TL 9000
Six Sigma
Gage Guide



by Mary Hattrick and Eugene E. Hutchison

In 1997, key players in the telecom industry founded the Quality Excellence for Suppliers of Telecommunications Forum to produce new approaches to quality management by fostering continual improvements to the quality and reliability of telecommunications products and services. The work of the QuEST Forum yields benefits to all sector stakeholders, specifically telecom service providers and their customers and suppliers. Those benefits are being enhanced as the Forum builds upon its foundation of initial successes by pursuing business excellence.

 The QuEST Forum's first products—the TL 9000 handbooks containing sector-specific quality system requirements aligned with ISO 9001:1994 and standardized industry quality system measurements—provided an innovative approach to untangling a complicated set of industry requirements and measurements. Prior to the TL 9000 handbooks, quality system requirements and measurements differed within each customer-supplier relationship, creating a bewildering array of approaches to managing supply chain performance.

Telecom Performance Improvement Model

Today, there are standardized sets of ISO 9001:2000-aligned quality management system requirements and measurements for the industry, to which 167 telecom organizations held certificates of registration as of Feb. 25, 2002. Many more are using the handbooks to improve their processes without pursuing registration. In addition, a benchmarking data repository has been developed to enable Forum members to compare their performance with that of others in the industry.

 When the QuEST Forum went global in 1998 with its first European conference in Brussels, Belgium, the feedback from the European community was that a QMS standards approach such as TL 9000 was a good thing that, nevertheless, had its limits. In effect, the message was that TL 9000 and other sector-specific standards are good tools but only as starting points, not end solutions. There was much more energy around the idea of business excellence models and an awareness that different tools were needed at different points in the quality management maturity journey that every organization faces.

 So since 1998, one of the QuEST Forum's objectives has been "to drive continual improvement of telecommunications industry performance." The focus then became how to help companies in the telecom sector continually improve their performance.

 To help answer this question, a work group was chartered in 1999 to address the European preference for BEMs and to widen the Forum's focus to include business excellence approaches to performance improvement. The Business Excellence Acceleration Model Work Group represents the QuEST Forum's initiative to promote business excellence and provide tools and resources that will support the telecom industry's drive toward business and performance excellence. The international BEAM Work Group has included members from Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom, as well as from the United States.

Business improvement and quality maturity

 In exploring BEMs—and organizations in general—the BEAM Work Group found that organizations often move in steps from QMS conformance to performance improvement as their quality management experience increases. Their management systems typically start with conformance-based requirements standards. QMS measurements are added, and then the systems evolve to integrate business excellence approaches as organizations build upon each previous step they've taken, as depicted in the Telecom Performance Improvement Model. However, some organizations have made the decision to bypass QMS standards and use BEMs as their primary methodology or quality management system. To be truly successful, this approach requires strong, continual commitment and leadership by top management.

 The Telecom Performance Improvement Model shows a hypothetical relationship between business results and QMS maturity, with the QMS initiatives deployed and the movement from "conformance" thinking to "performance" thinking. However, this hypothesis doesn't preclude organizations from moving directly to business/performance excellence deployment. The model does show the relative scope and impact of the various quality approaches and initiatives.

 Standards such as ISO 9001 and TL 9000 (as captured in the QMS Requirements Handbook) tend to be conformance-based, meaning there are specific, often prescriptive, requirements that must be met. If a company meets these requirements, it can claim it conforms or complies with the standard. The addition of QMS measurements with TL 9000 and the more process- and continual improvement-oriented focus of ISO 9001:2000 has resulted in these "conformance" standards progressing toward "performance," which involves continual business improvement with sustained results. To further the "performance" progression, there are BEMs, which are enterprisewide and performance-based, meaning that there are nonprescriptive, guiding criteria that outline the concepts or ideals of an excellent organization and management system.

 The telecom industry has begun to see the results of applying BEMs and quality principles with recent quality award winners. In 2000, Karlee was a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient and Nokia won the European Quality Award, which is administered by European Foundation for Quality Management. Other past award winners include AT&T, British Telecommunications, Corning, Ericsson, Motorola and Solectron. In light of this, the BEAM Work Group has sought to answer two key questions:

  What do these companies and others like them know that others in the industry can learn from?

  How can we share that knowledge with the rest of the industry?

      In the quality profession, there's a proliferation of hot tools and buzzwords, such as advanced product quality planning, BEMs, ISO 9000, lean manufacturing, quality function deployment, Six Sigma and total quality management. Much time is spent sorting through these systems, approaches and tools. This has led to confusion, especially when one or more tools is being touted as a cure-all. Perhaps it's better for those responsible for performance improvement to be viewed as handymen/women improving their respective "houses" by expanding or increasing the types of tools in their toolboxes. Today, those toolboxes include all of the aforementioned tools plus many more. The challenge is understanding where the house needs fixing and improving, what the vision of an organization's dream house will be and then selecting the best tool(s) at the right time to work toward building that dream house.

Integration of BEM and Strategic Planning Process


BEAM strategies and realizations

 The BEAM Work Group is currently pursuing various strategies to help telecom companies benefit from the experience and knowledge of quality award winners and others that have achieved performance excellence. Those strategies have focused the Work Group's efforts on several key business excellence goals, including:

  Continued development and improvement of the BEAM Work Group's Strategic Planning and Improvement Guidance Handbook, which provides business excellence guidance specific to the telecommunications industry

  Identification of good and best practices, with the goal of developing a repository to give members quicker access to resources and practices that could help them improve their processes, operations and products

  Development of processes to encourage and support the deployment of existing BEMs

  Establishment of a liaison with the BEM administrators—NIST/MBNQA and EFQM, to start—and exploration of areas of mutual interest, such as development of a telecom-specific BEM guidance document

  Promotion and recognition activities to stimulate interest in business improvement and the results that can be obtained

 The BEAM Work Group reviewed the predominant BEMs (e.g., Australian, Baldrige, EFQM and South African) and found that the same general concepts, principles and criteria were covered in all of them, with a few differences in specific criteria or in the weighting of certain criteria derived from regional preferences. Thus, the Work Group discovered that helping more organizations in the telecom industry apply the principles of business excellence was more important than having a telecom-specific set of criteria or business excellence model.

