projects. Where is the discussion headed?
2-4-12
So what is this 2-4-12? Quick improvements must be in place within 2 weeks, if not earlier. Improvements that need some analysis and change or stakeholder management have the luxury of 4 weeks. The truly unknown-solution projects that need using a structured DMAIC or A3 methodology will have 10-12 weeks. Anything beyond this is a dream.
Over the last few years I have spoken and written about the slow speed of quality professionals and how this leads to disenchanted Operations/Business managers. In my recent (Aug’12) article in Quality Progress I have highlighted how operations and quality are at ends of a spectrum when it comes to closing improvement projects. Operations would want improvements today (if not yesterday) and Quality professionals would want to do a thorough analysis at their own pace. The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle.
So, is project speed the only response to the incessant demand from Operations/Business. NO.
I recently visited a Toyota plant near Bangalore with my team (banking operations). Our intent was to see a world class operation and bring back some ideas. Among the several questions we asked, one was – How do you manage your Six Sigma projects. The answer was something I won’t forget all my life.
The Head of Quality, V Ramesh, said – We have internalized Kaizen and PDCA to such an extent that we rarely need a long duration Six Sigma like project!
To the uninitiated – Kaizen is continuous improvement through small incremental change and PDCA (Plan – D0 – Check – Act) is a philosophy of reviewing all products and processes to keep improving.
The modern day Quality Hare/Rabbit has to be fast and never stop.  Bye bye Tortoise!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hire wisely and stick to core values for a Quality Culture


Quality Culture is a complicated topic. Even more complicated than leadership. And I often say leadership is over-hyped. Is quality culture over-hyped then? No.

Earlier this month, Paul Borwaski asked some quality culture related questions. My only worry as I respond is – Is quality culture any different from a sound business culture or a customer focused culture? It surely is different from a cost-focused culture or a punishment oriented culture.

I am a firm believer in culture of improvement and a no-tolerance for poor quality mindset. This is to me is quality culture. I have written about excellent service and the need to recruit for attitude earlier last year.  I also wrote on the service and culture related troubles of Kingfisher Airlines earlier this year. Both these posts indicate the importance of a service culture. I would anyday hire for a service attitude over more than required knowledge. I have done this in the past and will continue to do so.

Hiring for culture has to include a lot of open ended questions in interviews and a thorough background check. What to look for?

Flexible approach while adhering to core values – many candidates are so eager to agree with whatever the interviewer says that they commit the equivalent of suicide – indicate that they will compromise on values.

Customer is important but we don’t have to say Yes all the time – in our pursuit to please the customers we run the risk of setting un-reasonable expectations. I have noticed that very often customers are unhappy because they did not receive a service that they have previously received. Everyone forgets that the earlier service was an exception.

Calm and composure compared to hyper-excitement. Just as reduced variance is a goal for Six Sigma, steady performance is the corner stone of a quality culture. We can perform steadily only when we are calm. Over excited candidates is high risk in a quality culture. Now, don’t get me wrong – I am all for cheerful and pleasant staff. I just avoid staff that would jump around.

Desire to diligence to learn – Knowledge gaps can always be addressed. When I interview candidates I allow them to decide the areas I should ask them the technical questions from. This tells me their comfort levels with the technical topics of quality and also about what is their self-awareness level. Some candidates say they know control charts well but can’t explain the Control Limits.

How to kill a quality culture? Like Integrity, while it will take years to build it, it will take only one incident to damage it. While management and staff build Quality culture together, it is killed by management not by staff. Management fails to take decisions when early signs of damage show up and then the tear just don’t stop.

When do you know when you are in a good quality culture? When you head your staff talking on behalf of the customer. If we fail to encourage this behavior we can say goodbye to quality culture.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Quality and Social Responsibility - Twins?



What does Quality and Social Responsibility have in common? Both have been around a while and both are often neglected. And companies that embrace them – Win.

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ has posed an interesting question on his blog - tell me how you’re making the case for quality and social responsibility. And if you’re not—why?
I have often wondered, albeit in jest, that when we work for quality we are actually deploying a very strong social responsibility as citizens. I know most of us work to make a living and to take care of a family. But why did we choose quality (for those of us who did choose)?  

