Ask someone what’s broken in the system

Ed Deming was the king of quality. He taught the Japanese how to make quality radios, cars and office machines. He eventually taught American giants, wounded by Japanese competition, how to put quality into their products in the 80s.

When he lectured, he would often ask managers, “What is your job?”

They would reply with a list of duties or obligations and he would roar, “Wrong!!!! Your job is to manage the system for quality.” He believed that any business consisted of a system of inputs and outputs. It wasn’t a loose collection of factories, products and markets, it was a system. If you manage the system for quality, you produce a quality product.

As I studied his quality control teachings, I took away a pointer that has helped me for years. Ask a coworker what’s broken in the system. Anywhere, anything. Is the customer service call center a wreck? Is the website too complicated to navigate? Is there a breakdown between the sales team and the service team that produces poor customer experience? When you start to ask around, you will find that there are several “broken” things in your system. Frequently, leadership asks the wrong questions and as a result there is little discussion about the system.

Leaders, ask three of your people today to be candid with you and tell you something in the total system (from beginning of the customer experience to the end) that needs prompt attention. You might find a glaring problem or experience a paradigm shift as a result. If you will take your nose out of the spreadsheets long enough, you may dramatically improve the quality of your company and its products.

Recommended read: Out of the Crisis by Ed Deming