Monday, December 15, 2014

Quality Is NOT Ambitious Enough – And that’s fine

I read a recent post by ASQ CEO Bill Troy with interest. It talks about an interesting position many people take on quality – That it’s not ambitious enough to change the world. Or something similar. Bill has shared an article by Brooks Carder about quality not being ambitious enough. Read it here.

I find Brook’s argument interesting but a bit academic. Now I am not a pessimist of cynic. I am often accused of being optimistic when everything is falling apart and hoping for a yes when everyone is saying No! I am more a realist and like seeing things done that worry about vision and mission statements too much. Brook has picked ASQ’s mission statement as an argument that we aren't ambitious enough.

Frankly ASQ isn't all quality is about. It wants to be and should be but there are 1000s of quality professionals who are doing very well but aren't associated with ASQ. When we talk of quality in general, these professionals count. And to them and many in ASQ, I don’t think ASQ’s mission matters – what matters is what is it doing about it. Now, I am not saying ASQ’s mission doesn't matter. Of course it does. But I wouldn't fret on every word as long as we take some good action on it.

So – Is quality ambitious? No. Should it be? The answer is relative. Compared to leadership, production, and marketing, quality should be less ambitious. But compared to human resource management and compliance it should be more ambitious.

How do we define being ambitious? When we challenge the status-quo and reach out for much more than what most people expect us to – we are being ambitious.

Much of quality is also ensuring sure our organizations meet the minimum standards that they set for goods and services. I won’t want people challenging status-quo when in inspection and quality control. Just follow the guideline and keep the customer in mind. That’s it. Don’t be creative and ambitious every day. I know this sounds harsh but every role has a purpose and on most days the purpose must be followed.

The process improvement part of quality should be ambitious. We should not settle for 10% improvement – aim for 10 fold improvement. If Bob Galvin had not set an ambitious goal for Motorola in mid 1980s we would not have seen Six Sigma around.

But again, very lofty and high ambition can sometimes paralyze people. We must be able to break the problem into pieced. Cut the elephant into sizes (apologies to my vegetarian friends). You don’t run a marathon when you decide you will run one. You work towards and it could take many smaller goals to finally get there.


Finally, I think its fine for Quality to be moderately ambitious. Leadership should be ambitious about what quality can achieve. If people in the quality team can only follow what leadership expects, I am in general fine. Now again, I don’t mean to say that quality should not think beyond. It should. Just not daily. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

ASQ Bangalore and Alliance University organize a one day event on 'Quality for Nation Building'

Speakers from Toyota, ANZ, Akshaya Patra, and Mahindra Reva talk to quality professionals and MBA students at the ASQ – Alliance University Summit on Nation Building on 29 Nov 2014

ASQ Bangalore and Alliance University successfully organized a one day Summit on ‘Quality for Nation Building’ on 29 Nov 2015. This was the first one day event arranged by ASQ Bangalore. The venue was the picturesque Alliance University campus in Anekal, Bangalore. The event was attended by over 150 students and professionals.

The summit was inaugurated by Dr Madhukar Angur, Chancellor, Alliance University. He set the stage well for the event by talking about the importance of quality in everything we do. Dr Angur expressed keenness for ASQ and Alliance to do more events where knowledge from industry stalwarts could be shared with students and professionals alike. He also wished luck to the seven student teams from five management institutes presenting later in the day.

Speakers at the event were:
  • V Ramesh, Senior VP, Toyota Kirloskar Motors
  • Pankajam Sridevi, MD, ANZ Support Service India
  • Muralidhar Pundla, Director, Akshaya Patra Foundation
  • Umesh Krishnappa, Head, Car program, Mahindra Reva
  • Subramaniam P G, Consultant and Chair, ASQ Chennai LMC

The inaugural lamp was lit by Dr Angur, Ciby James of ASQ Delhi, V Ramesh or Toyota, and Pankajam Sridevi of ANZ, and Anshuman Tiwari of ASQ Bangalore.

