Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Joined-Up-Thinking, TQM and all that

I have a confession to make. Actually I may as well ask for a couple of other offences to be taken into consideration while I'm at it. Back in the 1980's, I was one of the (many) people who helped in the development and promulgation of ISO9000. I was an evangelist for Quality Improvement too and encouraged hundreds of organisations to adopt QA and TQM principles. While I'm getting things off my chest, I also had a (small) hand in the coining of this phrase 'Joined-Up-Thinking' and it's adoption by central government....

I'm truly sorry. All I can say is, it all seemed like a good idea at the time.... So here and in a couple of articles to follow I'm going to explore the reasons it seemd like a good idea...

...and why it actually still is. As long as you do it right.

First, joined-up-thinking - or JUT as I will now call it, from laziness and a desire to avoid RSI from excessive typing.

For decades it really pressed my buttons (still does, actually) when I saw organisations and their leaders launching initiative after initiative without ever appearing to understand the inter-relationship between them.

I'll illustrate first with a manufacturing example: A manufacturer sets targets for its Procurement/Purchasing dept to reduce supplier costs and reduce inventory. Meanwhile tasking the QA function with reducing warranty and rejects and setting Production to increase productivity.

All fine and dandy. But without JUT - the Purchasers will force suppliers to cut costs, will look for suppliers in the third world and will hold minimum stock.... leaving QA with quality problems on supplied goods at 'goods inwards', poor communication with the supplier making resolution of the problems almost impossible and no 'buffer' stock to get them out of trouble. Productivity targets will create pressure to keep production moving and suddenly we're using the dodgy materials we just bought because otherwise everything will stop. Interesting how a drive to improve quality can so easily lead to a reduction in actual quality if it isn't properly thought-through. JUT says we get the depts to work together to find a way of ensuring their individual drives to meet targets are mutually supportive not mutually exclusive. It would be possible to reduce inventory of those items with local suppliers or of lower utilisation. Better supplier relationships and longer 'partnership' contracts could lead to a reduction in price. Less quality problems will naturally increase productivity. All this requires leadership from the top and certainly not the almost arbitrary establishment of performance targets at the expense of each other.

Another example: A well-known global service business set itself a challenge to answer all phone calls within 4 rings, as a demonstration of the quality of its customer service and commitment to satisfying their needs.

Depts were reorganised, measures and technology implemented to track it and new staff recruited to man (and woman) the phones. Imagine yourself as a caller now.... operators answering speedily but either a) having no clue what you are talking about because they were only recruited yesterday (or worse still a temp) or b) desperately trying to get you off the phone - and therefore having little interest in sorting out your problems - so that they can answer the next call before it rings for a fifth time!

Doesn't sound much like excellent service to me. It does however remind me (as so many things do) of a quote from Sir Thomas Beecham, the late great Conductor, who once said "The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes". I often feel that management in many organisations are more interested in the appearance of quality, service or leadership than they are in the reality...more in the noise than the music.

More on this subject later, I have to go to confound and irritate the minds of a group of Masters students.

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