Monday, January 21, 2013

Definition of Quality

On his January blog, ASQ's Paul Borawski writes about the definition of quality. Should there be a single definition or should it be left to individuals as to how they view quality? Limiting quality to a single definition would be a challenging task. I would be surprised if someone can come up with a definition that everyone agrees on. Perception of quality may be different from person to person. My definition of quality would be "the relentless and ongoing pursuit of excellence in all aspects of life". We seek quality in everything we do. It is not limited to products and services. Quality of life in general is what makes us happy and satisfied. Products and services we use, foods we eat, clothes we wear, air we breath are all aspects of life and the level of quality that we experience in all this is important to us. However, the level of quality depends on how we perceive it. What I consider as high quality may not be perceived the same by somebody else. This explains why there are many definitions of quality and there is nothing wrong with that. Each individual, company, organization, community and government may have its own way of defining quality. What's important is how close we are to what we define ourselves as.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Value of professional certifications

On his December blog, Paul Borawski is asking us what we are going to tell our bosses about what we did last year in order to get a raise when the next performance review comes along. So far in my career, I've had the privilege of working in organizations where salary increase depends on employee's yearly performance. I like it when a manager empowers employees to set their own performance targets that align with business goals and objectives and expects them to come back with results at the end of the year. This allows employees to push themselves and continually advance their knowledge and skills. However, meeting business goals may not be enough to get you where you want to be. Companies are looking for individuals who are willing to take the extra step. For example, achieving professional certifications, earning an advanced degree, being a member of professional societies, publishing papers and so on. I strongly believe that these achievements set you apart from everyone else who are competing for the same thing. One of the goals that I always set for myself is to add another valuable certification to my to do list for the upcoming year. When I was a quality engineer intern, I noticed great opportunities to advance in this field. Before I graduated from college, I became an internal auditor. After a year or so, I passed ASQ's exam to become a certified quality engineer. In later years, my passion and strong interest in process improvement led me to achieve six sigma black belt and lean bronze level certifications. These certifications definitely helped me advance in my career and I know that there is much more out there. This year, I can proudly tell my manager that I completed a mini-MBA program and currently working on my master black belt certification. You may ask if all this has anything to do with salary increase or promotion. Well, it did for me and it will help you too. Never hesitate to let your boss know about your career goals and what you need to do to get there. Know where you are heading and take advantage of the opportunities along the way.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beyond Traditional Quality

On his October blog, Paul Borawski writes about going beyond the traditional quality function. Quality is so important that without it, there is no business and no customers. Most organizations see the value of quality as a control function, but they may not necessarily expand beyond that. When I used to work in manufacturing, there were many new product initiatives lacking input from quality during design and development. Project tollgates had a section for sign-off by quality, but it was towards the end during final inspection after product is already designed and manufactured. Quality plan was basically an inspection plan.  As a quality engineer, I had different views about quality's role and its significance. I did a lot of research and tried to learn as much as I can from other quality professionals about quality's involvement throughout product's lifecycle. After hard work and a lot of convincing, we were able to introduce a comprehensive quality plan. There was push back from other departments at first, but as the organization began to see the benefits, there was no going back to the old ways. So far, I've been talking about products. How about process improvement? Does quality have a role beyond just products? Absolutely! Another important role of quality is continuous improvement. Organizations that go beyond traditional quality may employ lean six sigma professionals in order to improve processes and take cost out of the business. This is a great way to establish a quality culture in the organization.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fast Quality

In his latest blog this month, Paul Borawski talks about the change in quality to meet customer's needs faster and faster. In order keep up with the rapid changes in customer needs, companies must be innovative and listen to those needs very carefully. If they are not doing it, somebody else will. As needs change, perception of quality changes as well. Why is that? Because technology is rapidly changing. Products are now more complex with tons of cool features. We are not using cell phones that are only used for talking anymore. As soon as we see that one of the features is not working right, we start looking for something better out there with higher quality and more features. Companies that continually listen to their customers, innovate and pursue perfection before anyone else are the ones that will win us over at the end. All this sounds to me like continuous improvement. Wouldn't you agree? For example, what are the 5 lean principles? Value in the eyes of the customer, elimination of waste, empowered employees, continuously improve in pursuit of perfection.. If an organization adapts these principles and embraces continuous improvement, its products and services will always be top quality which is what customers pay for.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quality Culture and Feelings

