Six Sigma
Last Word


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Putting Together a Complete Quality Process

"Show me the money" was a national catchphrase in the wake of the popular movie "Jerry Maguire." It's since become a part of standard American lexicon because it rings true for many people. "Don't promise me the moon if only I will follow your simple instructions," they say. "Show me the money."

 So, before beginning a description of the components of a Complete Quality Process, we'll skip to the bottom line and detail the impact of the process to date. Remember, now, we're talking about a quality process that was initiated in mid-September 2000, less than six months after the management team of this 700-person insurance company voted unanimously to define and implement a 100-percent employee-involved quality process. And the numbers listed below reflect only the quality team activity and don't include the impact of the ongoing series of departmental process analysis workshops.

 By Jan. 26, 2001, the 63 quality teams had entered 515 quality ideas on the quality idea tracking program. Of these, 321 were in Category 1: Initially Defined and Currently Under Investigation (with estimated financial impact) and 151 were in Category 5: Implemented and Certified by one of the Two Quality Analysts (with certified financial impact).

The financial totals:

Category 1 -- $257,392 (soft) and $33,405 (hard)

Category 5 -- $1,046,430 (soft) and $340,870 (hard)

 "Hard" dollars means money that would have been spent, whereas "soft" dollars means predominantly a measure of time savings, which indicate an increase in capacity for additional work.

 Now, about those components of a Complete Quality Process…

 (Due to space considerations, only the first three are detailed below; the other four will be detailed in next month's column.)

 One of the things to keep in mind when looking through this list and the examples given is that much of it happened, and is still happening, at the same time. The basic pre-requisite for all of this is that managers must be willing to trust their employees. There's simply too much that needs to be done at once to allow for micro-management.


Top Management Commitment

 Senior management must be willing to invest company funds, employee efforts and their own time and effort--and to do so in ways that are obvious to everyone in the company. "Quality by proclamation," by which senior management makes the announcement to the press and/or the employees that "We are a quality company" and then turns the idea over to others for execution, has never worked.

 One sign of commitment is empowerment, which, despite the misunderstandings bred by motivational speakers that the term implies something bordering on organizational chaos, is a powerful concept and a necessary piece of what happens in the relationships between leaders and the led at every level.

 By including references to the role of the quality process in every presentation to employees; investing the necessary money (e.g., to hire outside consultants to conduct the process analysis workshops); personally conducting virtually every recognition ceremony for successful quality teams; and by being a member of a quality team in one of the operational departments (with a supervisor as his team leader), the president of the company has shown his commitment to the quality process again and again.



 If the goal is quality, leadership must be included in the equation; if the goal is productivity, management will be good enough. The difference is that productivity and management are rational procedures with by-the-numbers guidelines while quality and leadership are combinations of rational and emotional components, such as humility, enthusiasm, humor, sensitivity and compassion. (To go out on a limb, leadership is a subset of love… but that's a complex concept for another column.)

 By investing in an intense three-day leadership course for every supervisor and above in the company (110 people), the president of the company underscored the importance of leadership to the quality process and, more important, to the future of the company. In addition, a selection of leadership courses have been added to the company's training curriculum, leadership is one of the every-third-meeting topics for the senior leadership team's monthly meeting and the president of the company periodically gives short presentations on leadership to groups of employees.

100-Percent Employee Involvement--With a Structure

 Every person in the company is on a quality team, with a few serving on two. Naturally, not all quality teams are off to a blazing start: Some are doing extraordinarily well, and others are feeling their way, but everyone knows which team he or she is on and, thus, where to go with an idea to improve anything. In addition, the process analysis workshops are moving from department to department. Process analysis workshops, for the most part, address the question of "Are we doing the right things?" whereas the quality teams, for the most part, address "Are we doing things right?"

 The process is overseen by a quality steering committee and, on a day-to-day basis, by the three members of the quality department--the director of the process (Pat, one of the co-authors of this column) and two quality analysts. While they have a variety of related responsibilities, such as stewardship of the company's strategic plan, their primary role is guidance of the quality teams, and their primary tool is the Quality Idea Tracking Program (described in detail in the November 2000 column).

 Developed in-house, the Quality Idea Tracking Program was the source of the statistics at the beginning of this column. It was designed to make it possible for quality team leaders to record their ideas and detail progress toward implementation--and to enable quality analysts to follow developments throughout the company. Once a quality team leader reports that an idea has been implemented (or whenever the team leader calls for help), one of the quality analysts reviews the idea with him or her, recording all calculations of impact. The program is available for viewing by anyone in the company.

 The other four components of the Complete Quality Process are communication, training, measurement and recognition. These will be the subjects of next month's column--along with examples of how they have been implemented.

 The idea is, of course, not that any other organization should--or could--slavishly imitate this successful implementation. What can be done? An organization could adopt these principles… and use these specific procedures as beginning places as they adapt the practices to fit their own needs, culture and situation.


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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