How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

The Future of Quality is Revolutionary

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

In his August post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks “Is the future of quality evolutionary or revolutionary?

My answer is unequivocal: it’s revolutionary. We’re going to need new models for business, new models for education, and new models for living if we are to satisfy the stated and implied needs of an increasingly interconnected Internet of people and things, where the need for sustainability will (in many cases) trump the desire for growth.

“Quality is the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” — ISO 9000, para 3.1.5

New models, however, aren’t always necessary. We can continuously improve elements of old models to increase quality, and the need for this won’t disappear. The future of quality includes evolutionary advancements, but won’t be defined by it, as we emerge into new collective paradigms for management. We’ve already experienced this once (in the late 1980’s and 1990’s), and we’re about to feel the reverberations of another shift.

A Harvard Business Review blog post from July 30 (“Management’s Three Eras: A Brief History”) explains why. The first two eras that we’ve had experience with are organization as machine (the era of Taylorism), and organization as knowledge and knowledge flows (as popularized by people like Peter Senge and Tom Davenport). Methods for establishing and improving quality have been defined, refined, and flourished in these two eras.

But the third and emerging era, according to this article, is the age of empathyorganization as a vehicle for creating complete and meaningful experiences:

“Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences. I would argue that management has entered a new era of empathy.”

Although we have some available approaches for quality improvement in this kind of era, they are incomplete: Voice of the Customer tools, for example, may make our experiences with products and services efficient, effective, and satisfying — but possibly neither complete or meaningful. How do we, for example, create mechanisms to assess and improve quality in the sharing economy? In decommodified environments? In our own personal lives?

What do you think? Share your ideas in the comments.

What is Innovation? Towards a Universal Definition

In 2013 the ASQ Innovation Think Tank defined innovation as "Quality for Tomorrow"

In 2013 the ASQ Innovation Think Tank defined innovation as “Quality for Tomorrow”

What is innovation? It’s become such an overused management buzzword over the past couple decades that, when I told my very esteemed executive woman friend that I was planning to write a book on innovation, she groaned. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Everybody does that.”

Just today, Fast Company published an article asserting that we really need a commonly accepted definition for innovation to “weed out the truly innovative from the rest”. Its author, Stephen Uban, goes on to explain that the solution to this dilemma is the (apparently new) Innovation Standard that has been developed by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA).

Is innovation a new product line? Does it represent an improved process for efficiency? Is it a great idea?

The answer, simply, is yes.

Stephen Uban in Fast Company, 8/1/2014

I went to the PDMA web site and found that you can purchase this standard, along with all the models necessary to build your “innovation management system”, for $749. I’m not a fan of high-priced “standards” in general, especially when they don’t have an established track record, but many of the elements are extremely well captured by traditional quality management systems (e.g. reducing waste, understanding current capabilities, improving against benchmarks).

We’ve been through this before.

I agree with Uban’s quote, above, but I also strongly believe that we can all get on the same page regarding what innovation is all about without obfuscating things further.

In 2008, I proposed that we should just extend the ISO 9000 (3.1.5) definition of quality to define innovation as the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy future stated and implied needs.”

This is perfectly aligned with the 2013 report from the ASQ Innovation Think Tank that establishes innovation as “quality for tomorrow”, and also with Max McKeown‘s definition of innovation as “a new idea made useful (by whatever means)” — which includes the creative practice of combining and recombining ideas and information to yield new value.

Quality as a Cultural Vision: My Week in Japan

japan-treesIn his July post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy reflects on the immense value of an ultra-clear organizational vision. After a trip to Sweden, where he attended a quality conference organized by the European Organization for Quality (EOQ), he was struck by IKEA’s starkly elegant focus on its customers’ needs, and Volvo’s BHAGgy(*) goal that no one will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by 2020.

This past June, I went to Japan for the first time. It wasn’t a work trip, so I didn’t visit any companies or do any plant tours. I didn’t intend to learn anything about quality, despite the obvious opportunities. And quite frankly, I wasn’t really sure I would enjoy Japan, or feel comfortable in that country, despite my profession’s obvious ties to that country’s insights and contributions to knowledge!

Why? Well, two reasons. The first is that I have some deep-seated emotional issues associated with Japan. It’s kind of like that time I was 16 and decided to experiment with too much vodka and Great Bluedini Kool-Aid. It was not a good idea. And I’ve never been able to eat or drink anything blue (or even drink Kool-Aid) since — that’s over 20 years completely inoculated to Kool-Aid, all because of a negative emotional association. I kind of had the same thing with Japan, prior to this summer.

My second reason for resisting Japan is more legitimate. I’ve worked with Japanese colleagues in the past, and it’s always been subtly disturbing. I always got the distinct sense of a lack of authenticity, and authenticity has always been a really important value of mine. I found that my Japanese colleagues could be very nice to my face, but then later, I’d realize that they completely disagreed with me (or in fact, disliked me completely). I didn’t like the (real or perceived) dichotomy. It made me nervous. If I can’t know you authentically, how can I work with you?

