Six Sigma
Last Word


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

"That's Impossible!"

"That's impossible," said a student in a quality auditing course at the Tarrant County Community College in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. "You can't do that." She was reacting to something that Pat (the director of the quality process that we have chronicled in the past months) had just said.

 Pat was filling in for the instructor for one night--just to give the night class students (all working in the quality field) a bit of information about a "real world" case. Pat had begun his class by saying:

 "If point A is the day on which the senior management team of a company makes the informed decision to 'do quality'--and point B is the day on which there is a quality process in place that actually involves every single person in the company and has, in place and evolving, all of the components of a Complete Quality Process (top management commitment, leadership, training, measurement, recognition, etc.) and the process is bringing benefits to the bottom line, how long should it take to get from point A to point B?"

 Pat then said, "I'll ask each of you, then I'll put my answer on the board, and we'll get on with this class." He asked each of the six class attendees and recorded their answers of three years, five years, 10 years, three years, seven years, and two years. He then wrote "6-8 months" on the board, next to their estimates. It was then that the student said loudly: "That's impossible. You can't do that!"

 Pat replied, "Well, what I am going to do in the next hour and a half or so is describe the theory behind my timeline and then describe for you what we have actually done at my company over the last several months."

 The still-loud response: "That's impossible."

 "Now wait", Pat countered. "What I'm going to spell out for you are facts, the actual things we have really done."

 "It can't be done."

 "Actually, it can be, and this is not the first time I've helped it to happen," Pat responded. "I was the director of an effort that did it in 1984 and, as a consultant, I helped a few companies do it. Now I am part of another effort that's met this timeline."

 The student was not convinced. But she did stop protesting, and the class proceeded. At the end of the class, she left quickly--looking perplexed.

 As regular readers of this column know, the Insurance Center has met all of the criteria for going from "point A" to "point B" in a little less than six months. At the end of last month's column, it was promised that this column would be "devoted to describing the pieces and parts that would have to be studied, adopted in principle, and adapted in practice in order to" duplicate the Complete Quality Process (CQP) at the Insurance Center.

 The first step (based on the reaction of the student) may well be the rational and emotional acceptance of the possibility. With that comes the knowledge that the implementation of a quality process is not a serial operation in which one step is done at a time, with each part completed before the next one is attempted. CQP implementation requires a great deal of simultaneous activity, which, to be honest, makes it harder to do, but it also makes it all the more exciting and challenging a process in which to be involved.

 Keeping in mind that a good many of these efforts took place during the same time frame or, at the least, during overlapping times, following is a list of the primary accomplishments prior to the launching of the Quality First process:

* Early education. In February, Pat had one-on-one meetings with virtually all managers in the company, explaining what he meant by "quality" and the general outline of what he would be suggesting. In March, the company managers went through four half-day classes on quality (one on leadership, one on participation, one on measurement and one on "How will we do this?") before being asked if they thought the company should proceed. The decision to proceed was a unanimous call by the management team rather than the more traditional seduction of a senior executive by a smooth-talking consultant. It was the date of that vote, March 28, which was used as point A in the example for the college class.

* Strategic planning. The organization had not had, in anyone's memory, a specific plan for the future. To begin the transition from being a reactive organization to being a proactive one, the president of the company made the decision to proceed with a series of strategic planning workshops in April and May to facilitate the company leaders coming to agreement on where the company was going in the future.

* Early involvement. The Interim Quality Program was little more than a computer-based suggestion program with a limited awards structure; anyone who submitted an idea received a coffee cup. But it served to get the discussion started at all levels of the company by inviting everyone to take part. More than 400 ideas were logged into the system between April 4 and Sept. 14, when the "quality team" aspect of the Quality First process was officially inaugurated.

* Early communication. The quality process was part of every presentation to any large group of employees, beginning Feb. 4. The biweekly "I See Quality" newsletter began appearing in April. The employees chose the name "Quality First" in a companywide vote. The Interim Quality Program gave the director of the process the opportunity to talk directly with hundreds of employees about the process. As noted in earlier columns, there were weekly phone messages available and posters throughout the company.

* Leadership training. Both to improve their abilities as managers and to prepare them all the more to be Quality Team Leaders, every supervisor, manager and executive in the company was sent through a very intense, and very expensive, three-day leadership course in July or August. Not only was the instruction invaluable, the message sent by the investment of time and money was one more piece of the positive communications about the quality process. All team leaders also went through a day-and-a-half team leader course.

* Quality Steering Committee. Their meetings began in June with a simple charge: Define the quality process and oversee its implementation and evolution. A committee of 25 drew representation from every division and every layer of the company. The process, as suggested and discussed in those classes back in March, was refined and implemented.

* Quality Idea Tracking Program. The tracking program, the primary tool to be used while managing the team component of the Quality First process, was developed in-house in August and September.

* Quality department. For the 700-person company, the Quality Department consists of three people: Pat and two others (John and Candace) who had no prior background specifically in "quality." John and Candace do, however, know the company well, are each blessed with a great deal of common sense, have wonderful senses of humor, and are both very creative and fast learners. Their primary job is to help the quality teams and to certify implemented ideas. In addition to that, they are involved in all aspects of the evolution of the process.

 All of these were pulled together between February and September. This can be done--but there must be unwavering support from the top leadership in the company and there must be a willingness to improve, to actually change. And there must be a plan. A Complete Quality Process blueprint would be a good start. Next month, this column will be used to spell out the components of a Complete Quality Process, along with examples. An update on the quality team totals (ideas, financial impact, etc.) will also be included.

 This can be done!


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 .


Menu Level Above

This Menu LeveL

Menu Level Below

[Contents] [News] [WebLinks] [Columnists]
[Harrington] [Crosby] [Six Sigma] [Godfrey] [Townsend] [Marash] [Last Word]

Copyright 2000 QCI International. All rights reserved.
Quality Digest can be reached by phone at (530) 893-4095. E-mail:
Click Here

Today's Specials