Five Pillars of Quality

Five Pillars of Quality

Today in an era of cut throat competition, an organization can survive only if it is a quality organization and respecting the basic concept of quality in all of its operations. In fact, quality is the single most important issue which the organization faces every day of its existence. A reputation for quality is essential for the future of the organization. The organization to become a leader in its area of operation has to ensure that it does everything in the organization where quality work can flourish and where quality becomes a competitive advantage. Quality improvement can happen in the organization if the management and all the employees have a shared dedication towards quality with all its functions.

Organizations, which are not quality conscious, are normally product oriented. In these organizations, the emphasis is on detecting errors. The product is inspected after it is produced to check whether the product meets the specification quality requirements and those products which do not meet the requirements get rejected. In these types of organizations, the problem is known only at the end of the production process and corrective action is taken when already substantial damage has been done. The responsibility of maintaining the product quality lies with the quality control department which has only a very limited role in the product manufacturing process. The problem solving in such organizations is normally done by a few people who are in the authority at the top of the pyramid. These types of organizations are successful only when the environmental conditions are favouring them.

Quality conscious organizations are those which have faith in quality principles. These organizations are customer oriented and focus on preventing errors. They balance short term objectives with the long term objectives. These are the organizations which survive even in most adverse environment.

A quality conscious organization has got five characteristics. These characteristics are called the five pillars of quality on which the organizational operations are supported. The foundation of these pillars is the organizational values since the pillars get support from these values. These values are honesty, commitment to customer satisfaction, and commitment to creating an environment in which the employees can give their best to the organization. These five pillars of quality are (i) customer focus, (ii) total involvement of employees (iii) measurement, (iv) systematic support, and (v) continuous improvement. These five pillars provide the organization with the quality advantage. These pillars of quality indicate the continuous improvement quality culture existing in the organization and are described below and shown in Fig 1.

Fig 1 Five pillars of quality

Customer focus – Customer focus is the first pillar of the quality. A perfectly produced product has little value if it is not what the customer wants. Also, the organization depends on its customers and hence it is necessary for the organization to know who its customers are. The organization is not only to meet the requirements of its customers but also it is to strive to exceed customer expectations. Further, it is to understand the present and the future needs of the customers. The organization which identifies how to delight its customers and be in the first in the market to provide the products needed by the customers is always one step ahead of its competitors.

Further within an organization, employees of one department supply products, services and information to the employees of another department. These exchanges link co-employees as internal customers and suppliers. This concept of the internal customer is shown in Fig 2. The organization, in which the employees work to meet the requirements of their internal customers, is in a better position to meet the need of its final external customers. Employees within the organization are required to understand the requirements of all their internal customers and continue to meet the requirements while working to improve their work processes.

Fig 2 Concept of internal customer in the organization

Total involvement of employees – Total involvement is the second pillar of the quality advantage. All the organizational processes are to be operated at their highest quality level to get high performance of the organization. Hence, quality is not just the responsibility of management or quality control personnel. Neither can it be delegated to certain functions. For the quality efforts in the organization, it is necessary to involve every employee at every level, and every function of the organization. This is because improving of quality is the job of everyone in the organization.

Employees at all the levels are the essence of the organization and their full involvement is necessary to enable their abilities to be used for achieving the quality improvement objectives of the organization. In the organization, the unrecognized quality experts are those personnel who do the work at the workplace. They are best equipped to solve the quality related issues. In the organization, if the ideas and advice from these unrecognized quality experts are ignored, then the organization is doing a big mistake since it is ignoring the total involvement of the employees.

Measurement – Measurement is the third pillar of the quality advantage. An axiom of quality is, ‘one cannot improve what one does not measure’. In every organization measurements are being done. But in the quality organization, the measurements are needed to track its progress for the right things. The right things for measurements are decided based on the requirements of both the internal and external customers. When people learn to measure quality, they know where and when to take action. They are also being able to document the achievements which result from the quality improvement process. The organization can meet its quality goals if it establishes baselines and charts progress against them. Decisions what to measure and who to measure, are to be heavily influenced by the requirements of the customers. Normally measurement is to be done by those persons who are closest to the work. Also in a quality conscious organization, people make decisions using facts and data then relying on intuition.

To explain the measurement in simple language, it is doing the right things right. When the people do not do the right things right, then costs are incurred due to the unwanted turnover, rework, scrap, retraining, and grievances. A major cost is wasted time. The organizational employees on an average spend 25 % of their time sitting in unnecessary meetings, reading and writing unnecessary memos, and languishing on hold on the telephone and this constitutes a substantial portion of the time which they spend at their workplace. This lost time of the employees also constitutes a substantial cost to the organization.

Systematic support – The fourth pillar of the quality advantage is the systematic support. To put it another way, one thing which an unsuccessful implementation of the quality in the organization is treating the quality implementation as a programme, thus keeping it separate, failing to link it to the way the organization is really run. Slogans have their place, but serious quality improvement begins when everyone in the organization support systems and processes of the organization such as strategic planning, budgeting, and scheduling and the performance management in the organization reinforce the quality improvement efforts. Coordinating systems can reduce the time it takes to get work done.

Quality is to be recognized and rewarded. If an organization is not willing to promote and reward those who improve how the work is done then it cannot achieve the quality in the organization. The organization is required to have a system in which the total quality is a means to an end, rather than a separate system which the employees follow when they happen to have some free time. The quality advantage is required to be aligned with other organizational systems.

Continuous improvement – Continuous improvement (Fig 3) is the last of the five pillars in the implementation of the quality advantage in the organization. There is always room for improvement and there are the possibilities of improvements at all the times. This means reducing cycle time, shooting for breakthroughs, looking for innovation. It means understanding that all work is a process and people can always do it better.

The quality organization is always aware of its potential to be better. In such an organization ‘good enough’ is never good enough. To build and maintain a quality advantage, organizational employees are to continuously reach for new and better ways to do their jobs. The organization is required to do things better tomorrow than it did yesterday and to be constantly on the lookout for ways to prevent problems, correct flaws and make improvements. In a quality organization, all the employees foster creativity and breakthroughs and increase credibility with their customers. Even if the customers are satisfied with how the organization serves them now, it is better to keep looking for a better way. In a fast changing technological environment in the world, it is only a matter of time before the customers need change. When they do, organization is to be ready to maintain their competitive advantage.

Fig 3 Continuous improvement

No matter how much the organization is required to invest, no matter what kind of resources the organization is to put at the front end of implementing the quality advantage; it costs a lot less to invest in prevention than it does to clean up after a catastrophe. Three main ingredients for the five pillars in a quality conscious organization are as follows.

    • There is to be a clear understanding of what is already in place, what is working well and what can be enhanced as the pillars of quality become central to every employee’s daily work.
    • There is to be vibrant sense of where the organization wants to go. Organization is to have a vision for the future instead of goals and targets for the coming years. Visions are to be beacons to guide everyone in the organization.
    • There has to be a comprehensive plan which is a set of guidelines governing progress in the overall implementation process. This plan is to be a living document which is to be reviewed, updated, and changed to reflect the changing environment, growing capabilities and the changing need of the organization as it implement the quality principles.

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