Improve #2: What is quality improvement?
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Sometime in 1989 my boss, one of the owners of M/G Electric Company, a large motor repair shop in MIami, said: "Manny, we will deploy a Quality Improvement Program in our company, you and Allan will be in charge."
As a young engineer, I understood the term "quality", but "Quality Improvement" was totally foreign to me. I had absolutely no idea about what I was about to begin. I knew of Quality Control since college, but nothing about Quality Improvement. This is when I understood that Quality Control is not enough, quality has to be continuously planned, continuously redone, continuously checked, continuously perfected, and all of this done again, and again!
At that time, I was mandated to devour two books on Quality Improvement (or QI), and I was sent to intense training with an expert who also coached me through the implementation process. As soon as my associate and I finished training, we started to train others so that teams would be created. These were called the Quality Improvement Teams. These teams were comprised of individuals from different departments whose responsibility was to find problems, pinpoint root causes, propose solutions, and continuously implement them until growing success replaces the problem.
Our first assignment was to focus on Customer Returns. We found out that that too many electric motors were returned every week. Product returns meant zero profits, and increasing losses. The retail department was used to customer returns and doing nothing to prevent them. Customers returned motors because of factory defects or because the wrong product was ordered, or because it wasn't needed anymore. After realizing the thousands of dollars that the company was losing we knew that something had to be done.
We started to collect data. Yes, data, data and more data. After analyzing this data, we came up with probable causes and possible solutions. We implemented the proposed solutions and found that the customer returns went from 171 to 150. After a few weeks later, it went down to 98. This kept going down until the returns were literally reduced to less than 5 per month. While we were on top of this, no more returns! The company stopped losing money. The QI team became successful in improving other services and processes and actually won a company award at the end of that year.
What was the greatest accomplishment?
Problems turned into was one accomplishment, but the greatest accomplishment was the deployment of a Quality Improvement attitude. Something was wrong and something had to change.
The first step into improvement is to become aware of our weaknesses. Being self-aware of our virtues prevents us from seeing our flaws. Sadly, this leads to complacency.
Is there an area at the workplace that you need to improve? What has been a constant problem during your career? Good news...you can actually change! Just remember: The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.