Optimize the Whole

When we think in parts, we improve in parts. Most of the business improvement is the game of ‘sub-optimization’. You optimize pieces without looking at the whole.

When a customer reports problem with your software, you do an incidental root cause analysis and address the code quality problem. You deploy tools, introduce new processes, measure constantly and yet – a few months later, you encounter a similar problem.

But when you look at the whole system, you might figure out that the real root cause is in something which is immeasurable yet important – may be, collaboration with other teams or how you sell. May be, inefficiencies rooted in how you support your customers after product is delivered.

We optimize the silos and the whole misses our radar. If ‘customer centricity’ is one of your key values, you should consider optimizing the whole customer journey with your organization – not just your development processes.

Often, we also optimize that which is measured. If your metrics are narrow, you will never be able to focus on systemic metrics that may really help your business and the customer.

Here are a few important things to consider when you optimize the whole:

We need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

  • Focus on Value Stream. Value for customer is created in a series of interactions between various processes that starts right from first contact with the customer. Value stream mapping is a lean tool to identify a series of events right from conception to delivery of product or service.
  • Define what “complete” system means. Too often, we think of complete product as a set of completed features. For customers though, complete product is an experience they receive through each interaction with the organization. It helps to define what ‘complete’ means.
  • Measure Right. When you have narrow functional metrics, people in each function will work  hard to achieve their goals and yet, organization will not realize benefits of having such metrics. However, if you have more systemic metrics (and rewards) where people win only when the system wins, it aligns everyone to the same set of goals to ensure that ultimately, customer wins too.

Sub-optimization in organizations is a thinking problem. When you fail to see the whole, you undermine your capabilities as an organization.

And this may be the precise thing that holds you back from delivering a superior performance to your customers.

Measuring Right Things: Utilization Versus Efficiency

In manufacturing world, there is a direct correlation between how much machines are utilized and how much they produce. This works because machines do the work that is non-linear and there is very little variation in producing exactly same unit of work. Utilization is the extent to which installed capacity performs actual work. Less idle time means more utilization.

Knowledge work – where people find optimal ways to apply their knowledge to a given context in such a way that it produces the best possible business result – is very different. In this world of work, more utilization does NOT always equate with more productivity and efficiency. With re-usability, someone can churn a great deal of work in a short time whereas a tiny piece of work/defect may take up days to solve. Being busy, in this world, does not mean progress and when people seem to be sitting idle, it does not necessarily mean they are not working.

In HBR article “Six Myths of Product Development”, authors Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen say –

Processes with high variability behave very differently. As utilization increases, delays lengthen dramatically. Add 5% more work, and completing it may take 100% longer. But few people understand this effect.

And when companies focus solely on measuring and improving utilization alone, people will respond to that expectation accordingly. People will seemingly remain (or report) busy all the day when nothing real is accomplished. More utilization without visible gain in efficiency is a waste.

Instead of focusing on utilization, we should focus on efficiency – how much real work gets shipped and how well. Efficiency encourages people to work smart, focus on quality and find best possible route to achieve the desired business results.

For this, we should focus on building a system where efficiency is more likely to happen. We need to engage our people to the purpose of our product/organization. We need to give them autonomy and promote self-organization. We need to share feedback early and often. Most importantly, we need to trust them.

And we need to monitor real progress instead of simply trying to occupy people for 8 hours everyday!

Implicit Customer Expectations: Are You Addressing Those?

Customers don’t always specify everything they want. Truth is, not everything can be specified.

Lets say, you go to a restaurant and order a sandwich. You specify the type of bread, filling preferences, sauces etc. That’s what you want and it can be specified explicitly. But you also want the bread and veggies to be fresh. Preparation to be hygienic. Ambience to be nice. People to be courteous and so on. How often do you specify these expectations? It has to be that way.

These are implicit customer expectations and they are powerful. It starts with a decently working product but you deliver real value to customer when you address implicit expectations. Better yet, if you are able to create a new set of implicit expectations, you start leading the way. This not only delights the customer but creates a new standard for implicit expectations in your area of work. When you set new standards for implicit expectations, you move a customer from “experience” to “advocacy.”

Implicit expectations are slippery. Easy to overlook or ignore because they are unsaid and invisible. This is an area where you are likely to take shortcuts because RoI of addressing implicit expectations is not visible.

In your quest to deliver a working product fast (and cheap), do not forget that customer still expects you to address the intangible elements of product that are not specified but certainly expected.

