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.
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.