Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Does Baldrige Help?


The Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence program is now 25 years old. Or should I say young? I have been using the MBNQA criteria for almost 15 years now and haven’t stopped being amazed by the possibilities it offers. How simple could things get? Here is a list of questions that if addressed can put any organization on the path of better performance.

Why does the Baldrige criteria work? This is a question I have often been asked and I have attempted to answer as well. It’s a tough question. One can argue that if you don’t want to use something like Baldrige you are likely to come up with such questions. I used to see this question as a ‘blocker’ but have learnt to see deeper in the last 10 years of so.

People ask this question because it is indeed difficult to comprehend how a list of questions can put us on the path of excellence. Especially, if you haven’t tried the list yet. Here is my take on why the questions work.

These are some really tough questions. Let’s face it. All of us don’t like being asked tough question. And the higher we rise in organizations, the tougher it is to face tough questions. People around us know we don’t like being asked tough questions and they stop asking these questions. And soon, no one asks these questions. We all know that ‘someone’ has to ask these questions. The Baldrige criteria are inanimate and don’t mind a frown when you are in a spot on a question.

Large companies are complex and need someone to show them the inter-connections. Large companies have large departments. These departments are sometime kingdoms. It does not take much to lose connection with reality. The Baldrige criteria shows the inter-connections between departments and seeks answers. Eg. HR and Strategy tend to drift away in organization. The Baldrige asks questions which arrest this drift.

Emphasis on results. Pursuit of excellence sometimes becomes just that. A pursuit! Without frequent milestones, no journey will take us to our destination. The Baldrige criteria has a significant focus on result and also emphasizes a cause-effect relation for effort and result. This helps in maintaining a balance between effort and results. As we all know results are what finally matters.

Lastly, excellence will not be achieved with one part of the organization doing well. It has to be a team game and the Baldrige Criteria helps immensely in this aspect. Its focus on all round development of all processes is unique. Other certifications/standards/guidelines do not offer this systemic approach to excellence.

If you have been using the Baldrige criteria, congratulations and keep the faith. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is Defining Quality a Useful Exercise?


How do you define Quality? This is a question, Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ asked all members of ASQ’s Influential Voices program. This question has been asked many times and an answer is elusive. Definitions provided by Juran and Deming did serve us well and I still believe the one by Juran – ‘Fitness for Use’ (stated and implied) still works.

I must confess here that I am bit worried when such discussions take over the need for action. I am not saying ‘defining quality’ is not important. Waiting for a definition to begin action is the last thing we could do.

Apart from the glorious exception of definition of management (planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling of work) from Peter Drucker, I don’t recall any definition of a discipline that sticks. Do we have a definition of Leadership that sticks? No. Why should Quality be tied down by a definition. It would rather be known by action and results.  

What has changed since Juran’s classic definition of Quality – Fitness for Use? Or what has changed since ISO 9000 series’ first definition – it is totality of features that bear upon the ability of a product or service to satisfy customer.

Services is a bigger industry than manufacturing now – customers even co-create some services as they are being delivered. E.g Designing a house, filing tax returns, picking the best insurance, etc.

Work is more global – people of various backgrounds and exposure deliver work that should have the same ‘standard’ as originally designed. E.g. The BPO industry, where work is delivered for a more evolved/developed customer base from a location where an equivalent development is yet to take place.

Varying product life cycles means the same set of customers can have a hugely different set of expectation. E.g Medical tech is expected to last 20 years while we want to change our phone every year. Cement making technology has not changed significantly in last 25 years while getting a home loan is now possible in a week compared to months about a decade ago.

These and more factors mean we are now more confused than earlier about the role and definition of quality. But then, we remain confused about the definition of Leadership after a century of writings about it. The most popular book on leadership still could be Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

When Juran said 21st century was the Century of Quality, I am certain, he wanted this to be a century of action and results. While trying to define quality is very useful it should not stop us from ‘Acting and Delivering’.