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Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Must We Sell Quality

In ASQ President, Paul Borawski’s blog post this month he asks how do you sell quality. My first thought is why must we sell quality. If you define quality as satisfying your customer and taking pride in what you do can we not expect this as a given. What does this say about the culture of an organization where this is not expected nor encouraged?

For me there are two uncompromising principles we must engrain into everything we do:
1) Safety first – Nothing is so important that we can’t take the time to do it safely.
2) Build in Quality – Quality cannot be inspected into a product therefore we must build quality activities into our processes.

Selling implies we must persuade the value of quality. The benefits of which are well known:

  • Poor quality increases defects found by customers therefore increasing labor costs on identifying and correcting these defects. Defects are expensive to fix, and the later in the process they are detected, the more costly they are to fix.
  • Poor quality increases your baseline costs. If an organization releases poor quality, it will likely need a large number of support representatives to help with customer issues. These dedicated expenses cut into time and money spent on new development.
  • Releasing poor quality causes delays with customers and lost revenue. Once doubt creeps into the minds of customers, they may delay purchasing new releases, allowing others to gain the business.
  • Poor quality diminishes your reputation and market share. Your brand and its reputation is your most valuable asset. In today’s highly connected environment, it is easy for a few dissatisfied customers to spread negative reviews.
After safety, quality must be the organization’s highest priority. In lean manufacturing one of the principles we teach is to build in quality. Many think it is only about eliminating waste but that is too minimalistic. Quality issues result in all sorts of waste. Waste in logging defects. And waste in fixing them. As a result, lean principles specifically seek to address this point.

Philip Crosby coined the phrase "quality is free", meaning that the absence or lack of quality is costly to an organization, e.g., in money spent on doing things wrong, over, or inefficiently. Conversely, spending money to improve quality, e.g., to reduce waste or improve efficiency, saves money in the long run.

I am not naïve enough to think this a given. Leaders must make a long-term commitment to quality improvement. It is the managers' policies and actions that indicate their commitment to quality. Individual leaders must set an example by providing consistent, focused leadership in this area.

Quality is obviously extremely important, or you inevitably create all sorts of waste further down the line. We must build quality in. Build it in as early as possible in the process to avoid quality issues materializing. And build it in throughout the entire development process, not just at the end.

In my opinion successful businesses are those that not only sell quality to their employees but make it part of the culture or what they do daily. The organization must make quality a top priority for everyone in the company, from top managers to the workers building product. The final product and goal of the organization is creating value for consumers.

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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  1. Have you given any thought to the benefits of quality of intangible product, e.g., a service?

    Poor service quality doesn't necessarity mean defects that warrant or require repair.

    Although I agree with your premise that it is preferable to sell quality, there is, particularly in IT, the concept of subsistence service where the poorest service acceptable by the customer is the goal.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Kathryn, I don't think in concept there is much different in terms of Lean and Quality between service and manufacturing businesses. Value is always derived from the customers perspective. I firmly believe you get what you pay for in principle. Lean is a process that seeks to optimize the value for the customer in the most efficient means possible. I don't believe that means poor service. But what you are probably trying to say is something to the effect of providing the minimum amount of service. And to that I don't agree either. If you strive for the minimum service and not the best value you won't be in business long. The company that provides the most effective value in the most efficient means will gain the business. Don't lose sight of your priorities.

  2. Nice post Tim. Love your bullet points detailing the benefits of quality. I also completely agree that we need to build quality into our systems from the start rather than trying to detect it at the end. I am curious how you go about building that quality culture in your organization? We often struggle with meeting performance and productivity goals while still maintaining a high level of quality.

    1. Ian, the struggle you describe is all too common. I am actually coming from a very quality conscience culture though it wasn't always that way to one that isn't. I was brought on board to specifically change the culture so it is a good question you ask. I think this warrants a post but I will give you a tip but subtle tip. Of course you need to set the tone that quality is of the utmost importance. For me it is the second priority after safety. We all have struggles when meeting customer demands. These struggles are what allows us to create a meaningful culture. So the next time a leader is s advocating getting those parts out watch the manner in which is said. Does the leader say "When I am going to have those parts to ship?" or "We need 100 pieces by Friday." These only emphasize expediency. What if the leader said "Is the process performing to standard?" or the leader went the product area see the status (visual board with ahead or behind)? Because if we are following a standard process we are not taking short cuts and compromising quality. Our systems should be visual enough we can see the status at a glance. If the team is behind help support continuous improvement. If we set a plan based on a standard production process there should be no trouble meeting it if we follow process. Issues can be elevated immediately for the team to resolve.

      Ian my point with all this is in how we emphasize our objectives. If we want quality we must advocate so every time we speak.