Saturday, November 23, 2013

5 Core Principles of Quality

What are the core principles of Quality? This is a difficult but necessary question. 

Core principles form the soul of any subject.  There are a lot of texts on quality that attempt to define quality and the tools and techniques required to deliver quality. Core principles develop over a period of time. Sometimes decades. They are reinforced by practice and wide-spread adoption. 

During my career as a Baldrige consultant, Six Sigma trainer and practitioner, and change manager I have tried to articulate quality principles as follows: 

Quality helps deliver what customers want: The first principle is about quality helping to deliver what the customer wants. Quality and customer are intertwined and inseparable. Quality exits because customers have expectations from the product or service they buy.   

Quality functions in organizations essentially apply tools and techniques to help the organization deliver what the customer wants. Be it inspection, control, assurance, or design, quality helps deliver. Both GE and Toyota use a wide range or practices but all that these companies want is to keep their promise to the customer. 

Prevention is better than cure: Next core principle is of prevention. A key quality discipline of Assurance is devoted to prevention. In several industries it is just too expensive to wait for an un-quality event. Defect prevention is always more economical than controlling it later. 

Most quality methods help in prevention. Quality Assurance and Six Sigma both work to avoid defects happening in future. The earlier these prevention methods are applied the higher their impact on costs. Quality audits and compliance are a large part of the quality toolkit and help us prevent process non-compliance. 

Continual improvement: An obsession for improvement is what sets the quality procession apart. If an output is a result of a process (especially repetitive) and the process can be measured, it can be improved. It should be improved. If we don’t then we will be left behind. 

Continual Improvement is the most popular aspect of quality for the last two decades. Six Sigma is now an established business method and if you don’t know something about it you don’t really exist. Before Six Sigma came around, Juran’s universal improvement method was around for decades. 

All work is a process: Quality has to be enterprise wide – across all processes and done by all people for it to make a difference in this age of competition. From order taking to payment collections all processes are open to improvement. 

All work is accomplished as a result of a process. A sequence of activities. Quality can be applied to inputs, process, and outputs. And the more enterprise wide we think the better. 

Quality must make money: In my previous post I argued for a quality to make money to be of interest to the CEO. While money making is important it should be done along with employee and customer satisfaction. 

If the profession doesn't help the CEO make (or save) more money we won’t be around for long.  Wherever we exist we do so because we help make or save money. 

Before you pounce on me, I know there can be various objections or modifications to this list. I respect all your variations. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bitter pill: Quality Improvement is most needed in the Quality Profession itself


Earlier this month Paul Borwaski, CEO at ASQ, wrote an interesting and usual post on ASQ having a Doors Open event recently. During this event many at ASQ realized that most people still consider Quality a very ‘Manufacturing’ subject. He ended his post with a question - What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?

So where can quality principles are applied?  We could argue that we can apply them anywhere we like, but I would prefer to apply some criteria. Applying such criteria will help us prioritize and as you know nothing really gets done unless we prioritize.

Quality principles, tools, and methods can be best applied wherever a process exists and it can be broken into steps and is repetitive. Process. Steps. Repetitive.

Of course there will be exceptions to this principle. Quality is very useful in Research but one could argue that the research process is not repeatable. 

Here is my list of some industries which can benefit from applying quality principles. Some of them are probably applying these principles, but clearly can do better.  

While Quality in Healthcare is undoubtedly a priority in the developing world, I believe there is a disturbing trend which indicates that some ‘wastes’ may need to be cut from healthcare in the developed world.  Healthcare in the developed world is becoming so expensive that we now see people travel to lower cost countries to get treated. India is benefiting from such medical tourism already. Studies have shown that same quality treatment could cost a patient upto 1/3rd to 1/5th lower in India compared to the USA.

Is treatment in lower cost countries of a lower quality? Unlikely. Most physicians and surgeons in these lower cost countries have trained in the USA. Agencies like the Joint Commission International (JCI) accredit many such facilities. USA has already seen a major issue recently where government and congress could not agree on the spending bill for next year. At the core of this issue was the spending on healthcare. Quality can help USA reduce healthcare costs. If it does not do so, it is ripe for some disruptive trend such as medical tourism to low cost countries.

