Believe that perfection is possible
With this article and the associated podcast episode, I am participating in Thomas Reining's blog parade. Thomas Reining is a leadership trainer for managers, entrepreneurs and young professionals. He is a Podcasst colleague with his show “Good leadership needs instinct”.
The theme of the blog parade is perfection. Since perfection is expected in a certain way in quality management - and rightly so - in this article I focus on the sometimes fine line between aspiration and reality.
Who in what respect expects perfection in quality management?
There are three obvious people (groups) who expect and demand perfection in QM:
- Customers and consumers: Everyone who buys something from our company (regardless of whether it is a service or a product) is entitled to faultlessness and functionality. These are expectations that these people are allowed to have of us without us expressing them separately in any way. The degree of perfection necessary to satisfy these demands depends on various factors:
- The market or the competitors (e.g. in competitive markets where you cannot or do not want to stand out from the competition with low prices alone)
- The sensitivity of our product or our customers (e.g. in the field of medical products and baby food)
- Legal framework (e.g. in the financial sector)
- Our desire to inspire our customers
- Our organization: What is your organization's vision and what strategy would you like to use to make this vision a reality? If your company is striving for cost leadership, then you may be guided by the “minimax principle” rather than the highest level of perfection. If, on the other hand, your company has or is a strong brand or strives for quality leadership, then a higher level of perfection will automatically be necessary.
- We ourselves: Good quality managers - and if you are reading this article, you are certainly one of them - naturally strive for high perfection. You have the highest demands on yourself and are almost never satisfied with the first solution.
In terms of customer orientation, you can't fault the highest possible level of perfection - can you?
Does perfection mean the same thing for everyone?
I would like to distinguish four possible facets of perfection:
I consider these four levels to be sensible because they are the easiest way to show where compromises in terms of the degree of perfection can be useful.
Perfection in development
At this point two sides face each other:
- Mistakes that are made in development can be extremely costly in the later production process -> speaks for a high level of perfection in development
- Modern approaches to development recommend starting with a “minimally salable product” and improving it immediately and in small steps -> speaks for “imperfection” at the beginning
However, these are only seemingly contradicting aspects. On the one hand, deliberately not starting perfectly in order to be able to start early and on the other hand striving for perfection at the end of the development process, seems to me to be a thoroughly successful strategy. Now, I'm not an expert in product or service development. But I know very well what it feels like to tinker with something that you have the impression that it is not good enough for the public - and ultimately to tread on the spot forever.
Like many quality experts, I also believe that quality arises in the value creation process and not in the end product control.
Here, too, we have two apparently contradicting aspects: On the one hand, process stability is required in quality management. On the other hand, continuous (or continuous) improvement is an extremely important point in all large management systems.
If we strive for process perfection - or believe that we have achieved it - then this only applies to the current moment and the current state of knowledge.
Markets and customers change. Unforeseen things happen that we have never faced before. Or new technologies are developed.
All of these things can cause our once perfect process to change. The well-known PDCA cycle describes both aspects excellently:
Plan - try out - observe - change
Always with the aim of obtaining the perfect process for the current state of knowledge.
In this article, I would like to understand the term management to mean all the things that deal with the processes related to value creation - for example QM.
I could repeat the mechanisms described above here - because they apply here as well. Instead, I would like to address an aspect that is neglected in many companies.
Many departments that claim to strive for perfection do so in an extremely isolated manner: Without taking into account the interface functions and the actual added value. Some examples where I deliberately exaggerate and generalize:
- The aim of purchasing is to procure the necessary RHB materials and services as cheaply as possible. There is often a lack of understanding of the effects in the value creation processes. The main thing is that the discount and cash discount are correct.
- Quality management strives for perfect documentation. Demanded again and again by customers and external auditors - never matched. And on top of that, bureaucracy is created and customer benefits are lost.
- Dit IT takes care of "100% network availability" and manages software licenses and hardware. Testing new software that makes life a lot easier for a department is almost impossible. You haven't felt a real service idea for a long time.
I hope the world in your company is not quite as bad as I have shown it here 🙂
What I'm getting at: Many specialist departments are working on key figures that have little or nothing to do with added value and customer benefit. Each department “muddles” around to achieve sales targets, savings targets, and quality targets (which are often more targets than targets).
In a perfect environment, in my opinion, all goals and the pursuit of perfection in the individual areas should be geared towards the greatest possible added value and customer benefit. Because this is the only way to bring the corporate vision closer and closer.
Perfection in the result
The last paragraph already anticipated it: If we have a vision and know what expectations our customers have of our results, then we know at which points perfection really makes sense in the company: Not first in the "support processes", which are inevitably part of everyday company life. But in the places where customers see, feel and experience the results. And if your company has a vision that is designed for the greatest possible customer benefit, then you can actively help with the realization of your company vision with customer orientation.
Specifically aimed at perfection in quality management:
- No matter how sophisticated your complaint statistics are. If this system doesn't help customers, it's worthless.
- Your documentation can be as extensive and seamless as possible. If the people involved in the value chain cannot find the necessary information in the document jungle or are not involved in the creation, then it is (increasingly digital) paper tigers and bureaucracy monsters
- Your rating system for internal audits can still be great: If the resulting measures do not contribute to the constant improvement of your processes, your audits are just a waste of time and do nothing
If we focus on striving for perfection in the result instead of starting with perfection in the tools, then we automatically become more effective, efficient and effective.
I write this with conviction because I have often enough fallen into the perfection trap myself. In podcast episode 019, I talk about my 5 biggest mistakes in quality management - and one of them was excessive perfectionism.
Often enough I experience (in retrospect also with myself) that the pursuit of perfection relates to the wrong things. Not on added value and customer benefit, but on the many things that besides these two most important topics for all companies vie for our attention every day.
It takes strength and constant focus not to fall into this trap. We work far too often on topics that our specialist department should shine in a “brighter shine”, which colleagues in other departments often do not even recognize - with the effect that customers fall by the wayside and most companies no longer even have one have a visible vision that focuses on the added value for its customers.
Perfection in the right places in particular helps quality management to achieve better results and more effectiveness and influence.
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