ODDSCO's Continuous Improvement/TQM Introductory Tutorial


An introductory tutorial about the Continuous Improvement Process and Total Quality Management from the practitioner's perspective.


Abstract. This tutorial provides a general overview of the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) or Total Quality Management (TQM) concepts as the underlying philosophy for Quality Circles, Work Function Teams, or project teams, showing its practical application to the various ordinary and extraordinary business activities which will require making good decisions. It is an unblemished advocacy of employing a tailored approach to applying the CIP/TQM philosophy as a solid means to disseminate necessary knowledge throughout a workforce, provided that tailoring is in the sense of the accompanying tutorial on Concurrent and System Engineering.

Product quality involves the more usual aspects of fitness for use or meeting the customer requirements for the item. Quality aspects for a product from the customer's perspective include appropriate price, ease of use, safety, durability, economical operation and simple, safe disposal at the end of its life. Therefore, quality assurance has evolved to encompass how a product is built, how it will be stored by wholesalers, how it will be used or misused and stored after its sale, and how it will be serviced and discarded or recycled.

The CIP/TQM approach provides a means of directing technical expertise in an organization, which ordinarily is known only to its developers, toward the solution of product quality problems at all levels in all areas of that organization. Consultants can help your company install this philosophy, as long as their expertise is legitimate and you don't ask them to do it for you. Few problems can withstand such a global attack and remain long in the "unsolvable" category.

Mostly as a public service, based on the likely ratio of interested visitors to potential customers and/or clients, this free tutorial covers the subject sufficiently to partially enable your evaluation of the value of most available related products and services within your planned approach to goals fulfillment. (The word "partially" was emphasized to remind you that knowledge of material from the complete set of tutorials listed on the home page is necessary to properly evaluate the ODDSCO offerings.)

At the end of this tutorial is an opportunity to pose your question(s) on this subject.


Continuous Improvement Process/Total Quality Management

TABLE OF CONTENTS (Return Links)

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Why CIP/TQM?

What is the need for CIP/TQM? The change in markets is permanent. The old- fashioned mass production, where a relatively stable product line lasts for years, is dying in virtually all industries and has been comatose or dead in high technology industries for complete systems of assemblies for at least a decade. Some individual electronic components have the longest lives and volume runs in the millions, but will continue to improve and differentiate during their production period.

Global markets are fragmenting and products must diversify in response, so productions runs become shorter and suppliers cannot count on many economies of scale. Because only humans can learn to sufficient depth, their natural intelligence must be assisted wherever possible to support the understanding and innovation required for businesses to successfully compete in today's dynamic markets.

Empowered, decision-supported minds are a company's principal strategic resources. Use them well or lose the benefit.

Although some constraints are attached, higher quality ultimately reduces costs through improved productivity. The main caveat is that quality must be designed and built in, because it surely cannot be tested in. The later in a product's life cycle that it fails, the more expensive it is to fix. Further, as products become increasingly complex, liability for any detected product quality deficiencies increasingly belongs to the producer rather than to the consumer. Caveat venditor has replaced the ancient caveat emptor. The tendency is for the buyer to have full legal recourse for product problems, along with representatives of the public. Manufacturers are held responsible for all damages, personal injuries and any environmental pollution assignable to its products or production processes. Even potential hazard from obvious consumer misuse is actionable today.

Product liability blame assignment for litigation has expanded to the point of absurdity, to where individuals are absolved of all responsibility for their actions, with accompanying awards coming from the corporate "deep pockets" either directly or as higher insurance premiums. This is part of the general drag on business productiveness. Because that is part of the price of doing business in the United States, a quality program that ignores such issues places a manufacturing company at extreme risk and increases product costs.

Because the label involves more than the design and marketing groups, insofar as product liability is concerned, those responsible for accuracy of statements made on labels and in explanatory materials must have a high awareness of the necessary quality standards. The possibilities for a product's misuse should be fully explored. These issues should be raised formally in planning and design reviews for new products. The burden of product liability has shifted toward the manufacturer.

CIP/TQM, as a management philosophy of empowerment, helps workers to understand their organization's objectives, to upgrade their technical knowledge, to help their company adapt, progress, prosper in a world market, and become or remain a responsible member of the community.

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What is a Quality Circle/Work Function Team?

A Quality Circle/Work Function Team is simply a temporary to permanent grouping of five to ten diverse work-level employees who volunteered or were appointed to periodically meet on company time with a preferably non-authority team leader to discuss work products, processes and documentation within their domain, with a view to improving the quality of each by solving group identified problems.

Complete voluntarism is preferable to an implication that participation is "just another job requirement."

Temporary teams usually are formed to solve single problems semi-permanently, such as improving a critical process by reducing cycle time or removing non- value added tasks or bringing company policies, procedures, and accompanying forms into conformance with a new philosophy or with contract-imposed standards for product development. They are task forces with defined purposes and a time limit to provide the sense of urgency, which disband on implemented solution of the problem.

Permanent teams address ongoing issues and chronic problems. Such teams oversee the standard methods of doing business and perform analytical tradeoff studies for improvement in the processes and procedures, cooperating with the other Quality Circles or functional teams both within and outside the division or company as necessary to address specific issues. While they may have indefinite life, they are not like committees with undefined purposes.

Either team type should be built on differing, complementary members technical expertise and abilities, with respect to task force objectives. Preferably, the team leader should have a generalist, System Engineering perspective for integrating proposed ideas.

A Quality Circle organization has one level of "management," a steering committee made up of middle management, labor union leaders when appropriate, and one or several "facilitator(s)" for liaison with individual circle leaders.

The steering committee tailors the total program for the type of industry involved and the composition of the teams. It provides the "management" of the team, ensuring understanding of organization operating charter, arranges resources, and provides feedback on apparent progress. It arranges for the checking and testing of team suggestions, ascertaining that the current process quality is maintained and that activities foster accomplishment of company strategic objectives. Rapid GO/NOGO decisions should be the order of the day, because procrastination stifles enthusiasm.