There is an inherent lack of immediate results in working for quality that is so similar to working for Social Responsibility. Also, even though very sound logic exists, professionals in both fields have to keep convincing the management of the longer term utility of these fields.

I have made a choice to make a case for quality by not (usually) accepting poor quality products and services and to make my voice (complaints) heard. I have made a choice towards Social Responsibility by devoting significant time to volunteer activities in quality and talking to young quality professionals. I am sure most of you do much more.

My belief is, and I could be naïve, if all of us make some simple but sustainable choices about our commitment to quality and social responsibility, the world could be a far better place than it is. Look for what you can commit to and then stick to the course.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Juran Trilogy in Service Quality


How often have you not purchased a product when the accompanying service was not upto your expectations?  I am sure, several times.  As a keen observer of how I, my family, and others purchase products, I am convinced that increasingly we purchase a product as a package – with the accompanying service.  To add to this we buy a range of services regularly.  Are we then primarily buying services of products?  While writing about quality at Ford, in June 2011, I asked if Ford was a Service company or manufacturing one

This month Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, highlights this question as well.  His question is inspired by a recent Conference Board paper on Answering the Conference Board CEO Challenge. While some wonder if we are predominantly a service economy, I think we are already in one. Unless we are buying iron ore or defense aircrafts.

So what are the things we buy? Groceries, Utilities, Clothing, Food, Entertainment, Phones, Cars… You get the drift.  Most of these products are similar to each other. I haven’t researched many reports, but I can safely say a KFC burger is pretty much same as a Mac. But some of us like KFC and others like Mac. Why? It’s the service and experience that we base our decision on. I have personally switched from a local grocer recently because of how he would talk to some customers. Now what he sold is just the same as the new grocery shop does.  Prices are also same.

In Financial services we buy Loans and Cards and safety of our deposits (with some returns). Survey after Survey shows that most major providers actually offer the same rate (or pretty close to each other).  Still, people, like one over the other. Why? Service makes the difference.

How can quality help? Just as we help in improving products. I would refer Dr J M Juran’s classic work on Juran Trilogy – Quality Planning, Quality Control, and Quality Improvement.

Planning Quality in Services – This is perhaps the most difficult of the three processes.  Services processes have to be more flexible and yet broken down into small steps for staff to deliver this service with ease.  Frontline or customer facing processes need high quality flexible and caring staff to help customers. While quality professionals will develop processes for most situations, there will always be new ones.  Service oriented staff will use common sense in such cases. Frontline processes should be short and crisp while backend processes must be detailed for effective delivery.

Controlling Quality in Services – Service processes are different from manufacturing in one key way.  Customers are part of delivering the service. Controlling a process where customer is a part of the delivery process can be insane.  Some companies try to do this by breaking the process in parts while others prefer to have only one or two staff touch the process.  Michael Hammer would have been happy to see lesser touch points. I personally prefer the lesser touch point method – of course this does not work when some parts of the work are very specialized.

Improving Quality in Services – Of the Juran Trilogy this part is the most similar to manufacturing or improving quality in product.  Established methods such as Kaizen, A3, Six Sigma, and Lean work just as well in services as they do with products.

So, where is the tough part?

Metrics and Measurement – I believe this is where the rubber hits the road.  With very limited experience in management of services, most of us are not sure of the metrics to follow.  If you focus on productivity a bit too much, quality will suffer.  If you focus on Quality, process time will suffer.  Focus on the customer a bit too much and costs will spiral. What metrics to use in what stage of service delivery and maturity is a critical question.  It’s a question with few answers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quality in Government Services…Need for A National Quality Mission


I am certain all of us have had mixed experiences with government services.  Mostly poor experiences.  I am not even talking of the roads built, the schools it runs, or the hospitals it manages. Services that have a government monopoly (or near monopoly), such as electricity distribution, municipal maintenance, land records, vehicle registration, passport, identify related services etc, are ridden with very poor levels of services and often high levels of corruption.

