A client recently made a statement to me that roughly translated as I am concerned about the high cost of doing a quality job. Wow! Talk about not understanding the impact of quality. The organization was hemorrhaging from the consequences of low-quality work in a major software implementation. One of several root causes of that situation was a complete lack of quality management in the software build.
Unfortunately, they were contemplating the same ineffective approach the second time around. It was as if their failure had been caused by some mysterious external factor rather than poor management. If an enterprise software implementation is a disaster the first time around, using the same management approach will produce the very same outcome every time thereafter. Quality must be envisioned and planned from inception. “Once the plans are part way in place, it is too late to build quality into a product.” (Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis (p. 212). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.)
High-quality work is expensive, but you only pay for it once. Low-quality work is unaffordable, because your organization will pay the price forever.
Quality is universal and interdisciplinary
I found my first really good piano teacher when I was 16 and the fundamentals of quality I learned from her still resonate intensely nearly 40 years later. I have yet to master and live up to the standards she taught me in the late 1970s. Over the ensuing years, I learned a great deal from many other fine teachers and mentors, but none instilled in me the work ethic and pursuit of perfection that Bella did.
Bella had been a student of Isabelle Vengerova at the Curtis Institute of Music along with many of the finest musicians of the 20th century. Every week for several years, Bella and Max (her English bulldog) put me through a grueling workout that included a devastating blend of castigation, insults and humiliation. In our second lesson, she told me, “My god, I do believe that is the worst thing I have ever heard.”
I kept going back for more because the value received was far greater than the pain inflicted. She was a chain-smoker and bore a striking resemblance to Max — they were both adorable. Neither she nor Max were proponents of the namby pamby, “I’m OK, you’re OK” coaching and management style that rules today’s world. I had to work my ass off to get a minuscule compliment, and her brutal honesty toughened me up considerably.
Bella taught her students to seek perfection by relentlessly focusing on fundamentals while adhering to the highest standards of quality. “It’s not what you play; it’s how well you play it” she taught.
Most of the managers I encounter could learn a great deal from Bella’s approach to quality management, but only if they could learn to tolerate brutal honesty and the deep introspection that it should trigger. Too much management is based on quantity rather than quality.
Consequences for delivering poor quality
A while back, I had a contract with a generally well-managed company that was 300% over budget on its ERP implementation. The executive team quickly grasped the root cause of this problem: The CIO had championed the project, established business requirements, and managed the implementation. It was his responsibility to ensure that quality goals were met. That company believed in accountability so the CIO decided it was time to retire.
Quality is inclusive
One of the things I like about an agile approach for business process and software development is the inclusion of end users from the very beginning. Agile recognizes that quality is defined by the customer rather than by specifications. Customer-centric quality control is built into the process.
End user participation and input is absolutely essential to creation and validation of quality during the process of building a system, whether it is a commercial product or custom-developed software. Some of you are probably saying, “Jeff, that’s self-evident. Everyone already knows this.”
Unfortunately, everyone does not. Every major enterprise project failure I have studied over the last 20 years has largely excluded end users from the development and quality validation processes. The application was dumped on the plate of the end user with an attitude that said Here it is; you had better like it. In those failed projects, quality was defined by a developer or by managers who would never use the product. Consequently, there is a direct correlation between project failure and exclusion of end users, at least in my experience.
In many of these failures, a traditional project management approach had also been used. Maybe the result was due to the practitioners rather than the approach, though. There is no reason why one can’t modify a waterfall project management approach to include end user quality validation. The only thing likely to get in the way is the ego of the project manager.
Quality creates a chain reaction
I have seen the results of brilliant quality management in many organizations. Outstanding quality is visible when you walk in the door, and you can hear it through a phone in the voice of a receptionist. Every employee in the organization radiates excellence, and the entire organization is just wet and dripping with exceptional quality. One organization that immediately comes to mind is the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, but many organizations do it fantastically well.
When you do it right, the quest for quality becomes part of your organizational culture. You can implement quality in your department, but you’ll find it easier if you have executive support.
Improvement of quality transfers waste of man-hours and of machine-time into the manufacture of good product and better service. The result is a chain reaction — lower costs, better competitive position, happier people on the job, jobs, and more jobs.(Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis (p. 2). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.)
How about your organization? Is it slick and shiny with quality? Or dingy and rundown like a barracks in a Soviet gulag?
If you would like to read more about quality, try the following works:
Out of the Crisis, by W. Edwards Deming.
Managerial Breakthrough, by Joseph M. Juran.
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2016
This article first appeared on CIO.COM at http://www.cio.com/article/3131977/leadership-management/we-cant-afford-quality.htmlby
I have a love/hate relationship with cost-cutting managers. I love it when public sector managers are trying to cut costs but I dislike how all too many managers go about the process. Rather than reducing expenses by improving quality, customer service and productivity, many managers attempt to achieve their goal through parsimonious penny pinching.