After assigning the initial tasks for permanent Quality Circles application, it provides helpful "suggestions" for slowly broadening each standing team's span of interest and helps to identify more potentially fruitful areas of team investigation. The managers must allow sufficient paid time to address the issues and to implement approvable suggestions. An often forgotten point:

Quality Circles and process improvement teams do not exist solely to serve management ends. Some benefits of the effort should accrue to the workers.

Such work environment subjects are definitely not the exclusive province of management and worker's contribution of their ideas or opinions should not be seen as a threat.

Warning: When the process team leader is an authority figure, meeting reports to the steering committee will have a significantly different filtering than those provided by non-manager leaders. Team members recognize that a manager cannot become "equal" without abdicating responsibility to represent upper management. They then factor their normal work role relationship to the one who is "more equal" into all interaction with the other members. They will censor their expression of thoughts and employ much more caution during meetings because their commitment to accomplishments can be imposed or at least pressured. They won't know if their role is only to provide consultation or implicit approval of the manager's decisions. Some team members will fear challenging or appearing stupid or ignorant in front of the individual who reviews their performance and salary. Team activity is not really voluntary, the environment for brainstorming is missing, and claimed employee empowerment is effectively squelched without trial beyond lip service.

Some authorities, catering to the management side (that is most likely to employ them or to purchase their books), suggest that managers leading even process improvement teams can easily provide an environment that allows members to challenge across the authority boundary. Only the young and naive workers or fearless older employees with scarce skills and the requisite personality may offer such challenges. Most employees with significant work experience will await results of such forthright behavior in terms of recognition, rewards, promotions, or layoffs for those who exhibited temerity to speak up. Greatly experienced employees will cynically await the end of this latest management fad. When no apparent retribution for open challenges is seen in the annual performance and salary reviews, and promotions seem fair and timely, some employees without scarce skills will risk occasional open communication while most others will await the consequences. In other words, it can take years to build fully effective teams with mutual trust even in a fully supportive company environment.

Some managers downplay the concepts of CIP/TQM, suggesting that "doing it right the first time" is just doing your job as an obvious obligation to the company; that certainly no praise is due. (After all, you weren't hired to do the job wrong.) Unfortunately, this attitude requires that all employees have perfect knowledge of their new job upon initial hire or promotion. (As those omniscient managers themselves had, of course.)

How low the responsibility for problem-solving is accepted in an hierarchical organization, as well as general results, is a criterion for judging Quality Circle effectiveness. The idea is to relieve management of workload.

When first establishing the Quality Circles or Work Function Teams, some department problems may be evident and appropriate as subjects to address. Chronic defects are always appropriate subjects, because such problems are the most difficult (and most rewarding) to solve. Often, causes of chronic defects cross department or division boundaries and may require upper management involvement to identify clearly and to solve. Remind circle leaders that solutions to underlying problems are sought; that alleviating only symptoms is really solving the wrong problem; that quality improvement can reduce cost while improving productivity.

Middle managers should not hesitate too long to sponsor new teams to address problems that are identified in existing circle meetings. If all the problems beyond the initial ones are always suggested by management, expectations by management may be excessive and lead to numerous missed goals. Moreover, it will indicate that management has all the plans and the Quality Circle's only role is to provide an automatic stamp of approval. Better hidden, but still having a squelching effect, is management approval of and support for solutions to only the management initiatives. Employee empowerment requires allowing substantive participation, without problem subject constraints on other than the temporary Quality Circles. Continued problem assignment to experienced Quality Circles implies a lack of trust by management and member enthusiasm for continuance and volunteering to serve becomes seriously muted.

It all seems simple, but effective employment of process improvement teams requires much, much more than merely asking for volunteers, assigning problems and standing back to await results. The entire process must be compatible with the actual company culture and supported by company middle management's observed behavior as well as top management's public exhortations. Action must be encouraged, even at the price of minor errors. (That's how experience is developed.) The team members must share values for maximum cooperation and participation. To accomplish their tasks in a team environmenmt, they frequently must get in each other's way. Under this apparent chaos, all must know how to make effective decisions to coordinate their problem solving efforts. In other words:

"Empowerment" must become more than a popular industry buzzword. For many problems, as part of employee empowerment, it is appropriate for Quality Circle members to implement the solution without explicitly seeking management permission. Offloading routine duties from the more talented and highly trained people assists their creativity. Loading up Quality Circle team members with work that minimizes their time for addressing problems subtly sabotages the process.

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The Continuous Improvement Process

Many corporations and businesses are beginning to employ a major tenet of successful modern Japanese businesses, Kaizen, the continual improvement of and by all. In the United States, this approach is named something like the Continuous Improvement Process or Total Quality Management. In Europe, the coordinated approach is called integrated control of product quality (ICPQ).

It matters much less what you call it than that you just do it. Kaizen or a CIP/TQM approach concerns providing understanding of and mproving of processes used by people, and rewarding their efforts toward that end, rather than overemphasizing "results" to set up good conditions for employee blame assignment as in most implementations of Management by Objectives.

Kaizen or CIP/TQM usually comes along with an organization's adoption of a formal program for quality improvement with Quality Circles or Work Function Team equivalents.

Done thoroughly, it will amount to a complete revision of the company culture for typical medium to large businesses.

The ultimate goal is to attain a culture of employee pride in their company successes. Within this approach, all employees undergo company training that encourages them to think about, to suggest and to try out improvements in their work processes. Then, because the easiest process enhancements will occur from small changes, inevitable small failures are treated by management as learning by members for the overall team's ultimate benefit.

That, along with knowledge that was formerly the sole province of management, is the essence of employee empowerment. When organizations remove layers of middle management, in accordance with today's ongoing trend in management, such empowerment becomes a necessity. Workers are the managers, which threatens those who enjoy hierarchical authority.

It all begins with training for understanding of the Continuous Improvement Process/Total Quality Management concepts as truly a cultural change with commitment to its adoption by company top management. That means the CEO or President should announce the intent to adopt CIP/TQM. The CEO and most Vice- Presidents should receive the initial training and then help to train their immediate subordinates.

