Six Sigma
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Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Baldrigeplus.com--A Real Plus

It probably shouldn't be remarkable for something that advocates change to be open to change itself, but examples of such an even-handed approach are too rare. There is, however, one splendid example at the institutional level: the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

In its inaugural year (1988), for instance, the award was heavily biased toward manufacturing in its questions and approach--a fact that helps explain why it wasn't until the third year of the award's existence that a service company won a Baldrige. Yet, within just a few years, thanks to its annual improvement workshops and the fact that the Baldrige Office at the National Institute for Standards and Technology did a remarkable job of listening, the award quickly began to be increasingly accepted as not only a national standard for service industries and manufacturing but also the beginning point for awards around the world in every field.

Its recent expansion into the areas of health care and education is yet another example that shows how the award has moved from criteria best suited to a particular environment to principles that are applicable in virtually any field.

At the same time, the Baldrige has become a bit of a cottage industry led by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The ASQ quickly disavowed its early 1987 stance against a national quality award to become a leading source of Baldrige classes. Information about the Baldrige is now available from a wide variety of sources.

One of the newest sources, which is already one of the best, is www.baldrigeplus.com . The Web site is the creation of Malcolm Macpherson, Ph.D, of New Zealand. It contains descriptions of the award criteria, worksheets for each of the 19 areas addressed in the Baldrige system, explanations of how to apply for the award or conduct a self-assessment, and other resources.

One of documents available at the site is Macpherson's description of the award-winning quality efforts of Auckland Hospital's staff preschool. The universal applicability of the Baldrige criteria as guidelines for actions that benefit both providers and customers at all levels shines through in the document.

Since 1993, New Zealand has had a Business Development Quality Award, which is described as an "entry-level Baldrige-derived award scheme open to all New Zealand organizations, public and private." All applicants who score 400 or higher on the 1,000-point scale receive an award, and the top scorers in the public and private sectors are invited to send one representative each for a two-week study tour of U.S. Baldrige-winning organizations. Last year, the preschool's manager, Julianne Exton, took the tour.

Macpherson's document should be read in its entirety. Fortunately, he will e-mail copies to interested readers. A few specific highlights follow:

* Communication is stressed at the Auckland preschool. Though a communication emphasis might seem obvious, too many small organizations make the mistake of assuming, "Well, there are just a few of us, and we talk all the time, so we've got the communication thing covered." For an opposite take, consider how many couples get divorced because of a "failure to communicate"--and that's with only two people. Proximity does not guarantee communication. Macpherson points out the that the "school's governors, senior managers and teaching teams, while in hour-by-hour contact in a relatively small workspace, have a structured schedule of meetings, each with an established agenda and purpose."

* Readers are reminded that the school is required to operate within a strict set of rules and limited options by its regulatory environment. The point is, of course, that the school accepts the rules it cannot change and creates a quality experience within those constraints.

* The school's "strategic objectives are explicit, measurable and subject to continuous review." This in an environment which many would judge impossible to measure.

* The school puts customers into one of two groups: funding customers and parent customers. The school, in fact, regards "whole families as customers (not the individual children)." By clearly identifying each customer group's needs and demands (and power), the school gives a clear focus to its decisions. Both groups of customers measure the school's performance, and those evaluations become part of the data used for the continual efforts to improve. In fact, Macpherson states, "Gathering and analyzing information is a key management tool in the preschool" and lists several areas in which data, both qualitative and quantitative, is sought.

* The school's product is its educational programů not the children who come and go, but the process that will deliver a continually improving program to each year's classes.

* The school staff not only spends a large amount of time in training, they also specifically plan "organized off-site social events." Staff satisfaction is measured at least annually.

* The four "key results areas," which are used as predictors of top-rate education at the preschool level, are identified as group size, teacher qualifications, how much teachers are paid and adult/child ratios.


Macpherson's "Lessons Learned" point to how widely applicable points can be drawn from one quality organization for use in another--something that has always been at the very heart of the Baldrige program. The first five of those lessons are as follows:

* There is no quality budget. As Macpherson says, "Quality is not an add-on, a project that might be sidelined when other priorities intervene. It is the essence of how things are done."

* The BDQA/Baldrige criteria are used as a test, not a template.

* Leadership is highly visible, but distributed.

* Meetings matter.

* Teamwork works.


As for the sixth lesson, Macpherson writes:

"Perhaps the most significant lesson is the most obvious--that it can be done! Good management (defined in Baldrige terms) can yield high performance and exemplary results, in both outcomes (child and family benefit) and outputs (efficiency and effectiveness) in a preschool just as it can in a commercial organization."

Now in its 13th year as the national quality award for the United States, the Baldrige continues its remarkable impact on the world at large. Macpherson's Web site, www.baldrigeplus.com , gives beginners in the quality world, high-level executives and everyone in between yet another look at the universality of its principles.

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). E-mail them at ptownsend@qualitydigest.com .

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