If you want to deliver great value to your customers, you have to get your kitchen in order. That’s where real value is created.


Related Posts:

How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

In manufacturing, “touch-time” is when the raw material actually touches the machinery and moves one level up in the production cycle. In a factory, more capacity to produce does not yield results if “touch-time” is low. In lean methodology, it is also referred to as “processing time”.

As a professional, you have required skills and knowledge that increases your capacity to deliver. But that is of no use if your “professional touch-time” is less i.e. time when your unique abilities and talents are at work to produce meaningful results. In a typical work day, how often do we get sucked into activities that adds no or little value but just ends up filling the time?

If you are a programmer, what percentage of your time is spent in actually writing/improving code and building awesomeness into your software? If you are a sales professional, how much of productive time do you spend on reporting/MIS versus actually talking to a prospect and making a sale? If you are a CEO, how much of your time goes into driving strategy versus implementing tactics? If you are a writer, how many hours per day goes into actual writing?

When you are in “touch” with your work, you become better. You concentrate. You start spotting opportunities to improve. You optimize it. Nuances of your work start showing up. You build a serious expertise and get creative. You start adding “real value” to the customers.

The only way to improve quality of our work is to do the real work – not just preparing for it, but doing it.

Critical questions then are: When did you last measure how you spend your productive time in the day? What is your professional touch-time?

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Quality: Ownership and Getting Better

Helsinki Lutherian Cathedral, Finland Photo By: Tanmay Vora

Quality you deliver has everything to do with how much you own your work, your actions and its respective impact on the other parts of the system you operate in. When you produce work that is useful, qualitative and something that others find valuable, it feeds your self-esteem and makes you a better individual. By consistently delivering better than you did last time, you raise the bar and grow.

It is a cyclic process and the one that starts with an intention to do better, not with just having better or superior skills. It is the same intention that drives the thing we call “ownership”. This means, unless you own your work, you will never be able to deliver better than you did last time. And when you do that, work becomes a part of your identity and you value it higher. You do well in things that you value more. In a knowledge world, your work carries your fingerprints. It tells a story about you. This is even more so if you are a leader at any level.

Downed by things like organizational hierarchy, our fear of failure, lack of trust with superiors, micromanagement and poor management, we often treat our work as a transaction. I do this and I get this. You do only that which is required by the job. Work like this for a few months and you will be indifferent, uninspired and if you are ambitious, stressed. Quality of your work will plummet down and growth will be stalled. Not a great way to work and live, particularly when this is the only life you (and we all) have!

Better alternative is to take charge from where you are. Acknowledge the problems, evaluate possible solutions and work your way out. This may not be easy, but on a long run, compromising on quality of your work because of these external factors and not growing through your work can be both painful and costly!

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

What We Need: Compassionate Compliance

Compliance stems from our need to ensure certainty, reduce variability and adhere to a certain structure or model. Compliance may be explicit (e.g. to a certain process model like ISO) or it may be implicit (e.g. to a certain specific belief system, way of working or ideology). Focusing on compliance means that you have a direction to follow and it should allow you to focus on the nuances of work without worrying about the basics. Compliance is good because it helps us stay creative, allows us to be a part of community and gives us a direction.

The problem stems when focus is only on compliance. A friend who is a senior leader in IT organization narrated his recent experience. In his quest to fix a nagging problem on a project that he had just taken over, he ended up forcing compliance to a certain process without taking time to understand the real root cause. People initially raised their concerns but then succumbed to the force. They complied dispassionately, morale went southwards and quality dropped. It took him a lot of effort and time to get things back on track, though not as great as it was before.

He made a mistake that I like to call as “Compliance without Compassion”.

To be compassionate is to understand that every problem has many facets and every situation has a context attached to it. That people will only follow rules if those rules really help them in adding value. That people need to be understood first. That sometimes, you have to look at purpose more than how a task is performed. That it is important to be cruel to be kind – being tough for a greater good.That effective solutions are the ones that consider all the facets of the problem –the context behind it. To be compassionate is to tune the process or ideology such  that it yields maximum value with minimum waste. To be open to new possibilities and appreciate that others may be seeing things differently. To evolve and improve.

Compliance is always an external force. Compassion stems from within – from our desire to add value without compromising on human aspect of work.

Bottom line:

We don’t need plain compliance. Compassion alone may not help. What we need is compassionate compliance.

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Photo Courtesy: Sendai Eyes’ Flickr Photostream

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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Great Quotes: On Expectations

“Nobody rises to low expectations.” ~ Calvin Lloyd

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to believe that they can do better. People respond to expectations and the only way to grow people is to consistently raise the bar of expectations.

