Six Sigma
Last Word


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

The Process Is Gathering Momentum!

The Quality First process is exceeding even the most optimistic projections. As of November 30, there were 353 Quality Ideas entered on the Quality Idea Tracking Program. Of those ideas, four had been implemented by Quality Teams and 67 more had been both implemented and certified. The total dollar value of the ideas on the system was $800,192.21.

 What's the difference between an idea being "implemented" and being "implemented and certified"? When a quality team has had an idea about how to improve some aspect of what they do, has done all appropriate "homework" (to include gaining the approval of any individual(s) or department(s) who might be affected by the implementation of the idea), and has made the decision to do it, the idea is implemented. At that point, the quality team leader changes the status of the idea on the Quality Idea Tracking Program from a "1" (idea entered after initial discussion) to a "4" (idea implemented).

 When an idea is implemented, it is the signal to the quality analysts (there are two of them; the quality department consists of three people for a company of approximately 700) to contact the quality team leader to discuss the idea.

 The quality analysts review every aspect of the idea with the team leader: what the improvement is, who it affects, what those folks said, what the hard dollar and soft dollar savings are (if any) and what calculations were used to determine those numbers, and, generally, if the idea is aligned with the company mission statement and strategic plan. When an idea is certified, it then counts toward a quality team being the recipient of company recognition.

 Team recognition ceremonies are quickly becoming a highlight of the day-to-day activities in the company. These ceremonies are conducted by the president of the company in the work area of the to-be-recognized teams. There are three basic "levels" of recognition: Bronze, Silver and Gold.

 When a team either completes 10 Quality Ideas or a lesser number of ideas, the combined value of which is $10,000 or greater on an annualized basis, the team is designated a Bronze team. Besides talking with team members about what they have accomplished -- including details on specific ideas -- the company president sees that each member of the team receives a Bronze-colored pennant that can be displayed at the person's cubicle or office and a desk plaque with the Quality First logo on it and a Bronze sticker affixed to it. As the material component of the "thank you," the team members are shown a collection of items -- several in "column A" and several in "column B." Each team member can choose two from column A or one from column B.

 Some of the items, all of which are adorned with a Quality First logo, are a small stuffed-toy koala, a flexible-drive screwdriver, a small personal radio, a kitchen timer, a faux-leather portfolio and a small tape recorder. The "Bronze collection" will change over the months as folks' preferences become more clear.

 Having at least 25 Quality Ideas certified -- or a smaller number of Quality Ideas with a total financial impact of over $25,000 -- earns a team Silver status. At that point, the president of the company returns to personally say thank you and to talk about the latest ideas. Silver pennants and silver stickers for the desk plaques are distributed. And each member of the team receives a $25 gift certificate at their choice of four major retailers in the area, including a new shopping mall with more than 125 stores.

 Fifty certified Quality Ideas or $50,000 equals Gold. The ceremony is much like what happens at the Silver level, except that the pennants are Gold-colored, the new stickers for the desk plaques are Gold, and the gift certificates are for $50.

 If a Quality Team goes straight to Gold with, for instance, one Quality Idea worth more than $50,000, the team members receive all the items and material gifts for Bronze, Silver and Gold at the ceremony. And, of course, all teams are featured in the biweekly "I See Quality" newsletter (so named because the name of the Insurance Center is frequently abbreviated to "IC"), with the article including all team member names. A picture taken of the team at the end of the recognition ceremony is sent to all employees via e-mail.

 There is already one Quality Team that has made it to "Double Gold": $50,000 more in certified ideas, yielding another $50 gift certificate, another sticker and more personal recognition from the president of the company.

 In addition to the one Double Gold team, as of November 30, one other had made it to Gold, four were at the Silver level, and two were at Bronze. And the rate of participation by teams and the implementation of Quality Ideas is accelerating Perhaps the most encouraging single aspect is the fact that improvement is now a common topic of discussion among the employees. One senior manager who smokes reported that she knew the quality effort was off to a good start when she went out to the "Smokers' Gazebo" and found a spontaneous "quality meeting" in progress.

 Can this process be duplicated? Absolutely. Next month's column will be devoted to describing the pieces and parts that would have to be studied, adopted in principle and adapted in practice in order to do so.

 In order to even consider implementing a quality process similar to the Quality First process, the senior management team of an organization will have to be prepared to do the following:

* Give up the notion that it takes a long time (and costs extraordinary amounts in consulting fees) to implement a quality process and for that process to affect the bottom line. Remember: The informed decision by the senior management team to implement the Quality First process was made on March 28, 2000 -- eight months prior to achieving the results noted above.

* Give up the notion that quality is for the few, the chosen. Participation in the Quality First process is on a nonvoluntary basis, because the management of the company believes the personnel department has long been in the habit of hiring adults and that those adults all have something to contribute if they, management, can create the environment and procedures that make that possible.

* Give up the notion that the components of a quality process must be implemented in serial fashion rather than doing several things simultaneously.

* Give up the notion that measurement (be it Six Sigma or SPC or whatever) is a religion and/or a dandy weapon for exposing and punishing miscreants. Measurement is a great tool that should be used to surface reasons and means for improvement.

* Give up the notion that process analysis (be it reengineering or any other variation) is the answer by itself. It is a great tool when integrated into a complete quality process.


 In fact, maybe that's a good name . . . Complete Quality Process . . . CQP.


About the authors

 Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and six books, including Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992); Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997); How Organizations Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize (Crisp Publications, 1999); and Quality Is Everybody's Business (CRC Press, 1999). Pat Townsend has recently re-entered the corporate world and is now dealing with leadership.com issues as a practitioner as well as an observer, writer and speaker. He is now chief quality officer for UICI, a diverse financial services corporation headquartered in the Dallas area. E-mail the authors at ptownsend@qualitydigest.com .

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