The CEO, with help of an outside expert, should conduct an initial CIP/TQM audit. The audit helps to set the introductory goals. The CEO should appoint a CIP/TQM Executive Director or Vice-President and establish the Steering Committee headquarters and head of CIP/TQM at each division.

The heads of CIP/TQM establish their group charter, the CIP/TQM promotion program and record for action the top priority problems discovered during the initial audit.

Selection of CIP/TQM Director staff should be from respected employees with political savvy who have risen from the ranks. These people need not be skilled statisticians or should avoid flaunting it, lest they risk overwhelming the plant workers and losing essential cooperation. Next, the formal quality information channels are designed and the company-wide training program begins. If the company offers it as in-house formal training, CIP/TQM usually becomes part of the mandatory management training. As all the members of upper management complete their training, formal training is extended to middle management and then to higher level technical staff. Training includes use of statistical methods and other process flow analysis tools.

Equivalency of pay grades can be the determinant for next level taught, as the CIP/TQM training proceeds downward through the ranks. The Quality Circle Facilitators group is established as the initial set of Quality Circles is staffed with CIP/TQM training graduates. The Steering Committee next establishes the company audit committee and prepares to audit progress on solutions to the identified high priority problems.

Eventually, all the work force receives training in the CIP/TQM principles and their application. Therefore, having executive and managerial performance review and salary review dependence on both work behavior and evangelism in support of CIP becomes essential in autocratic company cultural environments for most rapid assimilation of concepts and culture change.

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What are the CIP/TQM principles?

  1. Quality is definable as conformance to customer requirements or fitness for use.
  2. Everyone's job bears on the quality of the company's output as products or services.
  3. Everyone helps achieve quality by preventing the occurrence of problems and product or service defects
  4. Improvement is measured by reducing the cost associated with not providing products or services meeting the first principle

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How are CIP/TQM principles applied?

Customer requirements must be identified for every process because failures more often stem from improper marketing than from poor products. Market research allows a proactive identification of customer needs. At worst, work interactively with your existing or potential customers to determine their needs. In the military supplier environment, customer interface usually awaits design reviews of products developed in accordance with a requirements specification.

An immediate goal is to establish integrity of existing systems, through proper documentation of processes and procedures, which provides baselines for measurements and from which to depart for making improvements. Areas of nonconformance are identified and reduced or eliminated through process improvement(s).

This means finding root causes of abnormalities, to prevent their recurrence, instead of addressing only the symptoms. Obviously, individuals may discover ways to improve portions of their own work processes when their environment encourages such a search.

The quality information channels must work both directions. Defect and improvement data must be sent to the organizations responsible for dealing with specific issues.

Quality information includes planning data, product use and reliability data, including internal as well as external customer comments and complaints, product liability and hazard data, and any information that helps to administer the quality program, particularly its policies and procedures. The Steering Committee must know who is affected in any degree by what information, to categorize and disseminate it.

The more complex the problem or the more people (customers) affected by the process, the more valuable the Quality Circles or Work Function Teams become. These work process investigation teams begin or continue to analyze and evaluate processes.

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The "House of Quality"

The House of Quality is a graphical depiction of a customer-driven Quality Function Deployment (QFD) and cross-functional team approach to product design. The underlying philosophy of the QFD approach strongly resembles Concurrent/Systems Engineering, although the "requirements" statements are necessarily abbreviated for fit in the graphical representation of a product specification. QFD can assist with early requirements analysis and definition from the customer viewpoint as well as assist in its better known role of design for production. The completed QFD process developed analysis matrix resembles a cartoon house, which led to the name. Customers are government regulators as well as end users, whose requirements are called customer attributes. For convenience in designation, these attributes are grouped in bundles of related items but kept in customers words to avoid interpretation by engineers or others that could change their meaning. Because of conflicts such as high power with light weight, prioritized tradeoffs are used. Customer polls set their relative importance. These attributes form the left side of the house.

Customer evaluations of your own and competing products are listed on the right side of the "house" for each bundle of attributes to map out where your product is positioned in the market.

The second floor or top of the house is formed by vertically listing the engineering characteristics for the product with dividing lines to form a matrix of open boxes with dividing lines extended from the listing of customer attributes as the main body of the house. These are measurable characteristics that should affect one or more of the attributes. An attribute that is not affected by an engineering characteristic represents a product improvement opportunity with direct marketing potential. A plus or minus sign is placed by the label for characteristics engineers would like to increase or reduce. Tolerances are avoided here to avoid the tendency to initially design for the least cost. Cost reduction should come later, when the overall balance of desired characteristics is established.

The matrix of crossed attributes and characteristics dividing lines is filled in with symbols representing the relationship of each engineering characteristic to each of the attributes, from strong positive through neutral to strong negative. Evaluations based on experiment may be colored differently then those based on judgment.

The basement or foundation of the house is formed from objective measures comparing the engineering characteristics for each competing product. When these are known, new design target values can be set for future products.

The roof of the house is formed by 45 degree lines from the top sides of the house which meet at the center. Lines are drawn from each engineering characteristic dividing line in parallel with each roof line until they meet the other roof line. This forms a matrix for indicating the interaction between engineering characteristics and is filled in just as is the body of the house. This reveals the effect of changes to remind designers of the necessary tradeoffs and changes that must be made in concert. The roof matrix should await development of the product baseline because requirements correlation is implementation dependent.

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Improvement of Processes

Process improvement resembles product improvement, although the actions are not tangible. The existing flow from input suppliers to output customers is defined and analyzed for products, task times and labor requirements in a Decision Model of the ideal process. Cost to implement is a necessary parameter, as is cost to perform. Products are examined for full or partial elimination. Flows paths and tasks are examined for necessity, effectiveness and efficiency. Capital equipment (automation) support may be considered. It is another tradeoff analysis. The predicted results of proposed improvements are compared with the present process and evolutionary or revolutionary changes are studied.

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Continuous Improvement Metrics

Manufacturing processes improve most quickly, because methods for production usually are clearly documented and, most important, can be directly measured through application of Taguchi Methods for stabilization and variability reduction. Quality for high volume is increasingly expressed in the form of defect levels in parts per million (ppm) with 6-Sigma goals of 3.5 where yields of 99.9% may equate to 1,000 or more parts per million. Such disparity reduces satisfaction with quality and yield of present processes, showing that wording for the problem is always important. As another example, stating assembly worker output in terms of seconds per cycle rather than pieces per hour changes the focus to application of personal skill.

