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Denis Leonard

Quality Insider

Diagnostic Profiles

Quality management diagnostic profiles and their applications

Published: Monday, April 10, 2006 - 21:00

I developed and validated quality management diagnostic profiles through research conducted on 77 companies. These profiles are just one in a suite of strategic and dynamic tools that recognize that quality management is dynamic, complex in nature and can’t be easily represented in a sequential or linear manner as described by current models. Five elements make up the quality management diagnostic profiles (see Figure 1):
1. Lack of senior management commitment
2. Lack of operational influence
3. Ineffective tactical translation of strategy
4. Middle management isolation
5. Need to increase deployment consistency

Figure 1

By studying the full range of profiles, the full effect of quality management can be achieved. The basic problems of quality management implementation distilled from the 77 companies I studied fall into the five elements that make up the quality management profiles. The profiles allow the five elements to be visualized, hence adding support and focus to the discussion. The elemental diagnostic takes some soul-searching, but begins with the process of identifying the current status of an organization’s quality management profile and addressing its fundamental barriers to achieving effective quality management.

Figure 1 provides examples of five organizations, each representing a quality management profile. You’ll see how they can be diagnosed, the problems each create and how they may be addressed. Each profile represents aspects that challenge sustained quality management and create economic stresses as a secondary result. These stresses are the result of ineffective initiatives, limited financial returns, wasted effort, and the misalignment of strategy and operational goals.

The quality management profiles and their applications
The research findings show that there are five fundamental profiles that diagnose problems in quality management applications in organizations. The following examples articulate how the profiles were used to evaluate the application of quality in five companies and then diagnose the fundamental areas that those companies needed to focus on to sustain quality.

Profile 1: The lack of senior management

This is the most common profile. S Co. is a manufacturer with 6,500 employees that has been applying quality management for 14 years. The company implemented ISO 9001 and then expanded it throughout the company using the European Model for Business Excellence. S Co. had success with both quality methodologies, but the motivation wasn’t sustained. Even achieving national quality award recognition didn’t help the company continue to drive quality efforts. They rested on their laurels, and this lack of senior management drive resulted in stagnation of the quality effort, innovation and the continual effort to create stretch goals. Quality was less and less linked to the strategic plan. However, quality continued to be used at the operational level and was used as the basis for daily operational activities. Quality was recognized at the operational level as key to functioning effectively and efficiently, and it was also seen as something that senior management had lost interest in, to the ultimate detriment of the company. With every level committed to quality, it would take little effort from senior management to reenergize quality and derive significant results at the strategic level. This would improve company morale and invigorate the company.

Here, quality management isn’t considered a strategic issue and is delegated to middle management at the tactical level. Its greatest application and effect, though, is at the operational level.

Profile 2: The lack of operational influence

T Co. is a transportation company with 90 employees and has had a quality management system in place for seven years. This company used ISO 9001 as its introduction to quality and quickly began to use the European Model for Business Excellence. Senior managers are strongly committed to the application of quality through strategic alignment using the European Model for Business Excellence and to building a quality management system for tactical and operational functioning. The company has attained positive initial results, but it’s just now maturing and seeing significant operational results, and the program has yet to reach its full effectiveness. This is partly because quality was used to create a management infrastructure using ISO 9001 to aid in structuring and formulating an organizational strategic evaluation and decision-making process. To some extent, managers take full advantage of quality tools and techniques only at the operational level and then only to conduct daily operational tasks. There are positive results at the operational level based on the success at the strategic and tactical levels. Managers also consider the time it has taken to introduce quality to the company as being important in gradually changing the company culture. They must also demonstrate leadership by first adopting the processes themselves before rolling it out to staff. For this company, continuing on their current track to expand the application of quality tools and techniques at the operational level will lead to success and a well-balanced quality deployment.

In this case, senior managers are aware of quality management’s strategic potential but have yet to fully implement it.

