Four Ways a Quality Improvement Process Can Fail


Is your Quality Improvement Process destined for success or failure?

While reading through the binder I received in 1987 from the Philip Crosby Quality College in Winter Park, FL I came across a section titled ‘Four Ways a Quality Improvement Process Can Fail’. I was expecting something that quality professionals had created fail-safes to prevent. What I found instead was four conditions  that are just as valid today as they were in 1987.

Failure #1 – Lack of Management Attention to the Quality Improvement Process

That’s it. Either management is on-board with a Quality Improvement Process or they are not. It is the reason the Management Review is so critical to the success of ISO 9001 companies. If management is involved in providing resources and determining which projects have what priority than the company is on the right road for a successful Quality Improvement Process.

Failure #2 –  Allowing the Quality Improvement Process to Become a Motivational Program

When the Quality Improvement Process goes from creating real and lasting preventive measures and becomes a method to “get the employees involve” or create “caring” in the employees it will fail. Employees will see through the rhetoric and realize management is not serious or interested. The expectation is the employees will change in some way rather than the system.

Failure #3 -Focusing the Quality Improvement Process Only on Operations

Operations makes the widgets that get sold but the cause of non-conformances can occur in order entry, purchasing, engineering, logistics – any area of the company. That is why ISO 9001 is a quality management system. The whole system must be controlled to be effective. The entire process must be looked at, not just the area where they manufacture a saleable product.

Failure #4 – Allowing the Quality Improvement Process to Become A Problem-Solving Committee

There is a saying, “When you are up to your ears in alligators, it is difficult to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.” Solving problems is critically important but the problems won’t go away until a systematic review of the entire process occurs. Corrective measures are different from preventive measures.

Thank you to Mr. Crosby for this tool to analyze the Quality Improvement Process. It is just as valid in 2012 as it was 1987.

Point 14 – Top Management Commitment to Action

Clearly define top management’s permanent commitment to ever improving quality and
productivity, and their obligation to implement all of these principles. Indeed, it is not enough that top management commit themselves for life to quality and productivity. They must know what it is that they are committed to—that is, what they must do. Create a structure in top management that will push every day on the preceding 13 Points, and take action in order to accomplish the transformation. Support is not enough: action is required!

Dr. W. Edwards Deming

What is Management’s Job – Commitment to Action

One of my father’s favorite sayings was, “lead, follow or get out of the way”. Management’s job is to lead. There must be a commitment to constant and on-going improvement. Each and every morning, management must look at their operation and decide what needs improvement and make a commitment to take action.

The Price of Failed Commitment to Action

If management does not make a commitment to constant and on-going improvement, it
will not happen. Management does not have to implement  the change but they must lead the change or their employees will end up building internal empires or chasing projects with
a lower value to the company.

Part of creating this commitment is developing a structure that guides the employees to
an on-going commitment of improvements in quality and productivity. Management must establish a system, indicate its’ importance to the company and demonstrate their own commitment to constantly and forever improving. It does not have to be fancy, but management must believe and support it.

The Call for Commitment to Action

There is a childhood chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will
never hurt me.” I wish it were true. How many suicides were prompted by cruel words? Words have power, the power to build up or the power to tear down.When management stands up and says “this is who we are and this is what we stand for” it can change the world.

My first job was with an ethical pharmaceutical company. We had a simple rule,
“Would you want your child to take this medicine?” If the answer was no, we threw it away. Every person on the line had the ability to call the supervisor and point out a problem. Each and every person on that line knew the importance of what they did and that attitude came from the top down. The VP of manufacturing walked through the plant several times a day and any operator
could stop him with a question or a concern. We had power and pride.

So what are you going to do, lead, follow or get out of the way?

Point 12 – Pride of Workmanship is Power

Pride of Workmanship is Power

Permit pride of workmanship
Remove the barriers that rob hourly workers, and people in management, of their
right to pride of workmanship. This implies, among other things, abolition of
the annual merit rating (appraisal of performance) and of Management by
Objective. Again, the responsibility of managers, supervisors, foremen must be
changed from sheer numbers to quality.

Dr.W. Edwards Deming

The Never Ending Motivator – Pride of Workmanship

There was a Disney movie about the Jamaican bobsled team, titled “Cool
Runnings”. One of the characters, Junior, lacked self-confidence. He
lacked pride in workmanship. One of his teammates gave him guidance. He had
Junior look into the mirror and see “pride” and “power” and a “crazy [person] that
didn’t take nothing from nobody”. It was a turning point for both Junior and
ultimately the team. Creating that kind of pride in workmanship in employees is
the most effective thing a manager can do.

The manager doesn’t need to stand over the operator or pour through charts to see
if the employee did it right. The manager could go play golf because the person
with pride of workmanship is making the best part possible without supervision.

Instilling Pride of Workmanship

When I worked in pharmaceuticals, pride of workmanship was the first thing we
instilled. We simply asked each employee to ask themselves one question;
“Would you want your loved one to take this particular bottle of medicine?”. If the answer was “no”, we didn’t want to sell it
because someone’s loved one would be taking it.

I’ve had clients say to me, yes but something like medicine is easy to create pride in workmanship but our
product isn’t. Generally, I ask them where is the product used and if it fails
what is the worst that can happen. A plastic disposable cover can be sharp and
cut the user or provide a choking hazard. A component in a car or truck or
school bus can fail and the vehicle could crash.