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, has used his powerful pen (in this case keyboard) to highlight this issue of poor quality in government service. He has given voice to what we all know and feel on a regular basis. In most developing countries (including India) we see this poor service and corruption in a more brutal and magnified way. While I am least qualified to try and understand what causes corruption, I surely can have a view on poor processes in government services.

Lack of competition. This, in my view, is the single most important factor for poor processes and even poorer service attitude in government services. There is no competition at all. If you want to get your driving license renewed – you have no choice but to go to the ONE authority that will do it. India, many say, has skipped a generation or two in telecom and internet penetration. Why? When privatization was initiated in mid 1990s, we had no choice but to go to MTNL or BSNL (state telecom companies for metros and rest of India, respectively). The service was horrible and product worse. With private players joining in, even MTNL and BSNL have improved.

Who is the customer and how is service measured? When people serving the customer are not clear who the customer is then process is an immediate causality. Most staff in government services are so distant from the customer or are so over-protected by guidelines and regulations that they couldn’t care less if the customer is in some difficulty. In government services, one usually doesn’t see process metrics such as turnaround time adherence, accuracy, cost per transaction, pend rate etc. With no one looking at them how do we expect them to improve?

Why should I be of help? This relates to having a sense of purpose. Many private organizations try very hard to instill a sense of purpose in their employees.  In my view this works in most cases. Staff is engaged and wants to do something to help the customer. This is however an individual trait as well. I am sure many of us have come across very helpful government staff. This is inspite of the government and not because of it.

Who is in-charge? The sheer size of a government service and what is expected of it makes it really difficult to build useful processes. Imagine passport or other identity related services. The task is humongous and no parallels often exist in the private sector.  In india, these services have been better managed than most. Voter identify card program in the 1990s and the more recent Unique Identity program are managed exceedingly well. The best of the lot is probably the Permanent Account Number (PAN) process. In my view this process is far better than any other government process? Why? In all these cases it is very clear who the boss is and if by some chance we have a customer oriented person in the hot seat, you will see massive change.

The ball drops in exception processing. This is probably not an exclusive government service issue. In my experience of working with processes, I am now convinced that most processes work very well in the straight through mode. The ball drops in exception processing. The moment one step goes wrong the whole change drops the ball. No one looks at that case that fell by the wayside. In government services, the proportion of such cases is generally higher than in private.

What can be done? A lot. Governments have to realize that there is tons of money to be saved if processes are improved. Also, if citizens are happy with better services they will vote our leaders back in power.

I would love to see a National Process Excellence Mission or a National Quality Mission set up by the government with clear incentives for improved process and metrics. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Quality professionals and Happiness at Work


As always, Paul Borwaski came up with an interesting topic for discussion this month. Are Quality Professionals happy on the job?  This is a question that psychologists and researchers would love to address. I don’t have such skills and don’t even want to try a research based approach to this question. However, what I do have is some observation and conversation skills. That’s what I did and here are some key points I noted, in no order or priority.

  1. Happiness is a complicated topic and this complication applies to people in the quality profession the same way as it does to others. We have no reason to believe we are either blessed or disadvantaged. I find almost the same proportion of people happy (or unhappy) in quality as I find in others.
  2. Quality professionals appear to be happy when they are involved in improvement projects and their inputs are valued and appreciated. I have come to realize that a quality professional generally is more emotional than the ones in sales and operations. We need more and frequent appreciation than our friends in sales in operations. When this does not happen we are unhappy.
  3. There are a large number of quality professionals who joined the profession because they thought this is the most comfortable job they can get. Such people generally remain happy because they want to do so little that they will never be disappointed. This group is ruining the profession and I find this population increasing.
  4. Quality professionals struggle and compete for credit with operations. This competition often results in Operations seeking and getting all credit for improvement. Quality professionals find this unfair and results in them being unhappy. 



What could we do raise the voice of quality at work and be happier. Remain connected to business and don’t underestimate our importance. Improvement is a joint effort. Get involved early and be proactive in raising issues. Management needs and respects a watchdog.

