Posts Tagged ‘customer’

6 Ways to get Your Customers Saying – Please take my Money!

by Himanshu Jhamb on December 10, 2012

Right. You don’t hear that very often. In fact, you probably don’t even think it! In fact, the reverse is usually what we hear – in stories, from our friends, from our colleagues and pretty much every where from customers.

“Please don’t take my money”

“It was not worth it”

“It’s too expensive”

… and many variants of the above.

But, this post is about great customer service. No, wait! It’s about excellent customer service.

I was recently in Peru with my better half and it was the first time I had set foot in the continent of South America – different people, different language, different food – everything was different and yes, being that it was a self planned trip, the “different” was expected. We had planned to be in Lima for a couple of days and like typical tourists, were looking to do the touristy things – experience the food, the people, visit the historical landmarks ‘et al. Yet, at the same time, we wanted to do something that would give us a taste of Peru; something the locals would do. And that happened on our 2nd day when we met a local couple – Sam & Lucas. OK, it was no accident that we met them; they run a culinary tour company, called Capital Culinaria Lima Gourmet Tours and I found them from their almost perfect TripAdvisor reviews.

It’s true that there are many lessons in business one can learn from others, only if we observe them. And observe I did  and here is what I learnt about great customer service:

  • Make a promise… and then keep It. They promised on the experience (which, I believe is what the adventurous traveler seeks the most) and then delivered on it… multiple times over in the tour.
  • Listen. And get to know your customer. Their tours are designed to listen to the customer. For instance, they do not take more than 6 people at one time so that they can create the space to listen to the customer.
  • Give Personal Attention. Lots of it. Well, there is no dearth of that given that they run quite a few tours themselves and I am sure the ones they are not able to, are no less personal!
  • Run Smooth Operations. Given that it’s a 5-6 hour culinary tour, it can be a bit of a tricky proposition to time 3-6 touristy stomachs for that time! Also, since they visit quite a few establishments in the tour – the timing needs to be exquisite with the local providers, too.
  • Be Nimble. They are immensely flexible. Even though they hit an issue in the morning and had to quickly readjust plans – Lucas was right on time to pick us up.
  • Win the Customer. Yes, with the great stories (they have a fantastic entrepreneurial story on how they started off), the mouth watering cuisine, and (ahem) the fabulous Pisco – it is a sure shot recipe to win the customer.

To be brutally honest, they had won me over as a customer half way through the tour. The rest of the time, they were just winning a friend! Now, how do you put a price on something like that…

Himanshu JhambThis article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.
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The Soul of a Project #8: The Project Shaman

by Gary Monti on March 27, 2012

Is five o’clock, Friday, the best time for your project? Ever wonder why you became a project manager? Does it all feel like it’s crashing down around you? If so, you are in good company. George Lucas had similar feelings regarding R2-D2 and other production problems when shooting the first Star Wars (now episode four: A New Hope).

When it comes to dealing with difficult situations Lucas has some very good advice, “It helps to be nuts.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. I’d like to believe, thought, there is something deeper implied in that humor. It has to do with shamans and how they helped tribal chiefs find their way in guiding the tribe. Shamans were usually a little bit nutty, almost schizophrenic, and often would live beyond the edge of the village. There was a reason for this.

The chief guided tribes on a routine basis, making sure the rules were followed and adjudicating accordingly when there were disputes. But what about when the rules didn’t work? What about when a decision was needed as to whether or not the tribe should stay where it is or move to a strange, new land?

This is where the shaman came into play. The shaman was unencumbered by the body politic of the tribe and its rules. He was free to look within and without as far as his minds eye could see. There is a trivialized phrase that apes what the shaman would do, “think outside the box.” The shaman would go further and wonder, “Why bother with the box? What about a sphere? What about nothing at all?” You get the picture.

So the question is, “Would your project benefit by you taking a shaman’s approach?” Is there a different way you could see the situation that would bring about improvement? Here’s an example. I had a client whose customer was driving him nuts. E-mail after e-mail was sent every day questioning the progress of the project. My client was going crazy and falling into an ever-increasing reactive state.

