Why Manage Better?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Quality of Design - The Holy Grail of Quality

Expectation vs Reality
Let’s try to encapsulate how the quality function is understood ‘traditionally’. The lack of attributable empirical evidence allows me to rely on conversations with veterans in the quality profession and on my experiences gathered over the years, these seem to suggest that a quality function is expected to be –
Proactive but is perceived as reactive
Quick as a hare but is considered to be slow as a snail
 Pragmatic but is often accused of being riddled with theoretical ideologies
Quality function is expected to be forward looking but is usually found looking in the rear view mirror.

Although a quality function is most active within mainstream activities in either manufacturing or service provisions, inherent practices are agile and adaptable.

Common knowledge clearly shows that companies that win apply quality to all functions. Both Toyota and General Electric are examples of larger all encompassing philosophy
Applying quality to only specific functions is the equivalent of working only on one muscle of the body, the result of which are just as narrow as the effort expended  

Quality in All Functions
If quality can be applied to all functions, who then is a quality professional? Aren't managers in all functions also quality professionals? 
Tough one – if quality professionals give up their knowledge and skill and let everyone become a quality professional then we are no longer required or important. If we don’t do this, quality doesn't become all-pervasive and we will anyway be no longer required.

Can/ How is quality be applied to more functions than production or service provision? Let’s look at some of simple and fairly easy to recall examples from various industries -

Apple - A company known for this excellence in design apply principles of quality function design (without probably using the tool) which has taken their design to a new high.
Several organizations have cut recruitment cycle time using six sigma projects.
Vendor Management –
Companies are reaping benefits of paying vendors on time as a result of improvement projects
 Companies have used FMEA to assess what can go wrong with a product launch.

Making Everyone a Quality Professional
Toyota and GE did a brilliant job of making everyone a quality professional. They still have a quality function – which specializes in the subject, manages projects/programs, and pushes the envelope on knowledge and skills. The regular knowledge and skills are transferred to staff. GE popularized the 18-24 month Black Belt role which resulted in building a vast pool of quality-enabled senior professionals.

While I agree that quality is a specialist function, it is important for all functions to have quality specialists. If structured and documented quality tools and methods are moved to the quality professionals in other functions, the core quality function can raise its own game. In other words if the core quality function continues doing auditing and improvement projects only, I don’t see the function breaking any fresh ground.

What’s Next - The Holy Grail for Quality
With an army like that, there are only greater heights to conquer.
Less glamorous challenges confront quality professionals – managing the tail ends of the distribution and exception processing. Straight through processing will be enabled by technology and will become faster, cheaper, and better. It will be the exceptions and tail (of distribution) that will increase processing costs.

Quality in design, I believe, will be the Holy Grail for quality professionals in future. Customers will have little patience to get products repaired. They will want quality built into the process. The more you embed you quality in the process the better the rewards. Reactive repairs and fixes might not be an option in the future.

Of course Dr. Deming would have said – you don’t have to do all this, survival is not essential.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good post Anshuman! I have always maintained that quality should prevail at all levels and functions of an organization in order to 'deep-root' quality, and also that one fine day I would have to hang my Quality boots as Quality did become everyone's responsibility! Ironical yet its so required.

Keep writing.