Today business leaders agree that the only way to survive in our competitive world is by obtaining full customer satisfaction through the consistent delivery of high quality products and services. Attaining and retaining customer satisfaction is particularly challenging for companies undergoing significant changes in their operations such as mergers, downsizing or rapid growth.
In order to assure continued satisfaction from your customers, you and your team must first understand what quality is and what it is not.
Quality has been defined in many ways, but today it is equated with achieving customer satisfaction. You should note that customer requirements do change with time and are affected by what your competition is doing. Your competition may create a customer “need” tomorrow that may not exist today.
Quality has also been defined as excellence. This definition implies that you do everything as well as possible every day. The goal is to operate without defects or errors in all areas of the Company. Quality must be built into the products and services as they are planned and designed and procedures need to be developed to make all operations error-free.
Do not assume that the Quality Department alone can control the quality that your customer sees. No one department or group of people can assure Quality without the involvement of every individual in the firm. Quality is everyone’s job. This thinking must begin with the CEO and permeate throughout the organization.
How then, do you build Quality in your Company?
There are many systems that have been quite successful providing organizations, large and small, with the tools necessary for ongoing Quality and Productivity improvements. You may have heard of some of these Continuous Improvement methods, such as, Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, etc.
What these methods have in common is what I call 5 keys to Building Quality:
- Continuous Improvement philosophy
- Consistency in everything you do
- Teamwork as part of the culture
- Routine Measure and Analysis
- Training for all
Strong leadership that understands the Continuous Improvement concept is needed to successfully implement this philosophy. Its implementation is essential for the survival of your firm. You should note that as quality and productivity improve, costs are reduced while, at the same time, customer satisfaction increases. These combined effects produce a double benefit to the bottom line. Companies large and small who have undergone this transformation have been rewarded with long-term profitability.
This philosophy of Continuous Improvement is by its very definition long- term in outlook and should not be viewed as a quick fix for existing quality problems. In order to succeed in this implementation the CEO and his team should engage all employees, vendors and customers in the pursuit of the improvement philosophy.
Consistency is one of the significant elements for Continuous Improvement. You should aim at doing every operation the same way every time. A certain degree of standardization is necessary, but without inhibiting innovation. Consistency should not dampen innovation- you need both in order to grow and prosper!
Make sure that you have written procedures for all your operations. These procedures should reflect what is really happening; having procedures that are ignored is worse than not having them at all. When a new procedure is developed that is more productive or less prone to error, the whole process of documentation and training should start all over again.
Confirm that all operators are following the established procedures, they understand them in principle, and are not doing them robotically. This last point cannot be emphasized enough. It is critical that employees understand the “how and why” of a job. Consistency without such understanding can lead to severe problems in the long-term.
For example, a few years ago an employee at a chemical company was trained to use a scale for weighing an important ingredient by reading some hatch markings on a weighing scale without understanding how to adjust the weights. Despite the improper training, this employee was able to work flawlessly for years until the day the formulation was changed to improve the product.
At that point, the employee was too embarrassed or afraid to say that he did not know how to adjust the equipment for the new formula and started guessing at the proper way to make the needed adjustments and committing weighing errors that initially went undetected. It took several days of poor production before this all came to light. This employee had been considered excellent at his job, so no one suspected that his recent performance would have been the root cause of the problem!
Teamwork is an essential part of doing business these days. The team approach should be engrained in your organization’s culture so that every employee understands his role as a contributor towards the betterment of the Company. Team participation can take many forms such as Quality Circles, cross-functional groups, problem solving teams, project teams, etc.
Measurement and analysis of your operations and your enterprise will help you better understand the critical elements of your operations and enable you to determine when improvements are being accomplished.
Measurement and analysis of your processes will help you deliver more consistent products and services. You can use these measurements to quickly address any problems that occur; reducing their potential damage. When no overt problems occur, the analysis of these measurements will help you reduce the normal variability inherent in your operations thereby improving your Quality and Productivity.
Training and education are the most significant building blocks for Quality. To make all other elements work in concert, your employees need to understand what you are trying to accomplish. They need to know your mission, understand your goals, and be aware that your competition is eager to sell to your Company’s customers.
Training is not an item to be crossed-off on your TO-DO list, but a vital component of your survival strategy. This strategy should incorporate a continuous learning experience, so that each employee will perform competently each day. Through training and education employees gain the pride of workmanship and self-esteem to make them full contributors to the improvement process.
Your people need to be educated in the concept of Continuous Improvement and on the statistical tools needed to maintain the stability of the processes. Every one on your team should undertake this training. Your employees also need to be properly trained to understand the procedures and the mechanical skills required to perform their jobs. It is essential that training be done with full consideration of work environment diversity and with periodical follow-ups to insure understanding. Supervision and management need to be trained in the interpersonal skills needed to succeed in the new work environment.
Continuous Improvement, teamwork, consistency, measurement and analysis, and training are the 5 keys to building Quality in any organization. Training is the glue that binds them together.
How do you to start the process to build Quality?
The logical place to start is with an assessment of your current state of customer satisfaction. You then need to make the commitment to ascertain that your customers will continue to be satisfied so as to assure the long term survival of your firm.
If you are not working at improving your products and services, some day you may find that your competition has been doing just that. By then, it may be too late!
Authored by: Enrique Bekerman, Quality Manufacturing Associates, Copyrighted 2003 , All Rights reserved.
Contact Enrique at 954-856-8810 or mailto:[email protected] or visit