In his opening remarks Anshuman Tiwari, Chair – ASQ Bangalore spoke about how ASQ Bangalore is trying to reach out to management students and will shortly launch a student chapter initiative. He thanked the speakers for their time and Alliance University for hosting the event.

Mr Ramesh spoke about the need and importance of quality in nation building. He shared examples of how his organization is supporting the cause by not only providing good quality vehicles but also developing a very competent manufacturing workforce. This workforce, trained by Toyota, is now working with other leading companies as well.

Ms Pankajam regaled the audience with a mix of concepts, ideas, and anecdotes on how the ITES sector has helped shape a new economy and working class for India. She stressed that Multinationals now come to india for the quality we offer and not for the cost advantage we offer. With a series of anecdotes and examples from ANZ she urged the students in the audience to give their best in whatever they choose to do.

Mr Muralidhar was standing in for his CEO, Shridhar Venkat who could not attend due to a last minute emergency. Murali spoke about the focus on operational excellence at Akshaya Patra. All in the audience were astounded to know that Akshaya Patra feeds over 14 lakh students every afternoon and that this could cost as less as Rs 750 per child per year.

Mr Krishnappa shared the fantastic story of an Indian innovation – Reva Electric Car. He spoke about several world-leading features of this car including safety, on road revival, remote monitoring etc. He also spoke about the very futuristic and green plant Mahindra has built for this car in Bangalore. Umesh invited all present to visit the manufacturing plan to see how India can make the world’s best here. It was interesting to note that Mahindra Reva is ranked the world’s 22nd most innovative company.

Subramaniam P G, consultant and Chair at ASQ Chennai ended the speakers session with a clarion call to all present to do their bit towards nation building by – Know the rule and then follow it. He shared case studies from police administration, sugarcane purchase office, and Aravind eye care. 

Post these speaker sessions all participants enjoyed a sumptuous lunch sponsored by Alliance University.

The post lunch session commenced with Mr Ciby James of ASQ Delhi speaking about the role ASQ is trying to play in bringing Indian quality professionals together and also how students can become part of this mission.

This session had seven student teams present their ideas about using ‘quality’ for nation building. Participating institutes were Xavier’s (XIME), Alliance University, Presidency College, St. Joesph, and Ramaiah Institute. Seven teams from these five institutes presented their ideas. In interest of fairness all teams presented under a team number and not Institute name.

The contest was judged by:
  • Dhirendra Kumar Dubey, CEO, Lean Management Institute of India
  • Subramaniam P G, Chair – ASQ Chennai
  • Manjunath Makam, LMC Memebr – ASQ Bangalore

The winners were announced by Mr Dubey and prizes were given away by the other two judges. The winning teams were:
  • Winners: Sourabha K and Radhika B of Alliance Universtity
  • First Runners up: AShwini Jain and Sahith A N Krishna of Alliance Universtity
  • Second Runners up: Sai Swetha and Anie Jacob of XIME

Many congratulations to all winners. All three teams received a trophy and a cash prize (to be delivered later).

At the end, a vote of thanks was presented by Prof. George Easaw.

The organizers wish to thank Minitab (Cubic Computing) statistical software for supporting the event through part sponsoring the delegate kits.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making ASQ Truly Global

In his recent post on A View from the Q, Bill Troy, the new ASQ CEO, has raised a very key issue. That of engaging members and volunteers in member based organizations such as ASQ.  This is an issue which bothers ASQ a lot. Like many member based organizations ASQ has its challenges in growing memberships. As Chair of the Bangalore ASQ team I face this challenge on a regular basis.

Let’s examine this situation. Most of my analysis is based on volunteering for ASQ in India.

Why do members join ASQ?
  • Members join mostly for the discounted certification fee when you become a paid member.
  • Members want events where knowledge is shared – something they can take back to their companies and implement
  • Members want networking for mentoring and career opportunities
  • Members want to be part of something bigger and global and derive pride from the same
  • Members want to rise up in the recognition ladder – become a Fellow, win ASQ awards etc.

