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Developing a
Quality-Centered
Strategic Plan

by John R. Dew, Ed.D.

 

Any organization that doesnít
respect quality as a strategic
principle will fail.

In almost any endeavor, quality can serve as a core value that sets the expectations for performance. For a community, the issue may be the quality of living. For a business, it may be the quality of products or services, or work life within an organization. In health care, quality might focus on correct diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. And quality is a key factor for nonprofit organizations in their ability to achieve their missions.

In each case, a process exists for synthesizing strategic planning and quality. While people often have an intuitive grasp of qualityís importance in an organizationís goals, they may not know the specific steps they can take to bring quality into clear focus. The steps discussed below will enhance an organizationís ability to create the quality future its leaders, customers and employees seek.

Outlining the process

Several broad steps comprise the strategic planning process for any organization (see Figure 1). The process always begins with the customers in mind: who these customers are, what they want and what trends will impact them in the future.

 

Having established the customersí perspective, an organization must determine where it should be in relation to its customers. Should it keep the same ones? Expand into new customer areas? Give up, maintain or expand market positions? Quality should be a major factor in answering these questions. A successful organization will focus on its areas of excellence, where it provides high-quality service and products to customers in the most profitable manner. Endeavors where quality is low, scrap costs are high or customers have complaints must either be targeted for change or abandoned as untenable.

When an organization has clarified its position regarding its customers, it should next work on internal vision. An organizationís structure may need to change in order to achieve the desired outcome. At this time, the organizationís planners also must attend to the trends and future conditions that will impact the organization. Depending upon the organizationís mission, demographic studies, long-term economic forecasts, technical projections and a quick review of the companyís history all can help assess the future.

Once the planners envision what the organization will become, they must identify where the organization is in relation to where it wants to be. Planners then should determine the specific steps required to get there. This often becomes the hardest part of the planning process. Numerous day-to-day forces will divert attention and resources away from the strategic plan. Ingrained behaviors must be resisted in order to take new steps toward achieving the vision.

Implementing the steps in the plan means taking action and assessing its effectiveness. Undoubtedly, any change will meet with resistance, which must be overcome. Periodic reassessments of the strategic plan will be necessary to ensure the vision is still accurate. As demonstrated in Figure 1, the strategic planning process becomes a cycle within the organization.

Creating a planning team

An organizationís management must initiate the strategic planning process and make sure it continues. However, the actual planning is best carried out by a team, ideally a diagonal cross-section of people within the organization to ensure that all interests are met.

Such a team also provides the best information about what is really happening in the organization. A planning team consisting of only senior-level managers runs the risk of filtering out vital information and perspectives from middle levels and those who perform hands-on work or have direct contact with customers. At the same time, the team must have senior-level people who can provide a broad view of the organizationís situation. For example, the Cadillac Quality Council is co-chaired by an international representative of the United Auto Workers and involves people from a broad range of perspectives.

In small organizations, it may be possible to assemble everybody in one room at the same time. A facilitator can lead the process and aim for total involvement and commitment from the whole group. In large businesses, the planning team must include senior and middle management, front-line supervision and people who work directly on production or with customers. If the organization has a union, then union leaders also should be invited to participate in the process. In social service organizations, managers and service providers must be involved, along with people who can speak for the service recipients -- i.e., the customers.

The quality of the planning process is enhanced by the planning groupís diversity. Care must be taken to ensure that a planning team is diverse, within the context of the organization. An effective team will offer a balance of perspectives from within and without the organization. Itís important to include perspectives from men and women, newcomers and established employees, people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, and different age groups. The planís validity is strengthened by the assurance that all perspectives are involved in the creative process.

The quality managerís role

While an organizationís senior managers typically are responsible for achieving the organizationís mission -- and thereby its standards for quality -- many organizations now employ quality managers.

The quality managerís role varies greatly from one organization to the next. In successful organizations, the quality manager works closely with senior managers and serves as a vocal proponent for quality. He or she should be a key player in the organizationís strategic planning by championing the process.

