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Dan Jacob


Driving the Quality Initiative

Become an effective change agent

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 11:40

You’ve identified a fledgling quality initiative to fix the bottlenecks in your processes. Or perhaps you need that application with the latest technology that is sure to improve performance. You might have even discovered the approach to advance a culture of quality. Now that you know the solution, the real challenge is to promote your vision and justify positive change. The first critical step is to help execs—and the finance department—understand the business value and get their support for the project. But how?

It’s all about communication, but with which role…

The business world gets its inspiration from many sources. In some cases, the CEO determines a visionary course from the top that the company stretches to accomplish, and in other cases, the innovation comes from the troops who must persuade leadership. Those who are driving bottom-up must find a compelling way to communicate the value of their innovation so that they get visceral, organizational, and financial support from the correct leaders.

You’ll know you have visceral support when your stakeholders not only understand your proposal, but also are willing to champion it. The benchmark for organizational support is advocating for your proposal across functions, and enforcing it within. Financial support may seem obvious but doesn’t just include an initial investment; it is a commitment to investing over the duration of the project’s roadmap to align people, processes, and technology. This might include things like extra hours for training, or help from the communications department.

LNS Research has a framework that coordinates multiple initiatives such as enterprise quality management software (EQMS), cloud technology, connected devices, analytics, and the roles responsible for delivering on them (see figure 1). This is valuable when deciding who the stakeholders will need to be for a project.

Let’s say that a functional manager or subject-matter expert (SME) within quality wants to drive a change to a process, such as harmonizing a risk analysis process. Since this is a change to operational excellence, the appropriate business leader would be a stakeholder. Additionally, if this changes operational technology (OT) or information technology (IT), then IT/OT leaders will be stakeholders.

Figure 1: Framework for multiple initiatives

… and with which functions?

LNS Research tracks top challenges to achieving quality objectives. According to our research, 35 percent of the market sees the issue of “quality is a department, not a responsibility” as their top challenge to achieving quality objectives. This underscores a pervasive problem in the market: that quality management is too disconnected from other functions. In fact, other functions often consider their own actions as critical to delivering quality and can see quality management as a complicated compliance activity, disconnected from the ways in which functions deliver quality. For instance, engineering often perceives itself as critical for product quality, manufacturing for process quality, and service for service quality. In fact, LNS's research shows that only 15 percent of respondents indicate that the entire organization is aligned on a consistent vision for quality.

Your initiative can be a way to bridge this cross-functional divide, but it requires communication with the appropriate functions. Figure 2 represents a 360° EQMS framework for determining stakeholders. Overlay functions on top of the technologies shown in the figure (e.g., EQMS = quality, PLM = engineering, CRM = sales and service, MOM = manufacturing, ERP = finance and corporate). If your initiative impacts one of the processes aligned with other functions, make sure to include that function as a stakeholder.

LNS has seen that those who are most pragmatic when working between functions are often those who are the most successful. Define base goals and stretch goals. Where possible, focus on easy and simple vs. complex, and use roadmaps to go from minimum viable cases to more complex cases. Compromise to gain adoption, if compromise doesn’t result in missing base goals such as compliance.

Figure 2: EQMS framework for determining stakeholders

Turn stakeholders into champions

Innovators must gain visceral, organizational, and financial support from their stakeholders. It is critical to gain visceral support first, and then support this with rational data such as benefits or ROI. Too often, innovators struggle to communicate their proposal in a way that the audience connects with viscerally. Although it’s easier for SMEs to focus on technical details and benefits, decisions are made by people, and people are guided by past experiences and emotions as well as data.

One element of the visceral connection is passing the executive “sniff test,” a gut check by stakeholders that compares the proposal with past experiences and current understandings. To pass the sniff test, the proposal must be understandable to the stakeholder. Innovators should work to deliver a clear, concise, and relevant message that explains the proposal and its value and that considers industry trends.

One useful thought exercise is to take a step back from your role in quality and look at your proposal from the eyes of an “outsider.” Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders, and assess what they consider their role to be in delivering quality, and how that relates to the innovation. Do they know what the problem is that the innovation solves? What are examples from their world that would help them understand both the challenges inherent in how things are done today, and what the new, better world looks like?

Describing today’s as-is state and the proposed to-be state in the audience’s language is an important step in helping stakeholders understand the proposal and its value.

Help your stakeholders achieve success

Do you know what success means to your stakeholders? The company has strategic objectives, and leaders have dedicated objectives, as well. These dedicated objectives are often tied to incentive plans with annual performance goals and metrics, and have been established because they support corporate performance. Clearly, leadership will be motivated to accomplish these goals. Learn what these objectives are, and communicate how your proposal helps to accomplish the objectives. Recall that quality management affects all functions, and the proposal may address objectives from a different function.

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at 11 a.m. Pacific, LNS will dive into this topic in greater detail in a webcast to help you get the executive support you need for your initiative. During the broadcast, we’ll explore how to:
• Successfully communicate your proposed improvement to management
• Gain backing from other functions
• Leverage important frameworks and support your argument with LNS statistics
• Support your cause by aligning with important trends and objectives


About The Author

Dan Jacob’s picture

Dan Jacob

Dan Jacob is a research analyst at LNS Research primarily focused on the enterprise quality management systems (EQMS) practice. Jacob has more than 20 years of experience in quality, reliability, risk, and safety across several industries, primarily automotive, aerospace and defense, high tech and electronics, and medical devices. Jacob also operated his own firm providing engineering consulting to the medical devices and metals industries. Jacob graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.