by Subir Chowdhury
How can we activate a quality revolution? Stop thinking about quality and think about your people.
In some respects, the old way of managing the quality process is part of the problem. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the old approach to quality management has become problematic.
When we manage quality, we are addressing problems as we become aware of them. By then we are already behind, being reactive instead of proactive and failing to prevent anything. You see, it is not enough to notice quality problems. The problems we discover today have roots in events that occurred days, weeks or even years ago. The real challenge is to catch issues before they become problems.
Think of the latest headline failures: a financial meltdown, an oil spill, a major industrial accident. Each of them have one thing in common – failure of quality. We fail to recognize problems, we fail to optimize opportunities to correct them, and we fail to produce robust solutions. We fail because we are not even aware that there is a problem.
How do financial meltdowns occur and why do they cause so much damage? Why do oil spills seem to be getting worse and worse? Why do we have industrial accidents that hurt or kill people? Is our technology inferior? Are the people in charge truly corrupt and incompetent? Based on my research, the answer is always the same: failure of quality assessment, failure of quality design, and failure of quality implementation. Quality. Quality. Quality.
At times, the systems we put into place to prevent failure become the source of additional failure. We have become so ingrained to manage quality that we suddenly find that nobody really cares about quality at all. They only care about getting the job done. As a very good friend of mine is fond of saying, quality hangs in the balance between doing the job right and doing the right things. Who is he talking about and how do they decide what is right?
Get rid of the image that quality is a separate deliverable – like a component that you add to a car or a building. Quality is not a tangible thing at all. It is intangible. It is a dream, a concept, governed by human behavior. Quality is a reaction by people who decide how right things must be to be “quality.” Therefore, the essence of Quality is human.
Consider this equation: Quality equals People Power plus Process Power. Put another way:
Q = PeP + PrP
Process Power (PrP) is the means by which the deliverable is possible. The process may entail research, planning, design, implementation, and evaluation; production, marketing, delivery and support. For obvious reasons, we want the process to be as robust and streamlined as possible. But for process power to work, we need people power to drive it.
People Power (PeP) is the workforce, of course, with direct and indirect elements. Direct elements are the members of your team who are directly responsible for producing deliverables, be it a service, a product, or a combination of both. Indirect elements are the members of the team who support the producers and enable delivery – accounting, sales, marketing, customer service, management, even the receptionist who answers the phone.
Quality (Q) is activated throughout the entire chain of events that has made the delivery possible. Included in that chain are all of the touchpoints before, during and after delivery that your customer has experienced. Quality is in the product or service, but it is the sum of the relationships and interactions of every member of your organization.
That is why I believe that in order to achieve a quality revolution, we must stop thinking about quality; we must stop trying to manage it. We need balance between what is process and what is human. When we have balance, then quality management is no longer an issue because Quality has become as automatic as breathing.