MBA in Toilet Paper
I vividly recall one manager with whom I worked in a public sector organization during the late 1990’s. When he was hired, he immediately demonstrated his business acumen by cutting the cost of toilet paper, paper towels, soap and copy paper. The copy paper was so cheap and flimsy that it constantly jammed and broke the copiers. Employees in his office brought in their own bathroom supplies rather than using the stinky soap and sandpaper he was able to save money on.
While Inspector Clouseau was investigating the best deals on toilet paper, there were dozens of malingering FTE’s twiddling their thumbs and failing to make any sort of significant contribution to the organization’s mission and bottom line. Many of those worthless FTE’s worked under his supervision. While he was carefully counting pennies, thousand-dollar bills were flying out the window and floating away like autumn leaves. He made no attempts during his tenure to improve productivity through automation and good management.
Abysmal Personnel Management
The facilities department under Inspector Clouseau’s control was a textbook example of abysmal management. The maintenance staff ostensibly worked from 7:00 to 3:30 with a 30 minute lunch break. They would show up at their shop at 7:00, clock in, drink coffee, stand around and gab for 30 minutes and then head to their work site for the day, generally getting started at or after 8:00. The first break came at around 9:00. There was a high probability they wouldn’t have the required tools or parts, so they would have to run back to the shop or the hardware store to pick something up. At 10:30, they would break to go back to the shop so they could “wash up” and punch out for lunch at 11:00. At 11:30 they would return the shop and gab for a while longer, then arrive back at the day’s worksite by around 12:30. A 30 minute lunch break routinely consumed 2 hours. On a good day, the staff would get in 2 hours work in the afternoon before heading back to the shop for 30 minutes of gab time until they punched out at 3:30. They were all paid for 8 hours but likely only produced 3.5 hours of solid work at best. Even the simplest jobs required at least 2 employees.Cheap toilet paper was more important than productivity.
Deferring Maintenance and Automation
Another public sector manager with whom I worked a few years later was a much more competent personnel and project manager, but he also had a tendency to squeeze a nickel until the bull pooped. He and I had a lot in common: we were both army veterans and we got along well. When he came on board, he cut back on the process automation work I was doing and also deferred a great deal of public works maintenance. He looked like a hero for the first couple of years and then moved on. Pure cost cutters never last long – all the deferred maintenance catches up to them. That contract turned into an amazing bonus for me after he left. Three years of Information Technology and business process work that should have been performed routinely had to be caught up under the new manager. That poor sap ended up looking like a spendthrift.
1950’s Management Theory
My father was a cost cutting manager, which is what he was taught in Business School in the 1950’s. He is 86 now and we still engage in spirited arguments (fights) about the value vs. cost equation. From the 50’s until the 1980’s, American managers were focused primarily on controlling costs while Japanese manufacturers were slowly building a production juggernaut based on quality. They kicked the crap out of us in quality and productivity. W.E. Deming published Out of the Crisis in 1982 and described a new vision for American Management. In the preface, he summed up the situation pretty well:
The basic cause of sickness in American industry and resulting unemployment is failure of top management to manage. He that sells not can buy not. The causes usually cited for failure of a company are costs of start-up, overruns on costs, depreciation of excess inventory, competition—anything but the actual cause, pure and simple bad management.
Quality Comes First
Many manufacturers have adopted Deming’s approach to the improvement of quality in production and services, but few public sector organizations have taken the plunge. I have worked for over 200 organizations during the last 25 years and many are still in the 1950’s when it comes to business processes and customer service. While the rest of the business world has reengineered service delivery models, many government organizations seem to be focused on the convenience of their employees rather than the needs of their customer base. One still has to take time off of work to do business with a government agency since most of these agencies are open only from 8-4 or 9-5 on weekdays. Even the medical profession, a recalcitrant industry if there ever was one, has adopted new business models such as 7X24 walk in clinics.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
In 1992, a few years after getting out of the army, I was in graduate school at the University of Texas and working for a Fortune 500 company. It was there that I was able to see how Deming’s concepts were implemented in the real world. The company was revamping all their processes and retraining staff in order to improve quality and productivity. The results were impressive and the project had the complete support of executive, senior and middle management. It worked.
Cutting Expenses by 35% through Quality Management Alone
A few years ago, I worked with an amazing executive who undertook a project to improve business processes in her public sector organization. She was a committed manager who worked closely with her staff to examine every aspect of the operation in order to identify workflow problems. Rather than setting arbitrary targets for FTE reduction and concerning herself with irrelevant costs, she focused solely on process and quality improvement. By the end of the project, she had reduced staff by 35% (almost entirely through attrition) while improving productivity significantly. That’s what good management looks like.
Is your organization performing at its best? Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss modernizing your business processes, or if you just want to talk about anything else.
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Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016