If a team is not doing great, it is either because the team members are incapable or the leader has established very low expectations from them. Low expectations result in lower or mediocre performance.

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details and when to see a broad picture.

If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising your bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

P.S: This also applies to expectations that you have from your own selves.

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Great Quote: On System of Management by Deming

W. Edwards Deming, the pioneer and guru in quality revolution wrote the following paragraph when commenting on Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” and it instantly struck the chord.

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning.
The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university.  On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

The birth of an organization happens with a technical idea that solves a problem. It starts with creativity, passion and inventive thinking. When people start organizations, their sole interest is to focus on excellence to deliver best results. Success breeds success and somewhere in the growth process, the focus shifts from creativity and passion to profits and numbers. At one point, this focus on numbers becomes a chronic obsession. Organization starts being driven by numbers alone and the human aspects of work (respect for people, intrinsic motivation, creativity, innovation etc.) are pushed into the margins. Physical infrastructure gains prominence over emotional infrastructure.

Deming said this in 1990’s and still sounds so true in current context when we look at how our schools, colleges and organizations are being driven.

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Agility in Process Improvement Initiatives

The pace of change is accelerating and business leaders who are responsible for improvements need keep up with the pace. While plan-do-check-act methodology has been around for long, the time it took was way longer.

For organizational improvements (and the personal ones), what do we need today? What would business expect from improvement initiatives? A few things I think:

  1. We need shorter iterations. We still need plan-do-check-act but the iterations are expected to be shorter. Pick an improvement area, create a plan, execute improvement, check the results and re-align the actions. The idea is to have a good enough plan, short execution cycle that enables you to learn and adapt faster. This is equally true for improvement we seek in our personal and professional lives.
  2. We need more retrospectives. Forums where we can take a stock of how your initiative is progressing and what can be tuned. Retrospectives are also a great way to collaborate.
  3. We need right areas to improve. Almost anything can be improved but the critical question is: Does it have a real impact? The famous 80:20 rule applies to process improvement initiative as well. 80% of improvement happens by focusing on continuous identification of 20% improvement areas. In my book #QUALITYtweet, I wrote:
  4. #QUALITYtweet The first step of your process improvement journey is to know what really needs improvement

  5. We need results to be visible. We need visible improvements in critical business functions. Bottom line impact of improvement initiative needs as much focus as its impact on organizational culture.
  6. We need collaboration. Improvements never happen in an isolated corner office. It happens when you collaborate with your team members, customers, business development folks and middle managers.

Bottom line: In an agile business environment where change is not only constant but rapid, we need agility in how we improve. We need to fail fast, learn fast and adapt quickly.

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Improvement: Show Them The Results
7 Steps For Customer Centric Process Improvement
The Secret Sauce of Process Improvement
Great Story: Improvement and Tending the Garden

Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion

A start-up or a fledgling organization relies on individual heroism of their people to successfully deliver projects. These team members are enthusiastic, engaged and willing to see the project succeed. They are emotionally connected to the purpose of project/organization. Emotion is the basis of how they operate.

Then the organization starts growing. To manage growth, processes are introduced. New tools are implemented and an org chart with hierarchy is established. Slowly, layers of processes and people are added and focus shifts to processes and practices. So far, so good. The problem is when focus shifts only on processes and practices. When rational takes over the emotion.

Processes and practices are absolutely important for an organization to grow, learn and sustain. But often, project managers focus too much on the planning, scheduling, managing risks and watching the metrics that they forget to focus on people. This results in disengagement (or in other words, dispassionate compliance) where people do the minimum required to get a task done.

Consider this: A study published by Harvard Business Review found that average overrun on IT projects is 27% and one out of six projects had overrun of over 200%. Another study revealed that IT failure rates results in loss of $50 billion to $150 billion to US economy alone.

The cost of an emotionally disengaged team to a project is huge. Organizations have thousands of hours of project management experience. Processes standards are getting better and more mature. Why then are projects still in a problem?

The possible answer, according to me is: we need to balance rational with emotion, process with empathy and practices with people. We need processes for sure, but we also need a strong culture of consistent engagement. We need a project charter for sure, but people also need a compelling vision to subscribe to. We need to understand the requirements of customer for sure, but we also need to understand the emotional needs of our team members. We need skills of our people to go up along as the bars in project progress chart go up. We need experience, but we also need to experiment. We need communication and we need engagement.

