Introduction to Quality and Process Topics

Quick Summary: High quality can only be maintained through the implementation of and following processes.


High quality of a single item can be achieved by careful and painstaking concentration by appropriate individuals and machines.  However, to sustain high quality over any reasonable or high volume repeatable activities, processes that can recognize and accommodate variation are required.  

Quality and processes are inextricably linked together by the simple statement that high quality can only be maintained through repeatability of the proper actions, and repeatability can only be obtained through the use of processes.  A high quality product or service can be created one time without the need for processes.  However, maintaining quality when performing repetitive activities requires processes that can recognize when variations are occurring and address them appropriately.  The close coupling of quality and processes is the reason for including both of these topics in the same chapter in this collection.

As noted in the next article in this chapter “Quality Is Not a Principle” explains why quality was not included as one of the core Seven Principles identified in this collection.  In essence, quality must be woven into the fabric of every activity performed by everyone in the company.  High quality is simply table stakes and is mandatory if a company intends to comply with Principle One: Stay in Business.

As is the case for a number of other chapters in this collection, including only fifteen articles to cover both quality and processes may seem to be either or both naïve or presumptuous.  Hundreds of text books, consultants, and seminars are offered that cover these subjects in far greater detail.  The articles as listed below provide some general guidelines that are only intended to identify some of the areas that need to be considered when implementing quality and process development programs.  If nothing else, the articles should raise awareness of the need to address these issues and provide some baseline starting points to initiate appropriate programs.

Quality Articles

Quality Is Not a Principle

High quality is not a separate discussion or even discipline.  It must be woven into the fabric of everything.  Quality is a fundamental, non-negotiable element similar to breathing.  It is required to sustain the organization and there is no substitute for it.  Users no longer expect it; they demand it and most will be unforgiving if their expectations are not met.

Quality Principles

There are a few basic principles that can help any size company implement a highly effective quality program that can quickly become part of the company’s culture that is embraced by all employees.  The principles require a remarkably small level of resources but require a large and continuous commitment by all. 

Three Variables and One Constant Flip Flop

In bringing new products or service offerings to the market, three interrelated variables, features, development time, and available resources must be carefully balanced.  While this give-and-take activity is taking place, one constant, high quality, must never be compromised.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the three variables become constants at the expense of the new variable, quality.  The end result is never good.

Later Never Happens

The pressure to meet scheduled commitments can easily result in making compromises that are justified with the logic of deploying a plan to address the compromises later.  Unfortunately, the pressure to perform never seems to let up and allocating time and resources to address the compromises never seems to happen.  Sometimes the compromises have no long-lasting impacts; other times they do.  Carefully think through the consequences if “later never happens.”

Have a Customer in the Room

It is easy to rationalize actions and make decisions ignoring those who are not present or whose views are not expressed by others.  We all see the world and issues through our own eyes and may have a hard time projecting the position of others.  Short of actually having a customer involved in internal discussions, review your conclusions from their assumed point of view and let that outcome impact your actions.

Fitness for Use Decisions

Quality has been defined as Fitness for Use as expected by the user.  This definition is, indeed, very broad with different users having different expectations.  Developing a product or service requires the consideration of many factors that, at times, may be at odds with each other.  To address the design considerations and simultaneously attempt to address all of the issues that a user may encounter, all involved parties need to consider all of the products or services characteristics and prioritize them accordingly. 

Process Related Articles

What Is a Process?

When considering the implementation of processes, it is important to gain a common understanding of what a process is to avoid miscommunication and confusion.  The concept is quite simple and can apply to every element in an organization.  Developing a common understanding and use of terms aides in process development is quite helpful when teams consisting of individuals from different elements within the organization are involved.  The most important concept to keep in mind in process development is the notion that processes are for people and not machines.

Processes: Why Bother?

When the plan to implement processes is first introduced to an organization commonly there is a collective groan and reluctance.  Either there is concern that process is another word for bureaucracy or individuals simply do not have time for them.  Both concerns are incorrect. In fact, processes avoid bureaucracy, save time, and can dramatically improve quality.

Processes: When to Start

It may sound obvious but when to start implementing processes is when they are needed, not earlier or not later.  There are a number of telltale signs that are good indicators when the time has come.  Starting earlier may result in miss-steps because the actual issues that need to be addressed may not be known.  Waiting later may be costly in terms of efficiencies, loss of customers, or even the failure of the business.  Reviewing the list of process need indicators can help a company determine when to do what.

Starting the Process Process

Start small when implementing processes to help ensure a quick and easy victory.  It is critical that the entire organization see success early in the rollout phase.  In sports, there is a reason for starting with a pre-season.  At all levels developing and honing basic skills early on is required.  Create processes for the most important activities only after the standard methods are well understood and embraced.

Common Process Elements

Standardizing the process for creating processes is a key element in the company-wide adoption of the use of processes.  Keeping the method simple and consistent will eliminate confusion which is almost guaranteed to occur as individuals from different elements in the company begin to work together on a process.  Although the approach will be new and different, once individuals are exposed to the simple, common model they are highly likely to embrace it and quickly apply to all process development activities.

Documenting a Process

Although the need to develop processes may seem obvious, it is often difficult to know where and how to begin.  The creation of five separate documents provides a standardized approach that can be followed by all individuals and will divide the seemingly overwhelming task into manageable, logical, incremental steps.

The Object Model Approach for Processes

Acknowledging that the individuals who actually perform a process can be remarkably responsive and adaptable when issues arise in performing their work and giving them the latitude to do so will deliver superior results.  Allowing them to exercise this capability as long as it does not impact the expectations of their suppliers (input) or customers (output) is analogous to the Object Model Technique used so successfully in the software world.

Step Back Process Guidelines

Although the initial goal to establish a process to increase quality or reduce costs may be very noble and sincere, it is easy for the process creation activity to incrementally deviate from the original goal and create a process with significant unintended consequences.  Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence with the news media reporting these situations occurring regularly in government.  Asking and re-asking some fundamental grounding questions can help to avoid this situation.


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