Most importantly, find happiness at home as well. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What can Apple and a Street Vendor teach us about selling Quality?



While trying to answer the question, How to Sell Quality? I looked around me for examples of how other successful sellers sell their wares. Wait, this is not very creative and I have never made any claim whatsoever that I am a creative person. In most cases it is sufficient to learn from what is already being done.

In recent years one of the most successful sellers has been Apple with its range iEverything. What do we learn from Apple? Many things. But, the most fundamental lesson is – have a real good product, which is really well designed and addresses a need that even the customer may not be aware exists.

At the other end of the spectrum are fruit and vegetable vendors down the street who do a marvelous job of selling. They stock their wares in a way that is attractive and remember the specific needs of regular customers. And most such vendors have never gone to school!

So, how do we sell quality? Let’s look at some lessons from Apple and a Street Vendor.

Know who your customer is. Both Apple and a vendor down the street know their customers well. They then design their product and process to attract such customers. Apple realized that the regular retail chains would not be able to position their products appropriately. They created a unique concept of the Apple Store which by footfalls and sales has become the benchmark for all retail chains. When you know your customer you can speak her language. Street vendors do this very well. I have seen so many of them adopt the local language (and there are so many in India) to ensure they connect with customers.

How do we do this for quality? Selling quality to the Leadership requires a good understanding of what will excite the current management. Unless you are the leadership team of Enron, you are likely to be interested in good robust products, short and long term profits, happy employees, and delighted customers. If people selling quality can connect their message to these needs, leadership is likely to listen.

It is futile now to believe that quality is that nice thing to do that should be done because I want it done. Leaders could be least bothered if we can’t connect it to what leaders want done.

Package your product well. Both Apple and the vendor down the street package the product and communication really well. Now, don’t compare. I am not saying you should get your daily fruits wrapped in a box like an iPhone. All I am saying these guys know how to package the overall product and communication around it.

How do we do this for quality? Package your programs and communication. Very often I find quality professionals believing that quality is the right thing to do and anyone not doing, is out of their mind. Learn from the fruit vendor who will even tell his regular customers that he didn’t have good fruits today. He will present his goods attractively, clean each fruit and keep them fresh and watered. Why? He knows all this matters. Most quality professionals don’t.

Deliver on your promises. Apple and the fruit vendor down the lane don’t make too many promises. But they keep all of them. When Apple brings a new version of the iPhone or iPad the promise is that it will be several times better than the earlier one and they won’t settle for anything less than a WOW. Fruit vendors also keep their promise of fresh fruits daily and will deliver to your home if you are a regular customer.

How do we do this for quality? Keep your promises. Big or small. Very often I have seen quality professionals promising the moon with Six Sigma and not even delivering some dust. We all promise reports and then don’t deliver. Many of us live a life of comfort away from the pressures of Operations or Sales. Then why do we bother when we don’t have the same weight in senior management?

Don’t lose sight of the Money! Ram Charan, one of the most influential management consultants around has commented on how smart the roadside vendors are. They deal in cash and turn their money around daily. Apple also always has an eye on money. It doesn’t discount its products much and also keeps prices high till it can. And makes tons of money.

How do we do this for quality? Keep an eye on how much money are you helping make or save. If quality programs cannot help a company make or save hard cash then they are not worth pursuing.  I have earlier proposed a marriage of quality and finance and still feel that such a marriage could help the quality profession flourish. Many CEOs have wondered where is all the Six Sigma saving coming from when none of it shows up on the balance sheet. I have tried, where possible, to collaborate with finance and ensure that any benefits are real and endorsed by finance.

In summary there is a lot to learn about selling quality to leadership from people around us. Quality professionals have to give up our ‘quality is the right thing to do’ attitude and ensure quality makes a traceable difference to profit. Once this happens, no leader will need any selling to be done!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kingfisher Airlines: You can have fun IN business but not make fun OF business.


