Quality #7: Productivity and Quality

by Tanmay Vora on November 17, 2009

speed_velocityWelcome to the seventh post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first six posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement

#QUALITYtweet Tracking productivity without

tracking the quality of output is like tracking

the speed of a train without validating the direction

In F1 racing, one of the primary challenges for a driver is to keep a close eye on speed and direction. One wrong move at a high speed and car bumps with the edge of the track.  “Speed” when combined with direction is termed as “velocity”.

One of the rules of management is, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” But an obsessive focus on metrics can prove harmful for organization’s health because:

  • You may be measuring wrong things that do not directly relate to organization goals
  • You may only be measuring outcomes without focusing on qualitative aspects.
  • You may be using measurement as a sole base for decision making without considering the variable/unknowing aspects of your business.

A lot of resource managers in technology and business area narrow their focus on hardcore metrics that reveal volume but not quality. Examples could be number of hours logged during a day (versus tasks achieved in those hours), number of modules completed in a day (versus quality of those modules), number of cold calls made during the day (versus quality of research and depth of communication in each call). This list can go on, but you get the point. More, in this case, is not always better.

Metrics are important to evaluate process efficiency, but not sufficient. Quality system of an organization should have processes to assess both qualitative and quantitative aspects of work. How can this be achieved? Here are three most important pointers:

  1. Hybrid approach with focus on good management: Measuring productivity solely by units produced could be a great way to manage in manufacturing world. In knowledge world, where the raw material for products or services is a human brain, qualitative approach combined with common-sense metrics is a great way to ensure balance between quality and productivity. Key to higher productivity in knowledge based industry is ‘good management’.
  2. Quality as a part of process, rather than an afterthought: Quality is not an afterthought. Quality has to be built through process by people. Process should have necessary activities defined at each stage of product to ensure that a quality product is being built. These activities can then be measured and improved upon. Process also shapes up culture of an organization and hence due care must be taken to ensure that quality system does not form a wrong culture. Process has to take care of softer aspects of work including trust, commitment and motivation levels of people.
  3. Measure to help, not to destroy: Metrics are like a compass that shows direction. In order to move forward, you have to walk the direction. Metrics can give you important trends, but these trends need to be analyzed and worked upon. Key challenge of any process manager is to ensure that metrics are used to evaluate process and not people. If you start using metrics as a base for rewards, you are not allowing people to make mistakes. When people don’t make mistakes, they don’t grow. As an organization, you don’t grow either.

Process can be used to gain “speed” or to gain “velocity”. The choice is yours.

Tanmay VoraTanmay is a Software Quality Management professional based out of India. He hosts QAspire Blog and tweets as @tnvora. He is also an author of the book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project
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