By some estimates, up to 70 percent of quality initiatives fail. Why do so many improvement programs, which are championed and staffed by smart, dedicated people, ultimately end up on the chopping block?
According to the Juran Institute, which specializes in training, certification, and consulting on quality management, the No. 1 reason quality improvement initiatives fail is a lack of management support.
At first blush, doesn't that seem like a paradox? After all, it's company leaders who start quality improvement efforts in the first place. So what happens between the time a deployment kicks off—with the C-level's enthusiastic support and participation—and the day a disillusioned C-level executive pulls the plug on a program that never seemed to deliver on its potential?
Even projects which result in big improvements often fail to make an impression on decision-makers. Why?
The answer may be that those C-level leaders never find out about that impact. The 2013 ASQ Global State of Quality study revealed that the higher people rise in an organization's leadership, the less often they receive reports about quality metrics. Only 2% of senior executives get daily quality reports, compared to 33% of front-line staff members.
Think that's bad? A full 25% of the senior executives reported getting quality metrics only on an annual basis.
In light of findings like that, the apparent paradox of leaders losing their initial enthusiasm for quality initiatives begins to make sense. The success of the program often remains invisible to those at the top.
That's not necessarily for a lack of trying, either. Even in organizations with robust, mature quality programs, understanding the full impact of an initiative on the bottom line can be difficult, and sometimes impossible.
For more than 45 years, Minitab has been helping companies in every industry, in virtually every country around the world, improve quality. Along the way, we've seen and identified five main challenges that can keep even the most successful deployments in the shadows.
1. Project Data Is Scattered and Inaccessible.
Individual project teams usually do a great job capturing and reporting their results. But challenges quickly arise when projects accumulate. A large company may have thousands of simultaneous quality projects active now, and countless more completed. Gathering the critical information from all of those projects, then putting it into a format that leaders can easily access and use, is an extremely daunting task—which means that many organizations simply fail to do it, and the overall impact of their quality program remains a mystery.
2. Projects Are a Hodgepodge of Applications and Documents.
As they work through their projects, team members need to create project charters, do SIPOCs and FMEAs, evaluate potential solutions, facilitate brainstorming, and much more. In most organizations, teams have to use an assortment of separate applications for documents, process maps, value stream maps, and other essential project tools. That means the project record becomes a compilation of distinct, frequently incompatible files from many different software programs. Team members are forced to waste time entering the identical information into first one program, then another. Adding to the confusion, the latest versions of documents may reside on several different computers, so project leaders often need to track multiple versions of a document to keep the official project record current.
3. Metrics Vary from Project to Project
Even projects in the same department often don't treat essential metrics consistently, or don't track the same data in the same way. Multiply that across the hundreds of projects under way at any given time in an organization with many different departments and divisions, and it's not hard to see why compiling a reliable report about the impact of all these projects never happens. Even if the theoretical KPIs are consistent across an organization, when one division tracks them in apples, and the next tracks them in oranges, their results can't be evaluated or aggregated as if they were equivalent.
4. Teams Struggle with Square-Hole Tracking Systems
Many organizations attempt to monitor and assess the impact of quality initiatives using methods that range from homegrown project databases to full-blown, extremely expensive project portfolio management (PPM) systems. Sometimes these work—at least for a while. But many organizations find maintaining their homegrown systems turns into a major hassle and expense. And as others have discovered, the off-the-shelf solutions that were created to meet the needs of information technology, finance, customer service, or other business functions don’t adequately fit or support projects that are based on quality improvement methods such as Six Sigma or Lean. The result? Systems that slowly wither as resources are directed elsewhere, reporting mechanisms that go unused, and summaries that fail to convey a true assessment of an initiative's impact even if they are used.
5. Reporting Takes Too Much Time
There are only so many hours in the day, and busy team members and leaders need to prioritize. Especially when operating under some of the conditions described already, team leaders find reporting on projects to be a burden that just never rises to the top of the priority list. It seems like non-value-added activity to copy-and-paste information from project documents, which had to be rounded up from a bunch of different computers and servers, and then place that information into yet another format. And if the boss isn't asking for those numbers—and it appears that many C-level executives don't—most project leaders have many other tasks to which they can devote their limited time.
How to Overcome the Challenges to Reporting on Quality
It's easy to understand why so many companies, faced with these constraints, don't have a good understanding of how their quality initiatives contribute to the overall financial picture. But recognizing the issues is the first step in fixing them.
Organizations can establish standards and make sure that all project teams use consistent metrics. Quality professionals and their leaders can take steps to make sure that reporting on results becomes a critical step in every individual project.
There also are solutions that tackle many of these challenges head-on. For example, Companion by Minitab takes a desktop app that provides a complete set of integrated tools for completing projects, and combines it with centralized, cloud-based storage for projects and a customizable web-based dashboard. Companion's desktop app makes it easier for practitioners to work through and finish projects—and since their project data automatically rolls up to the dashboard, reporting on projects is effortless. Literally.
For the executives, managers, and stakeholders who have never had a clear picture of their quality program, Companion opens the window on the performance, progress, and bottom-line effects of the entire quality initiative, or specific pieces of it.
Ensuring that the results of your improvement efforts are clearly seen and understood is a challenge that every quality pro is likely to face. How do you ensure your stakeholders appreciate the value of your activities?