Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Only Quality …………………

 In all my quality induction sessions, I get almost the same answer to my question “ What is quality ? “ . So , the answers which the audience came up in the induction which I conducted recently were also more or less these :

  • Quality means documentation
  • Quality means less defects
  • Quality means giving more functionality to the customer
  • Quality means estimating and planning so that we give more time for reviews etc.
  • Quality is “Conformance to Requirements”

I cannot dispute the above statements since some of them are true if taken in isolation. But the above statements do not convey the full essence of quality nor do they give the big picture.  So apart from “Quality is conformance to requirements “ , the rest of the definitions are incomplete and some of them are incorrect if taken in isolation.

What really is Quality ? For many organizations or projects , software quality is viewed as a luxury or good to have”. And for such mindsets, software quality is often “sacrificed” for added functionality, faster development at lower costs. Most of the times , however, at a very late stage , do the managers realize that they end up spending more time in fixing defects in the completed software resulting in  a much higher cost.

Compared to other engineering disciplines, low quality is often tolerated in software development. Think of a situation where you just bought a refrigerator or a camera and when you start using it , it does not work in the way it is supposed to .  You would immediately lodge a complaint and return the appliance. Not only would you not recommend this product to any one, you would even discourage others from buying that brand. In the software domain, low or poor quality is common mainly because the users or the customers are limited and there is this mindset of better than previous version” or “something is better than nothing”.

Quality can be termed as the sum of reliability , performance, functionality, zero defects , usability, supportability, scalability and the most important , software should run the way it is supposed to. Many people believe that they will “do quality” only after they get time after they “do their project”. This may be due to the notion that quality is documentation and hence an overhead.  And quality and project work are two different entities.  The inference from this thought may be due to the way quality at work is perceived by an associate. However , what needs to be understood is that quality is a well defined process for creating a useful product that adds value for both consumer and manufacturer. An apt definition of quality as penned by James Juran is quality meansfitness for use”. In this age of competitiveness, quality is the differentiator. If we take the example of  the automotive domain , in 1970s , the Japanese automotive manufacturers  adopted Deming’s rigorous quality assurance program and became known for their highly efficient usable and reliable cars.  Thus quality became the differentiators and the Japanese cars were taken as the benchmark for  automotive quality.

Another import aspect is innovation. The concept of continuous process improvement leads to organizational innovations.  With sound processes in place , it is possible to react , adopt and deploy the innovations efficiently.

Last but not at all the least , according to Phil Crossby, Quality is free. The statement may not be literally true , but  if you compare the cost of quality with the price of non compliance , the ratio is zero. The concept is doing things right the first time.  My experience is that quality and process are often traded for speedy development,  but in the long run, we find that processes enable the team to deliver more on time and at a lower cost. There is less person dependency and more people maturity in the team.

For quality to percolate down in any organization,  an essential ingredient is the drive and focus of Senior management.  

And yes, everybody can and should contribute to the quality drive in an organization . An organization can move forward in the Quality space only with the participation and involvement of all the employees,

Cheers !

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

5 techniques to help YOU deal with “problem” Customers

No matter how hard you try,sometimes it is very difficult to please a particularly difficult client. 

The following are five simple, time-proven techniques to help YOU deal with your "problem" customers. For some it may be just a reminder. For others though, it may mean changing your thought process a bit for dealing with these types of customers.

  • Set up lines of communication with your client : Make sure they know exactly who to contact when a question or problem arises. It’s bad enough when a client experiences a problem. It is a disaster when the problem occurs and he or she has no one to talk to about it. Report frequently to the customer what you have done or are doing to help with the problem. They want to know how their money is being spent, and they want to assess the value you are providing. Frequent communication is equated with great service.

  • "Did I understand you correctly?" :  Ask them . This will prompt the customer to confirm what he or she just said. This will ensure that you understood the client’s wishes and make a later denial less likely. 

  • "What do you feel is the best solution?" :  You’ve already sold the product or provided the service and now the customer claims it is not what they thought it would be: Psychologically speaking, when we ask for customer’s ideas about the best course of action, we usually cause them to become more lenient and forgiving. We cause them to soften from the often firm positions they feel forced to defend. It makes it all right for them to compromise and they become more flexible and easy to work with.

  • Know your aim : Focusing on the finish line--- the work you wish to accomplish, the experience you want to acquire, etc.--- will help to decrease the extent to which your client’s behavior will aggravate you. Keep in mind that although being upset with other people’s behavior is understandable, every reaction you have is your choice.  Simple common courtesy usually works to smooth over turbulent times. The structure of well-mannered conversation will help keep both you and your customer from straying into unpleasant territory.

