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Lean Six Sigma… TQM from Alpha to Omega September 14, 2010

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What is the best current business quality process?  Which business expert represents the strongest variation for quality adjustment?  What can really be derived from a new quality strategy?  What makes an approach popular for a while and then fall out of favor?  Can it be determined what the very best approach is for my business?  What makes a product or service truly “excellent”?    This analysis of Quality Management is meant to expand the basic notion that quality improvement is mainly for a manufacturing application.  The fundamental quality process improvement should be even more critical in a non manufacturing application because of the influence on your People, your Process and your bottom line Performance.

The most expansive business theories have evolved over time with new people putting a slightly different twist or a new spin to make these practices more appealing and ultimately more productive. As you will appreciate, regardless of the tactics, it is strategically more important for all of your people to first understand the basics of “Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” then to jump in and immediately try and implement quality improvements.  A pragmatic approach is all about achieving measureable results and eventually maintaining vital change in a permanent way and realize new team impetus for the entire organization.

As a short history… earliest records show that the ancient Greeks and early Chinese recorded the quality concept of Continuous Improvement.  The roots of today’s Quality Management can be tracked to the early production ideas of the20’s and later concepts pioneered in Japan in the 40’s by Americans; Deming, Drucker, Feigenbum and Juran.  Later Japanese quality experts like Shingo and Taguchi expanded the original models along with newer American quality initiatives extensively written about in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s.

The roots of Quality Assessment and Total Quality Management (TQM) go back to early efforts for uncovering and optimizing the best of breed practices.  In TQM organizations the customer holds a dynamic position and the quality organization measures their progress from the customer perspective. But quality focused companies know that the commitment of the entire organization ( the “total” of TQM) creates an even stronger and more impactful benefit.  The four key targets of the quality approach insures that your product/service be consistent, meet your customer needs, be delivered on a timely basis and is offered at a fair price.  Committed TQM organizations also know that the task of staying competitive is ongoing and also demands continuous monitoring and a strong mechanism for ongoing process improvement.

The overarching success or failure of any Quality initiative is comprehensive participation and purposeful commitment to the entire quality effort.  This approach requires and “all in commitment” from top management, supervisors, and all of your team.  It demands that the process and your people commit to an action that is vital, precisely understood, properly trained for, continually engaged in and vitally encouraged to act upon.  This also means that you nurture an environment that demonstrate to all of your people that they are valued for their input and empowered to learn about the entire process within the cross functional quality teams you will establish.

So what is the main difference between TQM (Deming) and the popular Six Sigma? A quick assessment of the two quality programs is  offers that TQM improves quality by adhering to internal requirements and Six Sigma focuses on improving quality and by reducing defects.  In today’s world the current popular quality efforts also blends together “Lean and Six Sigma” which  adds the critical elements of low cost and increased productivity.  The drive for Business Excellence is a secondary advantage here but potentially more important as the company realizes an empowered work environment and a new sense of the possible with a higher level of personal achievement and product awareness.

A quick assessment of the Six Sigma action program allows for five core steps in implementing the quality changes following the “DMAIC” process;  Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.  The hidden component of the entire program is the emphasis to effectively and regularly communicate your progress.  This communication reaffirms both the needed  action for the implemented changes and also critical interaction with all of the stakeholders.  The last critical element to maintain these changes, is effectively utilizing some form of Kaizen, which means enacting a strong Continuous Improvement program to insure the recording and implementation of the vital changes you have identified.

I was fortunate to be involved with a world class organization that conducted quality efforts throughout the organization. That attitude started with the smallest self-evaluation of all processes, identifying key elements for critical procedures and pursuing a goal of Business Excellence long before it was popular as a business philosophy.  For a final overview let’s take a pragmatic view of business excellence, one  that companies should regularly strive to achieve.  Businesses usually define profitability by the volume of sales, the perceived value that the product/service possesses, and the efficiency with which the product is produced.  To cut-to-the-chase many people simply refer to it as “How fast, how good, and how cheap”.

For Business Excellence each area requires attention and an understanding of techniques needed to  manage them. “How Fast” is a combination of quality manufacturing techniques and cycle time improvement.  “How Good” is enhanced by setting a high level of quality and continuous  improvement.  Finally “How Cheap” is a variety of Rational Management Processes which include cycle time improvement, waste reduction and lean elements as well as a strong commitment to a total value process like Kepner-Tregoe.

In summary this circles back to our original set of questions and ultimately… What does it take to successfully drive a “Quality Management” implementation? We suggest that no matter what else is technically included within a quality program,  the fundamentals of any implementation must :

1)      A fulltime quality leader who oversees a formal process moving forward.

2)      From the top down the organization must be committed and involved in the effort.

3)      Identify the new vision for why and what it is to be accomplished.

4)      The entire business team should be involved, acknowledged and encouraged to contribute.

5)      A system of measurement and metrics is necessary at multiple points in the process.

6)      A dynamic and interactive knowledge management system for improvements and training.

7)      Develop a regular schedule for updates, challenges and new ideas.

8)      Establish your customers as the driver for identifying the areas of effective improvement and the ultimate measure of realized success.

9)      Make the entire process challenging and contagious for all team members  as their motivated involvement is an ultimate and lasting benefit in and of itself.

We can address the essential elements of Quality…  so take the initial steps and  discuss the challenges that you may face.  First you must identify the fundamental challenge you wish  to resolve and secondly  you must understand if you already have in place the team necessary to move forward with a new commitment to real Quality Excellence.

The Performance Detective

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