Quality deployment is both a challenge and an opportunity. Prime among the challenges: getting beyond tactical reactionary approaches and establishing a clear role and expectations for Quality. Quality represents a proven powerful opportunity, at a time when cost cutting options might be exhausted, even as performance expectations continue to rise.

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The importance of quality has always been acknowledged. A high percentage of businesses  reference quality directly in their strategies. Sometimes it’s little more than intuition that places quality at the center of many company value propositions – quality at the affordable price.  It becomes consuming for  companies if they experience the the effects of poor quality – it takes the form of crippling high costs and damage to reputation and image. All companies are susceptible.

So, who can argue with quality? An isn’t this what the customers want to hear? Following are answers to these rhetorical questions that might be insightful, and  recommendations of how to realize the real and strategic value that is available through progressive quality deployment.

Who can argue with quality?  In fact, in most companies, the answer is anybody can, and sadly, they often are. Quality has evolved as a reactionary effort, and has not predictably had a clear role, responsibility, function or definition. Quality has been asked to address problems that come along, working from the background rather than a position of prominence where high-potential high-performing employees are placed. In this regard, Quality is similar to IT and Purchasing – they are all undergoing (or have just undergone) a twenty-year shift to gain a seat at the strategy table.

Isn’t this (quality) what the customers want to hear?  Not really, no. The point is, customers want to experience quality, not hear about it. Most companies have moved beyond the pure platitudes. But most companies have not turned quality into a predictable compelling customer experience.

 Quality Transformation Recommendations

Most of us have experienced the general challenge to “do more with less”. A progressive quality transformation can be the centerpiece of the competitive response. Consider these recommendations if you want to transform quality for the strategic good of the enterprise.  There isn’t a priority among these – they are interdependent must-haves.

  • Revitalize Quality through your Business Blueprint.
    Use your blueprint to reinforce quality with the right strategic connection and mindset, to set priorities, and to facilitate good transparent communications. Such a  blueprint/architecture provides the context to set internal expectations, energize the transformation, and embed the right definition of quality into operations. Without a blueprint the effort is less apt to be understood, taken seriously, and successful.
  • Establish Quality as a Cross-Functional Catalyst.
    The organization should show quality as an enterprise effort, expected to cross business functions. Ideally everyone knows their quality contribution and role. The quality team must have a clear role and responsibilities, which might consider whether they own relevant processes and associated outputs, and how they are to relate with the other functional groups. For example in a product company, there typically is collaborative dialogue between Quality and Engineering and Manufacturing. With business and product complexities increasing, the collaborative dialogue between the groups must also increase – a form of risk mitigation. The pragmatic and commanding nature of these functional groups are often challenged to hear and respond to the voice of the customer. Quality needs to be skilled and model the ability to work the soft side of things like psychology and relationships and proactive change management.
  • Respond to the Voice of the Customer.
    Companies must accept that customer perceptions define quality. Social networking gives customers a new voice to express those perceptions and they have been demonstrating their eagerness to do so. Companies are using new tools and methods to engage customers and hear what they are saying. The key is to follow through and respond, to make a difference that is visible to the customer, making this customer engagement part of closed-loop quality..
  • Move from Detect to Prevent.
    Traditional fire-fighting and find-and-fix programs have always been self-defeating behaviors that come to a point of diminishing returns. Now in today’s competitive environment, these long-established fix-it practices are more blatantly insufficient.  Sure, companies must still react to customer dissatisfaction as long as there are products and/or services that are poorly designed, built, or supported. But reactionary problem-solving cannot be, and does not have to be, the dominant reinforced behavior. Companies must adjust their focus to break the cycle and become more clearly driven by prevention, which is intimately tied to the voice of the customer. The reality is that fix-it behaviors are deeply embedded in the culture, and require the structure of a blueprint to make the positive change.