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5 Steps to Improve Quality No Matter What You Produce

Whether you sell widgets or whiz-bang ideas, success hinges on a quality product.
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I don’t care what your business is, quality products delivered are the No. 1 driver for a firm’s success. After all, growing sales is a heck of a lot easier when your foundation business remains consistent.

No doubt, we live in an imperfect world: People make mistakes and machines break. The goal is to minimize this so that the client is enchanted and reorders. You can do that through a relentless focus on quality. Improving quality will save your firm money because you won't need to do things to cover up old mistakes. Improving quality will raise your employees' engagement because people like being on a high performance team.

How do you make sure quality is exceptional at your firm? Here are five tips to improve quality fast.

1. Measure and Measure Some More

Two key performance indicators (KPIs) you should deploy today are quality escapes and quality captured. Determine which bucket quality mistakes fall into. The first bucket is comprised of mistakes that were internally "captured" by your team so the client was never aware of them. Captured quality errors aren’t as bad because the client never knew -- maybe they suffered a delayed delivery, but that’s it. Your client is not injured by the stumble.

The second bucket consists of quality issues that "escaped" your operation and were discovered by the client. These escaped quality defects are horrific. Your client is exposed to your firm’s failure, which undermines the long term vendor relationship. But measuring these mistakes transparently will bring your team’s attention to these issues and you’ll see improvement from the spotlight effect: The team will understand they are important.

2. Focus on Process,  Not People

Every employee comes to work to do a good job. In most cases, the defect is the process, not the person you trust. Remember that, and fix it by adding process steps or new checks to the system. Don’t make it a game of "who screwed this up?" That will deflate the team. Everyone will cower in fear and point fingers without ever getting to the root cause.

3. Meet Weekly

Initially the meetings will be long and tedious. You need to discuss with all the players each quality issue that occurred, and get to the root cause. Over time--less time than you think--the meetings will get shorter, as processes are strengthened and systems get more robust. Confidence will build as people see the systems are catching errors and eliminating heartburn.

4. Create a Quality Chart

Sort the biggest quality issues by category and focus in on the big issues. Work them till they get to be small issues. Don’t focus as much time on the unusual quality issues; spend your time in the places with the most frequent problems.

5. Make It Public

Place your quality results in your lunchroom. Everyone should see this is a company emphasis and you want to improve in a transparent way. The daily, visible reminder will demonstrate your commitment to quality to the people who impact it every day: your team.

IMAGE: Carson Fisk-Vittori / Flickr.com
Last updated: Jan 22, 2014

DREW GREENBLATT

Drew Greenblatt is the president of Marlin Steel, a U.S. manufacturer of steel wire baskets and sheet metal fabrications. Marlin Steel Wire has grown sevenfold since 1998 and gone more than 2,050 straight days without a safety accident, and believes passionately in the American manufacturing renaissance.




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