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Chapter Q – Quality

2. Why spend so much time and effort producing a quality product/service?

This may sound like rather a silly question on the surface, but there are two implied concepts here. One is the question of whether the goal of business is to produce a quality outcome.  Our answer is an emphatic yes.  After all, isn’t quality a significant differentiator between the average struggling company and the few that excel?  The second concept may be bit more obscure: Is it fair to say that to produce something of quality, whether a service or a tangible widget, more time is required to do so than to produce something of lesser quality? Is there a direct correlation between the time spent and quality achieved?  As we examine the question, these answers are not intuitively obvious.

Let’s consider an imaginary company, The Acme Widget Works. Acme is a functioning business today.  And it’s quite likely that the ownership wishes that to be the case for years and years to come.  Why else be in business, right?  Then the owners of Acme should spend the time and effort necessary to ensure that the consumers of their product are happy campers (a tease to the answer for question 9 below), because they want to remain in business.  And there is an assumption here that in order to stay in business any company must meet the customers’ expectation of quality.  If you don’t consistently meet expectations, you won’t be able to stay in business very long.  This is the simple answer to the “why” portion of the question.

But there’s more to the answer.  The second implied concept above is that in order to achieve a quality product or service, you have to spend a significant amount of time, well beyond that of lesser quality output. If this is true, aren’t you increasing the cost for the sake of quality? There’s really no direct connection between the time spent and the degree of quality produced.  If you’re a parent, you probably know about the concept of spending quality time with your kids.  The implication is that the amount of time spent is not always the best indicator of achieving the desired outcome.

And so it is with the production of quality services and products.  The amount of time applied is not always directly proportional to the level of quality produced.  Working smarter is much more important than working harder.  Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to quality.  Incorporating Lean principles will remove many wastes (See Chapter P – Process for more information).  The quest for consistent quality comes down to balance.  There’s no exact formula that ties amount of time spent with level of quality, but it is clear that doing things right the first time definitely eliminates the costs of doing them a second time.

3. Do quality initiatives require full organizational support?

Quality is an attitude as much as it is a quantifiable element; it has to be part of the company culture.  Company leaders set the tone that permeates throughout the organization and down to every worker in the company.  Achieving quality may be hard work at first, but can be ultimately very rewarding.  But is it worth the effort?  If quality is demanded of some, and not of others, then cultural strife will erupt in pockets throughout the organization.  This will create a race to the bottom, and poor quality is the result.  Either the entire company cares about quality, or it doesn’t.

Achieving, sustaining, and improving quality is a process.  Like any process, systems are needed to enable people to work consistently with each other and to support the process.  While individual effort and commitment is essential, establishing and maintaining systems is always the responsibility of the organization.

A system is a set of connected things or parts, working together, forming a complex whole. Systems have structure, are defined by components and their composition. Systems have behavior, which involves inputs, processing and outputs of material, energy, information, or data. It also has a set of rules that governs structure and/or behavior.

It is the organization that must decide to invest in the systems that support the quality goals. Without full organizational support, systems cannot come to life, and cannot survive.  Quality systems and concepts are abstractions to most workers, so quality systems are among the most vulnerable systems in a company.

A good way to get the entire organization on board is to commit the company to seeking ISO 9001[2] certification.  For those not familiar with ISO 9001, it is one of a family of internationally recognized quality management standards that define systems and methods designed to help organizations.  By setting up quality systems conforming to ISO 9001, companies can ensure they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders.

The realities of everyday life tend to introduce variability into every process.  Employees and suppliers come and go.  Natural disasters disrupt the established supply chain, necessitating substitutions.  The recent earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan affected supply chains for companies around the world, resulting in many quality consequences.  Disruptions tend to reduce quality, so quality improvement must be a continuous endeavor, a process that never ends.

7.   Is there a cost to achieving quality?

This question could be better stated this way: What’s the cost of not achieving quality or producing poor quality goods or services?  Certainly there’s a cost to manufacture/deliver a product or service, regardless of its level of quality.  The higher the quality of raw materials used, or the less efficient the worker/employee doing the work, the higher the raw cost to deliver.  So, from this perspective, quality does have its costs.

But those raw production costs can be reduced.  Processes such as Lean or Six-Sigma can drive down the expense of production through reducing waste or unnecessary costs, whether in the factory or law office.  In 1995, Motorola Communications embarked on a Six-Sigma initiative to drive waste out of their manufacturing processes.  In a period of four years, Motorola was able to save $2.2 billion while retaining their high quality standards.

Management theorist Phillip B. Crosby, in his book Quality is Free[17], defined the cost of quality as having two main components: the cost of good quality and the cost of poor quality.  For the purposes of this question, let’s stay focused on the latter, because they’re certainly the more elusive contributors.

Internal failure costs triggered by errors in products and inefficiencies in processes manifest themselves in rework, delays, shortages and re-testing.  External failure costs reveal themselves after delivery of products and services, when customers: 1) complain, 2) try to extract fee concessions or 3) exercise warranty claims.  Valuable labor and materials are consumed in the transactions with the unhappy customer and the reworking of the returned good or service.

So, yes, there is a cost to achieving quality!  There is an even greater cost of failing to achieve quality, which in the end may become the demise of the company.

[17] Crosby, Philip B., “Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain,” Mentor Books, 1992








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