Engineering and design processes improve slowly because the existing methods are complex and more likely to be in the senior employee's heads than in written procedures. The first step in that case is to document the current understanding of the appropriate process. No measureable baseline exists from which to controllably improve until the engineering and design manuals are written by the appropriate Quality Circles or Work Function Teams. Proposed measures are such things as the count (adjusted by the subjectively determined value to obtain some standardized benefit) of innovations in products or methods, inventions, tradeoff studies performed, reports generated, approved product or subassembly or circuit designs generated, specifications written, etc. To construct a metric that means anything, the measure must be converted to a standardized rate or density, such as errors per page. Engineering and other processes produce documentation whose criteria for acceptance include readability, traceability, consistency, and usability. Of these, only traceability can be objective and then only when the specification contains a Verification Cross Reference Index or a traceability matrix constructed to the individual source requirement level.

Creative process metrics necessarily are indirect and therefore imperfect even without the probable heavy dose of subjectivity, but many claim that such estimates are better than none because productivity and quality of white collar work is steadily increasing in importance with respect to blue collar activity. It is rewarding to obtain a measurable improvement from an implemented process change. That is most so when the employed metric has a direct relationship to the strategic objective of the task performed. Average times for accomplishing tasks are particularly perverse, however, because exemplary performance of a complex task looks the same as abysmal performance of a simple task when raw measurements are compared. A normalization factor for complexity, although it may be somewhat subjective and have multiple components, is required for gaining meaning and knowledge from the measurement.

Nevertheless, emphasizing improvement of results based on indirect metrics can detract from accomplishing the actual purpose of knowledge workers. When emphasis is on the result, the process will suffer. Including those being measured into the planning for improvement and identification of the possible metrics will bring more gain than the attempted application. This is guaranteed if application is via an autocratic approach. Although some will wish to enforce rigid adherence to the process, this can be dangerous. Have you not heard of what happens when people actually "work to rule?"

Further, duration of the design cycle for complex equipment may be many months, making effective process measurement of a stable baseline impractical. When an arguably effective change is feasible for such a lengthy process, it should be implemented forthwith. Therefore, each complex development project will occur with significant processes variation from previous projects throughout its development phase. The lack of repeatability is not because it is an "intellectual" process but because duration requires implementation of improvements along the way.

Even without defined metrics, describing such complex processes with written procedures can result in immediate improvement by providing a logical approach with a roadmap for their next application. Although not easily measurable in a quantitive sense, because major projects take many months and processes evolve so you are measuring a moving target, even the difficult creative areas will benefit from applying the CIP/TQM philosophy. Some requirements for process metrics are:

To focus attention on improvements, ask everyone at the start of a major task to produce a short list of what an observer who wished to monitor their performance should look for. Even if no external measurement is made, the concept is planted.

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Facilitator Skills

The facilitator's job is substantially that of on-the-job trainer, while temporarily associated with a process team or Quality Circle or addressing a quality problem. Facilitators give advice, not orders or judgments. Facilitators privately counsel to help the group leader avoid the problems that lead to groupthink and too-early forming of group consensus or irrational support for a previous solution.

The ideal is to promote the positive activities and to guide the team away from the negative activities such as heavy competition between individuals or subgroups. A facilitator usually can determine when a team depends too much on the leader or is avoiding mistakes rather than taking minor risks to advance the attainment of objectives. Post-meeting feedback to the team leader assists future meeting effectiveness. This must happen without favoritism to any issue other than assisting circle performance. Of course, the basic problem may be a manager assigned to a process improvement team whose other members are non-managers.

The facilitators must remain aloof from the problem, regardless of their experience, but become intimately involved with the group process. They help the group to understand where it is and how it got there and how to keep on track. Conflicts should be between ideas rather than between people. Ideas need only be unique and original within the context of the problem at hand to be considered creative. (See the next section for more on creativity.)

The naturally highly creative persons must be required to explain their ideas until they are readily understood by all. The articulation of ideas clarifies them further in the mind of the originator, as well. Setting forth ideas fosters rise and development of other ideas, so the final result exceeds what any individual could have produced. Overconfidence should be discouraged but when the time has come to act, a facilitator's enthusiasm should be apparent to all.

Facilitators should learn to phrase broad questions that produce more than one problem answer, such as "How many ... ?" or "Why is it necessary?" or "What else is the purpose?" or "When, where, and how is it done?" or "By whom?" The purpose of the questions is to promote nteractive thinking among team members.

Each idea can be subjected to further examination to suggest improvements, such as the Osborn checklist:

Suggesting that answers be classified into types or made analogous to something in nature (bionics) or combined in unexpected ways may lead to further answers, as will asking if the decision should be addressed by the team at all. Assuming the answer is yes, employ the following approach to obtaining a synergy in the group:

  1. Define the decision problem with its objectives and environment, clarifying until every member understands, but deemphasize results until the last stage of the process. (Have each member contribute a different reason for the existence of the problem.)
  2. Brainstorm for analogies of any kind (symbolic, personal, fictional, or direct), grouping related items for increased abstraction.
  3. Determine and list connections between those analogies and the original problem.
  4. Don't overlook a dialectic or opposite to each.
  5. Work backwards from an ideal solution toward the problem.
  6. Explore physical and economic limitations and other assumed constraints for feasible means to overcome them.
  7. Periodically, assess feasibility of the generated analogies while emphasizing that potentially workable is good enough.

Use negative thinking to get a sense of the risk of adverse consequences. This means the highest ranking individuals of the group must not telegraph their preferred solution or the possibility of honest appraisal by the lower ranking members can evaporate. When high probability of disaster looms, the sense of feasibility deteriorates rapidly.

