Saturday, December 18, 2010

The End of Baldridge?

Paul Borawski wrote in this month's "A View from the Q" blog about the fact that the Baldridge national quality award was at risk for elimination due to cost-saving measures. If there was ever a better example of politics following business, I can't think of one. Many of us have experience in the practice of reducing manpower during times of trouble, especially in the last few years. Where are the first areas to be cut? In my experience it's Training, Environment/Safety and Quality.

What does this mean from a business perspective? I think that it shows a lack of understanding of processes and the inputs that drive the outputs. Despite the fact that ISO 9001 group of standards promotes the process-centered business, and many companies adhere to those standards, I think that a large group of business leaders lack a basic understanding of processes in general. A process has one or more inputs and produces one or more outputs. The outputs are directly related to the inputs. An old computer term GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is an example of process thinking. In a business, the outputs are relatively easy to spot (e.g. the product of the business, the profit, employee salaries, etc.) but the inputs are much more difficult to pin down. And an understanding of the process itself often eludes even the most celebrated business leaders. The fact that Quality tends to be one of the first areas to be cut reflects the thinking that Quality is not as important to the business as other areas. This is despite the fact that Quality, while not directly producing outputs, works to guarantee that the overall process is performing in the most efficient and effective way to generate the optimum outputs.

The desire of the government to cut Baldridge is a direct reflection of the desire in business to cut Quality and it's driven by the same reason: a lack of understanding of Quality's role in society. We need to be the voice to increase the awareness of Quality in our organizations and society in general.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Raising our voices, raising our expectations

For Quality to find its voice in the future it must chart a new path in business and society. It must not only redefine itself but it must help to redefine excellence, performance and satisfaction. The power of Quality lies in its ambiguous nature. The uncertain response one finds when asking “what is Quality?” belies the underlying power of the concept. Quality is, in a very literal sense, what anyone thinks that it is. This ambiguity allows Quality to not only continue to flourish as trends change but also allow it to adapt readily when a change is needed. That time to adapt is now.

I believe that in business, government and society in general there is too much focus on the quantitative. The quantitative is important but it must be considered in the context of all of the factors of the organization. It should be a part of a balanced evaluation of performance and not in the sense of a “balanced scorecard”. It should be included with other qualitative factors to understand the current and potential situation and drive improvements. For example, see this article about how Ford develops the audio chimes that act as warning signals in their cars. It was a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis. I rented a 2010 Fusion recently and I was pleasantly surprised by the chimes in the car. I even brought my kids out and had them listen to them. If we can use such combination analysis in engineering then why not use more of the same analysis in management?

Anyone who has worked in automotive Quality has found the situation, in their own or other organizations, where the data spoke louder than reality. For example, the pressure to reach 1.67 Ppk in order to avoid 100% inspection can lead to falsifying data or misinterpreting results to save money. The target number is more important than the reality. This reliance on the quantitative actually leads to poor results in the future for everyone.

Who can help to change the direction of business toward more qualitative analysis? Who has extensive experience in improvement? Who have the innovative ideas for problem solving and improving customer satisfaction? Look in the mirror. We can do it. How do we do it? That’s the question I pose to you. Let’s discuss our ideas together.