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, satisfaction, and loyalty; repeat business and new business; and employee pride.
One proven approach to develop and sustain high quality practices is to embrace Dr. W. Edward Deming’s 14 Principles of Quality Management. Who was Dr. Deming? Simply put, he has been called the Father of the Quality Management movement. He first rose to fame by helping the Japanese achieve strong manufacturing and business success after World War II. Later, his philosophies were embraced by a number of US companies such as Ford, Xerox, Ricoh, Sony, Proctor & Gamble, and many others. Deming has the unique distinction of receiving prestigious awards from both Emperor Hirohito of Japan and President Reagan of the US (impressive!).
Deming’s 14 Principles of Quality Management
These are a set of management practices to help companies increase their quality and productivity. Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs (by reducing waste, rework, employee turnover, and litigation while increasing customer loyalty). Following are my paraphrased versions of the principles:
1. Create a constant purpose toward improvement. We should plan for quality in the long term, and resist reacting with short-term solutions (such as sacrificing quality to achieve cost cutting pressures). Predict and prepare for future challenges, and always have the goal of getting better. I like this quote from Steve Jobs, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
2. Adopt the new philosophy. Embrace quality throughout our teams and the organization. Put our customers' needs first, and design our products and services to meet those needs. Be prepared for a changed mindset in the way business is done. It's about leading, not simply managing. Create our quality vision, and implement it.
3. Stop depending only on physical inspections. Inspections can be costly and unreliable – and they don't improve quality, they merely find a lack of quality. The idea is to build quality into the process from start to finish. We don't just find what we did wrong – we should eliminate the "wrongs" altogether. Consider using statistical controls, checklists, or other methods – not physical inspections alone – to prove that the process is working. One wise approach is to emphasize front-end testing prior to releasing our outputs. Author Brian Lawley counseled, “Doing testing with real users (in addition to internal quality testing) can help you avoid the serious embarrassment of a failed product.”
4. Build a positive partnership with our suppliers. Look at suppliers as our partners in quality. Encourage them to spend time improving their own quality – they shouldn't compete for our business based on price alone. When relevant, we can use quality statistics to ensure that suppliers meet our quality standards. Look for “win-win” long-term relationships with our suppliers, in which they get our business and we get excellent, quality service.
5. Improve constantly and forever. Continuously improve our systems and processes. Deming promoted the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to process analysis and improvement. Emphasize training and education so everyone can do their jobs better. We can follow the advice of management expert Tom Peters, “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.”
6. Use training on the job. Train for consistency to help reduce variation and mistakes. Build a foundation of common knowledge. Help workers to understand their roles in the "big picture," which supports the insight from respected CEO Frances Hesselbein, “People want to feel that what they do makes a difference.” Encourage staff to learn from one another, and provide a culture and environment for effective teamwork (“all for one, one for all”).
7. Implement leadership. Encourage our supervisors and managers to understand their team members and the processes they use. Don't simply supervise – provide support and resources so that each team member can do his or her best following the servant leader philosophy. Be an affirming coach instead of an aggressive police. Figure out what each person actually needs to do his or her best. Emphasize the importance of participative management and transformational leadership. Find ways to reach full potential, and don't just focus on meeting targets and quotas.
8. Eliminate fear. Allow people to perform at their best by ensuring that they're not afraid to express ideas or concerns. Let everyone know that the goal is to achieve high quality by doing more things right – and that we're not interested in blaming people when mistakes happen. Make workers feel valued, and encourage them to look for better ways to do things. Ensure that our leaders are approachable and that they work with teams to act in the organization's best interests. Use open and honest communication to remove fear from our teams.
9. Break down barriers between departments. Build the "internal customer" concept – recognize that each department or function serves other departments that use their output. Build a shared vision that we are all on the same team with a common purpose to add value to our organization’s stakeholders. Use cross-functional teamwork to build understanding and reduce adversarial relationships. Focus on collaboration and partnership and mutual problem solving.
10. Clarify expectations. We should eliminate unclear slogans and ambiguous goals. Let people know exactly what we want – don't make them guess. "Excellence in service" is short and memorable, but what does it mean? How is it achieved? The message is clearer if we are more specific, such as “our goal is 99.5+ % same day delivery” or “we are aiming for a customer satisfaction rating of 8.7+ on a scale of 10.” We can outline our expectations, and then praise people face-to-face and in other ways for doing good work.
11. Eliminate unnecessary or unrealistic numerical targets. Look at how the process is carried out, not just numerical targets. Deming said that production targets encourage high output and low quality. Provide support and resources so that production levels and quality are high and achievable. Measure the process rather than the people behind the process. One of Deming’s quotes was, “Eighty-five percent of the reason for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.”
12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship. Allow everyone to take pride in their work without being compared. Treat all workers positively, and don't make them compete with other workers for monetary or other rewards. I resonate with the philosophy of esteemed management expert Dr. Ken Blanchard. Blanchard is a proponent that there should be no quotas on high performance ratings. For example, if the organization uses a 1 – 5 scale (5 being highest), every employee should have the opportunity to earn a 5 rating. That doesn’t mean that everybody will earn a 5, but knowing a 5 rating achievable is motivating to most folks.
13. Implement education and self-improvement. Improve the current skills of workers. Encourage people to learn new skills to prepare for future changes and challenges. Build skills to make our workforce more adaptable to change, and better able to find and achieve improvements. And we should recognize increased skills and performance improvements, including the “small” changes we see. Author Robert Collier suggested, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.”
14. Make "transformation" everyone's job. We can improve our overall organization by having each person take a step toward quality. Author Lloyd Dobbs once wrote, “If there is no worker involvement, there is no quality system.” We can personalize and pull from Deming's 14 principles and have open discussions with our teams and gain their buy-in into pursuing ever improving quality management.
William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution.” I agree. Let’s intentionally pursue quality and enjoy the benefits to our teams and the stakeholders we serve!
Wes Friesen 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 September/October, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.