Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Management - One Size Doesn't Fit All

Quality Management is a system of organizational structures, processes, responsibilities, policies, procedures and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that an organization is delivering products and/or services to specified standards in an efficient and effective manner.

There are several quality improvement frameworks and strategies.  I do not believe in “one size fits all” methodology.  In my opinion, the best approach is choosing industry best practices and applying them to the framework of a business.  Sometimes, it’s also necessary to borrow from other quality control techniques and integrate these best practices to provide solution for an organization that makes the most business sense.  In addition, it’s also important to know what the goals and motivations are in selecting a certain strategy.

Frameworks I’ve used includes (but not limited to):

Six Sigma – Started by Motorola is a way of reducing defects in the manufacturing process.  It is a quality management methodology using DMAIC problem-solving framework to measure quality, improve processes by increasing performance and decreasing process variation leading to defect reduction and improved product quality.  DMAIC is an acronym for Define opportunity, Measure performance, Analyze opportunity, Improve performance and Control performance.  [Tons of information available online on Six Sigma, feel free to search.]  :)

Six Sigma represents a statistical measurement of variation from a specific attribute or characteristic desired by the end-user and expressed over six exponential layers:

One Sigma = 690,000 defects per million
Two Sigma = 308,000 defects per million
Three Sigma = 66,800 defects per million
Four Sigma = 6,210 defects per million (relatively efficient)
Five Sigma = 230 defects per million (world class efficiency)
Six Sigma = 3.4 defects per million (perfection)

Most books on Six Sigma cite examples on how it’s applied in manufacturing.  However, Six Sigma is NOTonly used in manufacturing.  It’s actually a great tool for driving difficult process problems back to their root causes by applying process analysis and statistical analysis techniques.  I highly recommend it if you want to measure quality in numbers.  The statistical analysis can help detect anomalous variation.  Six Sigma may be very popular but it is not always the best framework to use.

Total Quality Management – Deming is one of my favorite quality leaders who contributed to the work of Juran and Cosby to what’s known as TQM.  TQM is more flexible and suitable to various types of organization.  Its primary focus is on continuous improvement and promoting “quality culture”.  It is applicable to any company that strives to provide customers with products and services that meet their needs and/or expectations.  “Quality Culture” means doing things right the first time and eliminating defects from all aspects of the company’s operations.  I personally like Deming’s 14 Points and also his PDCA cycle.

These are just a couple of many available strategies that can help assess and define a problem, identify goals and how to reach desired end-results to improve quality, processes, and productivity and add value to company performance.  In addition to these frameworks, tools, and techniques, it’s also very important to know and understand high-level planning, organizing, leading and controlling processes which every manager should know how to do by default.  :)

There is no perfect or “one size fits all” approach.  Every company should be well-rounded and be open to other available methodologies and best practices and not be focused on one single approach.  Assess various models and determine optimal solution to problems.  In many cases, it’s not a “one size fits all”.

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