A simple question flipped the situation into a new universe, “Do you know your customer?” he proceeded to spew a great deal of what was already known, e.g., how difficult he was, how his demands were unrealistic, etc., etc. The question was then modified a bit, “Do you know your customer personally?” That brought a blank stare.

It was the pursuit of doing something about that blank stare that turned things around.  A slow but concerted effort to find out more about the customer revealed he liked custom cars and fishing – the same hobbies as my client! You can probably guess the rest from here. My client got permission to fly to his customer’s for an extended weekend. They went to a custom car show as well as fly-fishing over a 4-day period. The flurry of e-mails stopped and they got down to business and were able to focus on completion of the project.

So, is there a shaman within you? Can you color outside the lines and view the world from a different perspective? Would doing so possibly show where a door exists through which you’ll find a solution to your project’s problems? Give it a shot. Go ahead and dream!

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Project Reality Check #16: The Folly of Audits

by Gary Monti on April 5, 2011

“No good deed shall go unpunished,” is crazy but commonly experienced. Why is that? Why would an audit trigger punitive measures? After all, when doing one’s best it would seem safe to assume the value of the work would be recognized and would show in the numbers. This could be considered especially true with this series of blogs since earned value has been trumpeted as the heart of project management. So what is the problem? The purpose and value of reports is a good place to start.

Reports And The Meaning of Numbers

Why have reports? Simple, they sustain communications in a relationship especially when everyone can’t be together at the same time. Consequently, numbers are abstracts – distillates – of a relationship. And now the plot thickens! Communications are complex, multi-channeled, multi-contextual activities. Look at the simple joke:

Take my wife…please!

How many layers (contexts) does that joke have? It has at least two. The joke is in the collision of those contexts. Unfortunately, when that collision of contexts occurs on the job it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. The folly occurs in this collision. It puts very sharp teeth in the bite of “no good deed shall go unpunished.” So, what does this have to do with audits and reports? Plenty. It has to do with context and expectations.

Context and Expectations

So when do audits and reports go haywire?

Audits and reports go haywire when they are laden with expectations that fail to map to the reality of what it takes to get the job done or the reports project an inaccurate balance between all the contexts present.

Looking at the cause of all this will help.

The Devil Is In The Dynamics

There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” There is truth in it. However, it doesn’t cover all situations.

For complex projects the devil is in the dynamics. The failures and flaws are not with the individual person or component. Rather, they exist in the dynamics between the organization and operations.

Most reports are designed to address what senior management believes are the policies and procedures, which are based on management’s expectations. Typically, this is all laid out at the concept and design phase. When a system goes into operations, though, a new element comes into play – reality. Think of the Mars rovers and all that has been done to keep them operational. Unforeseen problems had to be solved. This has led to a much longer life expectancy for the rovers than was ever anticipated. No one is going around blaming scientists and engineers for the problems encountered per the original plan. Instead they are being recognized for throwing themselves into the problems and coming up with solutions. Some work, some don’t. Looks like one rover is down for the count. Overall, though, the program has been a great success.

Listen For The Solution

A chapter can be taken from the Mars situation in generating a solution to poor audits.

The solution to poor audits is in listening; listening for how people work to get things done in spite of the system.

Again, reports are distillates of relationships. This means communication, which is a two-way street. Yes, senior management needs to determine the direction the company needs to go but this should be tempered by and informed from the wisdom and experience of those in the trenches, unless, of course, the managers are clairvoyant. My recollection, though, is years ago Madam Cleo tried that on her cable channel and went bankrupt.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Project Reality Check #15: The Requirements Game

by Gary Monti on March 29, 2011

Nailing down requirements is the number one complaint of project managers. Addressing this requires two skills: political adroitness and finding a balance point between exploring solutions and exploiting what is known and available. I’d like to share some from a workshop I provide on decision-making in uncertainty.

Political Adroitness

A mantra regarding project requirements goes something like this,

“Requirements are stated needs, expectations are unstated needs. Clients tend to judge based on expectations.”

For example, a common retail experience is a customer picking a $20 pan from a display that includes $200 triple-clad pans. The expectation frequently is quality-by-association. As you might guess, the customer ends up disappointed because food cooks unevenly, burns, and sticks to the pan. They return to the store angry that misrepresentation occurred and they want their money back, at a minimum, or demand the $200 pan at no extra charge, at the extreme.