The Japanese approach is asking for ideas from the lowest ranking member of a circle before others talk can prevent their intimidation in the face of ideas which differ from those presented by their superiors. Everyone listens to the input information by each member until the top ranking person has presented his views, which may well have changed after hearing all the subordinate presentations. The best solution may have become obvious by that point. If not, every member gathers more information for a subsequent meeting. In any case, the top person's task is to bring out the elements of the solution from below rather than to impose one as in the American approach where the boss is expected to produce the innovative ideas.

Another approach is to require that some rotated selection member of the group act as the opponent of the strongest solution to foster revelation of the negatives by others. The ideas of high ranking persons may be shot down. The greatest contribution of the DSIDE™ process for the evaluation phase is that the Decision Model rejects the losing ideas, rather than an individual. Egos suffer less, so positive attitudes are better maintained.

When an inexperienced circle suggests work on a problem that may not be within its purview, the facilitator likely will have the task of gentle redirection or ensuring that the team reorganizes to allow accommodation of the problem.

A basic tenet of CIP/TQM is that Quality Circles or Work Function Teams must be composed of the right people to address the issue.

The more experienced circle members are likely to recognize when a particular problem exceeds the team's authority to solve. Circle leaders or facilitators should pass such perceived problems on to the steering committee for resolution, of course. The statement of the problem should be recorded, however, and circulated throughout all the teams. The object is to put the subconscious minds of others using different paradigms to work on partially or fully solving such problems. Your team's partial solution to something may help another team to a solution. It is the connective integration of concepts that solves problems.

Facilitators should be heavily involved in feeding back to circle members any instance of positive recognition from the steering committee members and others who may notice and comment on implementation of their suggested improvements. When CIP/TQM team members understand that they "own" the solution, they will enthusiastically support its adoption.

In this vein, submitted ideas should not be half-baked but undergo some preliminary development by the originator in the form of a model or paper describing what the implementation would entail to obtain the predicted results and list the underlying assumptions.

Facilitators should know, but need not be experts on, application of the favored decision methods and other process analysis tools.

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Where Do You Get Creativity?

The requirements for creative ideas are usually modest. Solving fundamental scientific research questions is not necessary for most problems, so nearly everyone can be creative in a useful sense and contribute some of the original thinking required to make some of the necessary advances.

Creativity is looking at the same things that others look at and discovering something different or previously unrealized, then not squelching the new thought before it has helped to spur other new thoughts. This includes ideas which seem to challenge common sense and conventional assumptions. Creation is like scientific advances in that new ideas are built from understanding relationships between old ideas and the subconscious incubation process cannot be scheduled or rushed. Some ideas resulting from this are so elegantly simple and obvious that everyone involved is amazed it wasn't the first solution invented. These ideas often lead to a widespread pardigm shift. Most people have adequate intelligence and will apply the necessary mental effort if they are given the right stimulus during an active group session in a supportive environment.

Every person in a group must be encouraged because it is a single mind, not the group consciousness, that performs the critical integration and leap to the key conclusion. That person must feel empowered to contribute every germ of a concept rather than pressured to conform to a developing consensus.

Inventions, especially technical advances, usually must await the synthesis in one prepared mind of interconnecting underlying knowledge. Because you cannot know what that knowledge must be, continuing your education in every subject of interest is the best approach to your business life. Creative inventors of practical items or enhancements may not have earned formal degrees. No formula for finding such people exists, so you may have to innovate without guidance of genius. A high level of creativity is required to define the market for a new application of high technology by educating customers.

Although it cannot be well-defined or taught more effectively than higher math (some get it, some don't), various approaches to unlocking each team member's creativity must be encouraged by enthusiasm and receptiveness of other members. Teach that rejection of an idea is just input data, even when you are shown to be wrong. Develop the will to accept even hostility or derisive laughter. As for criticism, most ideas will fail some feasibility test for implementation at their first submission. The key is to remain open to acquiring another piece to the puzzle. That piece could be the "flash of genius" of another who could not implement the idea when made. Sometimes, the timing is just not right and the resources cannot be mustered. Persist. (To use a baseball metaphor, you neither strike out nor hit home runs if you avoid batting.)

Recognize that creativity is area specific for each individual, but that area may be unrelated to either training or career assignments to date. Suggestions for investigating how others have approached similar problems in their different fields, asking why some aspect or assumption of the problem is understood as it is, and judging merit only after the quantity of ideas becomes overwhelming may help keep the creative juices flowing. After all, "common sense" may be all that is blocking the solution.

It may help to provide a label for the problem, so your mind remains focused. When a few minutes are available, consciously think about it. If something occurs to you which helps, write it down. If not, do the other things you must do. Your subconscious mind has not stopped working the problem, so you may be surprised at any time by some critical piece of the puzzle jumping forth seemingly unbidden.

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Quality Circle Leadership

The Quality Circle team leader provides the minimal structure necessary for the team to accomplish its tasks in a reportable fashion. The initial charter of the group and its authority to address the introductory issues is explained. The leader makes sure that one member undertakes the essential record-keeping function at each meeting, so agreements, action item assignments and due dates are recorded.

Another member may be asked to pay attention to time expended on topics, with respect to agenda. The leader also should maintain pursuit of team purpose and have the scribe record interesting deviations for addressing at another time or by another more appropriate team.

At a minimum, chairpersons or leaders of Quality Circles or Work Function Teams should be trained as thoroughly as first level supervisors. A necessary skill to develop is that of integrating the raw ideas generated by Quality Circle team members into useful intelligence for development of alternative solutions.

Part of this skill is knowing how to tailor the flood of information such that more of it is usable within the problem at hand. Another part is knowing how to ask questions that disconfirm hypotheses that would later prove incorrect. The final part is knowing that conflict between ideas is to be encouraged; that friendly debate helps to generate additional alternatives and to further the group consensus; that teams provide the broader, overall perspective that individual's lack.

Team leaders should learn to require that estimates be stated in confidence levels and ranges, to test solution hypotheses for merit and to present differences of team member opinion without bias to the steering committee in progress reports.

The fact that expert opinion is divided on a particular issue is valuable information because lack of dissent may conceal and encourage an erroneous opinion.

