Quality Management

by A. Blanton Godfrey

Blitz Teams

The time is ripe for organizations to review
their quality improvement team process.

One of my colleagues, John Early, did a special study a few years ago titled "Why It Takes So Long." A leading organization asked John to study why their quality improvement teams took so long to get results. Many of their teams were taking more than a year to complete a project. What John found there was not too surprising. Since then, we have reviewed several other companies and found the delays remarkably similar.

The time spent on quality improvement projects breaks down into about one-third useful time and two-thirds wasted time. Management accounts for well over half of the excess time. John did a Pareto diagram of the actual delays due to different causes. Nearly six weeks were lost due to team members being unable to dedicate sufficient time to the project. Senior executives added another five-and-a-half weeks of delay by failing to confront resistance to changes implied by the solution or even resistance in providing data, analysis time and access to needed information.

The lack of pre-existing measurement criteria added another five weeks. Many teams were forced to develop the needed measures first and then collect the required data. Often, they then had to "sell" the measurement to the management team. On average, teams wasted another four-and-a-half weeks by starting out with a vague, debatable mission. They frequently had to rewrite the mission statement and meet with the senior management team again and again until they had a specific, measurable, acceptable mission. Many teams wandered off course rather than focusing on vital symptoms, causes and solutions.

These delays probably sound far too familiar to many of us working in quality these days. But what can we do about them? Several organizations have challenged the status quo. Boeing, the Mayo Foundation, St. Joseph's Hospital, Aid Association for Lutherans, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals are a few of the organizations that have radically changed the speed of their teams. One of my colleagues, Mary Williams, has been pioneering the idea of "blitz teams" with some of these organizations.

There are many interesting aspects to these "lightning fast" quality improvement teams. The Mayo Clinic's experience is typical and very informative. Blitz teams devote significant blocks of time to meetings-often full days. They meet frequently, several times a week. A trained, experienced, highly effective facilitator is assigned full time to the team. The team also has full-time analytic support. When the team meets, they work hard. Most of the routine work is done outside of meetings. Data collection, analysis, detailed flowcharting and even many early cause-and-effect studies are done off-line.

But probably the biggest change in blitz teams is the careful crafting of the project up front by the management team. Because almost 45 percent of lost time occurred in identifying and establishing the project, management must take this responsibility seriously and carefully select projects with available data, draft clear mission statements and launch the team's project with a running start.

The Mayo Clinic and other organizations are now completing major projects in five to six weeks rather than 12 to 18 months. Two of their first blitz-team projects resulted in cost savings of more than $300,000 each. Just doing the net-present-value analysis shows the value of fast action. But there are other advantages to blitz teams. It is much easier to get managers and teams to participate intensely on a five-week project than on a one-year project. Also, much less "catch-up" time is needed at the start of meetings.

For many organizations, the time is ripe to review their entire quality improvement team process. Blitz teams may be a good candidate to add to the process.

About the author

A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. in Wilton, Connecticut. Each year the Juran Institute hosts its annual conference on quality, IMPRO. Many of the ideas for these columns come from the presentations given at IMPRO by leading companies. IMPRO96 will be in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 31­p;Nov. 1 and is cosponsored by Quality Digest. This year's IMPRO includes a special session on blitz teams.

More information is available on the Internet at http://www.juran.com, or you can send questions to Blan at godfrey@netaxis.com. Or you can call Juran Institute at (203) 834-1700.