Building a quality culture in an organization involves more than compliance to standards, monitoring and reporting metrics, audits and corrective actions. I agree with ASQ CEO Paul Borawski that feelings are involved as well. This is more evident in organizations that focus on service quality as much as they do on producing quality products (if applicable). As you know that I have been working in a hospital for about 6 months. Hospitals provide patient care and it surely involves feelings, compassion and dedication. It is all about keeping patients comfortable, understanding their needs and show that you care for them while following standards and protocols. This is what patients look for when they seek care from a provider. Besides education level, technical knowledge and experience, hospitals assess the attitude and emotional IQ of candidates while hiring. This is the reason why hiring process may take a while until the right candidate comes along. There is certainly more room for improvement to achieve a strong quality culture in hospitals like everywhere else, but I have definitely witnessed more focus on feelings in a hospital than in manufacturing. I have to admit that it changed me too.. for the better. The more I round on patients, observe their care and talk to the staff members, I learned to focus more on patient experience while working on improvement projects. I ask myself what can I do as an operational & clinical excellence leader to improve patient experience. If every individual asks this question as it relates to the organization they work in and continuously strive for excellence as if it is a natural routine, quality culture will flourish and sustain itself.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Social Responsibility

In his latest blog posted in July, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski is wondering if the world is becoming more responsive to social responsibility. Many organizations work with charities, do outstanding donations or other means to give back to society which makes them look socially responsible. This is all good and it should be that way, but there is more to social responsibility. The question is, what are companies doing to embrace social responsibility in the way they conduct business? For example, we all remember BP's oil spill. BP has always claimed to be the front runner in green fossil fuel production. They were definitely proud of their position as socially responsible which won them a few awards on the side. However, all this could not prevent the disaster from happening. Washington Post's Chrystia Freeland writes on an article in 2010, "...But the gulf oil spill and the financial crisis have taught us, rather brutally, that the heart of the relationship between business and society doesn't lie with the charitable deeds that companies do in their off-hours but whether they are doing their day jobs in ways that help -- or hurt -- the rest of us."
Could the oil spill disaster been prevented? According to investigations, BP workers failed to consult the engineer, who was on the rig, about the results of the pressure test. The test was misread and the decision was to move ahead with temporary abandonment of the site. I wonder if BP conducted FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) on the possible risks associated with the rigs. I would certainly hope so since the possibility of a disaster happening is higher. Why did the workers misread the results? Why wasn't the experienced engineers notified? These are surely after the fact questions to get to the root cause of the problem which is too late. If these questions were asked before and procedures were put in place requiring training and full compliance, disaster could have been prevented. BP is now doing whatever it takes to build back their reputation in society. Certainly, there were many lessons learned and the possibility of this happening again is slim, but is it still socially responsible for BP to claim itself as the greenest fossil fuel producer? It takes more than charitable donations and community hours to run a socially responsible business.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Moving Quality Beyond Product

In his latest blog posted in June, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski is looking for success stories of moving quality beyond product. I have strong views about the necessity of high quality not only in products, but also in service. The reason is that, like many of you, I'm the type of person who looks for quality products, but if the service is not up to par, I may not ever purchase anything from there again.

I started my career in quality in the manufacturing world. Looking at non-conformances, customer complaints, defects, machine capability, etc. All about products basically. As I gained more experience, I was assigned several projects to reduce warranty cost and improve customer service. I saw a lot of inefficiencies and errors in processes caused by the lack of attention to customer service. Personnel were trying to do their best to make customers happy and satisfied, but they were struggling with not having the tools and resources to do their job especially related to technical knowledge and policies.

After I transitioned to healthcare, my focus has been nothing but service improvement. Hospitals are all about patient satisfaction and achieving service excellence is a number one priority. It is quite challenging due to the complexity of the organization, but it can be done. There are numerous project initiatives happening simultaneously and every one of them requires cross-functional involvement, collaboration and commitment. I can give you an example of a project that I'm currently working on. It is called "Patient Satisfaction Improvement Project" involving a Med/Surg unit. Hospitals are measured against each other on patient satisfaction. HCAHPS is a government initiative to provide a standardized survey instrument to measure patients' perspective on hospital care. Besides monetary incentives, the most important goal for hospitals is to continually provide and measure service quality. If this doesn't exist, there won't be any patients and thus, no revenue. There are several factors associated with patient satisfaction such as nurse communication, staff responsiveness, hospital environment and pain management. All of these factors involve people, people and people. It is quite different than machining parts, but same quality and process improvement tools apply, except slightly modified. In order to improve patient experience, I find it useful to utilize root cause analysis techniques, process mapping, observations and a few simple statistical tools. Coaching and mentoring staff on understanding patients' needs, changing behavior and embracing continuous improvement is also very important. Hospital staff is always busy 24-7. People sometimes forget to take a step back and think about how their service has been that day or if they could do anything different. This is the reason why  it is critical to set-up an hour or so every week to get everyone together, assess current state and take advantage of process improvement methodologies. We cannot ignore the fact that patients/customers/clients have the option to choose. Whoever provides quality products as well as excellent service will always be the winner.