18
Apr
11

Quality’s Biggest Flaw

Quality is a beautiful thing to experience. In a product or service, quality is evident in its innovative design, attention to detail and flawless performance. From iPhones and iPads, to fine hotels and restaurants, to automobiles and jetliners, the presence of quality is evident – even expected and demanded. The pursuit of quality has been at the forefront of business thinking since post-World War II and the work of W. Edwards Deming. Systems, processes and measurements eliminate flaws to deliver consistent quality. The strides have been extraordinary. I heard Tom Peters once say, “Total quality is no longer optional; it’s simply a ticket to play in the game.”

Yet, with all the gains in delivering consistent quality, consider the millions of cars that Toyota recalled in 2010 due to flaws. Consider the Hubble Space Telescope that was painstakingly designed and built – and launched into space with flawed lenses. Consider the Southwest Airline’s Boeing 737 that recently blew a five-foot by one-foot hole in the rear of the passenger cabin at 37,000 feet. Consider that dinner that didn’t live up to your expectations or that stay at a five-star hotel that delivered a three-star experience. These are all examples where quality is the mandate yet something was inherently flawed.

Last week I gave a keynote at Quality Magazine’s annual Quality Conference. The audience was comprised of leaders and engineers. I asked them, “What is quality’s biggest flaw?” After a few moments of contemplation, I said, “People … people represent quality’s biggest flaw.” With that statement, I shifted their thinking from measurements and standards to the one overriding factor to achieving quality – the individuals whose thinking and behavior drives or degrades quality outcomes.

So if the human element is the biggest flaw in creating quality, consider these no-compromise strategies:

  • It’s about making choices: Behaviors are a choice. Follow the system or process, or take a shortcut. Put in the effort that quality demands, or give less than you’re capable of. If the mandate is producing quality, everyone involved must be mentally and emotionally locked in to producing quality. If it was a failed bolt that caused the hole in that Southwest Airlines flight, the person making that bolt needs to know that lives depend on every bolt meeting exact specs and tolerances. Connect thinking to the outcome and you have a better chance of the right choices being made.
  • It’s about persistent feedback and information flow: Coaches work with athletes to refine their game. Moves are analyzed and fine-tuned to improve performance. Without such persistent feedback, the athletes are left to self-monitor their performance – and over time, performance can degrade. It is so easy for certain aspects of work to become routine, and attention to detail can skip a few beats. If some persistent feedback and information flow could have avoided the Hubble lens debacle, hundreds of millions of dollars could have been saved, and several Space Shuttle missions to fix the problem could have been avoided. If you think you’re giving adequate feedback and information flow, think again. There is always room for improvement. Isn’t that what quality is all about?
  • Leadership: Leaders set the tone, pace, standards and emotional engagement in the pursuit of quality. Leaders who accept “average” cannot achieve quality. Leaders who accept “average” and give almost their best cannot inspire the commitment, dedication and relentless drive that produces quality. Leaders who lead their companies to deliver quality are a special breed. They represent quality in everything they do. They believe in it. They pursue it. They find the right people and resources to create it. They take ownership in achieving quality. If you’re on the relentless pursuit for quality, do you possess these traits?

One last thought: Quality is not a one-time occurrence. It’s consistent and can be duplicated. It endures. And for those who lead it and achieve it, it delivers a sense of fulfillment that is beyond words.

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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click above to comment.

Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.

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