If you can do a Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, you have a tool for instilling pride of workmanship. If
the IT system fails will a company shutdown and put people out of work? If a
report is sloppy and sends management down a wrong path will the company close?
If a customer service rep is surly and the client goes somewhere else, what is
the long run impact on the company? It is the manager’s job to teach the
employee why they are important to the company and should take pride in

Killing Pride of Workmanship

Unfortunately, killing pride of workmanship is all too easy. Ignore an employee when they warn
you of a problem. Ta-da, pride in workmanship just took a major blow and
“I just keep my head down and my mouth shut and collect my pay”
becomes the attitude of the day. Give the employee bad tools, either machines
needing maintenance or reports filled with bad or missing information and the
result is a loss of pride in workmanship. Set an arbitrary goal the employee
can not possible achieve and you rob them of pride of workmanship. Tell the
employee to do a task, reprimand them if they do it wrong but don’t give them
the tools to measure and know if they did it right or wrong and frustration
will kill pride of workmanship. Killing pride of workmanship is way too easy.

You Matter = Pride in Workmanship

To create and maintain pride in workmanship in your staff, make sure they know
they matter. Listen if they tell you “there is a problem” and don’t
shoot the messenger. If they are wrong take the time to make sure they know why
it isn’t a problem.

Each time a manager helps to grow the understanding of an
employee in job knowledge, the manager creates pride in workmanship. The cost
is small, no big raise, no creative title, just recognition that the employee
makes a difference in the overall performance of the company.

When a manager creates pride in workmanship their employees they create the best sales tool in
the world – consistent high quality product. When an employee knows they are
creating high quality product their pride in workmanship increases and the
company reaps the benefit.

Point 7 – Leaders Help Others


helping others



Institute leadership
Adopt and institute leadership aimed at helping people do a better job. The responsibility of managers and supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Improvement of quality will automatically improve productivity. Management must ensure that immediate action is taken on reports of inherited defects, maintenance requirements, poor tools, fuzzy operational definitions, and all conditions detrimental to quality.
Edwards Deming


Help Others Do a Better Job
“Lead, follow or get out of the way” was one of my
father’s favorite sayings. I could call on Dad at any hour for help in physics,
or building, or just about anything other than cars. Dad wouldn’t do things for
me. He did show me tricks and short cuts and rules of analysis that allowed me
to do it myself. This is the essence of what Dr. Deming is talking about when
he says to institute leadership. Real leaders help other do a better job.
Managers are Leaders
and Help Others
As a manager your job is to teach, aid and assist your
employees to be successful and productive. Not to do the job for them. Like Dad
you are there with your door open, always investigation tools that will make it
easier for your employees to do a quality job with high productivity. You must
be available as a resource and then sometimes you must tie a gag on your mouth
and let an employee learn from a mistake. However, a good leader sets up the
employee for success not failure and never plays “I gotcha”
The Benefits of
Leaders who Help Others
If you are good at your job, then your employees will be
also. If your employees are good at their jobs they will be more productive,
and produce good quality work. The company will be more profitable and stay in
business providing jobs. It is so simple, good leaders help others.
Institute leadership

helping others

Point 10 – Walk the Talk

Eliminate Exhortations Unless You are Willing to Listen

Eliminate the use of slogans, posters and exhortations for the work force, demanding Zero Defects and new levels of productivity, without providing methods. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships; the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system, and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming

A Company that Should Eliminate Exhortations

“We have decided to move the factory to Mexico so we have a workforce motivated to produce the quality of product we want. We need people who care about their jobs instead of just collecting a paycheck,” My boss said. With that pronouncement my job and that of a couple of hundred other people’s disappeared.

                I don’t know what happened in Mexico. What I do know is if the tooling made the move, the quality didn’t improve. The real issue came from the design of the tooling. It was a design developed by the owner/president of the company and no amount of information facts, presentations of alternatives would get us approval to change the dies. It was the foundation we were built on, too bad it was shifting sand and not rock. Top management seemed to think slogans were all they needed to improve quality. They needed to eliminate exhortations and listen.

The attitude and efforts of the workforce had little to do with the defect level. The tooling issues and managements approach to problems had a lot to do with the opinion the workforce had of management and their frustrations. Middle managers understood the employees aggrevation, given a choice they would eliminate exhortations and nifty motivational posters and spent the money on things that would have made a difference.

A Company that Did Eliminate Exhortations

Another place I worked started a team campaign at problem solving. They set up a symbol of a triangle with “quality” at the top and “delivery” and “price” at the other corners. The idea if you have good quality, on-time delivery and fair price will follow. They took suggestions from the workforce as to quality issues and shared data analysis of customer complaints. The team members came from across all levels in the company and titles were checked at the door. The results was continuous improvement and increased sales. A side benefit was a motivated workforce. Actions spoke louder than words, they could eliminate the exhortations without a negative impact.

Summary: Eliminate Exhortations that Are Meaningless

The difference in these two companies was top management attitude. One wanted to blame the workforce and would not listen to potential solutions. Their efforts consisted of buying motivational posters when they needed to eliminate exhortations. The other listened and explained their actions. A slogan or nifty poster isn’t going to make an employee produce better work, listening and removing roadblocks communicating why something can’t be done even if it is a good idea will make a difference. Let’s follow Dr. Demings point and eliminate exhortations.