  • Finally, laugh when you can. Have a sense of humor about your work, and look for ways to share it with people who test your patience. We all take our business serious, as we should. However, if we can take a moment to look at the overall picture and observe that the battle between us and the dissatisfied client will not even matter in five years, and in some cases before the day is over, we can relax.

Have a cup of fresh Darjeeling  tea,  relax and  focus on your next big deal !

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dr. V and McSurgery

 Many of us in the northern part of the country may not have heard of  “Dr. V” or the eye hospital he has built. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy or Dr. V as he was affectionately called brought about a revolution in eye care in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India.

After his retirement as an eye surgeon in a government hospital, he started a small charitable  hospital called the Aravind Eye Hospital in 1976 for cataract patients in Madurai with just 10 beds. Although the charitable nature of the hospital has been retained, the venture has earned enough in two decades to have started facilities in three locations with a total of more than 3000 beds where over 200,000 cataract operations are conducted each year. Aravind also boasts of a world class manufacturing unit for intraocular lenses. His achievements are spectacular enough for Harvard University to have done a case study on him for its graduate students.

Process has a major role in this amazing story. Dr. V revolutionized the delivery model for cataract operations in third world countries. Some facts and figures:

 1. Aravind Eye Hospital has given sight back to more than 1.5 million people.
2.  On an average a Doctor performs _about 20 – 25 operations everyday
3.  The hospital has a gross margin (profit) of more than 40%.
4.  A cataract surgery in the U.S. costs $1650. In Aravind it costs just $10.

5.  Aravind treats more than 60% 0f its patients free of cost and it still manages to make profits.

Dr. V saw the golden arch of McDonalds and thought  “ If McDonalds can sell millions of burgers and cans of coke why can’t I sell millions of eye restoring operations?” He had the vision “to provide sight to as many people as possible and to mass market cataract surgery.”

Process and innovation:

According to the renowned management guru C.K. Prahlad, affordability is critical for both the business model and the underlying vision of service. The organization needs to be profitable for sustenance and growth. To keep the price low, Aravind resorted to innovation and processes. To lower cost, an organization has to play with volumes. Each doctor performs about 3600 surgeries in a year. Every step a patient takes is part of a very well researched and technology driven workflow. Each operation room contains 4 operation theatres manned by a two doctor team. The staff nurse takes over the pre-operation procedure and also prepares the patient for surgery. By the time the doctors are finished with the two patients in hand, on the adjacent beds lay two new patients ready with microscopes focused on their eyes. The first two patients are removed by a nurse to post-op care ward and the cycle moves on. The doctors are expected to work without a break and only concentrate on their core job! The waiting time between patients is ZERO!! Hence the eye operation cycle becomes a virtual assembly line where each member of the team knows exactly what they need to do. The operation room nurses, surgeons and anesthetists are constantly learning and using their reservoir of expertise to make appropriate adjustments to reflect the needs of the customers in a specific context. They improvise continuously like players in a jazz band.

Pricing and Training

Due to the mature and well running processes and innovations, effort and costs decrease. With innovations like use of bamboo sticks in stretchers instead of steel rods and alliances with financial institutions, Aravind subsidizes 70% of the patients and the remaining 30% pay market rates for its world class service quality and reputation. For the people who can not afford the cost the hospital provides free eye care and surgery. Aravind Eye Hospital markets itself by organizing free eye camps in rural areas to help treat people who are unable to afford a visit to the hospital. Training and skill building form an integral part of the model.  The combination of specialization and volume makes the doctors and nurses experts in a relatively short span of time. To keep the costs low, the nurses and doctors are continuously trained so that they can specialize in their own field and in turn train the juniors.

Organizational values:

For  running an organization as effectively as Aravind Eye Hospital, values and goals must be clear, motivating and easy to share. The overall culture is of service, humility, equality and kindness. All the doctors speak softly to patients. If a doctor behaves in an unacceptable manner, he is in for trouble. Mutual respect is a core value. All the employees at Aravind have the same purpose engrained in them - to provide for all people - rich and poor with world class quality and care.Due to the alignment in goals, teams of people organize themselves to work together without the need for expensive supervision.

Aravind Eye hospital is now more than a mere eye care centre. It also manufactures lenses, organizes medical training, runs an eye bank and a post graduate institute. Innovations have been put in place and the cost of a lens manufactured here is less than 1/8th of the international prices.

There is a lesson for all of us in the life and vision of Dr.V who invented “McSurgery”

Born to a rural family, he suffered from severe sporiatic arthritis which left his hand deformed and to think that this was the man responsible for saving 2.4 million eyes many of which were operated by Dr.V himself.  The world lost this great visionary on 7th July 2006. 

Hats off to this great leader ! 

If all of us can think even 1% like him, the world will be a much better place ….!