Picture Picture Picture

Drowning in Data Beats Dying of Thirst

by Pat Townsend
and Joan Gebhardt

Picture Picture

Information constitutes the lifeblood and lubricant of a healthy quality process. Because employees at every level resent being treated like mushrooms (i.e., kept in the dark), the best place to start sharing information is within the quality process itself.

This month we'll describe the quality team tracking program used at Paul Revere Insurance Co. during its 100-percent employee involvement, team-based Quality Has Value process. Conceptually, the process was fairly simple. As employee teams made decisions to change procedures in every corner of the organization, there had to be a documented trail of what happened when--if for no other reason than to be able to trace back to the root of a decision that developed into a problem for another team.

Tracking programs abound, many left over from the days when quality circles flourished. The difference between those programs and the Paul Revere Quality Team Tracking Program concerns both focus and attitude. Quality circle tracking programs focus on process. Thus, the information gathered mainly concerns who attends the team/circle meeting, how long it lasts and what steps the team completes in the organization's particular problem-solving sequence. Facilitators or other quality professionals review this information and guide the team toward a better meeting the next time. The process involves oversight and surveillance from above.

The QTTP focused on results. Quality analysts reviewed teams' ideas and the ideas' decision-making status. Status choices included: 1 = Just getting started; 2 = Put aside, but we hope to get back to it; 3 = We're not going to do it, but we'll leave it on the system in case another team is interested; 4 = It's completed; 5 = It's been certified by Quality Team Central.

Anyone at Paul Revere could view the status database, although only team leaders could change their teams' files. Surveillance occurred, though mostly from below. When the process first began, many people chewed up time surfing through the entire database to see what other teams were doing. While this led to some wasted time, it also helped build momentum for the process.

Within a month, however, the sheer volume of posted ideas prohibited a casual stroll through the entire database, so people became more selective. They looked at their own team's file, their colleagues' and boss's team files, and the file belonging to the company president's team, known as The Big Guys.

This put a great deal of low-key but steady pressure on managers at all levels. It's impossible to merely talk the talk when subordinates have access to a record where everyone receives equal treatment. Most team processes maintain tracking systems seen only by quality professionals, who then must convince laggards to start contributing. Such persuasion proves particularly difficult when the slowpokes are senior-level managers. Why should only one or two people play police? Knowing that an entire organization is following your activity offers far more effective encouragement.

How did the process work? Whenever a team decided--whether during a formal team meeting or informally in the hallway--to consider implementing an idea, the team leader would enter the idea as a status of one. During the succeeding hours, days or weeks, the status would change to a two, three or four as appropriate.

Every week, the four quality analysts in Quality Team Central reviewed all the fours new that week, usually about 120-140 from the 125 teams. The analysts split up the list and contacted team leaders whose teams had one or more fours.

The conversation between the quality analyst and the team leader began something like this: "I see that your team logged a couple of fours last week. When can we get together to talk about them?"

Note the sequence. First, the team implemented the idea. Then the idea was reviewed and certified by a quality analyst. Of course, if a team requested assistance prior to implementation, help was given in large doses. Obviously, the four analysts couldn't check all 125 teams at every stage without incurring a huge slowdown in the process. Thus, flooding the system with information ensured its free flow because no one was in a position to stem the tide.

The four quality analysts certified ideas for the following reasons:

*To ensure that an implemented idea would benefit the company and not hamper another team's activities and processes. Of the first 25,000 ideas implemented, fewer than a dozen were retracted. The assumption that people knew how their ideas would impact other employees proved valid.

*To check savings and impact calculations. One team's $1,000 savings for the company had to equal another team's $1,000. The numbers had to have integrity.

*To decide if the idea warranted broadcasting companywide for others to emulate.

*To determine when to initiate appropriate recognition, gratitude and celebration for a team's efforts.


Analysts used generosity and common sense as semi-official guidelines when reviewing an idea's merit. After the calculations were checked, the analyst told the team leader that the idea was certified, and the team leader changed the idea status to a five.

Toward the end of the QHV process's first year, the company president asked the quality director for the names of teams who hadn't yet achieved bronze recognition, which signified either 10 certified ideas or fewer ideas totaling at least $10,000 in annual value. Rather than punishing underachievers, the president sought to encourage teams before the year-end quality celebration. The quality analysts discovered that five teams fell into this category. Ultimately, only one out of 125 teams failed to achieve the bronze recognition the first year.

Idea activity remained so high that the process director briefly lost faith about midway through the second year. "How long can this last?" he asked a group of surprised team leaders. "We've been getting 120-140 fours a week for more than a year and a half." Finally, one leader replied, "Why should it slow down? We're building on each other's ideas, and the world keeps changing. All we're trying to do is stay a little bit ahead."

Now if someone would just explain why virtually all quality teams have goofy, or at least humorous, names ...

About the authors

Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and four books: 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); and Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997).

E-mail them at  ptownsend@qualitydigest.com.


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