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.