I know it is easy to be prophetic in hind sight but in Kingfisher’s case symptoms of troubled times have been around for over a year. And this has nothing to do with government policy and everything to do with poor management and even poorer leadership.  An indicator of all this was how Kingfisher responded to my complaint about baggage damage last year.  It was a small incident but it clearly conveyed to rot that had set in.

So, what can we learn from this debacle (though I sincerely hope Kingfisher roars back soon)?

Don’t have fun all around when your business is bleeding. Kingfisher went around buying F1 team and IPL teams when their airline business was bleeding. I know Vijay Mallya will say these are separate business but employees and customers don’t see it this way. You can’t be attending parties and having a gala time and let your business bleed. Get up and do something about it.

If you have to trust your son with business, please check for competence first. Clearly, Mallya senior was blinded by love for his son who was blinded by love for a starlet. Who is going to run the airline? The lack of maturity and poor management skills were on display earlier this year when Mallya junior got into an online squabble about rude behavior of his staff with an actress. If Mallya junior has to run the airline then it would be better to have some good management support for him. Which, clearly is lacking.

Don’t ruin a model that works to push a model that ‘may’ work.  Kingfisher bought Air Deccan when it made no sense to buy. They had different aircrafts and different business models. Running one Airline is tough and Mallya tried to run two.  Soon, he had to quit one model. Question – Why did you buy Air Deccan when you did not want to run it? The basic model of Kingfisher was clearly faulty. No has won by giving gold class service at tin class rates.

Don’t run a service business if you don’t have a service attitude. An airline is a service business where customers expect luxury. If you give some they want more. They also want to be treated well, even if she comes out of Mumbai airport and waits on the road in sweltering heat for a cab. Kingfisher got this right early on but at a high price. And that set the expectation. When it wanted to cut cost it could not do so because that would mean bringing service down. In the service business you always remain humble and say sorry. Service attitude is more than throwing money at customers.

Finally, in business, Ignorance is not Bliss. Having entered the airline business after due diligence, we Mallya senior cant now say costs are high and there is no level playing field. Yes there is none but then this was the case when you entered the business.

Personally, I would want Kingfisher to do well. Just as I would like any private enterprise to do well. What can Mallya do? Will save this question for another day. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

STEM Education for Better Quality of Life


Paul Borwaski has an amazing talent to pop the right question at the right time. Being CEO of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) does help, I guess. This month, on his blog, View from the Q, Paul has posed a very timely question around education in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is timely because across the world young students appear to be moving away from STEM to counting money. Not realizing, it is more fun making things that make the money than counting them!

There is no greater thrill than building that bridge across the river that will help 1000s reach their villages faster, building that spaceship that will explore our galaxy, develop that medicine which will cure cancer and AIDS, solving age-old mathematics problems that may pave the way for lightning fast communications, building the technology that will make the next Avatar movie, building the next ride at Disneyworld. And the list is endless.

Why are students moving away from STEM? Or why aren’t more of them studying STEM?
I don’t like to play the blame game. But I am tempted to blame governments and parents. Governments across the world have done precious little to promote education in STEM. Most governments are busy tumbling from one scandal to another and don’t have the time to think about what needs some thinking. It doesn’t help of course, that most governments that matter don’t have a single engineer or scientists as a minster!

Parents because kids look up to their parents and if we don’t appreciate science how would our kids do so? My elder son is 10 now and I find that he is very inclined towards arts, which is good. But I am convinced that if I don’t expose him to the sciences I won’t ever know if he could be the one to put a man in the next solar system? I am doing what I can and want to do more to keep him interested. Then it’s upto him.

What is being done in India about STEM? Little. I have a problem when everyone wants to build software. Sure we need software, but what good is software if heaps of science problems are un-solved. Yes, the Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Technologies have done a good job. But a lot more needs to be done if we have to make a mark on the global science map.

India has had some notable Nobel prizes in Science but curiously, all of them came from Scientists not working in India. That tells us something. We don’t have a system that supports research. I don’t know what can help us. I am sure there are more qualified people who know.