Quality in Education is slowly becoming a huge issue. This is at all levels. Last year as part of the World Quality Month celebrations, I delivered a lecture at two High Schools. My talk at these schools was titles the Right to Quality. Apart from sharing some basic tools with students I spoke about their right to quality services.  This right to quality is only available if they invest by doing their part of the deal well. This is applicable to all of us. We deserve good quality and this can be true only when we do our parts well. ASQ India team is now trying to take this program to schools across India.

Legal profession: Now, I can be sued here but I feel strongly about the inefficiency in the legal system. At least in India, cases take years in courts and there are thousands of cases where culprits leave this world before being officially convicted. Courts in india are probably the only institutions which are closed for a summer break! I am told such is the case in other countries as well. There is little focus on outcome and justice delayed becomes justice denied.

Not for Profit organizations: Again this is more a developing world need. A lot of money goes into these organizations and very little accountability. Most of their processes are ad-hoc and consume more resources/energy than they should. Of course, there are some exceptions who manage well. There are several cases of development officers allocating money to non-existent Not-for-Profit organizations. This is pure corruption, but I believe better monitoring and control could help.

Finally, I think Quality needs to be applied to the Quality Profession itself. In the last few years I have noticed (and others confirm this) that the quality of quality professionals is going down. I don’t find enough young and hardworking talent taking to quality. Many people who move to quality mid-careers think of this as a career-break. Now, of course I am not generalizing. All is not lost. I would love to see using quality improvement methods to improve the quality of quality professionals themselves.


In summary, for the larger good of the developing world quality principles should be applied to Healthcare, Education, Legal Justice, Not for Profit organizations, and the Quality Profession itself. Quality has to now move to make the world a better place. We all have a responsibility that is beyond earning a living. Very few other professions have this advantage and responsibility. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Quality must make money and not just be the right thing to do.

In a recent post on his bog, Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, shared a fantastic turnaround story about Corning Glass. As usual Paul choses his subjects wisely and presents his thought crisply.

See the case study here.

Here are some key insights from Corning’s revival and dominance through Quality that I could summarize for you.

Winning the Baldrige is not enough
Wining the MBNQA takes a lot of doing. It needs passion, dedication, consistency, intelligence, and a lot more to remain on the path of excellence and lift the award. But we can’t rest after we win. New challenges emerge requiring new responses. Corning Glass’s case clearly demonstrates how quickly we can slip if we drop the ball.

Quality is a Board subject
J M Juran famously predicted that in the 21st century only two functions will need to report to the CEO. Finance and Quality. Finance has always held this place and will continue to do so. With Corning Glass’s case it is reiterated that once Quality slips lower in the organizational hierarchy, poor quality results follow quickly.

BigQ and Performance Excellence
Small Q and Big Q concepts were introduced by Juran years ago. Small Q is a reference to product quality and Big Q refers to an all encompassing view – quality of business processes. With dimensions such business processes and customer experience the quality field has evolved into Performance Excellence. Corning realized this and included all functions in their quality program. Rich dividends followed.

Don’t ignore Quality training
All change starts with knowledge. Without adequate knowledge of what to do we risk changing processes only to create more havoc. Corning realized the value of training before embarking on change and invested in Six Sigma and Lean training for over 1000 staff. Such training has multiple benefits. While it does create a skilled pool it also conveys the organization’s sincerity to the cause at hand.

Choose methods and tools wisely
Corning did not just pick every method available. They studied all and developed a framework and stuck to it. The Corning Performance Excellence model addresses collaboration, innovation, and improvement. Corning not only used DMAIC rigorously, it realized that DMAIC may be an over kill in some cases. It came up with iDMAIC for such project. I quite liked the application of quality tools to Sales and Marketing. This is often a missing link in most companies.

Quality must make money
Finally a Quality program must help make money. Quality is free but not charity. Juran was very clear that for Top Management to be interested in Quality, it must make money. And quickly. To quote the study: “In the past five years, Corning has generated more profit than the previous 155 years combined.”

Too often I find quality managers pushing the case for quality as ‘the right thing to do’. We must understand that on the CEOs table there are several such ‘right’ things to do. She has to pick a few which will make sense. And if you can’t help her pick ‘Quality’ you will lose.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

What, why, who, and when of doing training wrong!

Training employees for them to deliver better results has been a long standing principle of quality management.  Both Juran and Deming and later Ishikawa were very strong proponents of professional training. No one can really deny that training is important and must be done.  My issues are the what, why, who, when of training.

