Most of us likely remember the well-publicized Ford tagline, “Quality is Job One!” (which Ford used in advertising for nearly 20 years, and their latest CEO recently brought back for internal purposes). No matter what operations we are involved with, pursuing high quality is essential. What is quality? A simple definition is “quality is providing products or services that customers need, and that are free from deficiencies and errors.” Studies have shown and experts agree that high quality has many benefits, including increased:
• Customer value
• Customer satisfaction
• Customer loyalty
• Repeat business
• Employee pride
Another motivation to pursue quality is for us to avoid the costs of poor quality, which include:
• Excess scrap and waste material
• Repairs and rework on defective or damaged products
• Overtime costs
• Machine downtime
• Decreased employee engagement
• Brand (reputation) damage
Principles to Improve Quality and Performance
How can we improve our quality and performance? I suggest we need to consider the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) key principles to improve quality and performance, which are summarized in the ISO 9001:2015 Statement. Included are:
1) Customer Focus. Sam Walton wisely said, “There is only one boss. The customer.” The primary focus of quality management is to meet and strive to exceed customer expectations for our products and services. This principle applies to whatever internal or external customers we are privileged to serve. We need to understand what our customer needs and wants are, then create value for them (and us!) by delivering on those needs. How do we know what customers need and expect? Ask them. We can better understand our customers by using tools like customer surveys, focus groups, 1-1 meetings, and reviewing unsolicited customer feedback (e.g., emails, letters/notes, phone calls).
2) Leadership. John Maxwell’s key principle that, “Everything rises or falls based on the quality of leadership” rings true. Leaders should establish unity of purpose and direction, and create a culture where our team members are actively pursuing our quality objectives. Creating a culture of quality is huge, as quality guru Philip Crosby emphasized by saying, “Quality is the result of a carefully constructed cultural environment. It has to be the fabric of the organization, not part of the fabric.” W. Edwards Deming is considered the father of the Quality movement. One of his key sayings is, “Quality is everyone’s responsibility”. The best leaders create a culture where every person believes this and takes personal responsibility for the quality of our products and services.
3) People Involvement. A key principle that I teach and try to follow is, “change imposed is change opposed.” We need to involve our team members and support staff, and empower and engage them in making quality a priority. Frankly, most of the best ideas to improve the quality in our processes and our products and services come from the people doing the work – so let's ask them for their ideas and input! We also need to help our team members understand and own the quality goals and the why beneath them. I resonate with Elon Musk’s quote that, “People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.” One of my favorite management memories was when one of my teams, on their own initiative, developed their team tagline, “Pride and Quality!”. The team took ownership for their quality and took pride in providing exceptional customer service!
4) Process Approach. We need to understand and manage all our processes, and collaboratively work with our teams and support staff to seek ongoing improvements. Deming once stated, “Eight-five percent of the reasons for failure and deficiency are in the systems and processes rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.”
One idea to better understand processes is to pursue earning belts from Six Sigma. To get started, you can Google for inexpensive online training that can lead to earning the first level white belt (later belts include yellow, green, black, and master black). One Six Sigma process improvement tool we can use is the DMAIC approach. The components include:
D - Define the Problem. In the first phase, various problems which need to be addressed are clearly defined. Feedbacks are taken from customers as to what they feel about a particular product or service. Feedbacks are carefully monitored to understand problem areas and their root causes.
M - Measure and find out the key points of the current process. Once the problem is identified, employees collect relevant data that would give an insight into current processes.
A - Analyze the data. The information collected in the second stage is thoroughly verified. The root cause of the defects is carefully studied and investigated to find out how they are affecting the entire process.
I - Improve the current processes based on the research and analysis done in the previous stage. Efforts are made to create new projects which would ensure superior quality.
C - Control the processes so that they do not lead to defects.
Other practical tools that are valuable include checklists and flowcharts.
5) Continual Improvement. Successful organizations and teams embrace the Continuous Improvement mindset – which means to avoid complacency and continually seek ways to make improvements in how we do our work. We can support this continuous improvement mindset by educating and training people on the benefits and practical tools. Tracking mutually agreed upon performance measures can help build accountability and provide the opportunity to celebrate and recognize progress. To sum up, quality is a continuous race to improvement with no finish line!
6) Factual Approach to Decision Making. There is a place for “gut instincts” and qualitative assessments on how our teams are performing and for making decisions. That being said, the best-performing organizations and teams use data and information to help assess performance and make better reasoned decisions. We can pursue the ability to track and then analyze customer and operational performance data and information gathered from performance reports, surveys, meetings, and other helpful sources. Charts like Control and Pareto can be helpful too.
7) Supplier Relationship Management. For sustained success, we need to have positive working relationships with our suppliers and vendors. Some key ways to develop good relationships with suppliers are to treat them as valued business partners, look for wins-wins, think long-term not just short-term, share information and expertise, encourage and recognize improvements by them, and regularly express appreciation. One idea to consider is to collaboratively develop vendor scorecards, then meet on a periodic basis to discuss what is going well and where improvement opportunities exist.
William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” I agree. Let’s intentionally pursue quality and enjoy the benefits to our teams and the customers we serve!
Wes Friesen (MBA, EMCM, CMDSM, MCOM, MDC, OSPC, CCE, CBF, CBA, ICP, CMA, CFM, CM, APP, PHR, CTP) is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award-winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management and team building training. He serves as the Industry Co-Chair of the Greater Portland PCC.
His book, Your Team Can Soar! has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer. Wes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 971-806-0812.
This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.