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You Can Not Be the Best if you Are Striving to Be Average

Six Sigma, ISO standards, TQM all concentrate on continuous improvement. In the process of implementation though, a lot of the concentration of effort is on failures, errors, etc. This gives quality improvement a negative focus. In order to achieve zero defect means that your product and process is perfect as it is and the best thing to do is to get to zero defects. I believe that this philosophy is flawed and gives quality a bad rap. Management tends to respond to negative aspects as is. A lot of attention is given to those employees that do not perform.

Putting all your efforts into stabilizing the process and reducing of errors takes resources away from looking at what makes the process great and making it better. It is ironic that everyone is looking at off-quality when trying to improve the quality of the product.

Paradigm Shift - audit to see when the process performed at its best!

Most companies perform audits and analysis of their processes. Through all years of my auditing and consulting I have seen many Pareto Charts. Not one of these diagrams looked at when was best quality achieved. They all were focused on failures and errors. Although it is important to know how errors and mistakes are made shifting the emphasis to best quality will not only help quality but the personnel morale.

Imagine two scenarios:

I- There has been an error and a shipment was not delivered on time. You go to employees and interview them asking them what went wrong? Who will jump up to tell you it's all my fault.

II- There were five orders delivered to the customer right when they wanted them. Who will jump up and tell you what they did to make these orders go perfectly fine.

At Foqus, Inc. we try to focus on quality more than off quality. Rather than always looking at what went wrong we look at what went right. As we monitor our processes using statistical methods we give equal time to the high end of the data as we do to low end of data. We try to look at what conditions were occurring to achieve the highest quality of product or service. We try to analyze which variables were important to control to achieve the highest quality.

You can spend the time on reducing defects to near zero, or spend the time on improving the characteristics the customer really loves. Focusing solely on defect reduction assumes that you have designed a perfect product and perfect process to start with. There is always room for improvement.

I am not saying that stabilizing your process is unimportant. If you do not stabilize your process you will have a difficult time determining what caused a perfect product or service delivery.

When employees are not following the process it doesn't always mean that they are defiant or lazy. Sometimes they experiment to try and simplify or improve things. Punishing them for it may stifle your companies creativity.

This concepts has bugged me for years why is "quality" all about "off quality".)

If you look at the definition of Quality (from on 8/1/07):

a subjective term for which each person has his or her own definition.
In technical usage, quality can have two meanings:

1. the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated
or implied needs.

2. a product or service free of deficiencies.

Yet when we think of quality we do not think of being satisfied, we want to be wowed, thrilled and magically transformed. Do we want a product that is free of deficiencies? No! We want a product that says - you made the right choice when you chose this restaurant or that bottle of wine. We want our customers to think they were smart to buy our products because they just purchased the best there is.

When we think of quality we think excellence, high grade, superior, we want more!

Here are some terms that I would like to redefine:

Cost of Quality = Profit from Quality

Quality Control = Quality Optimization

Cause and Effect Analysis = Result and Potential Analysis

Fault Tree Analysis = Success Tree Analysis

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis = Success Mode and Effect Analysis

Corrective and Preventive Actions = Proactive and Inventive Actions

I'll give you another example right from the web site of Joseph M. Juran on 8/1/07:

Breakthrough improvement is carried out by adhering to a universal sequence of events:

1. Identify a business problem—something wrong with a product, service, or process that impacts the performance of the business

2. Establish a project

3. Measure and Analyze the current process to establish precise knowledge of baseline performance

4. Generate and test theories as to the causes of the poor performance

5. Prove root causes of the poor performance

6. Develop remedial improvements—changes to the process that remove or manage the causes of poor performance

7. Establish new controls to prevent recurrence and to sustain the new standards

8. Deal with resistance to change

9. Replicate the result and start a new project

How about identifying the things that went right and finding out the source of excellence and multiplying the conditions that created this source. I realize that this concept may be a paradigm shift for you and your organization.

If you look at the definition of Six Sigma (from on 8/1/07)

Six Sigma is a set of practices originally developed by Motorola to systematically improve processes by eliminating defects.

Again the main focus is on elimination of defects. If you are trying to change your ways you will not get much help since a lot of quality and excellence documentation and books are concentrated in the area of solving problems, and eliminating errors, etc. You will not find to much literature that will help you analyze what went right. Although the same tools can be applied to do this analysis, you will need to make a paradigm shift in your thinking to be able to utilize them. So your old Pareto may have looked like this:


************** Meal was late
************Meal was too cold

********Waiter spilled the soup
***The check was late
**The bathrooms weren't clean

The new Pareto Chart might look like this:


************** Food was delicious
************The waiter was friendly and interacted well with the customer
********Each customer found an item of interest on the menu
***The waiter brought food when the customer was ready for each course
**The atmosphere was relaxing

So where would you like to put your effort to improve quality? The customer might not even notice that the food was late if the waiter handles it well. You may be focusing all your efforts on making sure the meal is not late but if the food arrives few minutes late but it is absolutely out of this world the customer will not remember when he or she got it. On the other hand if the food is late and it's not edible, you could stand on your head and the customer will not be satisfied. So where do you want to spend your effort in making sure meals aren't late or in making sure that all meals are delicious?

Your feedback always welcome.

Danuta Highet

Foqus, Inc. April 29, 2008


[1] -from the web site of Joseph M. Juran on 8/1/07

[2]Notice: This article is licensed under the <a href="">GNU Free Documentation License</a>. It uses material from the <a href="">Wikipedia article ""</a>.

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