Examples abound of successful organizations in which the quality manager plays a strong role as quality advocate among the senior managers. At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., a 1992 Baldrige Award winner, the vice president of quality drives the quality emphasis. At Xerox Corp., a 1989 Baldrige winner, the director of corporate quality champions the Xerox 2000, Leadership Through Quality program. At IBM Rochester, a 1990 Baldrige winner, the director of market-driven quality leads the company in its efforts to be customer-driven.1 These people must get beyond the numerous roadblocks and initiate the quality process.

Once the quality manager obtains an agreement to initiate a strategic planning process, he or she must assemble the right mix of people to form a planning team. The quality manager must obtain assurance from other managers that team members will be given adequate time to work on this process.

The quality manager will either facilitate the process or ensure that an experienced facilitator leads it. Often, the quality manager needs to participate as a team member, in which case itís advisable to employ a neutral facilitator who will focus on the planning process.

If a skilled facilitator is unavailable inside the organization, the quality manager can often find someone through the local chapter of the American Society for Quality. In some communities, the Chamber of Commerce can recommend people. Many community colleges and regional universities have faculty members who also can serve as neutral facilitators.

Quality managers often are far ahead of their organizations in taking a proactive attitude toward quality. Because they attend quality conferences, read quality books and sit in meetings for quality professionals, they may become frustrated by the rate of progress within their own organizations. Conversely, itís easy for quality managers to be considered overzealous by other managers.

The participative process of developing a strategic plan provides quality managers with an excellent mechanism to bring these managers up to speed. For example, while the quality manager sponsors the process, line managers develop an ownership of the content. This helps quality managers avoid becoming isolated from their  organizations over time and provides further leverage for implementing    the quality program to benefit the organization.

The quality attitude

There is fairly universal agreement among quality experts that effective organizations will wrap quality into their strategic planning process as a vital element. When quality is left as an afterthought, it canít be built effectively into the organization; the strategic plan must be built around quality planning.

This point is best illustrated by looking at three companies that have won the Baldrige Award. Cadillac Motor Car Co. maintains that ďthe business plan is the quality plan, and the business planning process is focused on continuously improving the quality of Cadillac products, processes and services.Ē2 Senior leadership at the Wallace Co. develops annual quality strategic objectives that drive the quality process.3 At AT&T Universal Card Services, the organization integrated its total quality management objectives into its strategic and business plans. ďOur planning process is driven by our vision, values and culture, and allows us to maneuver rapidly and effectively in a dynamic business environment,Ē4 it declares.

Any organization that doesnít respect quality as a strategic principle will fail. Perhaps the best example in this context is the quality circle movement. There was nothing wrong with quality circles, and some excellent training procedures were developed to support them. However, when proponents attempted to graft quality circles onto existing structures that didnít value quality, the endeavor always failed. Unless an organization came to accept quality as an essential factor in its success or failure, the quality circle was doomed to be a passing fad.5

Many excellent people have burned out striving to bring the quality revolution to their organizations. Because the organizations didnít embrace quality as a fundamental value, any efforts to bring quality in through the back door inevitably met with limited success until a fundamental breakthrough in thinking could occur. It has taken much effort within many organizations to establish qualityís current level of success. This evolution will continue as organizations integrate quality into their strategic planning process and begin operating at entirely new levels.

 

References

1. Cap Frank, ďThe Continuing Quest for Excellence,Ē Quality Progress, December 1995, pp. 67-70.

2. Cadillac: The Quality Story (Detroit: Cadillac Motor Car Co., 1991).

3. Wallace Co. Inc., 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Winner: A Condensed Version of the Companyís Application for the Award. (APQC, 1991).

4. ďA Summary of the AT&T Universal Card Services Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Application,Ē Proceedings of the Quality and Productivity Management Associationís Spring 1993 Conference (QPMA, 1993).

5. Stephen J. Holoviak, ďNegative Attitudes and Quality Circles,Ē Quality Digest, April 1989, pp. 79-83.

 

About the author

John R. Dew, Ed.D., is manager for mission success for Lockheed Martin Utility Services and the author of Quality-  Centered Strategic Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide (Quality Resources, 1997). He can be reached via fax at (502) 441-6103 or e-mail at jdew@qualitydigest.com.

 

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