During the past 25 years, quality management's evolution has been rapid. Many new ideas, concepts and methods
have been introduced, some with great success. But most have slowly lost favor, or run their course, and now occupy just small sections--if any at all--in quality texts. Other methods have become
incorporated into what we now collectively call "total quality management" or "Six Sigma quality."
Every few years, we hear of some "new" method that's providing wonderful
results. At first, we hear glowing reports of stunning successes. Next, some companies begin to question those results and discover that they're not nearly as successful as was originally
reported. Then we hear about failures--companies that are failing to achieve results or whose results are far less valuable than the implementation costs.
But why have some
companies had such success with certain methods while others have been disappointed with their results? We often just blame the companies, claiming that they lacked leadership, infrastructure or
consistency in applying the methods. But we forget that although a given method may have produced stunning results for some companies, it's not necessarily the right method to solve every
company's most important problems. Too many organizations have blindly played follow the leader without stopping to think whether that leader shared similar problems or weaknesses.
The richness of what we now call "total quality management" makes it difficult for senior managers to know the breadth of all possible approaches. They often have to rely on the quality
professionals within the organization for advice--and these internal experts may also have limited knowledge and personal biases based on their own past experiences. So what's a quality manager
State the problem.
The first step in solving any problem is to state it clearly. Is the company losing business due to shipment delays? Does it have quality
deficiencies compared to leading competitors? Is it burning capital with large work-in-process and finished-goods inventories? Does it have major costs due to
poor throughput yields or machine downtime? Are its products and services missing key features that customers desire? Are its margins low because it's
trapped in "me too" commodity products with little or no market differentiation?
Sometimes we know clearly what our problems are; we can reach agreement,
state the problems and select the right approach quickly. Other times we may only have vague ideas. In these cases, we need a formal assessment. We can choose a
broad assessment based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the ISO 9000 standards series, the European Quality Award or a review based on
combinations of the elements in these and other sources.
If our problems are basically cost-related, we might choose to focus on a
cost-of-poor-quality audit. We may do these assessments by ourselves or choose one of a number of consulting firms with appropriate experience and tools to assist
us. The important thing is to get a thorough understanding of strengths and weaknesses and how the weaknesses are affecting our business results now.
Select the right tools. As soon as we have this in-depth assessment in hand, we
can choose the appropriate approach to solving the most important problems. A wide range of possibilities exist. Product and process variation may be causing
numerous defects, downtime, lost sales or excessive costs, in which case we need to implement statistical quality control methods, perform measurement system
analyses and do process capability studies. We may have discovered that we aren't producing the products and services that customers want to buy, so we should
choose methods for understanding our customers' needs and deploying this understanding through the entire design and development process. We might
discover that our margins are low because of high internal costs, so we may have to redesign or reengineer processes to reduce time and costs, remove
work-in-process inventories through better process design or scheduling, or use value-engineering methods to reduce product and production costs.
Very few organizations have a solid understanding of today's wealth of methods and tools that are available for addressing critical problems within a company. Far
too often, businesses rely on a few internal experts or an outside consultant with knowledge about only a few favorite methods. These people are often quick to
disparage other methods that they don't understand: If they're selling hammers, all problems look like nails to them.
Implement. Once we understand the problems and have identified the tools and
methods most suitable for solving the most critical of them, it's time to implement. This, too, is a difficult step. We may first have to introduce these methods,
spending time and money on the necessary training if the techniques are new to the organization. We may have to build the necessary infrastructure, including
management teams, information systems and work teams, before we can start. We may have to select key members of management to act as champions to drive
the work forward. And, as always, we have to deal with the toughest problem--finding time to teach people new methods and to get the new projects underway.
It all boils down to three simple ideas: Know what the problems really are, know the options for solving these problems, and know how to use the selected options.
About the author
A. Blanton Godfrey is a former chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. E-mail him at email@example.com .