When something similar occurs on a project the best way to deal with it is by leaning into the situation as quickly as possible. The longer the expectation is held, the greater potential for damage in the relationship. Do this is by offering possible “straw” scopes. These are scopes that fit within the time and money parameters established and meant as much for example as anything else. This can take several iterations.

Initially, the goal is getting the client to see the expectations just don’t match the time, money, and resource limits established. In other words, see if they will shift their view and do it in such a way the relationship stays intact. When acceptance of the need to shift sets in, then drive towards THE scope that appears to work.

The reason “appears” is used is simple. The scope has yet to be drilled down to clear requirements that can be turned into specifications. Which leads to another aspect of political adroitness – working with the team.

The team needs to be involved in creating the scoping alternatives because they are the ones ultimately shouldering the responsibility. As you might have already guessed, having a good working relationship with team leads and subject matter experts is critical. If these relationships are absent team members can simply say the requirements aren’t clear, take a passive-aggressive position, and leave the project manager hanging.

The Explore/Exploit Balance

In complexity theory the above falls under the “explore/exploit balance.” This is where the risk comes into play. Typically, there is insufficient time to explore all options. On the flip side, the team may run into conflict and severe limitations if they dive in based on using what has worked in the past. The solution is best when the customer, project manager, and the team all share the risk. In other words a balance is needed; one that is optimal and spreads the benefits equally with the difficulties.

To recap, it isn’t enough to simply say the client should be realistic and not expect a $20 pan to perform like a $200 one. The PM and team need to push as far as they can working with the client in developing a realistic solution – one that will save reputations, relationships, and pocket books as well as produce the desired deliverable.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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From the time the idea of a company was developed, those who control the purse strings (finance) and those who manage the income (sales, operations, and marketing) are often adversaries.

A frequent igniter of these tensions is a situation where an operations or business group wants to quickly move forward with a project (XX optimization, for example) which requires a capital investment.

Before approving funding, however, the finance organization must complete its due diligence by quantifying the benefits outlined in the business case. This timing gap often creates a bottleneck and uncertainty about the projects’ implementation and/or timing.

These bottlenecks can be avoided by all stakeholders working together to build a strong, interactive relationship around the project.   Keys to building this relationship are education, communication, and ultimately, including the finance team in your project.  The capacity to master the first two skills will lead to your finance organization becoming a trusted advisor and consistently being invited to serve as an active participant in your strategic initiatives.

Education

It’s a two way street.  With over a dozen years of providing strategic financial support, I have consistently found that education is the first step in building bridges to a better working relationship.  It is as much a necessity for the financial person to understand what the operations groups do, and vice versa.  While working at a for-profit healthcare organization, I held a weekly course for 10 weeks in order to educate the IT infrastructure group management team on the objectives of the finance group and how a working knowledge of finance objectives can add value to the IT organization and help them – and the company overall – to become more successful.  Once the course was completed, the IT management team understood why and how their involvement in budgeting and financial planning is important to the company’s operations, why their participation in the ‘month-end close’ process is crucial to meeting the goals of the company, and also why the building of business cases for all projects is essential for long-term financial planning and overall success.

I have also found that, from the financial team side, learning what the operations groups do, and how they do it, is vital to the success of a financial analyst.  By fostering an active relationship with my ‘customer’ – the operations team – and understanding how they manage IT facilities, call centers, or manage hardware environments, I was consistently able to develop a better relationship with these supported groups – and we always celebrated our successes together.

Communication

This begins with the education phase and continues to build a foundation of trust.  Once the financial representation and the operations groups understand what the other does, it becomes easier to support the others’ efforts.  The key to effective financial communications is to remain consistent with operational or business partner requirements, and to be cognizant of the execution of new requirements and their execution. Make no mistake – the execution of these objectives can be difficult at times; this means the month-end close process must run the same way each month, and the systems of the budget process are changed as little as possible each year.  The information required to develop a business case is the same, regardless of the project.  In the event any strategic change does occurs,  any corresponding  changes in financial requirements need to be carefully considered and communicated so as to not to compound further disruption to the organization. Once consistency is achieved, the analyst and the group he or she supports can get to real work, the work of optimizing the business and reaching the ultimate goals of the company:  profitability, social goals, etc. This is the trusted advisor stage.