Profile 3: The ineffective tactical translation of strategy

PR Co. is a service company with 500 employees and has been employing quality management for eight years. While quality was adopted at the strategic level and driven initially as an important issue, senior management didn’t have a detailed understanding of quality. Some quality tools were introduced, but the focus, although strongly driven, was limited to that of monitoring and improving customer satisfaction. The tools used had a positive effect on the customer-satisfaction data and this is an obvious bottom-line goal of quality initiatives. Because quality initiatives were not used beyond the customer-relations department, these efforts had a limited effect on the company. Senior management strongly supported quality and those using the tools found benefits from it. The problem was translating senior management’s willingness to use quality and align it with the company strategic goals and figuring out how to effectively use the appropriate tools and techniques to gain the best results. Until quality is expanded beyond the customer relations department as only a way to monitor complaints and resolve them, it will be limited in its results. This can only be avoided by middle management being better educated about quality and its implementation.

Here, senior management and staff are committed to quality management and have benefited from its effect, but difficulties at the tactical level exist due to communication problems and middle management’s negative reaction to change.

Profile 4: Middle management isolation

BL Co. is a manufacturing company with 150 employees and has been applying quality management for 10 years. In this instance, senior management had delegated to middle management the task of implementing quality management. There was little strategic direction provided and therefore alignment was difficult. Middle management found ISO 9001 and the European Model for Business Excellence beneficial in implementing quality. Middle management’s problem was that without appropriate resources or strategic direction, quality obviously had little effect on the corporate strategy and had limited effect at the operational level, because time and resources weren’t provided for training and for the implementation of tools and techniques. Those at the operational level were aware of the lack of support of quality and knew that other issues were given precedence. If quality continues not to be supported by senior management, and if middle manager’s enthusiasm and initiatives aren’t heeded, middle management will give up the fight and the quality effort will quickly fail.

Here, motivated middle management is hampered in their efforts to create effects from quality management by noncommitted senior managers, which ultimately limits operational and strategic effect.

Profile 5: Need to increase deployment consistency

N Co. is a telecommunications company with 1,100 employees and has been applying quality management for 10 years. N Co. used ISO 9001 as its initial method of introducing and implementing quality and this was then developed by adopting the European Model for Business Excellence. This was followed by a strong alignment with the corporate strategy. However, while senior management has been fully committed to quality, and middle management has fully implemented and deployed quality throughout the company with significant results at the operational level, there are still areas for improvement. There’s still a misalignment of project improvement and communications, but this can be easily dealt with by continuing with the current quality plan and by expanding its deployment throughout the company. This company has a well-balanced quality approach and simply needs to continue the great work it has started. For many managers, however, simply sustaining energy and reinvigorating quality is a challenge.

This represents organizations where quality management is well implemented and simply needs to continue to deploy quality across all aspects of the organization in a consistent manner. This is an ongoing factor for even the most mature quality management organizations.

It’s the role of senior management to continually evaluate their organization, to know which profile is most prevalent at a particular point in time and to address the issues it raises. Obviously, an organization may cycle through each of the profiles during its quality management lifetime.

The quality management diagnostic profiles discussed in this article provide a simple and effective way to strategically view organizational effectiveness in implementing and deploying quality. They help you to recognize which profile reflects your organization and assist you in directing efforts to continually sustain long-term quality.


About The Author

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Denis Leonard

Denis Leonard, Ph.D., is a senior member of ASQ, a certified manager of quality, an auditor, and a Six Sigma Black Belt. He has served as a judge and an examiner for the Wisconsin Forward Award and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Leonard has written dozens of quality articles and the recent book, An Executive Guide to Understanding & Implementing the Baldrige Criteria (Quality Press, 2007), co-author, Mac McGuire, Ph.D. He is president of Business Excellence Consulting LLC in Bozeman, Montana. Contact Leonard at DenisLeonard@BusinessExcellenceConsulting.net or call (406) 451-9124.