Six Sigma
Last Word


Quality Management
A. Blanton Godfrey


They're vital elements of a continuous improvement effort.

Some years ago when he was chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp., David Kearns was quoted as saying, "If you can stand the pain, there's no better way of finding out how you are doing than asking your customers." Jeff Hooper of Bell Labs extended that thought by adding, "And if you are a masochist, ask your employees." Even so, there's probably no better way to build a solid foundation for business improvement than conducting a formal self-assessment.

 In the past few years, many companies have refined their internal self-assessments into powerful tools for strategic planning and deployment. In his outstanding book Organizational Self Assessment, Tito Conti stresses the assessment's role as an analysis of an organization's ability to achieve its missions and goals--in particular, its ability to maintain and improve competitiveness in a changing scenario. Conti makes a strong case that these self-assessments are far more useful than third-party assessments such as those provided by ISO 9000 auditors or quality award examiners.

 By using the term "self-assessment," he doesn't mean that the company performs the assessment entirely with its own resources. He believes, as I do, that organizations are rarely able to identify their weaknesses on their own. Self-assessment means that the organization is the active subject of the assessment and doesn't outsource responsibility for a process that's so closely linked to its key strategic decisions. He stresses that the organization should employ all resources--both internal and external--that it believes are necessary to conduct a thorough study of the organization's capabilities and performance.

 Although Conti was a principal author of the European Quality Award and is quite familiar with the Deming Application Prize and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, he finds that the value of the reviews associated with these awards is limited. Their criteria have been carefully constructed and can serve as a basis for creating an excellent business model, but the value of a review that a company can receive from an outside group reading a report and performing a three- to five-day site visit is far less than what it can receive from a well-selected team of specialists performing an extensive, in-depth review of the organization.

 The true value of self-assessment is created when the results of the assessment are used as part of an integrated corporate strategic planning process. By performing these assessments as a systematic and continuing part of the company's planning process, the company is able to maximize the use of the findings to make effective changes in key processes and systems.

 For the past year and a half I've been working closely with an organization that has revamped its entire strategic planning process and its setting of strategic goals. We started the planning process with a meta-assessment. Like many other organizations, this one had conducted a multitude of assessments during the past few years including employee surveys, customer surveys, financial risk analyses, cost-of-poor-quality studies, safety surveys and business performance reviews.

 Each survey, study or review had produced its own lists of priorities and action items. Teams and task forces had been created to address the key issues. At the end of the meta-study, we pulled together the findings in a tabulated and organized set of eight five-inch binders. We then provided all members of the strategic planning committee a summary of the findings and a table of contents and index to the data and results contained in the binders. This was used as input to the off-site strategic planning meetings and the follow-up deployment of strategic goals, sub-goals, annual goals and supporting projects.

 The aforementioned example illustrates one of Conti's most important tenets: Self-assessment should be done backward--at least backward from the way award assessments are usually conducted--and begin with the results. Conti suggests that we first create a complete set of instruments--a control panel--showing results, processes and system factors. After placing everything known about the current business results, we make sure that we have identified all of the key processes that drive these results. Then we collect all the data, information and measurements we have on the performance of these processes. Next we evaluate the systemic factors (leadership, strategies and plans, human resources, other resources, and organizational architectures). "Other resources" include items such as financial resources, information resources, material resources and technological resources.

 The last hint Conti gives for this approach to self-assessment is to avoid weighting the categories, at least at first. The weights assigned by national and international quality award bodies are necessary for comparisons and prizes but are likely to be inappropriate for any particular organization. First, we must ascertain what the most important factors are that determine whether we've achieved our planned results and what the most important results are. Only then will we have the information necessary to properly assign weights that relate to our business challenges and competitive position.

 Self-assessments are among the most important tools added to management practice in the past few years. They should be part of every organization's annual review cycle.

About the author

 A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc., a leading international research, consulting and training company. Contact him by e-mail at agodfrey@qualitydigest.com .

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