Paul Borwaski, CEO or ASQ, recently shared findings on professional training in quality as part of the ASQ’s Global State of Quality research. I am trying to respond here with my own observations (which is the my interpretation of research J )

What do we train about? And Why?

A lot of people I meet talk about strategic intent in training. We should train employees on what is strategic. It should be a strategic fit. You get what I mean.

We also want return of investment from training. While these are nice words to use, the truth is much more basic. Employee survey after survey shows that staff (the people who actually work!) are not happy with the training they get. While management teams keep arguing around strategic intent and return on investment from training, the recipient is actually worried about improving employability.

If we cannot improve employability of our staff then they will keep saying they need more training etc. Let’s face it. We all are interested in a better job. One way to get there is to be better trained for it. Most such training are expensive or just plain not available in the market. Staff depends on employers to provide this training. Obviously, no one is going to tell us this. They (just like you and i) don’t want employers to know that they are looking for a job. J

We train employees to get something out of them. A return. While this works with some employees (who are more reasonable) it does not work with most. Most employees would want the training they want first and then the training the company wants next. Now, I am not saying that all employees are unreasonable.

Also, I find it very amusing that almost all training these days are called Leadership something…Who is going to do the work? Who will follow if all of us become leaders?

Employers or management don’t train people for the right reasons. We just keep looking for return on investment.

Who gets trained and When?

I have seen a lot of people being selected for training and I notice two trends:

The same people get picked for almost all training

The best people seldom get picked (they are so busy!)

When a good training program is announced, invariably, we are not able to nominate our best people on it. Why? Because they are very busy running the shop. They are the ones who need training to progress in their careers but they won’t get it because they are working hard. Others, who are working lesser and are not as capable, keep getting nominated all the time.

Have you seen this happen? A training is announced and you look around – whom can I send? And the one who has no work gets selected. What is this person going to learn when he/she is anyway not working? They will only add this training on their resume and find another job. You are training your staff for your competition.

When do we train staff – at the end of the year when we realize our budgets are not utilized yet. Wouldn't it better to train employees early in the year? When they can use the training through the year and hopefully deliver results?

What can be done?

I have tried to stay clear of the above abuse of training. I select employees for training early and based on their merit and then ensure that they attend – even if they are busy. You could do the same and much more. If we all pitch in, training could be much more useful and strategic and it may well deliver a return on investment. And yes, our employees will be more employable.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Certifications - Filter, Catalyst, and Accelerator

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, recently blogged about the value of certification. The ASQ Salary survey, year after year, shows that certified professionals get better jobs and do well in them as well. How does certification help? As usual, I don’t have scientific evidence but am basing my ideas on having spoken with a lot of professionals, both certified and not-certified.

Certification is a filter – in a lot of career choices, recruiters and hiring managers use a certification as a filter. When a lot of applicants are likely to apply for a job it helps to have a filter. Now, this filter is no assurance that only the most suitable candidates pass it. It is just an exercise in narrowing the options. If you are keen to have a career as a Black Belt then a certification will help you in the race.

Certification is a catalyst – applying for a certification can catalyze applicants into being focused on a goal. This is good for applicants who have been floating in their career and haven’t had any focus for some time. Their self-esteem is boosted with a certification and that leads to better work.

Certification is an accelerator – High end certifications such as an MBB accelerate a career. The hard work that goes into getting an MBB keeps one motivated and interested in using the knowledge acquired.

What certifications do I hold? Early in my career, while at Qimpro, I had to acquire quite a few certifications to be able to conduct tutorials on them. I loved the knowledge in the Juran courses I could do in this period. I still think Juran’s courses in quality were absolute gems. The Facilitation Skills and Tools courses helped me build a foundation in quality.

I have one certification from ASQ. Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence. I got this in 2005 and have renewed it every three years since. This was called CQM earlier. I clearly remember this was one of the factors in my interview for Baldrige Program Head at Infosys in 2006. The interview took a different turn the moment this credential came up for discussion. This is one of the tougher ASQ certifications and not many India had attempted it in 2005. That helped me.

I have tried to align my certifications to my career. During my Infosys stint I was required to remain knowledgeable on Baldrige. I was already certified by the Ramakrishna Bajaj National Quality Award team for this and did not another certification. Conducting courses for select staff at Infosys kept my knowledge and skill sharp.

