Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Can I Practice What I've Preached?

Tough decisions are even tougher when you're keeping your stakeholders in mind.

After 40 years of devoting my life to the quality profession, I'm now writing this column from a very different perspective. I find myself in the role of the people whom I've spent so many years trying to change. In January 2000, I ended my career as the international quality advisor for Ernst & Young to accept the position of CEO at Systemcorp, a privately owned mid-size Internet-software development company. This new assignment presents me with a set of problems and opportunities that I've never before faced.

 It's been said that everyone should have three careers in his or her life, and this is my third. My first career was in the very protected environment of IBM's quality assurance de-partment. My second was as a performance-improvement consultant (first as president of Harrington, Hurd and Rieker, then as a principal with Ernst & Young) helping other organizations improve. Now, for the first time, the buck stops at my desk. My leadership and decisions affect the livelihood of each of the organization's employees. As a quality professional, I worried about the external customer, and now I have to worry about all of the stakeholders. The real question is, will I be able to live up to the advice I have given so freely to many CEOs over the years? For example:

 Put quality before cost and schedule.

  Take care of your quality problems, and your cost and schedule problems will take care of themselves.

 Your customers come first--before all other stakeholders.

 When making a decision, involve all of the employees who will be affected by the decision.

 Team decisions and team consensus are always best.

 Empower all employees to make decisions related to their jobs.

 Remember that you can never provide your employees with too much training.

 Measure executive error rates.

 Opt for self-managed teams--they outperform professionally managed teams.

 Live by the motto that "good enough" is not good enough.

 Get rid of multiple suppliers of the same commodity.

 Implement and maintain an ISO 9000-based quality management system.

  Use poor-quality cost to define your organization's improvement opportunities.

 Before I was hired, the major shareholders in Systemcorp made it very clear that my future would be based upon my minimizing new product development costs and maximizing profits during the next 12 months to help the company fund future expansions and new product development. It was a clear mandate from my primary customers. The big question is, can I satisfy my customer without compromising any of the concepts that I've been preaching for the last 40 years? For example, how would I handle the following dilemmas?

1. The development lab has performed all of their tests on a new product, and quality assurance wants to rerun them to ensure that there are no problems. However, we're already behind schedule; if quality runs their tests, we'll miss our committed delivery to our customer. Would I compromise and drop the quality assurance test?

2. Would I sign a contract to deliver a software package if I didn't have all the resources but believed I could hire or subcontract the work?

3. My primary subcontractors are staffing firms. Would I keep only one approved supplier for JAVA professional-contract personnel and drop the other two? What if I needed 10 JAVA programmers on a project for five months and my single supplier had already committed 95 of his 100 qualified JAVA programmers?

4. We have a very compressed schedule for the next 12 months. I'd like to provide at least 40 hours of training for each employee, but that's equivalent to the cost of adding two additional salespeople to my understaffed sales team. How much quality training would I provide to my employees?

5. We're not registered to ISO 9001. Would I reassign one of my lead programmers or key managers to the job of documenting and implementing our quality system?

6. Would I document design reviews if no problems are detected? Would I want to document contract reviews? Signing the contract would commit both my financial and human resources. How would documenting the contract review add real value, and who would use it?

7. Some of my customers are interested in the organization reaching a computer maturity model (CMM) Level 3, but we've had no requests from our customers related to ISO 9001. The programming community recognizes CMM Level 3 status as a set of requirements that are more stringent than ISO 9001 requirements. Would I ever want to be registered to ISO 9001?

 Step into my shoes for just five minutes. Look at each of the previous situations and determine whether, in order to maximize the organization's total performance, your actions would compromise any of the basic quality beliefs espoused in ISO 9000 and total quality management methodologies. Make a basic assumption that any new expenditure will take away resources from some other area.

 Please e-mail me your conclusions. I'd like to know in which (if any) of the seven situations you would compromise if you were CEO.

About the author

 H. James Harrington is CEO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com .

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