Why do members not renew their membership? (Again, this is truer for India)
  • Members don’t see VFM – value for money once they are certified
  • Knowledge sharing isn’t enough and is often generic
  • Members don’t get career leads and get frustrated
  • While ASQ has improved its online connect with members they still don’t feel they are part of something big and global (ASQ is still seen as American)
  • ASQ’s recognition program is not very rewarding for non-Americans.

In addition to the above when I speak with senior quality professionals and members of other professional bodies (such as PMI) there are some more factors that emerge.
  • ASQ has very limited presence in Asia – this is where the action is
  • ASQ has very limited influence with large tech companies
  • ASQ hasn’t launched anything big in years. Can’t only depend on an annual conference and certifications.

I have been involved with ASQ in India since 2006 and been a member since early 2000s. I have worked with members and volunteers for ASQ for over eight years. In this period I have seen good progress. Here are some key pluses:
  • ASQ has opened up to the fact that it has be more global (Self-awareness is step one of improvement)
  • The office in India is now established. It has had some hiccups but seems settled now. The India office was a goal of the informal ASQ group – QualityFirst
  • The local member community model – LMC is now established and even tried globally. Bangalore was a pioneer here
  • More engagement opportunities with Webinar series (notable Dr Manu Vora has helped a lot).

With this background, what do we think could be done to engage more members and volunteers? Here is a wish list:

1. Membership fee linked to Purchasing Power Parity. Almost all members feel ASQ fee are too high at current pricing for India. I have spoken about this for over eight years an at the WCQ in May 2014 I asked Stephen Hacker (Then Chair) and Cecilia Kimerlin (Now Chair) about linking membership fee to PPP – purchasing power parity. I believe we have to bite this bullet now. PMI has reduced second year feel to 50% for select countries. If ASQ reduces fee to 1/4th I am convinced their revenue will remain same with increased membership.

2. ASQ India Conference. ASQ has to make a reasonable splash in India. The Indian Quality community is pretty large and no one is bringing it together. If ASQ does not do so soon, someone else will. Several leading quality professionals globally have Indian roots. They can easily help make the conference a success.

3. More local events.  An assured method of more engagement with members in a city is to have regular events. Two to four hour seminars every alternate month is ideal. Bangalore and Ahmadabad has been doing these events regularly and has benefited from the same.

4, More webinars. With most Indian cities having terrible traffic issues, members find it difficult to travel to events. Webinars are ideal for this. ASQ Delhi office and Dr Manu Vora have done a wonderful job in last six months to collaborate on a webinar series. We are now working to have an ASQ Fellow speaker series. More of this will help in improving engagement.

5. Recognition across ASQ awards, magazines etc. ASQ has surely woken up to the need of recognizing its members globally and not just in Americas. More of this is needed. Ideas include:
  • India specific project contest
  • India specific Quality Progress (or an online version)
  • Invite and honor senior professionals – this attracts potential members
  • Partner with reputed publications and organizations
6.Encourage volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone for ASQ. They give their personal time for little gain. ASQ must find ways to reward and recognize this effort.

7. New products and services: ASQ has to reach out to the new tech community. Blogs like Techcrunch are bigger than ASQ already. Some ideas include:
  • Take MBNQA global
  • Have tech world division to attract Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and the Apps industry
  • Regional conferences


Much of the above may read like one man’s rant. I can however, assure you that all the above is based on my discussions with quality professionals over the last decade or so. ASQ has done many things right in the last five years but much more is required for it to be truly global. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Growth of Quality: Revolutionary or Evolutionary?


We all love to feel important and usually have a heightened sense of our importance in the larger scheme of things.  We can see this all around – people thinking ‘they’ were the reason for the team’s success. We also see successful managers who join a different setup but fail. This usually happens because much of the success is that of the eco-system around the individual. Everything works in synch, together. Just as the eco-system is important of success of individuals, it is also important for the success of disciplines such as quality.

Bill Troy, CEO of ASQ has asked an important question in his post – How will the future of quality unfold?