 The BEAM Work Group realized that, to assist organizations with the application of business excellence principles in the telecom industry, the industry needed guidance specific to its current problem areas and improvement initiatives. In response, the group has developed the Strategic Planning and Improvement Guidance Handbook, which provides guidance, examples and resources for specific telecom industry issues.

 These specific telecom issues include:

  Managing continual business improvement

  Managing organizational and cultural change

  Encouraging and managing innovation

  Technology and knowledge management

  Strategic partnering

  Strategic supply chain management

  Life cycle planning and management

  Optimizing time-to-market

  Efficient product delivery and support

  Network reliability and availability

 An organization can use the Guidance Handbook in several different ways. It can be used on a stand-alone basis or as a checklist to develop ideas for business and process improvement. It can also be used for component consideration in the formulation of business strategy, objectives and plans, and it provides ideas for "gap closure" following a business excellence model self-assessment. This last method is depicted in Using the BEAM Guidance Handbook at the Company Level on page 35.

 Using the BEAM Guidance Handbook at the Company Level


When it comes to the idea of conducting a self-assessment aimed at performance improvement, the Work Group recommends that an organization use a BEM. Which one an organization chooses is not going to make a large difference, as they differ in emphasis but not significantly in content. The insight the organization will gain can be as important as making improvements in response to gaps found during the assessment. To gain the most value from the self-assessment process, an organization would be best served by integrating the self-assessment results with the strategic planning process and/or annual budgeting cycle, as represented in Integration of BEM and Strategic Planning Process on page 34.

 The BEAM Work Group's research and analysis have so far identified the following activities a telecom company can undertake to improve its performance and thus improve the industry overall:

  Conduct a self-assessment using a BEM . This is an important first step in determining where gaps exist, what the organization's QMS and business performance levels are and where they need to go.

  Leverage the experience of others. Benchmarking is an effective method for both assessing your organization by comparison with industry leaders and identifying good and best practices that would benefit your organization.

  Apply for a state, national or regional quality award. From the Baldrige on down, quality awards usually involve an application process and assessment by judges, both of which will provide your organization with objective feedback, experience with the pursuit of quality and business excellence, exposure to best practices-level thinking and the opportunity to evaluate its processes against criteria.

  Mentor smaller companies . Often the best way to learn and improve is to offer assistance and guidance to others, which reinforces the lessons and performance opportunities your organization needs to leverage. In addition, your organization, and others that deal with these companies, will benefit if the result is improvement to their business processes and QMS effectiveness.

Where the BEAM work group is going

 The BEAM Work Group remains focused on identifying BEM elements and developing strategies that can help improve performance in the telecom industry. Through surveys of and discussions with QuEST Forum member companies, the BEAM Work Group has found that most companies want to continue progress up the quality maturity scale but often struggle with the "how."

 Even with an understanding of all the various tools in the toolbox, there is still a need for specific, relative examples (e.g., good or best practices). In other words, can examples be identified that suit the telecom sector, and/or can they be interpreted to make them more accessible for telecom quality professionals and their organizations? The Work Group continues to address these questions by developing methods for the collection, selection and presentation of best or good practices through a database repository and its annual Best Practice Conference.

 For more information regarding the QuEST Forum and the BEAM Work Group, visit the QuEST Forum Web site at www.questforum.org. For more information regarding the Baldrige Award, visit the NIST Web site at www.nist.gov. For more information regarding the European Quality Award and the EFQM model, visit the EFQM Web site at www.efqm.org.


About the authors

  Mary Hattrick is co-chair of the BEAM Work Group and senior manager of quality systems for the Global Supply Chain unit of Marconi, one of the 11 original TL 9000 pilot companies. She has more than 12 years of experience in quality assurance, project management, manufacturing and management consulting and is responsible for leading the implementation, assessment and support of global QMSs at Marconi. Hattrick was previously an independent consultant serving the automotive and consumer electronics sectors in the areas of QMS and business assessments using various standards and models, as well as providing TQM implementation, training and project management. She has been the primary QuEST Forum liaison for Marconi and a BEAM Work Group member since 1999 and has served as an examiner for the California Governor's Quality Award and most recently as an assessor for the European Quality Award, administered by EFQM. E-mail her at mhattrick@qualitydigest.com .

 Eugene "Gene" E. Hutchison is co-chair of the BEAM Work Group and program manager of global quality systems at SBC. He previously led SBC's Supplier Quality Management Organization, redirecting the organization's strategic focus and programs, which led to the founding of the QuEST Forum. Hutchison has served as a chief architect and developer of TL 9000 and the BEAM project and has led the QuEST Forum's Liaison Delegation to ISO/TC 176 and its Working Group 18, which drafted ISO 9001/4:2000. Before joining SBC in 1996, he served in quality assurance management roles in a range of manufacturing sectors, including aerospace, computers, medical devices, semiconductors and telecommunications, and has implemented and managed several ISO 9000 and FDA/GMP quality systems and built a variety of large-scale quality management organizations. Hutchison is also an ASQ-certified quality manager and an examiner for the 2001 California Baldrige Award Program. E-mail him at ehutchison@qualitydigest.com

 Letters to the editor regarding this article can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.

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