My role at ANZ required me to carry out Lean and Six Sigma projects and to mentor a team of Black Belts. While I had trained Black Belts as long back as 2001, I had not worked on my MBB certification. I knew it was important for my role and went ahead and worked for my MBB from Indian Statistical Institute. It did look a little odd that I was the oldest in my class. J

In early 2012 I realized a noticed a trend that a lot of Lean and Six Sigma projects needed more project management skills than LSS knowledge. I realized a Project Management Professional (PMP) will help and went ahead and acquired it. PMP was tough but very useful.


I have been convinced that completing certifications with no goal/purpose is both costly and could convey a feeling that you have a lot of free time (means no work?). 

Monday, July 29, 2013

How I use Social Media (LinkedIn and Facebook mainly)?

We cannot imagine our lives without Facebook and LinkedIn today. For many of us Twitter is also on this list. Which ones do I use? I use Facebook more for personal and LinkedIn more for professional life. I have linked my LinkedIn updates to Twitter and don’t really use Twitter directly. I also use Feedly and Flipboard to get and share news on my phone as I travel (not when I am driving).
I have used Klout and about.me but am not convinced of their utility yet. There are several new networking websites each year.  But it does appear for now that Facebook and LinkedIn are here to stay. Google+ is quickly gaining on Facebook and its integration with Blogger helps. Twitter has limited use for a discussion. It is more amenable to witty one-liners!
Which social networks do quality professionals use? Having interacted with a lot of quality professionals off line and online, I am certain that quality professionals are less likely to network online compared to several other professionals. Quality groups on LinkedIn are not as populated as some others and members are not as active. I don’t have much scientific data to back this but some quick checks did show I was right.
Why do I use LinkedIn actively? How actively? I have the LinkedIn app on my Android phone and browse news on it on my way to work and back. I use Feedly for this as well. I am able to quickly share what I like and I must confess that I enjoy when people like and respond to my updates. That’s engagement. I also use the app to accept or invite people to my network. I am able to wish other professionals on a job change or a birthday. This is already much more than what I thought a mobile app for LinkedIn could do.
Remaining active on LinkedIn satisfies my need to reach out and also to help those who reach out. The web version of LinkedIn features a full blown discussion forum. I often update or start a discussion in these forums and am never disappointed with the response.
I manage two groups on LinkedIn myself. The first one is called QualityNet. This was setup in 2008 (if I remember correctly) when one had to apply to LinkedIn for permission to setup a group. One had to design a logo and write a justification. Life is easier now. This group has 7167 members as of today and all are grown organically. The other group I setup and manage is the ASQ India group. This is a members only group used more for announcements and reaching out to members.

I have also used and still often use ASQ Communities. The new redesign is refreshing and appears more user-friendly than ever before. However, in my view it is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain traffic and engagement on proprietary or membership based networks. ASQ is still primarily American (something I have been fighting for seven years now) and it continues to insist on an American pricing model. This keeps away a vast majority of quality professionals from the developing world. By comparison LinkedIn is free (atleast for most features) and Quality professionals are likely to engage there more than on ASQ websites.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Transparency in Quality Results – Learn from GoodGuide.com

Transparency is a vague virtue. It might not even be a virtue. What could be being transparent for the supplier could quite easily be inadequate information for the consumer. This is something we all face in our personal lives as well. But let’s not get there. J

In his most recent post, Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, talks about sharing quality results with customers. Paul has quoted Influential Voices blogger John Priebe who has blogged about releasing quality metrics to the public. Do we agree with John? Of course we do. It is the right thing to do. But, as is often the case what is right for consumers is not necessarily acceptable to organizations.

Transparency of quality results is an intriguing question. In several supplier/vendor relationships it is mandatory to share quality results. Most notable is the QS 9000 (TS 16949) standard for automotive component suppliers. However, sharing information with consumers is something new and unusual. I have known of companies where departments don’t share their quality results with downstream departments. They would probably faint at John’s suggestion.

Let’s look at how information is currently shared.

The JD Power customer survey for quality of cars does a good job of sharing. If you are thinking of buying a new car, it would help to study JD Power reports. But when you finally buy your car, the manufacturer is not going to tell you how many times was the assembly line stopped during the assembling of this car, or what were the quality results at each inspection levels, or even tougher – quality results of supplier.

