Mike Richman  |  10/03/2008


We shouldn’t have to make time for quality.

I woke up yesterday morning at 6 a.m., downed a glass of juice, showered, got dressed, grabbed my briefcase, and ran out the door. I arrived at the office at 7 a.m. Waiting for me were nearly 50 e-mails; a couple of them were junk, but most were from actual humans to actual, little ol’ me. When did I get so popular? Soon thereafter the phone started ringing--advertisers, subscribers, contributors, vendors, trade partners, etc., etc., etc. By 7:30, I was already way behind.

At noon I ran out for a quick break. I drove through Wendy’s for lunch and ate while scurrying around doing a handful of personal errands. Then it was back to the office for more e-mails, more phone calls, and more meetings; 5 p.m. came around before I knew it. Contact from the outside world slowed down a bit, at which point I finally turned my attention to the editing of this magazine--you know, the quality assurance job that’s my chief responsibility. After three intensive hours of proofing and editing, I returned home, ate dinner, paid some bills, and went to sleep. So far, today’s been pretty much like yesterday--and I expect tomorrow to be the same. Personal time? Family time? Social interaction? What are those things?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. The relentless drive for efficiency, although great for an organization’s bottom line, creates increased workloads for employees who survive the layoffs that sometimes accompany outsourcing and offshoring initiatives.

This is far from an optimal situation for anyone in any area of business. However, for a knowledge worker whose core competency is quality assurance, the repercussions of too much work and too little time can be disastrous. Those of us who choose quality for a career are by nature painstakingly thorough, with an intense attention to detail. Investigating and untangling fouled-up processes demands this very high level of focus, and to do it well requires not only knowledge and experience, but also a certain period of reflection and repose, too.

My fear is that, as our responsibilities continue to grow exponentially, we’ll find ourselves with less and less time to do what we need to do, which is to think strategically and help our organizations improve. Quality isn’t something that you make time for--not if you want to do it right.

So much for the simple part. Now, what do we do about it? My suggestion for C-level managers is to realize that your lieutenants, in all departments but most especially quality, need adequate time to focus on their chief tasks. Instead of arbitrarily piling more work on those who can handle it, see if some things can be streamlined or even eliminated. Simplify.

For quality professionals, the same applies. While you’re reengineering your organization’s processes, reengineer your own, too. If you’re overloaded with fringe work that’s not core to quality improvement, work with your managers to see if those tasks can be delegated, downgraded, or chucked altogether. You must ensure that you’re spending adequate, productive hours on improving processes and eliminating defects. After all, that’s what you get paid to do.

I’m taking my own advice to heart by looking at all of my processes. Going through this analysis requires an upfront investment in time (ugh), but I’m encouraged by the fact that it will soon allow me to focus on higher value-added tasks--or even that ever-elusive social life.


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Mike Richman