Quality

Quality management is one of the hottest topics in management and in discussions about achieving competitive advantage. Especially service quality…Because the so called “western” world is more or less hopeless to compete against cost and labour advantages in production of China , India and the like. Services and high quality service chains will define te future of western economies. So I am going to talk about service quality today. What kind of services? Huh, basically you can name it : laundary service, IT consulting services, the entertainment services in a life concert…. At the end of the day the core of services will be the same. On the other side being an IT manager, I reckon I will be heavily biased Smile
Starting with the culture
Oftentimes when you get to hear someone talking about quality, all you hear is buzz wors like Six Sigma, TQM, continuous integration, bla bla bla. The quality, especially in services sector is all about leadership and culture in the company. It is the people , not the process described in 600 pages or some framework that leverage the quality and increase the added value.  So the very first step in creating outstanding quality is creating the quality culture and the visionary leadership advocating for it.
I think there is no unique recipe for that but still it comes to basic management practices every manager gets to hear in every management training, book or discussion:
  • Set goals and vision for your organisation and show management’s commitment to them (include and focus quality when doing this)
  • Reward developing and learning members of the team.  I have recently read this great sentence in a book “People follow learners. They will not follow knowers.”
  • Quality is a team work, there is no place for command and control in that game. Delegate , delegate and empower your people!
  • Status quo = decreasing quality. I recommend reading this sentence at least 5 times a day.

Defining quality and updating the definition regularly

It is really important that quality is a concept that team members providing services can define and identify themselves with. Like business and services , the definition and meaning of quality for an organisation should evolve and change with time. The quality  of today is not quality of next year ,maybe not even next month.

Defining and measuring product quality is much easier : there is  huge collected experience in the world about product quality. Services on the other side are more complex by nature and the supply chains for services are still not mature in most fields. Therefore controlling and assessing tangible and intangible parameters are still ambiguous and far from being standardized.  One of the attempts in this direction is the SERVEQUAL dimensions , developed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry. SERVEQUAL stands for reliability, responsiveness, competence, access, courtesy, communication, credibility, security, understanding the customer, and tangibles.  Another researcher Chakrapani  talks about the 3 basic methods of service quality : basic quality , continued availibility of quality, exceeding expectations. Taguchi, the Japanese engineer and cofounder of modern quality theory, says that consistency, uniformity and minimal variance are critical to quality.

I will not discuss about each dimension mentioned but I do believe agreeing on some dimensions, paramaters (whatever you call it) is the right approach to set the scope and the associated goals related to services. It helps the management and the work force to get clear and more focused on the shared objectives for themselves and for the services they provide, triggers the natural tendency of the team to be  creative and innovative to reach desired results.

Defining and understanding the quality for the organization must be a process, the dimensions and the target levels should be remembered, reviewed, updated and repeated regularly. (very regularly. once a year in company meeting is not the quality I am talking about Wink)

Implementing A Quality Management System

One of the standard and wiki-like definitions of a QMS is  : a management system to direct and control an organization with regard to quality. Depending on the size , purpose and resources of the organization the quality system to be implemented can vary. It might be a Word document defining the basic processes and the critical known metrics. Or it can be a whole big detailed paradigm like Six Sigma or something like ISO standards complience that might affect the organization ,  hierarchy and work practices of people.

On the bottomline, such a system has to be effective , it has to cover all your vital activities and processes that drive your competitive advantage and core business. Effective meaning, it should not create more paperwork (at least not without a VERY good reason) and yet another process to ignore or hate for the employees. It must help people do right things in a right way the first time and every time.

Using simple , efficient (almost no brainer) methods and tools can help :

  • Checklists
  • Benchmarking (with some other org that is better than you)
  • Flow charts, visual presentations of processes
  • Stakeholder surveys and monitoring of trends
  • Root cause analysis to find the causes of problems and fixing them
  • Experimenting/prototyping

Of course big fishes (Fortune 500 and the like) play in a much different league. They depend on quality management to sustaing growth and ensure survival. So the do invest a lot of resources on quality and follow more formal processes.

And…Remember KISS principle : keep it simple sexy!

Light bulb PS : From Six Sigma,TQM, Kaizen to ITIL , everything I see and read brings me back to Edward Deming and his PDCA (Plan , do, check , act) cycle.  I highly recommend performing an online search about Deming and his work to everybody who are interested in this topic.

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About fuesunw
Computer Engineer & IT Manager

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