1. RATIONALE FOR CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT
Continual improvement is fundamental to success in the global marketplace. A company that is just maintaining the status quo in such key areas as quality, new product development, adoption of new technologies, and process performance is like a runner who is standing still in a race. Competing in the global marketplace is like competing in the Olympics. Last year’s records are sure to be broken this year. Athletes who don’t improve continually are not likely to remain long in the winner’s circle. The same is true of companies that must compete globally.
Customer needs are not static; they change continually. A special product feature that is considered innovative today will be considered just routine tomorrow. A product cost that is considered a bargain today will be too high to compete tomorrow. A good case in point in this regard is the ever-falling price for each new feature introduced in the personal computer. The only way a company can hope to compete in the modern marketplace is to improve continually.
2. MANAGEMENT’S ROLE IN CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT
In his book Juran on Leadership for Quality, Joseph Juran points out that although most upper managers do not feel it is their place, it is essential that they actively participate in any continual improvement efforts. It is not sufficient that
they promote continual improvement through their words or directives, or that they establish the policies that set it into motion, and then hand it off to subordinates to execute. Countless examples of such hands-off leadership prove that failure is the inevitable result.2
Management can play the necessary leadership role— and that essentially is its role—in continual improvement by doing the following:
- Establishing an organization-wide quality council and serving on it.
- Working with the quality council to establish specific quality improvement goals with timetables and target dates.
- Providing the necessary moral and physical support. Moral support manifests itself as commitment. Physical support comes in the form of the resources needed to accomplish the quality improvement objectives.
- Scheduling periodic progress reviews and giving recognition where it is deserved.
- Building continual quality improvement into the regular reward system, including promotions and pay increases.
3. ESSENTIAL IMPROVEMENT ACTIVITIES
Continual improvement is not about solving isolated problems as they occur. Such an approach is viewed as “putting out fires” by advocates of total quality. Solving a problem without correcting the fault that caused it— in other words, simply putting out the fire—just means the problem will occur again. Quality expert Peter R. Scholtes and his colleagues recommend the following five activities, which he sees as crucial to continual improvement (see Figure 19.1):
- Maintain communication. Communication is essential to continual improvement. This cannot be overemphasized. Communication within improvement teams and among teams is a must. It is important to share information before, during, and after attempting to make improvements. All people involved, as well as any person or unit that might be impacted by a planned improvement, should know what is being done, why, and how it might affect them.
- Correct obvious problems. Often process problems are not obvious, and a great deal of study is required to isolate them and find solutions. This is the typical case, and it is why the scientific approach is so important in a total quality setting. However, sometimes a process or product problem will be obvious. In such cases, the problem should be corrected immediately. Spending days studying a problem for which the solution is obvious just so that the scientific approach is used will result in $10 solutions to 10-cent problems.
- Look upstream. Look for causes, not symptoms. This is a difficult point to make with people who are used to taking a cursory glance at a situation and putting out the fire as quickly as possible without taking the time to determine what caused it.
- Document problems and progress. Take the time to write it down. It is not uncommon for an organization to continue solving the same problem over and over again because nobody took the time to document the problems that have been dealt with and how they were solved. A fundamental rule for any improvement project team is “document, document, document.”
- Monitor changes. Regardless of how well studied a problem is, the solution eventually put in place may not solve it or may only partially solve it, or it may produce unintended consequences. For this reason, it is important to monitor the performance of a process after changes have been implemented. It is also important to ensure that pride of ownership on the part of those who recommended the changes do not interfere with objective monitoring of the changes. These activities are essential regardless of how the improvement effort is structured.
4. STRUCTURE FOR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT
Quality improvement doesn’t just happen. It must be undertaken in a systematic, step-by-step manner. For an organization to make continual improvements, it must be structured appropriately and quality pioneer Juran calls this “mobilizing for quality improvement.”4 It involves the following three steps:5
- Establish a quality council. The quality council has overall responsibility for continual improvement. According to Juran, “The basic responsibility of this council is to launch, coordinate, and ‘institutionalize’ annual quality improvement”6 It is essential that the membership include executive-level decision makers.
- Develop a statement of responsibilities. All members of the quality council, as well as employees who are not currently members, must understand the council’s responsibilities. One of the first priorities of the council is to develop and distribute a statement of responsibilities bearing the signature of the organization’s CEO. Responsibilities that should be stated include the following: (a) formulating policy as it relates to quality; (b) setting the benchmarks and dimensions (cost of poor quality, etc.); (c) establishing the team and project selection processes; (d) providing the necessary resources (training, time away from job duties to serve on a project team, etc.); (e) launching quality improvement projects; (f) establishing quality measures for monitoring progress and undertaking monitoring efforts; and (g) implementing an appropriate reward and recognition program.
- Establish the necessary infrastructure. The quality council constitutes the foundation of an organization’s quality effort. However, there is more to the quality infrastructure than just the council. The remainder of the quality infrastructure consists of subcommittees of the council that are assigned responsibility for specific duties, project improvement teams, quality improvement managers, a quality training program, and a structured improvement process.
Source: Goetsch David L., Davis Stanley B. (2016), Quality Management for organizational excellence introduction to total Quality, Pearson; 8th edition.