Does anyone do this? No.

But there is one example that comes to mind. In his book Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, has talked extensively about GoodGuide – a group that uses life cycle assessment to assess the damage a product is causing to the environment during it’s production. Across cateogories such as personal care, food, household, baby care, apparel, pet food, and more – the website digs deep into research and gives you a rating you can use to buy or not to buy.

The GoodGuide website describes itself as – Led by Professor Dara O'Rourke of UC Berkeley, GoodGuide's science team – chemists, toxicologists, nutritionists, sociologists, and lifecycle analysis experts – rates products and companies on their health, environmental and social performance.  GoodGuide's 0 to 10 rating system helps consumers quickly evaluate and compare products. Our mission is to help you shop your values wherever you shop.”

Interesting isn’t it. Now imagine a research on process quality results of products that we consume.

Unfortunately, unlike GoodGuide, it will be very difficult to assess internal quality results from research conducted on finished goods. It will be upto companies to share these results.

Will it matter to me if a Home Loan lender releases the % of timeliness and accuracy at each stage of loan processing? Or will it help to know how much rework was carried out on the shiny new phone you are holding?

Think of it, some Airlines do publish on-time departure % when it suits them. Indigo Airlines in India has gained some rapid market share by just focusing on timely departures. They offer no frills but you get where you are going, on time.

Returning to Paul’s question – am I in favor of companies releasing quality results? I don’t think it will happen till there is legislation around it. However, companies that are doing well will release and that should a good outcome for consumers. Just don’t buy from companies that don’t publish such data. Not yet, in the future.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Maintaining 'Continued Relevance' of Quality

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, surely comes up with some good questions. Asking good questions is a key characteristic of quality professionals. Or atleast it should be. I have admired Paul for his ability to elevate the dialogue. In our meeting during his visit to India earlier this year I returned very impressed with how dedicated he was to make ASQ the global voice of quality. We need more like you, Paul.

This month Paul has asked two very fundamental questions. If answered and acted upon, they could change the course of quality. Read his blog here. His questions are:

§  What is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?
§  And, what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?

Both are heavily loaded questions. With no clear answers.

Challenge of Continued Relevance
So, what is the most important challenge the quality community faces? I think it is continued relevance. As a profession we are in a trough. One peak of the GE fuelled Six Sigma is behind us. Another peak awaits us somewhere. There are no Juran and Deming and there might not be any again.

This time we have to create it soon rather than wait for it. Why am I being so pessimistic? I am not. I am being realistic. Look around us:

Most quality teams are shrinking in size
Some of our work is now so routine that it has moved to operations
Not much new has happened by way of methodologies for over a decade
Attendance at conferences is low
Training rates are at a low never seen before
Not many new jobs are being advertised, and I could go on.

I have written earlier about the poor quality of quality professionals these days. Many of us are in the profession because it appears easy and relaxed from the outside. And this is killing us slowly. Slow poison.

Hiring better quality professionals, training them to be even better, pulling up our socks and delivering on business results seem to be the key to continued relevance. I feel more is required though. Quality professionals need to be trusted advisers – people who can advise business on what can be changed for the better, what new business can be taken, how we can save more money, what can we do about people engagement. Advice that can be turned into material benefit.

Quality in design will be another key requirement of us. We all know if quality is built in at design stage then life is easier in production or service delivery. That begs a question. What do we improve if quality is already built in? We will need to be creative in finding improvement opportunities. Increasing use of IT applications will mean processes will be by design better.

What are we delivering?
Paul’s second question is around what question we need answered to advance the state of quality. I think this question is – What are we actually delivering?

I can be accused of being short-sighted and in a state of panic but I am convinced that we have to fight to get back our credibility on the leadership table.  Let us look at the last year in our careers. What have we delivered – tangibles? The time to build culture and ingrain a continuous improvement culture may have passed us by. It may return but not before we have won our credibility back.

How much more business did we bring?
How much money did we save the business?
How many processes are faster because of our work?
How many processes are more accurate because of us?

The questions we asked earlier were how many green belts we trained and how many courses did we conduct. Enabling people to deliver or help us deliver is already part of the deal. It is not a deliverable.

Better people in Quality
So, what will make us more relevant and help us deliver more? Better people in our profession. We have to attract a better set of professionals to what we are attracting now. This cant alone be done with money. We have to have a better purpose for them to join us. It won’t hurt to have some very ruthless professionals join quality for some time.


