Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

By: Thomas R. Cutler

When every product manufactured is unique, clients often accept quality risks in order to deliver the project on time. Testing time is limited by the project nature of a manufacturing process and the metrics of quality change when compared to repetitive manufacturing. “Fixed delivery times, prototype manufacturing, and small enterprises lack the staff depth to monitor quality identically,” says Dennis Parass of Burlington, Ontario-based Questica, an engineer-to-order (ETO) technology firm.

Quality, often defined as the absence of any defect, must have the characteristics of a system that conforms to an original design. ETO products are unique and there’s often no original design. There are data from previous projects that possess similarities and help to guide quality and accuracy, but the notion of simply rerunning a job doesn’t exist in the ETO world of manufacturing.

Tom Travis’s default image

By: Tom Travis

Do you know what’s really going on in your overseas partners’ and suppliers’ plants? Are you sure? Many companies are unable to answer with a confident yes. That’s bad news. In a time when companies are focused on getting more for less, it’s time to remember your Ps and Qs—“P” is for product, and “Q” is for quality. If you aren’t certain that everything possible is being done to ensure the quality of your products overseas and at home, your brand is at risk. So are your profits. In fact, so are your customers, not to mention their children and pets.

Just ask the companies involved in recent scandals: Menu Foods, the Canadian pet food company whose contaminated products affected numerous cats and dogs; Colgate-Palmolive Co., whose brand was sullied due to a contaminated “counterfeit” version of its toothpaste; and various retail stores that had to pull some popular Chinese-made toys from their shelves due to the presence of lead paint. In all of these cases product quality slipped, resulting in public-relations nightmares and real risks to public health.

Joe Caliro’s default image

By: Joe Caliro

Many companies include a variation of the goal “Provide world-class service” in their mission statements. These same companies have well-planned business strategies and comprehensive marketing strategies. But ask them about their customer-service strategy and you’ll find it’s often nothing more than a bullet point in the mission statement.

A customer-driven service platform allows a company to place a dollar value on customer satisfaction, thus enabling management to tie financial results to customer satisfaction and employee performance. The keys to building a strong customer-driven service platform include collecting and managing the right customer- and employee-satisfaction data; including call-monitoring data, customer and employee survey results, daily internal metrics, and then using a variety of advanced analytics and predictive modeling techniques to bring everything together to track and predict the success of business and marketing efforts.

For many companies, it makes sense to outsource some or all of the process of developing a successful quality program and building a robust customer-driven service strategy. The results can have a dramatic effect on brand loyalty, day-to-day marketing efforts, and the long-term bottom line.

Peter Cappelli’s default image

By: Peter Cappelli

Failing to manage your company’s talent needs is the equivalent of failing to manage your supply chain. Supply chain managers ask questions like ”Do we have the right parts in stock?“ “Do we know where to get these parts when we need them?” and “Does it cost a lot of money to carry inventory?” These questions are just as relevant to companies that are trying to manage their talent needs. The principles of supply chain management, with its emphasis on just-in-time manufacturing, can be applied to talent management.

This is a fundamentally different paradigm for thinking about talent. HR practices have typically been about meeting individuals’ needs, figuring out what psychological profile they fit and what should be done to help them grow and advance—touchy-feely, squishy stuff with little applicability to business problems. But if you’re an employer who is worried about issues like the finances of the company, you would like HR to think about personnel from the perspective of money and costs, and what happens if you don’t have the right people in place to do the necessary jobs.

Joseph OBrien’s default image

By: Joseph OBrien

A few months ago, I received training on ISO 9001 process auditing. It was very thorough and put on by a very enthusiastic man. I was really enjoying the training, and I planned to take my newfound knowledge and begin to process audit my division.

One of the last things the trainer said to me before we finished for the day was, “Remember, as a quality person, you are only to point out nonconformances and areas for improvement. You are not to personally get involved in fixing them.” That was music to my ears as I was one of the few engineers at my company. I figured this would lessen my workload now that I wouldn’t have to worry about process improvements or any other direct work on production.

As I headed back to my office, I encountered the division manager (my boss) in the supervisor’s office. He asked me how my training was going and then said, “By the way, go take a look at press 3. Its output has been lagging behind. We think it may be a mechanical problem.”

Jeffrey A. Miller’s default image

By: Jeffrey A. Miller

Elevated systemic anxiety can have severe effects, and most organizations are at risk. The good news is that it takes only one person to break the cycle and turn the company around.