Every project we execute is a glorious opportunity to practice leadership, to make a difference in a customer’s business, to nurture the talents of our people. As a project manager, you can make that happen only when you focus on the emotional aspect as much as the rational one.

That, to me is what makes a great project manager and a team great!

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Related reading at QAspire Blog:

Improvement: Show Them The Results

A child develops confidence as she experiences things around her. We buy into products for which we perceive experience to be positive. We support causes that deliver positive results. In an organizational context, how can we then expect people to be totally committed to the improvement initiative at the start? People will never commit to anything that they have never experienced first hand.

As a manager, if you are trying to improve your work practices, remember this: Let your improvement initiative speak for itself through positive business results. Sell benefits of the process improvement, involve people in those initiatives, give them some control and build trust as you go. In a hurry to generate a buy-in for our shiny new initiative, we often fall in trap of excessively training and preaching people about processes. In extreme cases, improvement leaders start forcing people to comply with those methods. While people may comply dispassionately, the improvement initiative will not generate the desired/optimal results.

Here are a few practical lessons to let people experience benefits of your improvement initiative:

Clarify the need for improvement: People want to know how any improvement will resolve a real business problem. Establish the need for improvement and communicate the purpose. Alternately, also show them the consequences – the rewards for success and the pain of current situation. These two are compelling reasons for people to embrace change.

Set improvement goals: Once a reasonable buy-in for improvement exists, set goals on what needs to be achieved. Review and revise these targets as you go. Publish the progress and do not forget to be involved yourself. People judge importance of any initiative by the level of a leader’s involvement.

Involve them and set them free: Once broad goals are established, set people free. Allow them to exercise their knowledge and find out the best possible route to achieve results. Autonomy is a powerful driver of change.

Handhold and Facilitate: When people experiment, they will fail. Set up rituals and practices to provide help. Give them necessary training, facilitate them and handhold them as required. Eliminate barriers and ensure that team stays focused.

Communicate Results: Document success stories. Share them with a wider audience through internal mechanisms like blogs and wikis. Ensure that these results are talked about in employee meetings. Make those results tangible, understandable and relevant to business goals.

Goal is not 100% buy-in: Do all of this and you will still have a portion of your organization that would be skeptical about results. The goal of any improvement initiative is never to have a 100% buy-in, because it may not be possible. The idea is to have a majority buy-in and then convert skeptics into believers and doers by being persistent in the efforts.

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Also Check Out: A great collection of leadership posts and insights in May 2012 Edition of Leadership Development Carnival over at Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership Blog.

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Great Story: Improvement and Tending the Garden

Improvement is not a product. It is process. On the journey to improve constantly, you can never announce that you have arrived because there isn’t a destination. If you get certified against an external standard, that is a milestone which can provide a framework to improve further. Organizations often fall in trap of thinking about external certifications like ISO as a destination beyond which they lose the motivation to travel further.

This reminds me of a very interesting story that I read in Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur”:

A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes. A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”

Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden”.

Bagchi adds,

“An organization, like a garden, is a living thing, and the process of removing dry twigs never ends. So, like the monk, the top management can never say, the job is done.”

Improvement was traditionally associated with growth, that if you constantly improve, you grow and prosper. As competition grew more global and fierce, constant and often dramatic improvements have become essential for mere survival.

For business leaders, it helps to adopt a mindset of Zen gardener and build a culture that strives to improve, before competition forces them to do so.

Related Reading at QAspire Blog

A Story on Importance of Processes: From Subroto Bagchi
Great Quotes: Gems from Subroto Bagchi on Leadership

The Secret Sauce of Process Improvement

A colleague from a different department recently asked me, “When does this process improvement stop?”. In my response, I explained that improvement is not a destination, but a journey. It is a way for business to tune and align the operations to ongoing changes in the business.

“If that is the case, how do you sustain the improvement effort? What is the secret sauce of continuous improvement?”, he further inquired. I thought about the recipe of this sauce and a few ingredients immediately came to my mind.

First was commitment and rigor with which top management sponsors and pursues improvement effort. Commitment is often related with assigning budgets, providing resources and setting the right precedence through words and actions. Rigor is important too. Pace of improvement, simplification of operations and its subsequent impact on business needs a constant monitoring, follow-up and alignment. Leaders have to set this direction to build a culture where people are motivated to find optimal ways to deliver value to the customers.