We can be relevant again. We have to be. Business will need a quality voice. It is now up to us to invent our future.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Did Dr. Deming really say what Dan Pink is saying today?


I read Julia McIntosh’s post rounding up the ASQ World Conference on Quality with unusual interest. Firstly because I wasn't at the conference and wanted to remain updated. Secondly  because Julia had written it. I am sure we all on the Influential Voices program have remained impressed with Julia’s dedication for the program. This post was a way to assess how good she is at writing – something she expects us to do every month.  Must say, she didn't need this assessment. Her post is a well-rounded summary of the conference and if you were not there, it is highly recommended reading.

I am delighted that Dan Pink was one of the keynotes at the conference. His work on what motivates us to give our best is amazing. I wrote about his book Drive in one of my earlier posts. I have also written about how quality professionals are risk averse for a range of reasons including personal traits of being calm, composed, academic, rigor oriented. Read Dan’s theory and think about the characteristics of quality professional and you won’t need a PhD to understand that quality professionals can not be motivated by short-term benefits. They need, in Dan’s words - Self-direction, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

John Hunter of the Edwards Deming Institute has supported Dan Pink’s findings a recent post. I read this piece with interest – looking for evidence on how Dan’s views are in sync with those of Deming’s. I found little. Now, I completely respect Dr. Deming for his work but am not sure how his views matched what Dan Pink is now saying. Deming's most famous point around managing people was eliminating work standards and management by objectives. What Dan is saying is that standards and incentives are good for repetitive and mundane tasks. So, a lot of credit is due to Dr. Deming but not on this point. Sorry.

If we adopt what Dan Pink is saying, then autonomy, mastery, and purpose are more useful in getting quality professionals to deliver. True. Not always maybe. I would rely on something Juran said on empowerment. Capability precedes empowerment. Similarly Stephen R Covey has written about trustworthiness being a function of character and competence. Only one is not enough. Similarly, if a quality professional is not trustworthy or capable of being empowered then trusting and empowering him/her will be disastrous.

A large majority of us would be managing teams where many of our team members are not yet ready for more responsibility. Using Dan Pink’s philosophy on them is a path to be walked with caution. Rushing to remove incentives for quality professionals may not work always. There is always some work which is repetitive and there are always some people who should be managed with the immediate lure of more money than the more long term lure of mastery and purpose. Once again judgment of a leader/manager in such situations is a perquisite.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Magnet for Poor Quality and Quality in Unexpected places


We have come to expect that some things will happen ‘right’ all the time and others won’t. We expect our electricity and water bills to be delivered on time also expect that if have a complaint it wont be resolved till we actually give up. Quality works well in some cases and doesn't in others. For most people.

I have, however, now confirmed my belief that as part of a large conspiracy of the universe all companies that I seek a service from ‘identify’ me as the recipient of their poor quality service. If they have to make just one mistake in the year – it has to be with me. I am a very good magnet for such poor quality.

Why do I say this? I have been at the receiving end of poor service with an amazing range of service providers, some repeatedly and over a long period of time. There must be something fascinating about me! Phone, Internet, Airlines, Insurance, Identity cards, Taxi operators – you name it.

I have often wondered is it because I complete forms incorrectly or ask for some special service which messes up their process. Am I unreasonable? Conclusion – no I am not.

Are there any services where I don’t attract poor quality? A few. And that brings me to the question Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, posed earlier this month on his blog – have we seen Quality in unexpected places? Here are three of my favorite quality success stories.

Indian Railway Ticketing system – Surprise Surprise! The Indian Railways is Asia’s largest train network and the world’s largest train system under one management.  

I have seen and been part of some complex systems. But this one is the most amazing combination of things that can go wrong. Only – they never go wrong. You can book from anywhere to anywhere. You can get a ‘soft e-ticket’. You get your refund immediately. All this is still not possible in many ‘developed’ countries. They respond to feedback and improve their processes regularly. Many of us India have come to accept a very high standard from this ticketing system. The rest of the Indian Railways system is not much to write about. With almost everything around them falling apart, the Ticketing team has maintained world class levels. For over 20 years now!