If you’re a leader, you feel it in your gut: Stress is at an all-time high, and no wonder. The uncertain economy keeps even those who work for successful companies slightly off-balance. Doing more with less has become a way of life: fewer dollars, fewer employees, and what feels like fewer hours in the day (The only thing there seems to be more of is competition). And now that working virtually is de rigueurand globalization has truly taken hold, we must collaborate with people at the proverbial four corners of the Earth. It all adds up to anxiety overload and that can be deadly for an organization.

Helping your organization manage excessive, chronic anxiety is your No. 1 job, because it means ensuring that employees operate on principles rather than emotions. When people stay in low-grade panic mode, they can no longer think clearly, creatively, and flexibly. They make irrational decisions, and when irrational decisions start adding up, the company isn’t long for this world. (See the tip sheet below to find out if you work for an anxious organization.)

Ron Kirscht’s default image

By: Ron Kirscht

Donnelly Custom Manufacturing of Alexandria, Minnesota, a short-run injection molding company, knows that proper training is vital to productivity and quality. Still, training at Donnelly was taking longer than desired and employees often weren’t retaining enough of what had been learned with traditional methods. Donnelly was committed to continuous improvement, and the company needed more advanced training practices to help employees more fully understand their jobs, improve quality, and eliminate any turnover associated with job confusion.

Job methods shatter the box you work in

Sam Wagner, job methods certified trainer at Donnelly, has this story to share about teaching Donnelly employees this method.

“One group I taught came to class in the second day with only one example for improvement rather than the two I had asked for. When asked why there wasn’t a second example, a trainee said he walked the floor from one end to the other but was unable to find a job that could be improved.

Unable to accept this, I asked them to randomly select a press on the floor and said we’d find ways to improve it. To test me, they selected the most streamlined and automated press in our plant.

David F. Giannetto’s default image

By: David F. Giannetto

Who does your company exist to please? In your daily business operations, who ultimately determines whether you and your people get paychecks or pink slips? Who do the mission and vision statements place at the center of your employees’ universe? If your answer to all three questions is the customer, you’re not alone. Most leaders wake up each morning hoping to live up to their company’s promise to maximize customer value and deliver the best possible customer experience. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always translate to success, and “customer-centric” is an ideal that most companies fail to uphold.

Creating a customer-centric company is a classic case of easier said than done. It’s a concept that every business leader at any level wants a grasp of and usually doesn’t have.

Tough economic times are coming, and if you aren’t giving your customers the most for their money right now, they won’t think twice about dropping you when times get tough, and that will be when you need them most.

Quality Digest’s picture

By: Quality Digest

Tune into “The Apprentice” television show, and you get an all-too-common view of business. Every week, all of the wannabe moguls try to impress Donald Trump by preening, cajoling, and conniving. In this world, toughness is the measure of every CEO, and the boss glories in firing people and squeezing every penny out of suppliers.

Yet, according to Wharton marketing professors John Zhang and Jagmohan Raju, and Tony Haitao Cui, a University of Minnesota marketing and logistics professor, many people aren’t purely mercenary in their business dealings. They care about fairness, and they should, the researchers say, because doing so can maximize their profits.

A manufacturer and a retailer can end up making more money if they’re fair minded, setting prices with an eye to achieving an equitable outcome in their joint marketing channel as opposed to merely maximizing their individual profits, Zhang, Raju, and Cui argue in a paper recently published in Management Sciencetitled, “Fairness and Channel Coordination.”

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

War heroes are a special category of leaders. They embody bravery, resoluteness, and strength—quintessential attributes of good leaders. This is exactly the sort of leader Shakespeare gives us at the beginning of Macbeth.

At the start of Act 1, Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman and field general, has just defeated a rebellion, with Macbeth himself slaying one of the rebels and putting his head on a pike. Nobody can say enough about Macbeth and his virtues. The King of Scotland, Duncan, gushes like a schoolgirl:

            “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” (Act 1, Scene 2, line 24)

Macbeth is awarded a promotion from the King before even returning from the battlefield, receiving the title of Thane of Cawdor. We learn about all of this through dialogue before the character Macbeth makes an appearance. It’s an auspicious beginning that seems to lead to leadership immortality. But wait, this is a tragedy, remember? Events are bound to turn dark. In Macbeth, events turn very dark.

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