The trusted advisor

This is the ultimate goal of the financial representative, and where the fun begins.  As an analyst, I remember my colleagues consistently stating that the most boring part of their job was the “regular” work.  My experience is, once you have a system in place for achieving positive results in a routine activity such as the month-end close, that task often becomes mundane. For a corporate finance person, the interesting work is that which includes participation leading to realizing corporate goals.  Ways in which the financial analyst can participate in this process include performing lease vs. buy analyses for new equipment and software purchases, finding savings within a project, conduct audits to make sure the company is ‘getting what it pays for’ from each of the many vendors and service providers, and also establishing metrics and key performance indictors (KPIs) to put dollar figures on operational measurements and use this information to make key business decisions, etc.  Serving as a trusted advisor to the operations management team can be exceptionally rewarding; it allows an analyst to be creative and to develop solutions that help to both ensure a successful project and contribute to the company reaching its goals.

Achieving the role of trusted advisor and building that relationship between finance and the operations groups is important to the success of the entire organization.  The more adversarial the relationship, the more difficult it becomes to complete the work – both the monotonous (yet necessary) work and the creative solution work.  Once these barriers are eliminated – from either the operational or financial end (or both) – all jobs become easier, more efficient, and much more rewarding to each employee.  Motivated employees will not get excited about doing the same job every day. To them, variety and professional growth are the spices of life, and job functions in all areas of the company become more efficient when the relations between all groups within the company are high

Matthew Carmen launched Datacenter Trust along with Marc Watley in February, 2010 and serves as Co-Founder & COO as well as Managing Partner of their Financial Intelligence practice. Datacenter Trust is a recently-launched consulting and services delivery firm, providing outsourced server hosting, bandwidth, cloud services, and IT financial intelligence and analysis services to growing businesses. Follow Datacenter Trust on Twitter @datacentertrust
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Leadership Cancers #5: Simplemindedness

by Gary Monti on April 13, 2010

Have you ever nailed something? I mean, you got it down to a few simple keystrokes or a few lines in a paragraph. How sublime is the feeling of accomplishment? All the effort seems worth it when the faces of those who use your brainchild say, “Yes, this is it!”

On the flip side have you ever created a train wreck of a solution? One so clunky you’d like to just shoot it and put it out of its misery? Or have you ever had a customer say, “All you have to do is…” and you start wondering what she was smoking for lunch?

The differences between getting it just right and failing miserably can sometimes be reduced to two words – simple vs simpleminded. The two seem to sit very close to each other and may be hard to distinguish. Let’s take a look at them and examine the boundary between the two.

DaVinci, Simplicity, and Telephones

As mentioned in the first post in this series, DaVinci summed it well:

The sophistication is reflected in the simplicity.

A client’s VP of Sales, when talking about what comprises a successful product, said it in today’s terms, “The product should be so simple that my grandmother can use it without reading the instructions.” It is referring to what is sometimes called seamless performance. In other words, the product performs so well and delivers such high quality results it actually disappears. Landlines are a good example. When I pick up a good old-fashioned, copper-wired phone my minds eye is focused on the person I am calling and the call itself. The phone literally disappears from my consciousness. That is simple.

When I use my cell phone…well…that is another story. There is just a touch of stress, barely perceptible that is saying, “I wonder if this will go through and if it does what are the odds it could drop out?” It’s ever so subtle but it is there.  If you don’t think this is true for you try making this simple observation the next time you want to make a small, important call to someone about whom you care. Pay attention to your feelings when it can’t get through or is dropped as you are ready to breathe out and talk. Is it frustrating? Do you feel disappointed? Where does anger fit?

Simpleminded

So where does simplemindedness fit into all this? To answer this let’s go back to “simple.” When something is truly simple it means all the principles and disciplines required are present and combined in a balanced manner to create a product that performs as expected. For simplemindedness to be present all that is required is to leave out a principle, have some principle inadequately represented, or have the relationship between design elements be off balance.  It’s that simple! Sticking with cell phones, battery life and bandwidth represent the second and third situation, respectively.

