Struggling to scale your business, a holistic Quality Program may be the Answer....

November 30, 2020

In 1950, Japanese businessmen turned to an obscure American W. Ewards Deming to help them rebuild an economy shattered in World War II. He taught Japan’s manufacturers how to produce top quality products economically using a quality program.

The Japanese used that knowledge to turn the global economy on its head and beat U.S. industry at its own game

The biggest difference Deming made to the people of Japan was building their capability by providing methods and tools to think through tough issues.

The big myth is that quality programs such as six sigma, lean etc. are about quality control and statistics. The fact is that a quality program is about driving leadership to be better, by providing tools to think through tough issues.

Emulating the successes of Japanese, organization all over the world used quality programs to change the way they develop their people, the diversity of a company makes it difficult to have a universal training program which gets addressed through an effective quality program.

I have been doing a study of the different quality methodologies for the last 10 years. My observation has been that small companies are not able to take advantage of these tools as they find it difficult to relate and understand how their business can benefit from holistic quality programs

Based on my learning sharing the usefulness of the different quality methodologies in handling various types of problems we come across in our businesses.

The intent of this article is to provide a broad frame work to guide you in your improvement journey to choose the relevant quality methodologies that can help you transform your organization providing world class products and services.

Broadly two types of problems we face in an organization

  1. Identification of a problem, before the customer tells us or a loss has occurred.
  2. Once the problem is identified how to effectively resolve the same

In order to simplify the usage of quality concepts based on my experience, I have developed below a flow chart to help identify the relevant quality methodology to be used for a given problem situation

  1. Identifying an existing problem or prevent a future problem

The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

This is the danger for the inability or unwillingness to react to significant changes that occur gradually.

In most business the processes in an organization grow in an organic form and over a period of time when the business grows and new employees are added there is a strain on these systems which negatively effects the service levels, which our customers are able to notice first (at times internally we are blind to it) and if not corrected will result in silent customer attrition.

The key is to make the implicit problems visible to us first which can either be by

  • Identifying potential failure modes in your business: Brainstorming as to what can go wrong using the Failure mode effect analysis (FMEA) discipline helps us to identify areas of our process that most impact our customers, helps us identify how our process are most likely to fail and points to process failures that are most difficult to detect.

Once we identify the vulnerable parts of our processes we can strengthen them by control checks and strong documentation (International Organization for Standardization methodology (ISO) could be used for robust documentation)

  • Setting up Process Metrics: Business process management system (BPMS) helps in tracking of individual processes, so that information on their state can be seen and proactive action can be taken.

An example of this tracking is being able to determine the state of a customer order (orders most likely to breach the time committed to customer) so that problems in its operation can be identified, prioritized or course correction can be done before the customer is impacted. 

  1. Address an identified problem

Conventional problem solving is “Inch deep and mile wide” i.e. finding out very little of many things, quality improvement problem solving is “An inch wide and mile deep” i.e. finding out very much of a few things that matter the exact “cause of the issue” so that the cause of the issue can be eliminated

Most of the complaints received from the customers are either time related (delay in committed timeline) or not providing consistent service (Product/service not delivering as promised).

  1. Time related complaints: To address the complaints or issues relating to turnaround time (TAT) lean is the best methodology to address this issue. Lean looks at the entire workflow to understand what causes the delay (waste, idle time, transportation etc.) by questioning each step if it adds value to the process.
  2. Not providing consistent service: Errors/rework results in inconsistent service to the customer this happens when the process is not in control. “Six sigma” helps to dig deep with data analysis to find out the cause which makes the process unstable

As most of the organizations have problems relating to time and rework….Six sigma and lean are used complementary by organizations deploying quality.

Innovative solutions to problems

Lean six sigma are best in identifying the causes of the problems however in order to find out the solutions, conventional brain storming method is used which at times does not give the optimal solution.

In order to quickly find the right solutions TRIZ methodology (Theory of inventive problem solving) can be very useful. It works on the principle of somebody, sometime, somewhere has already solved your problem or one similar to it. Creativity means finding that solution and adapting it to the current problem.

Lasting competitiveness comes, when an organization builds something which is difficult to duplicate.

In my opinion the most difficult to duplicate, is building a culture which enables people to think and contribute small improvements on a constant basis improving our systems giving world class products and services and that is best done through a holistic quality program.

Valance Quadros is a Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Chartered Accountant.