By Christian Green, Kepner-Tregoe
Low cost is almost automatically associated with low quality and less value however, this is an unfair correlation. The cost of production can be reduced while maintaining, or even increasing, the quality delivered to the consumer.
Lapses in quality can have disastrous effects on a business. Product recalls for safety reasons can lead to loss of reputation requiring years to repair, if ever. Avoiding these situations doesn’t mean the cost of production must increase. Actually, many changes that protect your business from these critical lapses in quality may reduce the cost of manufacturing rather than increase it.
Concentrating too much on avoiding rare lapses in quality can distort the actual perception of quality. The desired state is to have quality steps built into your manufacturing processes rather than relying on inspections at the end. The goal of quality is to meet or exceed customer expectations. True value can be measured in increased revenues and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
How can you achieve this Nirvana? Surely, satisfying customers’ quality expectations can only be achieved with a larger financial investment. You could throw money at new technologies or other physical manufacturing improvements but there are more ways to improve quality.
Increasing operational efficiency, promoting innovation, building employee engagement and improving customer service—all are effective in increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing production cost—resulting in greater profitability. It isn’t always about technical enhancements to the product.
When a brand is respected for quality, it is often assumed that its financial investment in quality processes is much greater than most other companies (including yours) are able to match. It is easy to think that high quality can only be achieved with a huge investment of funds.
Companies that have the most sophisticated quality practices are not always those that spend the most on quality. It is more likely that their leaders have prioritized carefully any spending on quality, so that it is highly targeted and, therefore, most effective.
Staff engagement is often overlooked in the quest for quality improvement. A quality focused organization develops employees that feel invested in the company and are proud of the products it offers. A huge financial investment is not needed to create this culture, but it does take a skilled leader. When your staff is proud of the goods you are producing, they will be committed to stopping any sub-standard products from leaving the premises. An investment in creating this type of culture should be a priority for any business.
To improve your quality practices, consider industries that must rely heavily on the quality of their goods, such as the pharmaceutical and dairy industries. Quality lapses in these industries can have drastic consequences for consumers and for the reputation of the companies’ products.
These industries are required to recognize problems and quickly identify the root cause. In any industry, these are two ways to improve quality without a huge investment in technology. Critical thinking and the appropriate use of root cause analysis techniques can deliver a significant ROI in the quality-improvement game. Quality is incorporated into the production processes, not just inspected in at the end.
Thinking systematically and holistically about quality processes is key to achieving a balance that produces sustainable quality levels without impacting the profitability of your business. Start by listening more carefully to your customers and understanding their point of view regarding your products and services. Develop and implement soft skills before you invest in new technology. Examine the culture of your organization. Does your staff feel invested in and proud of your products and services? The cost of improving your quality may be much less than you think.
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