Maruti Suzuki is the biggest car manufacturer in India. General perception is with increase in quantity, quality falls. Not at Maruti. I have never been disappointed with their service support. They deliver the serviced car before time and 9 out of 10 times the actual bill will be less than the estimate. While waiting for my car to be delivered I have often ventured around to see how they operate. I have seen simple process maps, job allocation boards, delivery status boards, excellent implementation of 5S, and more. While quality in car service is not totally unexpected but the high levels of performance Maruti delivers is surely unexpected.

Early in my career I used to travel a lot across to client sites. Many of these clients (Textiles and Cement!) were in place you wouldn't want to send you’re your worst enemies to. So, hotels are out of the equation. All these clients had Guest Houses or mini Hotels of their own. The guest houses of Aditya Birla Group (among India’s leading business houses) would always stand apart for their upkeep and customer service. When I would expect basic service I would be delighted with customized service. I still recall a guest house where I visited after 4 months. The staff serving tea remembered how I like my tea! And there were others who would remember what I liked for dinner etc. That’s quality. All the guest houses (and I visited atleast 15) were of an amazingly clean standard. Always consistent.

How were they doing it? Being the curious (a few people use more dramatic adjectives!) type I inquired  I was told, to my pleasant surprise, that the Group had implemented principles of TQM in their guest houses as well. No wonder, feedback forms were taken seriously. I noticed cleaning checklists in rest room. Red-tag for out of service equipment. And a lot more.

I am sure you have many more stories of quality in unexpected places. Please share them around. We talk and write a lot about what doesn’t work. The things that work deserve more of our attention.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Five Lessons to Face the World Confidently


Here is a version of my speech at Prasiddhi School on 1 March 2013. I was Chief Guest for the High School Graduation event there. The school is truly unique in that it seemed to have escaped the commercial trappings of running a business. Student teacher bonding was special and almost gave glimpses of what the Gurukul system would have been like.

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Graduation or Commencement day is very special for all parties involved.  Parents begin to see some returns on the investment they have made. Teachers see the fruit of their labour moving on in life. And for the students – you have to now step into a large and somewhat unknown world. And this needs some preparation. Some of this preparation comes from listening to people who have made mistakes. And I have made plenty.

First lesson is that of ‘Failure – knowing that we will fail, sometimes’

Even the greatest fail. We all know of Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest batsman ever and have only known him as a hero. We all have many stories about how he has played so well over the last 25 years. My favourite story about Sachin is from his school days when he was just as old as you or maybe younger.

Sachin was widely expected to be declared the best batsman in Mumbai School cricket but missed out. His name was not up on the club board and he felt very dejected and disheartened. A few days later he received a letter which said – please check the board again for the years 1967 or so and you will find a name missing and that name hasn’t done badly in life. The letter was signed by Sunil Gavaskar.

You can be dejected but you should not lose hope. Imagine what the world would have missed had Tendulkar remained dejected?

The second lesson is of ‘Tolerance – Knowing that it takes all kinds to make this world’.

Tolerance and Acceptance are important virtues of successful people. You will meet many people that you will probably not enjoy working with. Please remember we unknowingly radiate our feelings about others. When you don’t like others, chances are they also don’t like you. We all have our shortcomings and are not God’s gift to mankind. The more you learn to accept people of other kind and learn to work with them, the more your chances of success. Of course, you have to be wise enough to know which people need to be completely avoided. There are some…but very very few.

Many years ago I was meeting a client with a colleague of mine. The client was very grumpy and didn’t talk much. I did not like the discussion and the person as well. Later on my colleague told me that this client felt I was very arrogant and not interested in his business!

After some amends this potential client invited us to see his factory. During the car drive the discussion moved to family and parenting and I saw this client go quiet. I asked him why and he said – “I have lost my wife and only son two months back to an illness”.

Imagine our shock. Here, I was thinking this person was grumpy, while in reality he was recovering from a huge loss. We must remember that people behave in a certain manner because of several things that are happening to them. Don’t judge unless you have some context.

The third lesson is about ‘Success – There is no such thing as an overnight success.’

Many successes appear to be overnight successes. Please remember they are just that – appear to be but not actual. Everything takes some talent and a lot of hardwork.  I would like to share with you a story about Bill Gates. Most of us like to quote how Bill Gates is a college drop out etc and still made it big. This is not how he himself remembers it though. He worked hard at programming to develop his skills. He spent more time coding than doing anything else when other children were busy playing or sleeping.