In my view most progress is evolutionary if we see it in context of some history. Also, important is to have a justified sense of importance. How important is quality to the CEO? Very important is what we would like to believe. But more important than Finance and Human Resources? Maybe not.  Finance and Human Resources need direct attention from a CEO whereas quality departments have to be a bit self-driven as well.

Now, I am not saying this to discourage you or to push you to change your profession. I am only saying this for all of us to have a clearer picture of where the ‘quality’ function usually belongs in a company.  The growth of quality will only be revolutionary in companies where the CEO/Board think it is more important than Quality. All others have to be happy with evolutionary progress.  Evolutionary progress is not bad. No progress can be bad. It just sounds less ‘sexy’ when compared to revolutionary progress.

Let’s look at quality as a function or profession. How many revolutionary turns have there been in this journey?
  1. Attention to detail during the artisan centric age
  2. Development of procedures and inspection
  3. Modern inspection and sampling methods
  4. Statistical quality control during world wars
  5. Deming and his PDCA principle
  6. Japanese quality revolution
  7. Juran’s improvement methods
  8. General Electric and its Six Sigma focus
  9. Re-discovery of Lean
  10. Waiting for this one…

There haven’t been too many revolutionary improvements in quality. Most of these revolutions happened. No one planned them. The real service we can offer to our profession is to keep working on evolutionary change.  We have to keep doing the right thing, be on the path, and keep the faith in quality.

The evolutionary changes I expect in the next 3-5-10 years include:
  1. Quality professionals getting involved in big ticket revenue improvement projects
  2. Quality becoming a part of the design process
  3. Quality of quality professionals getting better (this one is more hope than expectation)
  4. Quality getting deeper in education and healthcare
  5. Quality has a seat in the boardroom.

While I have the above expectations, my hope and prayer is that quality remains ‘relevant’ to the management. It is ok if we don’t get a revolution. Evolution is fine as long as we get good people to join the profession.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Clear Vision and Focus for Success

Vision and focus are key elements of success. We all know this, but few are able to follow. It takes a lot to remain focused on what we agree to remain focused on. In a recent post Bill Troy, CEO of ASQ, wrote about the clarity of Volvo’s vision. You can read the full post here.

Having worked with the Malcolm Baldrige performance excellence criteria for over 15 years now I am a firm believer in the power of a clear vision. 100s of Baldrige companies have shown that unless we start with a clear idea of where we are going, getting there is impossible.

What is a vision? My Guru, Suresh Lulla, taught me that Vision is of a Visionary. Vision is picture, a snapshot, of the future.  It should be ambitious and have stretch. It is important to have a date to the vision – by when do we want it to come true. For Volvo it’s Vision 2020.

I have been lucky to have worked in a few organizations where there was clarity of vision and focus followed. Here are two of those stories for you:

650+ Baldrige scores for all Units: While managing a large internal Baldrige deployment, the only goal of the program was – all key business units to get a score of 650 plus in an external assessment. All action plans resulted from this single minded vision/goal. It took three years but the organization did not move off the chosen goal. I tried mighty hard, aligned all actions to the goal, trained key staff, launched initiatives to support the goal, managed assessments, and did what it took to achieve the vision. What looked impossible when we started became possible with Vision and Focus. Result – All units achieved the target 1 year ahead of plan.

15% efficiency goal and nothing else: In another company our leadership was aghast when the Head of Operations challenged us saying a 15% improvement in efficiency is the least he will settle for. We tried to debate first, then argued, but he did not budge. He showed us the numbers and indicated it was possible. We then wanted to continue the meeting to set goals for operations, quality, human resources, finance, etc. Mike stalled any effort to do this and said the goal is only ONE and clear. 15% improvement in efficiency. All our department goals have to align to this. What is not aligned need not be done. Result – in 6 months we had achieved 18% improvement.

Polio eradication in India: Another very successful Vision and Focus story is that of Polio Eradication in India. We have all grown up cursing our respective governments. This is even more common and well deserved in developing countries. The Indian government urged by a doctor who was dabbling in politics – Dr Harshvardhan (he is now the new Union Health Minister) launched a massive Polio eradication program over 15 years ago. When launched Polio was considered impossible to eradicate. With single minded focus and clever use of celebrities, developing domestic vaccines, and a massive government staff India final is Polio free. Here is more on the results.


