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 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.