Second ingredient in this sauce is involvement of practitioners in defining and implementing improvements/processes. While job of improvement task force is to facilitate improvements, the real improvements should come from people who execute processes – your team members, middle managers, client facing teams and support groups. If they are the ones who drive improvements, implementation and subsequent buy-in comes in easily.

Third and final ingredient is empathy when implementing process improvements. Processes are tools that make people effective. People are at the core. However, many a times, improvement leaders announce a “zero-tolerance” policy towards process compliance. They ignore the contextual (and human) aspect of implementation and end up demonstrating a complete lack of empathy when processes become an overhead, a necessary evil.

I think these are the core ingredients. There would be many more supplements and spices that makes this sauce more delicious. But unless core ingredients are not addressed completely, all spices and supplements will fail to cook a great sauce that your business would love to have on its dish!

Quality: Setting Right Goals

Most improvement initiatives are heavily focused on internal goals – increasing productivity/efficiency, eliminating waste, reducing defects/costs and so on. Processes around these goals are written and implemented. People are trained, tools are implemented, energies are directed and everyone starts working hard to meet these goals. Some improvement is seen, some re-alignment is done and it seems to be working fine, till…the customer starts complaining again.

This happens often because of the “internal orientation” of goals. When you establish your processes, pay enough attention to what customers are looking for. Customer A may be looking for impeccable technical quality (features) of deliverable while Customer B may be very sensitive to the quality of communication. Customer C cares a lot about user-friendliness of the product while Customer D is looking for an overall quality of experience delivered. Each one of these customers carry a different perception of quality based on their specific business needs and experiences. The fact that these expectations are fluid and ever-changing adds to the challenge.

If processes are a way to meet business objectives, it pays to identify the right objectives that finely balance internal and customer oriented goals. Internal goals are about continuity of pursuit to remain efficient. External objectives ensure that organization remains absolutely focused on what customer perceives as “value” and ways to deliver that value. With this balance, the focus on customer needs and wants is as much as focus on tools, systems, internal learning and processes. These objectives (and its constant reinforcement) drive people to look for ways to ensure that system is flexible to handle variation in customer demands.

Bottom line:

When defining your processes, do not forget to include the customer. A lot of waste from your practices can be eliminated if you constantly focus on how those practices help you achieve internal and external business objectives.

Gentle Reminder: Don’t forget to focus on your internal customers – your people.

Related Posts at QAspire:

7 Steps For Customer Centric Process Improvement

Metrics: Are They Mapped With Your Business Objectives?

5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

Creativity is at the core of building quality in design. People rarely innovate when they simply follow instructions. This led me to think more about creativity – the act of doing something in an unconventional way, the act of creating something meaningful that changes you and hence the world. Traditionally (in an industrial world), only artists were meant to be creative – painters, dancers, poets and so on. In the knowledge world, every professional has an opportunity (and a need) to be creative – to see patterns that others don’t see, to create and initiate.

Around the same time I was thinking about creativity, I stumbled upon a great book titled “Creativity – Unleashing the Forces Within” written by 20th century spiritual teacher Osho. I read the book with great interest and gained some very enlightening insights. Here are a few:

Ego is the enemy of creativity. You are at your creative best when you do things because you find joy in doing it, because it has an intrinsic value to you. When you do things with a purpose of gaining recognition (and hence satisfy your ego), creativity is limited. Our need for external validation for our work stops us from being receptive, open and curious.

Creativity is a paradox. The more you try to be creative, the less creative you will be. Conscious effort to be creative comes in your way to be creative – that is because creativity flows. I wrote earlier that constraints help us become creative – but being in a state flow, being with the work, being in the work is the key to be creative. The book says, “It is not a question of what you do, it is the question of how you do it. And ultimately it is a question of whether you do it or you allow it to happen.”

Creativity means letting go of past. Too much reliance on our past stops you from being creative. Creative person is the one who lives in the moment, understands the context and looks at possibilities. As Osho rightly says in the book, “To bring intelligence into activity, you don’t need more information, you need more meditation. You need to become less mind and more heart.”

Creativity is an inner game. It stems from your love for the subject. It stems from your passion to practice, courage to try and learn by doing. Osho says, “If your act is your love affair then it becomes creative. Creativity is the quality you bring to the activity you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things. Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, then it is creative”

Creativity demands a lot of courage. Because doing something unconventionally requires you take risks, be prepared for failure, and learn from it. Osho observes that once you recognition and respect (external validation) keeps us from experimenting, because we are too afraid to fail.