While it is difficult to remain focused on a key goal and align everything else to it, it is clear that there is no better path to success. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Organizational Excellence Journey – A Marathon, not a Sprint!

The new CEO of ASQ, Bill Troy, recently informed us about ASQ being awarded the Excellence Level of achievement for the 2014 Wisonsin Forward. With this recognition ASQ has reinforced that it can practice what it preaches. Needless to add, this is a journey for ASQ.  It takes years to get where ASQ has got. But like in all journeys, the key is to start.

The Wisconsin Forward Award is the state level framework of the Malcolm Baldrige framework. I have had some experience using the Baldrige framework with companies in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Egypt, Australia, and the USA and confirm that it takes a lot to progress on the Excellence journey.

The excellence journey is like running a marathon. The first mile hurts. Your body aches and screams. This part is very physical. You have to overcome this phase to get to the next. Most people quit here. Similarly, in an organizational excellence journey the first phase is the most chaotic. People challenge what you want to do. There is pain all around. You will try various methods and some will fail. But as a change agent and leader if you patiently manage to overcome this phase, you will be on your way.

Once you are through with the intense physical phase while running your body gets into motion. It is warmed up and your feet and arms fall in sync. You breathe comfortably and before you realize you are cruising. Pain reduces and you begin to enjoy the view. The same happens in an organizational excellence journey. Your detractors have either joined you or quit. There is not much pain. Your plans are working and slowly but surely results are showing. You will find a winning method here. This is the phase where your mental strength pulls you along.

A lot of people who overcome the physical part manage to finish the mental part. But to kick into a higher gear you need emotional strength. This is where your body doesn’t fail but your feelings could fail you.  You have doubts about completing the run. Similarly in the organizational journey this is where the struggle to accelerate begins. You know you can run the course but your mind is failing. There are doubts from the few setbacks on the way.  

If you are able to overcome the emotional churn during the run you could find yourself on a spiritual last phase. You cruise in a state of Zen. You are not too bothered about competition. The last few miles seem no effort at all. This is what happens in the organizational excellence journey as well.  In this spiritual phase you get the results you want. You are patient if you don’t get results that you hoped. You are happy for others in the industry.

Let’s take the long distance running and organizational excellence analogy a bit further. Just like you cant just get up one day and run a marathon, you can’t just decide to be on the organizational journey all of a sudden. If you have to run you have to make sure you prepare yourself with small daily drills, warm-ups, getting fitter, and motivating yourself. You will do the same in an organizational excellence journey – get fitter using Kaizen, reward mechanisms to motivate people, communicate to clarify your goals, involve all around then. Then you start practicing.

Remember, like in running, you can’t just run long distance on motivation. You got to be in shape as well.

At Infosys, while I was heading the Baldrige implementation across the company there were some who did not buy in. But others did. I focused on those who bought in. While consulting with the Aditya Birla group I was able to use a steady deployment approach over two-three years to help four companies win the Deming Application Prize. All these companies gained financially as well.


In my experience in implementing Baldrige framework I realized that patience and persistence are just as important as knowledge and motivation.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A quality experience: The ASQ WCQI

Earlier this month I attended the ASQ World Conference on Quality Improvement (WCQI) in Dallas, Texas, USA.  While my primary purpose to visit was to receive in person my Fellow status, it was a delight to stay on at the conference. I am certain I am not alone in feeling this way.

Many of you have helped me on my journey to become a Fellow of the ASQ and continue to help. My most sincere thanks for your help. This post is dedicated to those amongst you who could not visit the conference. Here is my summary of the conference.

Award ceremonies and exhibition opening

For a pre-conference inauguration kind of day this was a packed to the rim day. The day started with opening of the exhibition area.  The exhibition area was something I had not imagined at this scale. In many ways all of us can imagine a speaker session. A large hall, with a glittering dais, huge seating etc. But, to imagine an exhibition center as big as a football ground, I wasn’t ready for that.

