Scott Paton  |  08/30/2008

It’s the Process, Stupid!

Quality professionals are all about the process. Why can’t everyone else be, too?

Quality professionals obsess about processes. We are so focused on processes that we sometimes forget that people who aren’t directly involved in quality don’t understand the importance of them. When we see process failure or processes that don’t make sense, they stick out like sore thumbs. Everything that gets done is the result of some sort of a process. There are, however, poorly designed processes, poorly implemented processes, inefficient processes. . . you get the idea.

I’d like to share an example of a process problem that illustrates the importance of having, understanding, and implementing an effective and efficient process.

My wife and I have long wanted to remodel our kitchen. We decided we wanted to replace our 1980s-style tile countertops with granite.

I’m not handy and granite countertops aren’t something easily done by the do-it-yourselfer, anyway. It just so happens that a manufacturer of kitchen countertop surfaces is located right here in Chico. It advertises a one-stop solution for your new or remodeling needs. We also checked with the Big Box stores--Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

We decided to go with the local company, which offered a very good price and had a reputation for good quality products.

From our first phone call to the company to the bill we received in the mail at the end of the “process,” it seemed that this company was incapable of doing anything right. The product is beautiful and we love the way it looks, but the process was appalling.

We met with the company representative at its showroom. She wanted to know if we had already met with someone there or if we were working with a contractor. We told her that we weren’t and that we had seen the company’s advertisements promising a one-stop solution.

No problem, she assured us. Here’s how the “process” would work:

1. We select our surface and pay a 10- percent deposit.

2. The company schedules an independent contractor to come out and prepare our existing tile to be templated for the new surface.

3. The contractor comes out to our home and removes a few tiles, drills holes in others, and makes sure that the person who will measure for the template can get a good measurement.

4. The company sends out someone to measure the space for the new countertops--a template. Interestingly, he would be using a FARO arm to create this template. (I was impressed that a product advertised in Quality Digest would actually be used in my home.)

5. A week or so later, the granite would be cut and ready to be installed in our kitchen.

6. The same independent contractor would come back to our home to completely remove all of the tile, the sink, and the backsplash to prepare the countertops for the new granite. Even though we were using an independent contractor, because he was “their guy,” we were guaranteed that there would be no problem with the installation.

7. The following day the granite would be delivered and installed. They would also install our new sink, but the company would not do the plumbing for it.

8. The independent contractor would install the plumbing for the new sink.

9. We pay the balance on our bill when the job is done.


Step one of this nine-step process actually worked as promised. We selected our surface and paid our 10-percent deposit. Every other step, however, was flawed.

The independent contractor failed to contact us despite repeated efforts to reach him. When he finally did show up to prepare for the template, he didn’t remove enough of the tiles to get an accurate measurement.

The templater arrived the following day with his trusty FARO arm and promptly told us that he couldn’t template over the tile. (It was at this point that I realized my sweet wife could make a grown man’s blood run cold.) His boss came out and told him that he could do it and that it was fine. It wasn’t.

The independent contractor that the company scheduled to remove all of the tile and prepare for the installation did not do the job. They sent someone else who charged us more than we were quoted.

The granite did not fit our countertop because the template had been made incorrectly. The company ended up cutting a piece off of it in our driveway and making a ledge behind our sink a week later.

When we asked the independent contractor when he would connect our new sink, he told us that he had never been informed that he was doing the plumbing and that he couldn’t do it for a week. We had to find a plumber to come and finish the job.

The bill arrived in the mail two days after the granite was installed. Of course, it had the wrong amount on it.

What examples of process failure drive you crazy? What steps does your company take to make sure that your customers are satisfied? Share your thoughts at


About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is the president and CEO of Certus Professional Certification  and the president of Paton Professional. He’s the former editor and publisher of Quality Digest, and now serves as editor at large.




Process issues

What happened here was lack of communication between the internal customers (contractors). Apparently no one communicated what they expected from the previous person.

I see this happening when a general contractor, who is being paid by the external customer, schedules work by other contractors (masons, carpenters, plumbers). The subcontractors, being paid by the general contractor, fail to recognize who their customer is. They think it is the general contractor and tend to ignore the exernal customer.