Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Quality of Your Life

Success in business often comes at the expense of the quality of life.

John White, a friend of mine who worked with me at Systemcorp, passed away recently. At his funeral, people were talking about the quality of his life. They pointed out that he was an individual who never had a bad word to say about anyone, who took time to be with his family, whose friends were important to him, and who did a great deal of good in his community.

 This man was not a manager of a big organization; he ran our customer service desk. His life was a quality success story, not because he made zero errors, but because he paid attention to the things that made real differences, the things that really mattered. As I sat there, I started to measure the quality of my life in comparison to John's, and I didn't rate well.

 Why is it that suicide and divorce rates for people whom we consider successful are so much higher than for the rest of us? I believe it's because success in business often comes at the expense of the quality of life.

 What is quality of life? As quality professionals, we know that quality is conformance to requirements and expectations, which mandates that we write a requirement statement before we can evaluate quality. We also know that any requirement statement must reflect the needs of all of the stakeholders, not just the individual preparing the requirement statement. In life, who are our stakeholders? Well, in most cases, they include our families, friends, employers, communities, suppliers, customers, ourselves and, for most of us, our God. To prepare a requirement statement that fulfills these eight very different stakeholders' needs is a challenge for anyone.

 Selfish people would write quality of life requirement statements that focus just on themselves. They're interested in how much money they can earn and when they can buy the new car or get that new high-end television. They measure their quality of life by such yardsticks as how their houses rate against the neighbors' and how big of a commission they recently earned. These are all easy things to define, and they make up the total requirement statement of far too many individuals.

 How would you prepare the part of the requirement statement that focuses on your family? Some individuals try to earn their family's love through their behavior. Others try to buy it because they are so completely focused upon themselves that they have little time for family.

 Next, the requirement statement needs to focus on your friends. What do your friends really require from your life? What is true friendship? How do you have to behave to acquire friends who would give you the shirts off their backs if you needed them to or who would never say a bad word about you? Who will remain your friends despite your faults?

 What requirements does your employer have? Would you pay a person as much as you're getting for doing the work you're doing? How loyal are you to your employer?

 Apply the same approach to your community, your suppliers, your customers and your God. Only when we have done this can we have requirement statements that truly define quality of life for us. But developing this statement is only the beginning and is certainly the easiest part. Living up to it is where the quality process begins. It's easy to promise or plan to do something, but it's hard to actually commit yourself and live up to your own expectations as well as those of your stakeholders.

 Success and quality should go hand in hand, but frequently they don't. Why? Because too often success is measured not by the way we live our lives but by what we can get out of our lives. Success is too often measured not by what we contribute, but by what we accumulate. A quality life is not one that has zero defects in it. In fact, if we make real friends, our friends will overlook our errors and not expect perfection from us. When it comes right down to it, one day that shiny new car will rust away, that cutting-edge computer will stop functioning and that new outfit will be full of moth holes.

 What really lasts is what we contribute to our stakeholders. Raising a child who never tries drugs is far more important than buying a new Cadillac or taking a trip to Hawaii, but how many of us expend as much effort, thought and dedication on helping our children make that decision as we do to save up for a new car or a vacation? The choice is ours, but too often we make very foolish choices.

About the author

 H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. Harrington has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. He a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com . Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com

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