It was a delight to see so many companies setting up booths/stalls to promote their goods and services. The ones I loved were:

The Quality Council of Indiana stall was probably the highlight. It was also a highlight because I know the founder of QCI, Bill Wortman fairly well and he was very welcoming.  The entire range of study material for ASQ exams was on display. The booth also attracted attention with some glamour quotient!www.qualitycouncil.com 

QI Macros by Jay Arthur – those of you who are looking for an Excel Alternative for Mintab/JMP, please check this out. Excellent add-on for MS Excel. Can do almost any analysis that other software over 5 times the price do. At $200 or so I think QI Marcos is a fantastic product.

Gemba Academy by Ron Perriera – While the academy offers training in the US, I was particularly interested in the online training they offer. For $ 2000 you can do an online LSS BB. The modules I checked were very well prepared. There are coaching sessions packed in as well. Good alternative, if you want to study at your pace or don’t have access to good training in your area.  

Other booths of interest were Minitab, JMP, ASQ Center, and Quality Management Division.

The Fellows Lunch was a grand affair. All past fellows are invited and a lot of them came. The 24 new Fellows felt much honored in the presence of luminaries. Announcements were made by ASQ Past Chair John Timmerman. The Fellow lapel Pin being given away by current Chair, Stephen Hacker. This was a truly memorable moment for both Hemant Urdhwareshe and me as the two Fellows from India this year. During the networking session that followed I met a lot of quality celebs and found them all very warm and welcoming.

Keynote Addresses

The opening and closing talks of the conferences were the highlights for me. Erik Wahl – a very popular artist, author, speaker, and philanthropist took stage as the opening keynote. He delivered an engaging talk on remaining creative and embellished the talk with making three paintings right there on the stage– Bono, Einstein, Steve Jobs. The highlight of the talk was how he demonstrated to the over 2000 + people present that fear is real but mostly unfounded. And if you took some risk there are big rewards. I loved the talk and bought his book and stood in a mile long queue to get it autographed.

The closing keynote was delivered by Michelle Rhee. Michelle’s claim to fame is turning around the public school system in Washington. She delivered with amazing passion, sincerity, and timely wit. Battling all odds she reformed a broken system and during her time as Chancellor of Washington Public School System has delivered excellent results for students in grades 8 to 10. She has written a book (title Radical) around this and I urge you all to read it for an amazing story of how impossible can be made possible.

Commander Mike Abrashoff of the US Navy spoke about his experience of leading a ship. His ship became the best ‘damn’ ship in the US Navy in his tenure.

There were two more keynotes. Bob Pence, CEO of Freese and Nichols Inc, an engineering company based in Texas and an MBNQA winner, spoke about how to lead a MBNQA winning effort. I was delighted to see MBNQA flourish. Alicia Davis of General Motors spoke about how the auto maker has benefited from merging the Quality and Customer Experience functions. This was one keynote which clearly wasn’t key note class. Alica read through her talk with no eye contact with the audience. She was good in the Q&A sessions.

Other interesting sessions

The WCQI is built around concurrent sessions and team presentations. As a result one has to plan in advance about which sessions to attend.  Amongst the ones I attended here are the interesting ones:

§ Culture and Quality research by Corporate Executive Board
§ Using DOE in financial services call centers
§ Hoshin Kanri  by Beth Cudney (Beth became a Fellow this year)
§ Networking by Erick Hayler (Fellow)
§ Using Quality Tools in career planning

The International Team Excellence competition finals were also held during the conference. India’s Max Life Insurance won a Bronze which is very commendable. The competition was fierce but a lot of fun as well.

A key trend that I picked up this year was the renewed interest in MBNQA (Baldrige) and focus on Hoshin Kanri.

Personal Highlight

My personal highlight of the event was the 10 mins I spent with Robert Camp (Father of Benchmarking).  Dr Camp is Chairman of the Global Benchmarking Council. My mentor/guru Suresh Lulla is also on this council. Dr Camp was very warm and eager to discuss even in the short time we had. He invited me to get photographed with him and his family as well. Made me feel special!

