Pleasing customers and shareholders

Increasing the quality of your success at these activities can be rewarding.

By Russ Kratowicz

Conventional wisdom has it that one can become successful by providing the marketplace with the highest quality product at a cost below that of your competitors (or imitators, as the case may be). For the moment, let’s ignore the low cost part of the formula because providing something of recognized quality seems to attract money of its own accord. True quality is a rare thing in the disposable society we built around ourselves. Because it is so rare, we should focus on quality, hence the rationale for the topic of this month’s column.

Total quality management

Do any of us really know what is this concept of TQM? If you are interested, there are a couple of places I suggest you go to find out more. Christopher Fung developed a nice Web page covering TQM in a big way. His prodigious effort is found at http://www.dmu.ac.uk/dept/schools/business/corporate/tqmex/content.htm. Here you can find a good introduction to the quality concept, learn about the philosophies of the quality gurus Juran and Deming, learn about a TQM model, and even download some software. This is a link-rich site that presents too much to encapsulate in only a paragraph or two.

Another page of TQM links can be found at http://users.hol.gr/~paris/html/tqm_links.html. From this short Web page, you can link to TQM sites, ISO sites, magazines and other printed media covering quality, and universities that offer TQM courses.

Speaking of universities, McGill in Canada posts the quality resources that relate to an Operations Management course. Look at http://www.management.mcgill.ca/course/msom/BCOM/Ch17.HTM  to find information on TQM, Taguchi, Deming, Juran, Pareto charts, and more.

The quality tool guide

Generating something of quality is a matter of continuous improvement and that requires an interrelated linkage of system design, measurements, statistics, process control, experimentation, optimization, system dynamics, and improvement. There is one Web site that seems to tie it all together nicely. I also suggest that you consider bookmarking http://www.earthcon.com/quality/. It contains links to resources that cover each of these aspects of developing a continuous improvement program.

For example, what you learn in the measurement section is that if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. To improve quality, you need to establish relevant performance measures to evaluate against realistic standards. The act of measuring implies some knowledge of metrology and a measuring process that generates meaningful results. We all know there is more than one way to skin a cat. Just because the numbers are looking good does not imply that people are following policies and pre-established procedures to increase quality. Therefore, you will need to know a bit about auditing to find out how you achieved those numbers that suggest increased quality. Benchmarking, often discussed and rarely practiced, is another tool that guides you on the quest to higher quality.

Measuring is one thing, making sense of the data is quite another. The section of the site I liked best was the statistical analysis area. This field of mathematics in not that difficult or complicated once you understand the underlying principles. The statistics section points you to interactive and downloadable public domain and shareware that will help you make sense of it all.

The ultimate test of our claim to high quality products

This is, of course, is the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award that our hired hands in Washington promulgated back in 1987. If you think the quality of your products and your operations are such hot stuff, then put your money where your mouth is and enter the Baldridge competition. You have a year to prepare your entry—the entries for the 1998 version of the award were due last June 1. Now is the time to get a running start if, of course, you can do something about that old corporate inertia.

There are many Baldridge-related Web sites out there that post material related to quality and awards they claim to have won. Finding solid non-commercial info on this prestigious award takes a little digging. But that is what this column is about. We search the Web so you don’t have to.

The basic eligibility for the award requires fitting into a category—manufacturing, service, small business, or subunit of a larger company. However, there are some restrictions on how these broad guides are interpreted. There are seven criteria that form the scoring basis for the Baldridge awards—leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management, and business results. Doing well in the seven areas gets you a maximum score of 1,000 points. Typical companies garner about 250 points. World-class organizations reach and maintain something like 700 points.

Sara Thibault, a graduate of Emporia State University in Kansas, hosts a page that addresses some of the details about these seven elements at http://www.emporia.edu/www/ibed/jour/JOUR140M/SARAT.HTM. This is a good site at which to start if you want to assess your chances for getting the gold. She goes into a bit of detail. It is, however, certainly not an exhaustive treatise on the subject.

The next place to search for the Baldridge award is at the Web site of the National Institute of Standards and Technology found at http://www.quality.nist.gov/ . From there you can link to information on eligibility restrictions, applicable terms and definitions, details of the fee schedules, and more. The in-depth information on the 1998 criteria is found at http://www.quality.nist.gov/docs/98_crit/98criter.htm. This page features links to more information than you ever wanted to know about getting the award.

The process is not inexpensive, by any means. The application fee for a manufacturing company was $4,500 for the ‘98 version of the competition. There is another Eligibility Determination Fee of $100 and the fees for the site visit reviews cover all expenses and travel costs associated with the visit and subsequent written reports. The good news is that the costly site visit fees apply only to those entrants that make it to the site visit stage—the finalists.

Those that make it are the best of the best. You can check out the Winner’s Showcase to find profiles of the winners from ‘88 through 97, contacts at the winning companies, and Web sites that the winners maintain. Point your browser to http://www.quality.nist.gov/show.htm. Good luck in your quest for excellence that will be evidenced by the Baldridge award hanging in your lobby. If you can pull it off, I guess the bragging rights make the effort worthwhile.

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