What’s the Answer?

If we pick up the cell phone situation and bring it over to the realm of relationships with clients, peers, vendors and other stakeholders there is a way to keep simplemindness out of the relationships and subsequently the product. Know the disciplines, principle, and balance between them that is required to move from customer need to functional specification to design specification to production. With this information you are forearmed and prepared to fend off the “all you have to do…” declarations that key stakeholders may make. You can push back in a very sane manner that is business-like and respectful.

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this post you can also send a response via e-mail to gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…

by Tanmay Vora on November 20, 2009

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

Here are the first nine 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
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication

#QUALITYtweet Formal inspections can be a

huge waste of resources if you have not invested

in getting it right the first time

The goal of any process improvement initiative is to prevent same problems from occurring again. New problems are an opportunity to identify areas of improvement but same problems occurring repetitively is a sign of stagnation.

As someone rightly said, “Quality can never be inspected in a product; it has to be built first.” Processes have to help identify the quality expectations from the customers and translate those expectations into a practical action plan to build/verify quality constantly.

Inspections done at the tail end of product life cycle can eat a huge chunk of your budget because later the problems are found, costlier the resolutions. On top of that, if you have not “engineered” quality in a product, inspections can be a huge waste. You can never verify something you have not built upfront.

In manufacturing world, it is very unlikely to find that a component is inspected after it is integrated in the product. The very idea of inspecting everything after completing all product development is a dangerous one – one that has many business and financial risks associated with it.

This is where “prevention” is always better than “cure”.

Don’t get me wrong. Inspections are still one of the best ways to find problems. The timing of inspection is very important.

When inspections are done earlier in development process:

  • Fixing problems is less costly
  • Early identification of critical risks helps you manage them proactively
  • Lower risk of failure at the end

Following are some very simplified guidelines on how inspection activity can be leveraged to generate value and lower risks for your customers. Each one of these points can be a process in itself.

  • Know customer’s quality expectations early and educate team
  • Clarify the exact customer requirements (and be ready for change)
  • Give thoughtful consideration to a robust product design
  • Plan actions to ascertain that quality expectations are built in the product
  • Inspect Early and Inspect Often in cycles
  • Each cycle of early inspection reduces risk of failure
  • With this, final cycles of inspection can focus on “value-delivered-to-customer” rather than “defects-found-at-the-tail-end”.

The process of inspection can be your biggest asset if you have invested early efforts in building quality and then inspecting it. Else, it can be a huge waste.  Reduce this waste and you will automatically start forming a culture where “building quality” always takes precedence over inspecting. Your journey towards a quality-oriented culture begins there

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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Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication

by Tanmay Vora on November 19, 2009

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

Here are the first eight 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
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual

#QUALITYtweet How NOT to deliver total quality:

Focus on quality of product without focusing on

quality of relationship and communication

In an increasingly service oriented business environment, what you sell is not just a product but an experience. People may forget explicit details like specifications or price, but never forget the experience they had when they bought the product.

Experience extended to end-customers largely depends on attitude, values and behaviors of each individual who interacts with a customer. One of the most important challenges is to keep this group of people aligned to organization’s quality system and values.

Communication is the backbone of organization’s success in marketplace. Effective internal and external communication within an organization ensures that:

  • Your employees understand your value system
  • They understand what is expected out of them
  • They are motivated to walk an extra mile to deliver excellent service
  • Your customers know your value system
  • You build trust-based relationship with your people and customers with consistent communication
  • Manage expectations with your people and customers.

How can you motivate your teams to deliver excellent customer experiences through simple communication processes? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Train:

Training your internal team can be your biggest tool for clearly explaining the process of communication and how important it is for the business. Consistently train your people on value systems, leadership, quality management, effective communication, what works in customer management, what not, expectations management and cultural aspects of client’s location. Clients also need training on how best they can use your products. Companies organize client workshops to educate them about different aspects of product/service. Train consistently to streamline communication.

Support:

Once your people are trained, you need to support them in doing right things. Supporting can be a simple act of being there with your people when they talk to customers. Help them improve and share feedback on how are they doing. Some companies may see this activity as an “overhead” but it is an “investment” in your people.