One regret – could not meet Prof Kano. He was at the conference but I couldn’t meet him.

Other quality celebs that I met and interacted with are Richard Shainin (son of Dorain Shainin), Russel Westcott, Greg Watson (Author of several quality studies), Charles Aubrey, J P Russel, Bill Wortman (QCI), Bob King (GOAL/QPC)

The NRI contingent was in strong numbers. Some key members were Govind Ramu, Navin Dedhia, Pradip Mehta, Dilip Shah, and Kush Shah.

Truly World Class

Attending the WCQI this year has permanently altered my idea about ‘world-class’.  I remain amazed at how a bunch of staff and volunteers could deliver such an amazing event. The size, quality, diversity, professionalism, detail-orientation, everything about the event was ‘world-class’. I will try and improve our ASQ Bangalore events based on this experience.

The other shift in my mindset is around setting higher goals. While becoming a Fellow is indeed special, it was at the WCQI that I realized that so much more is to be done. I met other Fellows and Award Winners and returned impressed by what they have done and are doing. I have set my bar higher now and found new motivation.

Official ASQ Reviews: Day 3 Review   |  Day 2 Review   |   Day 1 Review   |  Kick Off 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quality Manifesto for a New India: A National Quality Mission

India votes for a new Government – who is focusing on Quality?

It’s the big election time in India. I have studiously avoided commenting on it lest I should lose some friends. However, I recently posted a status on my social accounts:

I did a count on 'Quality' in manifestos of Indian National Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party. Who won? Congress 29 and BJP 26. But BJP got it right on where and what to do with quality. Well done.

I got a lot of questions on what should these political parties have written in their election manifestos. I don’t really know what they should write but I do have a view on what can be done.

I have summarized my views in the form of a National Quality Mission. I would like to see the new government establish a national mission to re-focus on quality. India has a great heritage in quality work. Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, Textiles, Astronomy, Architecture, you name it. Over last few centuries we have lost this leadership in quality. While I know it will take a long time to get that reputation back, a beginning has to be made.

National Quality Mission
India needs nothing less than a National Quality Mission to find its way back to the top. Of course other things are required as well. What is a National Quality Mission? It is an apex body that encourages, guides, supports, monitors, hand-holds, and penalizes Indian organizations on the path of world-class quality.

Who should run this? Not the government for sure. The government does not have the officers with the vision, skill, desire, and persistence to make something like this. Government could and maybe should fund the mission for sure.

The mission could have the following focus areas to work with other ministries and organizations to make change happen.

Quality of Education
To me this is the biggest issue for India. This is make or break. The Indian education system is broken with a very wide variation in Quality. The areas to fix are Higher Education for immediate impact and Primary Education for longer term impact.

In primary education basic standards are not yet set unpublicized. Principals and Teachers must be made accountable if they want that salary at the end of the month. I would institute an exam for all current teachers. It could be the same exams they give the students each year. If they don’t score in top 10 percentile then they have to make way for others more deserving.

At the ASQ World Conference for Quality Improvement (WCQI) last week in Dallas I heard a stunning keynote from Michelle Rhee. She turned around the Washington Public Schools in three years. WE need her in India.

Higher education in India is over commercialized and low on ambition. Too many people have got into higher education for it to offer any quality. A policy shift to encourage vocational education could help divert students who know they won’t make it as an MBA to go and still do an MBA. Why not become a world-class carpenter, plumber, or electrician?

Recent examples of Shiv Nadar University, Kalinga University, and Ashoka University are very good signs.

In higher education, contrary to what most say, I believe less institutes with better quality is what we need. A fewer but bigger university with more vocational options is what we will need.
           
Quality of Manufacturing
This could be easier than education but just as important. Way too much inferior product is being produced and sold. The Bureau of Indian Standards (ISI mark) needs a major revamp with some powers to penalize defaulters. We should be able to counter fakes of global brands to encourage Indian brands to prosper.