Bill Gates had his college computer lab close to his house and used to sneak in at night and program all night to return home early morning. He did this for years before making it big with writing the first DOS. Please remember, nothing is overnight. It is years of hard work that succeeds.

Malcolm Gladwell has set a 10,000 hr rule for absolute mastery in one area – at 4 hrs a day this is about 10 yrs!

The fourth lesson is of ‘Responsibility – we are responsible for our actions’.

We can choose our response. Victor Frankl is the most amazing story you will ever read. Victor Frankl was a victim of Nazi Holocaust and lost his entire family during their detention in the torture camps run by Nazi. But he chose his response and developed a new field in Psychology called Logotherapy and continued to teach after escaping from the camps. I draw a lot of inspiration from his quote - Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.

Responsibility is really the ability to respond. It is up to us really. We can choose our response to any situation.

The fifth lesson is ‘Our life is a gift’.  We have a unique gift – help others and spread the gift around.

Dr. J M Juran is considered one of the finest management thinkers of all time and the father of quality management. He was an immigrant in the US and his family had to suffer poverty to emerge successful. In a biography on his life he narrated a story about why he continues to give back to society. As a kid when it was very cold Juran and his mother would walk the railway tracks to pick up pieces of coal that would drop off while workers were filling up coal wagons. Many months later Juran realized that some workers were deliberately dropping off more coal pieces so that he could pick up and survive. Juran never forgot this kindness all his life and kept paying back.

There will be people in your life who will be very kind. Don’t forget that kindness. You can repay by being kind to others.

As I close I want you to think of building a nation through better quality products and services – better quality in everything we do. You as citizens of the world have a right to quality. You deserve good quality in everything. This is how we think when we are buying anything. How about thinking the same when we are delivering something?

We have a right to receive quality only if we commit to delivering quality. In everything you do, please try and improve the standard of your output. If we all improve our standards, our society, and nation will improve. It won’t happen by waiting for everyone else to do it.

Raise your voice when you see poor quality. Your keeping quiet is giving legitimacy to people delivering poor quality.

I have tried to share what I have learnt. If I have sowed some seeds and made you think I would have done my job well today. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Quality Professionals and Avoidance of Risk


While Quality professionals deal routinely with potential and actual failure and evaluating risks in business, I don’t see many (including myself) who take enough risks themselves.  Could this be true? Paul Borwaski, ASQ CEO in a recent blog cited a study conducted on youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. While most survey agreed that risk taking is essential, they also said that they themselves are risk averse. This syncs well with my observation that quality professionals don’t take enough risks.

A few years ago, I had asked the Head of Quality of a large global organization – Why don’t quality professionals often make it to the CEO chair? His reply was astonishing and one which I clearly remember even today. His response highlighted that being a CEO is about taking some bets and then backing them with resources and resolve. This is a quality that quality professionals usually don’t posses. This was coming from a quality professional that is considered a thought leader globally!

Why don’t quality professionals take enough risks?

I am not a psychologist who could conduct experiments on some subjects and throw some answers to this question. But then when has not knowing enough about something has stopped me from answering a question. J

Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because they are often blamed early in their career (or even mid career) for things that did not go wrong because of them.  This hardens them up and they choose to take fewer risks.  During an improvement project review I recently asked the Black Belt that why wasn’t Zero Defect a goal for this project when it appeared feasible. Her answer was – who will support me if I have that goal and don’t achieve?

Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because the people who are gravitated to a career in quality are usually calm, composed, rigour oriented, and yes – Risk Averse! When your career is about helping others achieve their goals you tend to be more careful. Years of being careful converts even risk takers into risk averse people.

Do quality professional, then, fail? Yes, of course – all the time. We are often even handed over the crown of other people’s failure to execute. Does this happen to me? Yes. How do I deal with failure?

First, I evaluate if what is being called is actually a failure. Remember Kanter’s law – everything in the middle looks like a failure. This is especially true of improvement projects. In cases where people around me are anxious and chanting failure I am often able to show them where we are on the project. Some diligence and faith will see us through.

Second, I embrace failure when I have contributed to it. One advantage of not working on a Space Mission is that we can make mistakes and learn from them. As long my team is honest about these mistakes, we dig for the root cause, establish mechanisms to not make the same mistake again, I am fine.

Third, grin and bear it. J