After spending a week in Japan, I’m not so bothered by this “lack of authenticity”. Even acknowledging this shift in my feelings is very surprising to me.

Being in Japan is an amazing, refreshing experience. Each person clearly has a sense of duty. Everyone I encountered was very respectful, genuinely interested in not bothering other people, and genuinely interested in providing a high level of service quality. There was no question about it: if you were in a service role, you were going to provide high quality. If you were responsible for providing products: they were going to be of high quality, regardless of how much you had paid for the privilege.

It would be shameful if you did not provide high quality.

This just seems to be part of their culture. I’m not advocating the threat of shame, or the threat of being ostracized by your community if you don’t meet their expectations — but there’s something very nice about having a socially-enforced baseline of high expectations. This  cultural vision, socialized into everyone since childhood, ensures that the entire country routinely meets high standards for quality just because how could it be any other way?

In fact, the cultural vision related to quality in Japan is so clear, I’m sure no one can even see it.

 

(*)BHAG = “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or alternatively, a really crazy-out-there stretch goal, conceptualized and popularized by Collins and Porras (1994).

Continuous Permanent Improvement

arun-cpiWhat? A book on continuous improvement that would make executives and other managers happy?

Yes, Arun Hariharan has made this happen in Continuous Permanent Improvement, published by the ASQ Quality Press in May 2014. Although there are many references that describe the mindset and philosophy of quality and continuous improvement efforts, it is rare to see one that could meet the needs (and satisfy the interests) of executives as well as operations managers. This book, which reflects on his experiences working with organizations of all sizes over the past three decades, provides a refreshing perspective, aiming to “give you a holistic and strategic approach to quality, rather than the limited view that restricts the benefits to only certain operational or tactical aspects.” These well-written and engaging 236 pages easily meets this primary goal. As part of an interview with Arun on the ASQ blog, Julia McIntosh calls thisa strategic distillation of experiences, anecdotes, stories, case studies, and lessons learned from successes and mistakes in nearly three decades of experience.”

There are several highlights that will also help readers bridge the strategic and operational levels.  For example, in Chapter 4, the author differentiates between SIPOC (Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – Customers) and the “outside-in” COPIS (Customers – Outputs – Processes – Inputs – Suppliers) approach to understanding a process first from the customer’s perspective. He adds that COPIS can be used strategically as well as operationally, and provides a comprehensive case study of how strategic COPIS was applied at one organization. Chapter 5 presents the rationale for standardized processes in the context of an expanding bakery, a story that provides an excellent backdrop for explaining the relationship between standards and innovation. In Chapter 8, the author demonstrates a very straightforward method for value stream mapping, by simply identifying which stages of a process can be considered types of waste. Chapter 9 provides the most comprehensive explanation of “First Time Right” that I have seen in print.

This book is not a manual or reference guide that covers specific techniques for improvement and how to implement them. More significantly, it uses stories to illustrate how the many dimensions of quality and business excellence can be effectively integrated in practice. By taking this approach, the author has provided an excellent resource for practitioners who are looking for new insights, as well as academics who are seeking a more nuanced understanding of how continuous improvement is organized and managed in practice. It would also make an excellent textbook for an advanced undergraduate or graduate course in practical process improvement.

This is draft material for a review that will be published in the October 2014 issue of Quality Management Journal.

Baldrige as a Micro-Framework for Organizational Planning

7737-thumbnailIn his June post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy shares the news that ASQ has recently been awarded the Excellence level of achievement in 2014 for the Wisconsin Forward Award, which is the state’s quality program that reflects the values of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). He asks what experiences others have had with using quality award programs as frameworks for reflection and continuous improvement.

I had a great experience in 2006 using the Baldrige Criteria to develop a Workforce Management Plan for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). We were tasked by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to prepare this report, which was definitely going to require us to dig deep and reflect on how we were managing our workforce, both at the operational level and in service of our strategic priorities. Unfortunately, none of us had ever done this before, so we were pretty much clueless as to what elements such a report would require, and what sorts of questions we might have to answer to ensure that we were approaching the question of workforce management strategically. The NSF wasn’t really able to provide guidance to us other than “you should use best practices from business and industry.” Fortunately, because I had been involved in the quality community for several years, I knew that the Baldrige Criteria might help us accomplish our goal. And it did!

In addition to using the questions in Section 5, Workforce Focus, we also integrated some of the elements of the “P” section of the Criteria to develop our plan. This helped us construct the initial draft in an intense week, rather than the weeks or months it might have taken if we didn’t have the Criteria to guide us. We captured our experience in a paper that was published to an Observatory Operations conference proceedings book in 2006, which you can read here for additional background if you need to construct a Workforce Management Plan. We also included the outline for our report (even though the content itself was confidential). The main point is that you don’t need to use or implement all sections of the Baldrige Criteria for it to yield immediate tangible value for your organization… consider applying the sections when you need them in your continuous improvement journey. I hope you find it useful!