Process team leaders must be aware that it takes time for members to whom the CIP/TQM concept is new to adjust to being respected and listened to rather than just being told what to do. A few successful trials are necessary to convince the wary. Crediting the team with successes helps bring out everyone's contributions.

The team leader must be careful to prevent the differences from harming the group process, however, by being diplomatic and caring for feelings of all members. The leader may have to tell the team members that failure to bring about a common understanding of the problem could lead to a less desirable final result. Team leaders should encourage a bargaining process to trade off the various sub-group interests with the goal of arriving at eventual consensus.

A business team is everyone involved in the chain from creation of an idea to delivery of the product or service. It includes suppliers and customers who may not be directly represented on the formal team, so someone should be appointed each meeting to represent those perspectives.

When consensus is difficult to obtain, postpone the deadline rather than accept an agreement based solely on meeting the goal. Following continued failure to obtain consensus, the team leader may become an arbitrator to force resolution of conflict.

Generally, the team leader's job is discovering where the group wishes to go and to help it get there. This does not mean that compromise should be the normal result, because the winning side usually will need the unconditional support and acceptance of responsibility from some of the team members for implementation of solutions.

A compromise solution without consensus will lack wholehearted support from anyone.

Those who insist on trying always to win should be counseled regarding the ultimate benefit to the organization from occasionally gracefully losing. Remember that small mistakes are to be treated as opportunities to learn. Finally, the team leader job isn't always or usually easy, requiring listening and accommodation to keep the group from becoming a responsibility-avoiding traditional committee.

Training of circle leaders should include facilitator methods for encouraging idea generation and mediating negotiations between opponents in a group, but not methods for remaining apart from the problem.

Circle leaders are full-fledged team members, although they must guide and teach. To avoid being perceived as the authority, they should wait until most other opinion has been offered before presenting theirs. They should know how to employ cause and effect (Ishikawa) diagrams, check sheets, graphs, and to use simple statistics as the basic tools (with understanding of when such data is appropriate).

Of course, the approved decision methodology is a new basic tool.

Training should include emphasis on effective ways to quickly teach the essence of CIP/TQM, such as the precept that failure to implement authorized improvements is considered irresponsible.

Merely meeting work standards is not enough. Team leaders should learn to prioritize problems by how much each costs the company, to separate the vital few from the trivial many.

Tracking down the source, rather than addressing the symptoms, of noncomformances and taking action to prevent their recurrence is the charter of all circle members.

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Management in CIP/TQM

Effectiveness of the Continuous Improvement Process/Total Quality Management concept requires that every manager not just understand and accept, but psychologically internalize the cultural behavior involved. All managers must accept that their personal managerial skills are just as imperfect and subject to the concepts of continual improvement as virtually everything else.

This is not to suggest that judgments of experienced managers are not extremely valuable, but to remind them that underlying personal biases and assumptions need to be continually verified for propriety under current conditions.

Providing the appropriate company culture for effective adoption requires that knowledge and individual acceptance of the CIP/TQM be diffused throughout the company. Therefore, training in the CIP/TQM should be top-down, complete with follow-on training and associated performance appraisal, as a key item for maintaining involvement by all employees in the company's cultural change toward continuous improvement.

Fundamental to implementing the CIP/TQM philosophy is widespread managerial understanding of exactly what the company business really is, what it is to be "known for" to the world at large, along with what plans are in place to achieve specific priority objectives in line with the guiding vision. The strategy may be emergent and evolving from interplay of the various stakeholders in the business or deliberate, from top executive intent to fulfill the vision. When a manager clearly knows what the relationship of the company is to the inside and outside world, from employee to potential customer and community to world, company philosophy and operating strategy can be internalized.

When company strategic goals are that well known, CIP/TQM objectives are automatic and can be generated for all circumstances without spending a lot of time wallowing in detailed planning whose close monitoring and reporting interferes with work performance because each variance requires a new detailed plan.

The objectives must be stated in such a way that everyone will know when any one of them has been accomplished. This philosophy is transferrable to employees at all levels as well, via the corporate culture, so their understanding of general organization objectives and performance measures also is automatic and clear. Department and division strategies are all will remain in accord with the overall adaptive strategy. Every manager and every key employee then knows where, when, and how the organization will compete and how their strategy differs from behavior expected of competitor executives. All their ideas and decisions are then made within the total situational context, which certainly should contribute more to success than working in the dark.

Such internalization of the philosophy cannot occur within an autocratic form of management, because it requires substantial trust in all employees.

Middle managers may not like being treated as "just another troop," but that is the new reality. It is just like glasnost and perestroika in the former Soviet Union, with an old guard fighting the change to no avail beyond temporary blockage. If they do succeed in restoring their old power, the country (company) dies.

So, the following solution may seem radical only at first glance:

Top management in companies should treat managers who are addicted to their power and perks much as users of mind-altering controlled substances should be treated today by the federal government.

That is, such power-addicted managers should be required to undergo mandatory counseling and continued periodic testing to assure that no backsliding has occurred, on pain of certain job loss.

In that vein, continued failure to empower subordinates in any meaningful fashion beyond buzzwords emission is evidence of a manager's unbroken addiction to personal power and is a strong indication of the necessity for extraordinary punitive measures with public revelation of the cause.

As long as they exist in the organization structure, managers necessarily are part of the quality improvement team and cannot be outsiders. Nevertheless, heed this repeated warning:

A manager should avoid assuming any position of authority in a process improvement team made up primarily of direct subordinates.

Otherwise, all members suddenly "know" how to behave and ideas will be evaluated more in accordance with the organizational rank or perceived political standing of their source than with their intrinsic merit. The highest ranking individual soon becomes the dispenser of all important decisions.

Managers in such teams must act as no better than peers and accept being addressed as just another person whose ideas are probably worth considering. Disagreement, when the organization's interests are involved, is not disloyalty. Their former role of coordinator is gone as well. They must accept being challenged by subordinates and possibly subjected to ridicule in the heat of group discussions. They should immediately admit when they don't know something. That may not be pleasant, but the ultimate rewards are worth it to the company. It is a powerful sign of respect for the troops to treat them as equal contributors to decision consensus.