Monitor:

Once you have confidence that your people will be able to do the right communication, monitor them. Take periodic feedback from them. Communicate consistently to ensure that they are motivated enough to continue doing it.

Delivering consistently superior experience to your customers (via quality of products and communication) results in a long-term relationship based on trust. In business, as in life, relationships are crucial. Quality of your relationships is as important as quality of your products, or perhaps, even more.

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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Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual

by Tanmay Vora on November 18, 2009

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

Here are the first seven 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
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality

#QUALITYtweet The best practices are contextual – they

worked well for someone in a given context. Are you

applying them in the right context?

Imagine a doctor prescribing a standard medicine based on common symptoms without carefully analyzing other ailments and patient history. A doctor knows the best medicine to cure a particular ailment, but he would look at a patient’s context and then decide if the “best medicine” is really best for a particular patient.

Process managers play a role of doctors for the organizations. They have to identify all possible problems (symptoms) and then suggest a solution (medicine). Best medicines for different types of ailments are termed as “best practices” in business.

Best practices are a set of processes that, in a given context, have the best likelihood of delivering quality products or services. In equation of context identification, some of the variables are:

  • Your goals as an organization
  • Market segment you operate in
  • Your target customers
  • Nature of your product / services
  • Types of customer you already serve
  • Team capabilities and internal alignment
  • Management commitment and sponsorship to improvement initiatives
  • External market pressures (e.g. recession)

The list can go on. Best practices often tend to ignore these variables because they worked in past for someone in a particular context. Their context may be different, but never a static one. Implementing best practice without considering organization’s context is like prescribing a standard medicine without looking into symptoms. Both can be equally dangerous!

So how are best practices useful? Studying best practices can give you some very useful insights on possible solutions for your business challenge. They offer alternative perspectives on ideas that can minimize your risks.

For process improvement experts, having access to best practices can be their biggest asset. But their ability to apply those best practices in an organization’s context is absolutely mandatory for success. As a professional, there is no fun in having a best practice for everything and a solution for nothing!

As an organization, you can leverage best practices by carefully studying them and mapping with your unique business challenges. For this, improvement managers need to understand nuts and bolts of business. Once the context is understood, best practices can become your best guide so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Depending on context, you can either implement a best practice as it is or select portions of a best practice that can be most useful for your context.

Simply believing that a best practice will work for you just because it worked for someone else in the past and applying them in vacuum can harm you more than it can help.

There are no silver-bullets in business and things like context and innovation does play a huge role. As one of the Dilbert comic says – “If everyone is doing it, best practices is the same thing as mediocre”.

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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Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”

by Tanmay Vora on November 13, 2009

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

Here are the first four 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

#QUALITYtweet Look for and keep

excellent customers, for they will

drive your process excellence

A process-oriented customer will never prefer to work with a team that disregards processes. There is a natural alignment between process-oriented customers and process-oriented companies. When this alignment happens, your customer can be your strongest ally in process improvement journey.

I have seen a number of projects where customer introduces some very innovative and simple process elements that end up being a part of organization culture over a period of time. Somewhere, excellence of a customer does have a solid impact on quality culture of the organization. In this regards, an organization becomes as good as their customers are.

Companies typically begin their journey by serving small and then mid-sized enterprises. When they get to the next level, they aspire to get larger customers. Larger customers will invariably demand a certain level of process maturity. This aspiration to get larger customers can drive the process improvement journey of the organization, even if it is only from a sales perspective.

The key is to ensure that:

  • Processes help you gain larger/mature customers. (sales efficiency)
  • Processes also help you serve those customers the way they want. (operational efficiency)

When these two activities are consistently performed, processes attain a maturity and form the culture of an organization.

Core of a continuous process improvement culture is to seek constant customer feedback (formally and informally). The key objective of customer feedback is to identify processes that are effective (and consolidate them) and improve processes that are ineffective. In customer-driven organizations, customer feedback is taken very seriously.

Looking for and keeping excellent customers is a very sound strategy to drive your process excellence and create a strong differentiation in the marketplace.

How are you leveraging your customers to improve your processes?

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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