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.