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Dawn Bailey

Management

Which Way to Operational Excellence?

Improvement is a journey, and the Baldrige Criteria is a great guide

Published: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 16:03

Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
Toto barks at the scarecrow.
Dorothy: Don’t be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don’t talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It’s pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

When it comes to new business improvement initiatives, there are several directions that one can go. Typically, however, the most successful initiatives are built on lessons learned about what has worked, what hasn’t, and the desired outcomes. Of course, one could just start from scratch.

In the past 30 years, several criteria and standards have come onto the scene so that folks don’t have to reinvent the wheel when they want to conduct strategic planning, learn leadership best practices, adhere to standards, or improve a product or process. The satisfaction that comes from improving (or winning an award to validate the improvements) is universally understood as a good thing both for an organization and for the people (including customers) involved. But what can be learned along the way is often underestimated.

Celebrating short-term gains along the way

The word “journey” is not always a well received because it connotes something that takes a long time and can be arduous. Dorothy had no idea what her journey would be like when she set off on the yellow-brick road, and oh how she learned along the way. Any Baldrige Award recipient will tell you that short-term gains need to be celebrated, because sooner or later those short-term improvements lead to long-term achievements that can improve an entire culture.

There are many paths to operational excellence each with its own benefits. Implementing the Baldrige Excellence Framework (or simply using it as reference material) is one path. Applying for the Baldrige Award is a way to focus on what needs to be improved, what resources to prioritize, to gain feedback, and generate motivation for improvement initiatives. But there’s some misunderstanding about the benefits of the application process.

The Baldrige Award is not a consumer award that compares companies. It can’t be purchased. It’s not a certification, although most award winners consider it a stamp of approval. Then what’s so special about the Baldrige Award that the leaders in a government agency, a manufacturer (including its individual plants), and a business will take the time to apply? What does applying for the Baldrige Award have that other awards’ application processes don’t?

I would posit that only the Baldrige Award uses a framework that looks for improvements across the entire enterprise: In other words, it uses a systems perspective so that you are improving your whole organization, not just optimizing one area. Applying for the Baldrige Award brings an organization unbiased feedback from a cross-sectional team of experts within a leadership development program.

Baldrige and ISO 9001:2015

Another path to operational excellence is complying with ISO 9001:2015, which is an international quality management system (QMS) standard. It presents fundamental management and quality assurance practices that can be applied by any organization,” writes Craig Cochran in his book, ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English (Paton Professional, 2015).

The new iteration of ISO 9001 has moved even closer to what the Baldrige framework offers, which is a greater focus on each organization’s unique issues, planning, environmental challenges, and change management. For example, ISO 9001:2015 adds organizational knowledge as a new requirement and has expanded the role of top management and process management.

However, “ISO is not intended to be an enterprisewide performance improvement system,” says Joseph A. DeFeo, chairman and CEO of Juran Global, during a recent webinar. ISO standards provide good quality control and quality assurance, but ISO 9001:2015 is still far away from looking at the whole enterprise. “Even the head of the ISO quality control technical committee will say that the ISO criteria are only about a quarter of what you need to do to make an enterprise successful,” DeFeo says.

“It is the opinion of this author that ISO 9001 serves as a good foundation for a total quality organization,” Jerry Green writes in “Moving Beyond ISO 9001” on the Phytel blog. “It requires that a healthy quality management system be in place, and that core processes are standardized and followed. However, it does not require evidence of positive trends over time or a comparison of results to assess a company’s competitive position. ISO 9001 certification is gradually becoming a requirement for doing business in many industries, [however,] to remain competitive, organizations need to go beyond ISO 9001.”

Note that Category 7 of the Baldrige Excellence Framework has always focused on business results and strategy.

According to Jack West, lead U.S. delegate to the ISO Technical Committee 176, which is responsible for the ISO 9000 family of standards, “The new standard followed a process-based approach to quality management aligned more with the way a business is actually run.”

This process-based approach is already paramount in the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

David Briggs of Baldrige Award recipient KARLEE agreed that the revised ISO 9001 standard “adheres more closely to the Baldrige Criteria,” particularly in measurement of customer satisfaction.

“Guiding quality efforts by the Baldrige Criteria seemed to be a way of incorporating all that ISO 9001 would accomplish, but gave us a lot more feedback in terms of ways we could improve in the future,” says Steve Wells, president of Baldrige Award recipient Los Alamos National Bank.

The Deming Prize offered by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers is technical and encompasses a lot of diligence, but it’s not quite as robust across the system as Baldrige, according to DeFeo. The Deming Prize came before the Baldrige Award, so many lessons learned were written into the Baldrige framework.

The Shingo Prize and model with its guiding principles tends to be of interest mostly to manufacturers. “I like to tell people on your way to being excellent in your manufacturing company . . . win the Shingo prize first then go on to win Baldrige,” says DeFeo. “There’s a pretty good chance it is a stepping stone. People like Dr. Juran and Dr. Deming said very clearly it is criteria that if spread among all of us will make society a better place, and if we keep forgetting that, we’re going to keep falling on our laurels.”

Dorothy once said, in The Wizard of Oz, “If we walk far enough, we shall sometime come to someplace.”

But wouldn’t it be great if we had the Baldrige Criteria to guide our way?

First published Feb. 11, 2016, on the Blogrige.

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About The Author

Dawn Bailey’s picture

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience (18 years at the Baldrige Program) working on publications and education teams. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.