Bottom line:

Creativity isn’t always about doing something that no one has done before – but in my view, it is always about executing your ideas with great love, great joy and a deep interest. If world recognizes it, you will be grateful. If not, you will still find intrinsic joy and happiness. Being creative is a selfish act!

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Related Posts at QAspire:

– The Creative (Process) – A Few Thoughts
Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective
Managers, Nurture Creativity. Don’t Kill It!
Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints

The Quality Manifesto (Free PDF)

Greetings, friends and readers! Today, I am excited to announce the release of my new manifesto titled “The Quality Manifesto – Getting the Basics of Quality Right in Knowledge World”. This manifesto is completely free with no email opt-in required.

What’s it all about?

This manifesto is about delivering excellence (as an individual and as an organization). We need a clear understanding of quality when knowledge and service oriented work is gaining prominence. The definition of quality is evolving and the “human” aspect of quality is becoming even more crucial. I wrote a series of posts on essence of quality in modern world. Based on the response I received from readers on various social channels, I decided to write a short manifesto that helps leaders, managers and professionals get the basics of quality right.

What you can do with it?

Well, a lot. You can share this manifesto via email, print it, share it with your colleagues, front line staff, managers and leaders. Discuss with them on some of these ideas. Get their views and build on the conversation. If you like the manifesto, you might also like my book “#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project” which outlines ideas (in tweet form) to build a quality oriented culture via people, processes and leadership.

The Attitude of Quality

A retail outlet of a leading shoe brand recently opened up in near vicinity. The design of the store is flashy with impressive interiors and product arrangement. The brand carries a lot of consumer trust since many years. Good store, great brand and competitive prices all at one stop. The only (and probably the biggest) irritant there was attitude of their staff. They seemed too busy and non-responsive leaving many customers (including myself) waiting for long. Frustration amongst customers was visible. The business owners invested a great deal in expensive interiors, they did not think enough about investing in getting the right people, training them and managing their attitudes.

From selling shoes to writing software, every product has to have a strong “service” layer. People enable this layer. At the local shoe store, things were not meant to be that way, but people made them so. In a knowledge/service oriented world, quality of product, environment and infrastructure is just the beginning. Quality of interaction, quality of care, quality of being human, quality of walking that extra mile to delight the customer matters more. They need to complement each other.

The “attitude of quality” is about wanting to do the right things. Even if they are not prescribed that way. When no one is watching. When it takes a bit of extra effort. When you are not paid ‘extra’ to do it. In the current scenario (and the time to come), a professional’s ‘attitude of quality’ will be a key differentiator for his/her success.

I remember a project manager who would test everything before sending it to customer, even after the inspection team had signed off the deliverable. He toiled at the last moment, late in the night to ensure things because he cared. Because he carried an ‘attitude of quality’. He wanted to delight the customer.

Bottom line:

Quality is an attitude. The work we deliver, the products we ship and experiences we extend to customers reveals this attitude. Invest in quality of your product/service, but do not forget to invest in people who carry the right attitude. Because only excited, engaged and enthusiastic people can excite the customers and pass on the enthusiasm. People (and their attitude) is at the core of excellence. We need more ‘attitude of quality’ in our businesses and service organizations.

Quality is Human. Quality is Love.

Quality is Human

When leaders rely too much on processes, metrics, facts and trends to measure project/organization’s quality, they forget one thing: that quality is about being human. Quality is human.

That is because people drive quality and exercise their choice of delivering good versus great work. Because work allows people to expand their capacity to deliver. People work for people (customers).

Knowledge world of work thrives on human judgement – our ability to see patterns, listen to our intuition, use our implicit understanding, learning about the context and attend to nuances of work – precisely what makes the ‘human’ aspect of quality so important.

Have processes, measure right things but don’t forget being human.

Quality is Love

Part of being human about quality is also to realise that people only care for quality when they love what they are doing. Quality is about love. Quality is an expression of love for the subject.

When we strive to understand/deliver what customers wants, try to improve our work, when we make mistakes and learn from them, it is essentially an act of love.

Why would we walk any mile extra for things that we don’t deeply care about? For things that we don’t believe are the right things to do?

Challenge is to find enough people who are passionate about what they do and then let them lead/self-organize. You won’t have to worry too much about quality then.

Quality is Happiness

Quality is not just ”degree of excellence” or “conformance to requirements”. Quality is Happiness. (Read the full post here)

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Related Posts:

– Views on The Big Q – Quality of Design

‘Quality’ Leadership 25

Quality? Excellence? What?