Do you ever feel bombarded by quality-related slogans, branding, and logos? It seems like every business, from global enterprises to regional companies, to the local baker, is really, deeply passionate about quality, and has been forever (“Quality in every bite… since 1872”). What's more, they want to make sure you know just how much they care about quality. Of course, that public-facing fanatical dedication to quality very often crumbles after a talk with the company’s underfunded and overworked quality team.
Clearly, manufacturers and service providers understand that customers care about quality, and are willing to invest marketing dollars to back it. So why don't they also spend money on actual quality? As it turns out, it isn’t a conspiracy — the reason is simpler than you think, and to an extent so is the fix.
Re-Evaluate Your Value
It starts with a perception of value. How do you quantify or communicate the value of investments in quality? Let's say you're trying to get a new quality project funded. Are you able to justify that project based on overall value to the corporation or value to operations as a whole? Or, is the best justification you can muster based on reducing people power because the company doesn't track your preferred metrics, or there is no credible correlation between your project and value metrics?
Justifying projects based on reduced people power is a significant strategic error. In fact, it communicates two negative concepts in one statement. First, it implies that quality is a cost center and that the only benefit to investing in quality is reducing the cost of performing quality activities. Second, it suggests that quality is an isolated department — and therefore cannot contribute to strategic direction or value.
Within a company, many functions are asking for money for a lot of different projects. If you were holding the purse strings and had to choose between the many opportunities, would you pick a project to increase revenue, margin, or strategic capabilities, or the one that reduces headcount in a non-strategic department?
Objectives and Perspectives
So, what's quality's actual value? Quality teams know that quality people, processes and technology are strategically important, critical to the success of the company, and that a dollar spent in preventing problems saves a lot more downstream. LNS data shows that quality is correct on all counts, or at least that quality can be right on all counts, if done in an efficient, effective, cross-functional manner, and in alignment with strategic direction.
That last bit is extremely important. Quality must be aligned with strategic objectives and strategic initiatives in order for corporate stakeholders to perceive it as relevant to the company at large. Sometimes, a little outside perspective goes a long way when re-evaluating value. Does your organization need to be certified to certain standards to drive revenue with key customers or industries? Can you quantify quality's impact on margins and operational performance? — You might want to take a look at LNS Research data on this topic.
Quality is entirely relevant to strategic objectives, but many individuals inside and outside quality have a difficult time expressing this connection. While standards like ISO 9001:2015 require top management to align quality to corporate direction (thank you), it's incumbent upon quality to make the alignment obvious.
Pay Attention to the Big Stuff — Look Up and Out
Of course, setting objectives and changing perspectives requires us to examine and understand what's important to top management, and what other functional departments are working on. We often hear, "Pay attention to details," — good advice when executing a project. However, which projects should we execute? If we want the work that quality does to align with the company's core value of quality, we quality leaders must understand where the company is going, and adjust course accordingly.
One area where quality is missing the big picture is on Quality 4.0 — the Digital Transformation of quality. To find out more about Quality 4.0, read this post. Many companies have objectives and initiatives related to Digital Transformation. In fact, LNS data shows that 40% of manufacturers have Digital Transformation initiatives underway and another 24% plan to start them in the next 12 months. Of these, 23% focus on quality improvement.
Surprisingly, quality isn't leading the quality improvement Digital Transformation projects. There are several reasons for this peculiarity; one is that quality leaders are looking for education, another is that they don't see the connection between Quality 4.0 and their current battery of work and initiatives.
- Quality teams often struggle to illustrate that they're critical to strategic success.
- Quality 4.0 is a great opportunity to address this deficiency. Get educated, and get involved.
- Quality 4.0 isn't separate from traditional quality initiatives; to the contrary, it builds upon traditional quality. Re-evaluate your quality strategy in light of Quality 4.0.
Quality is a core corporate value, but quality leaders must establish the connection between corporate value and actual quality work.