A national quality improvement initiative using Six Sigma and Lean principles will help immensely. Companies consistently demonstrating high quality should get tax exemptions or other benefits from the government. In India no incentive works better than an exemption – one reason less to deal with the government.

A national quality education drive using volunteers from industry is now a must. It is only when people know why, what, and how of improvement can we expect them to improve. A national improvement project repository could be an ambitious project. Each project completed could get a cash incentive from the government. All projects would be available online and any reader could benefit from some research.

Quality of Services
This could be the most controversial intervention. The services industry by nature is very fragmented with a wide variety of services available for consumers.  A national quality rating system for key service sectors could be something to consider. A J D Power kind rating for Banks, Telecom, and Utility companies to start with will kick start quality in these sectors.

A robust education drive across the industry will also be required. While a lot of colored belts are floating around most of these belts are worn by quality professionals. This has limited value and reach. The quality profession will gain by taking quality education to other departments.

Quality of Healthcare
Quality in Healthcare could have the maximum shorter term impact in saving lives. For a country that produces some of world’s best doctors and has several hospitals in global best lists we have a poor secondary infection rate. A lot of people leave the hospital with an infection they did not come to get treated.

Access to quality healthcare at affordable prices is going to the key issue. While Sankara Nethralaya (eye hospital) and Narayana (Devi Shetty fame) have shown that it’s possible to make money and still treat at lower prices, affordability is still an issue. Healthcare for rural women (or lower income) is something the government has to urgently own up. An unhealthy woman will deliver a malnourished child. And we can’t afford this going further.

Like other sectors it is very difficult to complain against medical negligence. This has to be made easier. Again, I would think that too many people who are not fit to be doctors become doctors. Why not restrict the number of doctors or have a national doctor rating system? A rating system could be based on customer feedback, peer reviews, and third party reviews. Doctors could carry these ratings across the hospitals they serve for.

Quality of Agriculture
This is the area I am least qualified to speak about. But I do strongly feel that Indian agriculture productivity is low. Years ago I attended a seminar where Kanwal Rekhi (Serial Investor) spoke about some interesting insights into India. The insight that stuck with me is that about 66% of India is connected to agriculture. This is actually shameful. He went on to imply that 66% means each person is only producing for himself and ½ of another person. That surely won’t lead us to a better tomorrow.

With people like M S Swaminathan still around we don’t have to look for advice on what to do. This is a sector that can pay for itself as each crop is sold. Unlike Healthcare and Education the returns in Agriculture will be faster and investment could be much lesser.

Some common themes that emerge in this post are:

Complaint management is the bedrock of improvement in quality. The NQM could have a single window for all complaints against erring companies. Any customer who feels that the quality he or she received was not of the stated standard could complain. The NQM could either resolve the query itself or refer cases to industry bodies. Cost of investigation could come from a fund or a small fee could be collected from complainants.

National quality education program – we will need to take quality orientation to schools and colleges and then to industry. We have to help people believe that quality is not going to happen by wishing for it. It is going to happen by all of us doing something about it and to have no tolerance for poor quality.

National quality Award - one process which is world class. For a nation that is not known for its quality we have too many awards. We need lesser awards to improve our sense of achievement. There are some awards floating around where you only have to register and you will win something. They will create a category for you. This has to be stopped.

National improvement project register. This could be the most difficult to accomplish. As a nation we don’t share very well. But there won’t be much progress without sharing. A national improvement project register will also help us discover and award worthy companies rather than only those who apply for awards.

Financial incentives for high quality exports. As I said earlier nothing works better in India than financial rewards. Give exemptions to companies that improve quality and reach world-class levels. Indian companies are very creative in finding ways to avoid paying tax (legally) or pay less tax. I am sure they will find ways to improve quality if there is some direct money dangling.

A Request

I know this post is more like a rambling of sorts. A long list of ideas. And I am sure you have more ideas than what are listed here. I am hoping and praying that someone in the next government reads this post. If you are in a position to push this to people in power, please do your bit. 
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