The employees will become the temporary natural leaders when their expertise fits the problem at hand. When they are no longer the most knowledgeable person for the task, another natural leader emerges. When managers are too enamored of their privileges of rank, they don't belong in a CIP/TQM team.

If top management truly wants to change the company culture to a fully supportive CIP/TQM environment, recognition that such middle managers don't belong anywhere within the organization as managers should become widely and clearly perceivable to all as the aftermath discussions confirm the rumors.

Managers should learn to help subordinates identify problems in their work environment and become competent to assist their training. A can-do attitude and follow-through are critical. Avoid postponing even informal meetings to provide help and to remove obstacles to performance, which eliminates excuses for failure. When failures happen, learn from them. Provide everything from a sense of mission to resources.

Some workers need only to be left alone to do the job, but that may mean diverting their lower priority tasks to others. Doing that certainly makes your priorities clear to all. Attend to the process, once goals are defined, and let the results take care of themselves.

When managers make it plain that communications will be open without violating confidentiality, that skepticism by anyone may be openly expressed, and that candor is required (in brief, that empowerment is real), the groundwork is well laid for building trust between management and workers. Managers should know that workers will evaluate such communications as less open than managers will and may express criticism.

Defensiveness here will close channels and reduce building of trust. Further, avoid scolding or threatened punishment for mistakes if you want the immediate and full disclosure of problems so the underlying causes may be found. Avoid disciplinary action for false alarms or mistakes where the intent was to prevent a quality problem. You don't want people to stop trying to succeed.

Intolerance of failure means taking actions to cause success.

"Killing the messenger" effectively delays and may even prevent discovery of the best solution. Perhaps the goal was incorrect. Taking risks is the price that all pay who intend to contribute.

The door to trust is closed completely when management rewards substantial productivity enhancements with layoffs to enhance immediate profits rather than awaiting normal attrition. Using the performance review system to substantiate the usual concept of organizational winners and losers also is counterproductive.

The atmosphere of trust within the common culture facilitates reaching the depth of understanding (the knowledge of what affects their contributions) necessary for all competent employees to make better decisions and to participate fully in determining the future of the company. Managers usually underestimate the competence of even their best employees.

In one area, the CIP/TQM approach and the Management By Objectives (MBO) approach are in full agreement. That is, you set the priorities and establish who will do what, where they will do it, when and how it will be done. Why it must be done was established as the priority was assigned. Just as in MBO, you determine the gap between where you are now and where you want to be and devise the means to narrow and close it.

The major difference is that within the CIP/TQM approach you are likely to be under review of your peers on the team, rather than being subordinate to an immediate manager. You are trusted to do the right things. This means that formal budgets and schedules are less desirable because of their potential for misuse as a substitute for more important project knowledge. Implementation should be divided into logical stages, with clear milestones for completion of each stage, so task accomplishment may be planned into the normal workload for those responsible. Each step should be reviewed before commencing the next step, in sequential operations.

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Executive Functions in CIP/TQM

The function of the CIP/TQM Director and the immediately underlying organization is not to do total quality activities, but to make sure that all other organizations in the company become and remain total quality-conscious.

Total quality policy deployment and its day-to-day management begins here. Accordingly, the individual selected for this executive position should be respected and trusted by middle management, but not just marking time to retirement. Evangalism regarding CIP/TQM then will not be immediately suspect or discounted as a passing fad.

Acceptance of the underlying philosophy comes much more from consistent persuasion than from commands.

Accordingly, resist detailed policy manuals that the CIP/TQM opponents can use to slow its adoption through literal rather than intended interpretation. Choice of words, analogies, and metaphors used by executives and managers therefore is quite important in this regard.

Executives should be able to explain the quality policy with the same interpretation as the president and the CIP/TQM Director. The words need not be exactly the same, but the meaning should be essentially identical to those receiving the messages.

This suggests holding an executive level briefing session to clear up any possible misunderstandings through explanations which develop a consistent voice that fosters acceptance and minimizes self-serving interpretations.

The quality policies should be in line with the idea that if management concerns shift from attention to the bottom line to broad concern with benefits of quality improvement to society, it ultimately strongly benefits the company. None of this will work, however, if middle management attention to quality and process is outranked by their reward for autocratic behavior and attention to cost and schedules. The organizational incentives must support the desired change because the forces of resistance to change always exist.

All executives should be able to identify the major contributors to product quality, as seen by other executives in related industries as well as both internal and external customers, and their current and likely future competitive position in that regard. They should understand their competitor's choices as well as their own options. They should understand the critical nature of product liability issues and insist on being privy to relevant information. The financial and high performance people resources of the company must shift to match the stated objectives of implementing innovations. Products determined to be nearing their end of profit generating life should undergo euthenasia to free up such resources. (Perhaps even earlier.)

Accordingly, the quality information channels must be designed to operate horizontally, across departments or divisions, as well as vertically toward the CIP/TQM Director.

Executives should be able to identify some opportunities for key improvements in products, for hard-to-copy improvements in the manufacturing processes, for advantageous market positioning, for reductions in the various costs of non- conformance, and for feasible improvements in allocation of human resources. Executives should be aware of any unexpected successes, as a subset of problems they are monitoring. Change should be more proactive and anticipatory than reactive, at the strategic level. Subordinates must become involved in implementing the vision. Support for R&D should, therefore, be much higher than is typical for old-style organizations. Tomorrow's products in response to an opportunity must be in development today.; Executives should understand that problems always have plural solutions, if sufficiently analyzed, from which the most feasible can be selected.

Executives should learn how to perform a CIP/TQM audit, perhaps by performing the second audit as part of a team led by the President and an outside advisor.

The audit should be total, rather than restricted to each separate operating division of the company, and may uncover activities that are not part of a division's charter and goals. While performing the audit task, they cannot help learning exactly what are the company capabilities and limitations with regard to manufacturable product quality. They likely will discover something that currently is not a problem but which has great potential to become one. They may discover serious problems such as flawed company policies and inappropriate goals.

The audit tasks get them out of the office and in touch with the company as it responds to changes in the business climate. With that knowledge, their contribution to quality policy development and goals priority setting should become virtually unimpeachable. Preparation for their smooth ascendancy toward the desired CEO responsibilities could not be much better, if that is among their personal goals.

