A few years ago, a friend told me about overhearing her five-year-old daughter lecturing her three-year-old sibling, "Why did you leave your pajamas on the floor? You know you'll just have to pick them up again and that's rework!" Only then did my friend realize to what extent she'd been bringing her work home. Frequently, people tell me stories about the many quality concepts and tools they have brought home and how much easier those tools have made everyday tasks.
Many household jobs can be improved easily, although some may need drastic reengineering. My wife and I, for example, hate paying bills (real surprise). For years we survived this onerous task by alternating the responsibility. She would do it for a few years, then it would be my turn. Neither of us was any good at it. The checkbook remained an unbalanced nightmare, and often we'd forget to pay something important. Then we decided to reengineer the entire process.
First we decided to work together and share the burden. We quickly flowcharted the process and divided up the work. We purchased software that promised to help us easily keep a check register and print checks. Then we purchased the required checks and special envelopes. I like the computer stuff, so those tasks are mine. My wife opens, sorts and organizes the bills. I balance the books and print the checks; she stuffs envelopes, puts on stamps and files the paid bills. What used to be an onerous six-hour task causing endless bickering is now a teamwork exercise that we can accomplish in less than an hour on good days.
For a while I thought -- as did many of my friends -- that I'd become quality crazy, what with influence diagrams for building a fire on Christmas Eve, Gantt charts for planning the garden around our new home and control charts for the water softener. But I found many kindred souls who also were using quality improvement and planning tools for various household tasks.
Then I had the pleasant opportunity of teaching a portion of several courses at Harvard University with Harry Roberts of the University of Chicago. Harry is co-author of a wonderful book, Quality Is Personal: A Foundation for Total Quality Management. In it, Harry and Bernard Sergesketter document experiences of AT&T managers and students from the university's executive programs demonstrating how quality methods were applied to personal lives. During the courses, Harry had each of the medical students plan and conduct a personal improvement project based on the book's ideas. Each student shared his or her plans, the data collection and, finally, the results. Projects ranged from increasing journal reading, to reducing weight, to making major life changes.
For the past few years, Scott Ventrella, a professional colleague, has taught a course on personal quality management at Fordham Business School. I've shared with Scott's classes an easy concept to implement personally: strategic quality planning, or hoshin kanri. Many of the concept's general objectives used by companies can apply to our everyday lives: financial, community service, people (or family), individual growth and learning, and bottom-line results. These results may include educational or career goals, major personal milestones or other measurable achievements.
Some of the quality concepts used in our companies translate quickly to the home; in fact, we probably implement them there easier than on the job. One is customer-supplier relationships. Most of us intuitively understand the importance of long-term relationships with major service suppliers. These relationships emphasize trust and the quality of service provided. Price is secondary, or at least we quickly learn that hiring the cheapest plumber, auto mechanic or carpenter isn't always cost-effective in the long run. We know the value of going to the same barber or hair stylist, the same dentist and doctor.
Another nearly intuitive idea is root-cause analysis. At one time or another, we've all implemented our own versions of quality improvement or problem solving while finding a leak in the roof, tracking down unusual noises in the car or eliminating a strange odor from under the sink. We've also learned how hard it is sometimes to maintain the gains on some of these improvements -- or to remove the true cause of failure.
During the past few years, quality concepts, tools and methods truly have become a way of life in many leading U.S. companies. Quality is now becoming a way of life in many homes.
About the author
A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. at 11 River Road, Wilton, CT 06897.
© 1998 Juran Institute. For permission to reprint, contact Godfrey at fax (203) 834-9891 or e-mail agodfrey @qualitydigest.com.