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Eston Martz

Quality Insider

Does the Impact of Your Quality Initiative Reach C-Level Executives?

Chances are it doesn’t

Published: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 18:22

Here’s a shocking finding from the most recent “ASQ Global State of Quality” report: The higher you rise in your organization’s leadership, the less often you receive reports about quality metrics. Only 2 percent of senior executives get daily quality reports, compared to 33 percent of frontline staff.

A quarter of the senior executives reported getting quality metrics on a monthly basis, at least. But just as many reported getting them only on an annual basis.

This is simultaneously scary and depressing. It’s scary because it indicates that company leaders don’t have good access to the kind of information they need about their quality improvement initiatives. More than half of the executives are getting updates about quality only once a quarter, or even less. You can bet they’re making decisions that affect quality much more frequently than that.

It’s depressing because quality practitioners are a dedicated, hard-working lot, and their task is both challenging and often thankless. Their efforts don’t appear to be reaching the C-level offices as often as they deserve.

Why do so many leaders get so few reports about their quality programs?

Factors that complicate reporting on quality programs

In fairness to everyone involved, from the practitioner to the executive, piecing together the full picture of quality in a company is daunting. Practitioners tell us that even in organizations with robust, mature quality programs, assessing the cumulative impact of an initiative can be difficult, and sometimes impossible.

The challenges start with the individual project. Teams are good at capturing and reporting their results, but a large company may have thousands of simultaneous quality projects. Just gathering the critical information from all of those projects and putting it into a form leaders can use is a monumental task.

But there are other obstacles, too.

Teams typically use an array of different applications to create charters, process maps, value stream maps, and other documents. So the project record is a hodgepodge of files for different applications. And because the latest versions of some documents may reside on several different computers, project leaders often need to track multiple versions of a document to keep the official project record current.

Results and metrics aren’t always measured the same way from one team’s project to another. If one team measures apples and the next team measures oranges, their results can’t be evaluated or aggregated as if they were equivalent.

Many organizations have tried quality tracking methods ranging from homegrown project databases to full-featured project portfolio management systems. But homegrown systems often become a burden to maintain, while off-the-shelf project portfolio management solutions created for IT or other business functions don’t effectively support projects involving methods like lean and Six Sigma.

Reporting on projects can be a burden. There are only so many hours in the day, and busy team members need to prioritize. Copying and pasting information from project documents into an external system seems like nonvalue-added time, so it’s easy to see why putting the latest information into the system gets low priority—if it happens at all.

Reporting on quality shouldn’t be so difficult

Given the complexity of the task, and the systemic and human factors involved in improving quality, it’s not hard to see why many organizations struggle with knowing how well their initiatives are doing.

But for quality practitioners and leaders, the challenge is to make sure that reporting on results becomes a critical step in every individual project, and that all projects are using consistent metrics. Teams that can do that will find their results getting more attention and more credit for how they affect the bottom line.

This finding in the ASQ report caught my attention because it so dramatically underscores problems we at Minitab have been focusing on recently—in fact, last year we released Qeystone, a product portfolio management system for lean Six Sigma, to address many of these factors.

Regardless of the tools used, this issue—how to ensure that the results of quality improvement initiatives are understood throughout an organization—is one that every practitioner will likely grapple with during his career.

How do you make sure the results of your work reach your organization’s decision makers?

Discuss

About The Author

Eston Martz’s picture

Eston Martz

For Eston Martz, analyzing data is an extremely powerful tool that helps us understand the world—which is why statistics is central to quality improvement methods such as lean and Six Sigma. While working as a writer, Martz began to appreciate the beauty in a robust, thorough analysis and wanted to learn more. To the astonishment of his friends, he started a master’s degree in applied statistics. Since joining Minitab, Martz has learned that a lot of people feel the same way about statistics as he used to. That’s why he writes for Minitab’s blog: “I’ve overcome the fear of statistics and acquired a real passion for it,” says Martz. “And if I can learn to understand and apply statistics, so can you.”