Expression of executive level commitment must include approval of critical funding that goes for broke, because implementing CIP/TQM has start-up costs that do not contribute immediately to the company bottom line. Underspending can be fatal to adoption and to ability to break past the inevitable plateaus in rate of improvement. Concurrent Engineering (see that tutorial) helps, when the bean counters allow more up-front and parallel activity to do things a bit closer to right the first time and soon enough to affect the development time.

When management obviously approves spending the necessary hours and appears to recognize that workers closest to the job are usually the true experts, work process teams will begin to make significant improvements. General employee morale is improved, as discussions are more often based on the facts and figures in a problem-solving environment.

Along with enhancing the employee relations, because an increasing percentage sees themselves as paid to think, many of these changes will increase company profits by reducing expenses. Few of today's contracts are on a cost plus fee basis, so reducing costs can be critical to ongoing company survival. Adoption of CIP/TQM should more than pay for the effort.

As workers continue to contribute their small improvements and become more skilled at thinking about their work processes, their suggestions for change become more fundamental, profound and effective. A great mental capacity is provided by teams of workers who understand the purpose and goals of their organization, along with the policy decisions. Formerly hidden talents are allowed to emerge. Mistakes, either of commission or omission, become fewer.

With a multitude of minds everywhere at work on similar goals, cumulative improvements inevitably are greater and more lasting than the few spectacular successes in major breakthroughs from paradigm shifts that dedicated high-level teams may accomplish. One of the keys to success for the approach is that none should care who gets the credit, including the boss. You want to get the job done, which may mean setting the ego aside for the duration. Such dedicated teams are seldom formed or funded, however, although even semi-permanent quality circles have been known to produce breakthrough ideas.

Keeping the quality vision going is an executive responsibility. One means participating in teaching the courses. Another is to require that all new employees have an approximate peer (equal in the hierarchy or one level either way) as a sponsor for explanation of the company CIP/TQM philosophy and strategic mission. The object is to convert new employees into solid contributors to organizational objectives as quickly as possible by showing them how the company vision is applied and imparting the concept that:

Part of being a "professional" is making sure that the company for which you worked can be assessed as being better off for your having been there.

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What Can Go Wrong

Embracing a philosophy of continual improvement enhances a company's long-term survivability. Although the initial adoption and training costs may slightly hurt the immediate bottom line, for a period depending on company size and intensity of the initial application, the breakeven point could be within a year or so. Unfortunately, that is not likely.

More frequently, the natural tendency by middle managers to resist changes that appear to reduce their assumed authority (because individual employees are empowered by implementation of CIP/TQM) will lengthen the probable time span for effective adoption to several years or actually put it off indefinitely.

Employee participation becomes a facade or farce (form without substance) when managerial support for implementation of their ideas is withheld or is requested with insufficient fervor.

When management decides all terms of worker participation or coopts the ideas that are implemented, cynicism is the inevitable result. Even when the team is credited with successes, their activity may be limited by rules restricting team time to consideration of improving internal or external customer satisfaction and reductions in process time, product defects, or company bureaucracy. The ground rules for team participation and scope of effort will exclude their consideration of employee physical environment and such. (Evidently workers cannot really be trusted and will turn the company into a non-productive playpen if not constrained.)

Further evidence of top management distrust in employees is continuance of the old messages, "Trust us," "Be tolerant of our mistakes even if we don't return the favor," and, "although we won't explain much of it to you, we have good reasons for doing to you what we are doing so accept it with good grace." Unfortunately for those holding on to their last vestiges of autocratic managerial power, trust must be extended to be obtained and retained.

Employee perceptions of the company climate are subject to change when elements of that climate are changed without their assistance. Negative changes in pay, benefits, management style, work environment, or product affects their interest in positive participation beyond that minimum necessary for job retention. Being allowed to vote on preferences regarding changes to the climate is neither participation nor assistance. Before applying such reductions in climate, it is best to obtain employee concurrence at a level commensurate with participation. The employee should have some grounds for belief that improved work will benefit its provider as well as the company.

CIP/TQM adoption failure probably is caused by some form of management failure. Most often, middle management is the key to the problem, because top management sees the need for the change and workers want it when they learn about empowerment. They don't see the changes as anything but good if they don't fear assuming the responsibility. Middle managers often are stuck back at perceiving their power as a zero-sum game and do all in their power to avoid losing any. That is how they got where they are and how they intend to stay there. The paradigm has yet to shift enough to convince them that any other course will work.

Some middle managers attend CIP/TQM training but are not interested or think it is unnecessary. Some may believe it is being applied when only the superficial aspects of Quality Circles, reports and paperwork are in place.

Only when the company top management leads and drives the cultural change by teaching the vision, extends the necessary trust, and CIP/TQM becomes the prevailing "religion," will the inevitable trend change to becoming ever more competitive and profitable. Product quality will become designed and built-in, rather than "inspected and reworked" in and maintenance of that quality will never become subject to compromise by cost improvement efforts. Even innovators in the early stages of knowledge based products must do it right the first time from the customer's perspective and attend to management basics because the competition is already in place.

CIP/TQM is a management tool that must be understood fully and employed properly or it will cost more than it returns. Good management of its implementation will provide the payoff.

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CIP/TQM in Small Businesses

For sole proprieterships, partnerships and small businesses with few employees, responsiveness to customer requirements is the essence of their survival. They cannot lose sight of their market segment, what they produce, and how that earns the profit. They must apply resources economically and stick to their basic business. Quality should be their way of life because customers remember it long after they have forgotten the price. Nevertheless, keeping the fundamental concepts in mind when making decisions may provide an additional competitive edge over time.

The two fundamental concepts are: First, that quality is fulfilling the customer requirement with a product or service. Second, that continuous improvement means taking each nearly right step further along the path toward exactly right. Keep in mind that exactly right is dynamic rather than static.

If you have any questions on this tutorial subject, please contact the author as listed below. A response will occur and a FAQs section may result.

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This tutorial is presented by:

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