What can I do? I can make sure I encourage kids to take up STEM. If you do the same too there will be enough parents encouraging kids. And we can move the mountain.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Qimpro Platinum and Gold Standards – Each winner is a story of selfless service and commitment to quality


How would you react if you saw the following awarded for their commitment and leadership towards improving the quality of life:

  • A committed soul who quit his job to start a university for tribal and has built it into the world’s largest such institution for tribals
  • A doctor who could not see the pain of the hundreds of terminal cancer patients whom he had to send back home and will set up a hospice to help such patients die with no pain and more peace
  • A business leader of an Indian business group which has deep roots in business that change lives of customers and employees, a business that invests in education and is a pillar of trust

The leaders mentioned above are Dr Achyuta Samanta, Founder, KIIT & KISS (Kalinga Institute), Dr L J de Souza, Managing Trustee, The Shanti Avedna Sadan, and Mr Adi Godrej, Chairman, Godrej Group, winners respectively of the Qimpro Platinum Standard 2011 for Education, Healthcare, and Business.


Qimpro Gold Standard for 2011 was awarded to Prof M S Pillai, Founder Director, Sadhana Institute of Management & Leadership and Prof Aditya Shastri, Vice-Chancellor, Banasthali University in the Education category; to Mr Prasanna Hota, Director Emeritus, NIPI-UNOPS in the Healthcare category and Mr Keki Mistry, CEO, HDFC in the business category.

Each of these men are a story of lifelong commitment to improving the quality of life.

Central to the awards function was the quiet and selfless work of Qimpro Foundation. One of the winners commented, in lighter vein perhaps, that this award is more valuable since it was won without any lobbying. Each winner was proud and did not hesitate to say so. Another winner said today he did not feel alone in his efforts and had found a new family of people who are keen and committed to making a difference.

If this cannot move people like me and some of you who are waiting for everything to be in place to make our contribution to society, then nothing will.

For more details please check http://www.qimpro.com/awards/winners.php

Friday, January 27, 2012

Proposing: A marriage of Quality and Finance


ASQ’s CEO, Paul Borwaski, has posted a very interesting piece on his blog this month. I won’t steal his thunder. Read it here…

While Paul has anchored his post on his favorite (and mine too) Baldrige program, the point he makes is far-reaching.  If quality is valuable to a company, what is this value?
Unlike, usual responses which use twists of the English language to try and avoid answering what this value is, there are a couple of economists who have ascertained that the Baldrige program returns upto 820 times to one! If you don’t believe me or Paul, you are welcome to check the study here.

Honestly, I am not surprised at the magnitude of returns Baldrige provides, what is interesting is that finally there is interest and action on bringing Quality and Finance together. Dr. J M Juran was right (as he was on whatever he said!) when he said quality needs to speak the language of senior management (money) to succeed.

As a quality professional and assessor of business excellence programs I am noticing a very strong and welcome trend – quality professionals are being asked to prove their worth in $. Why not, when for years Marketing and Advertising have been measured like this. If we really make an impact, there must be a way to measure it.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree and understand that there are intangible benefits of quality. These include a change in culture, improved skills, better mindset, leadership etc. but if I was in the CEO chair I wouldn’t care for these if quality doesn’t deliver on its basic promise. And no CEO should.

It is time the quality profession is treated like a product or service that must firs provide its basic function and then deliver the ‘good to have’. What is this basic function? Lesser defects and reduced cycle time, what else?

Once you are on the road of lesser defects and time, you can use quality principles to improve revenue.  If you progress on improving revenue, you should consider improving the quality of management systems using frameworks such as Baldrige. I shudder to think of a company who is gaga over Baldrige but does not have a robust defect prevention program.

Are companies listening to this need to marry quality and finance? Yes. The three major recessions of the last decade have had many companies do this. I know of companies that measure quality and productivity improvement in $ and/or capacity released. Quite creative. If you have really improved quality and productivity, shouldn’t the process need lesser people? Be ready to prove it.

This proposed marriage reminds of a client early in my consulting career. After seeing early results of a quality improvement program, the Chief Financial Officer of an FMCG company asked to be the head of its quality improvement program. He had seen what many need to see now!