How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The Quality Conspiracy
The Bookstore > The Quality Experience
In this business novel, a group of senior managers are called to a meeting to discuss corporate strategy, and be introduced to their new colleague - the Quality Manager. As the meeting progresses, the managers start to review quality as it applies to each of their departments.
Sample: Chapter 1
The man at the head of the table pushed back the chair, stood up and looked round at the sea of attentive faces.
"Good morning, everyone," he said. "I've called you all here to introduce you to our new Quality Manager. She's going to talk to us about quality–what else?" He smiled, and the faces smiled too.
"As you've probably heard, she comes to us with a good track record and I sincerely hope that she will be able to help us. Ask you well know, our plans have not been going as well as we had expected. So, without further ado, I will give her the floor."
The General Manager sat down and looked expectantly at the woman sitting on his right, who coughed and rose quietly to her feet as the eyes of everyone in the room turned towards her.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, slowly looking around, "I am afraid I have been brought here under false pretences. I am not the Quality Manager."
The General Manager suppressed a smile at the bewilderment on the faces of his staff. He had been warned about this beforehand, and now just enjoyed the confusion that he too had experienced when he first encountered this assertion.
The woman standing up paused, letting the bemused murmur run round the table.
"OK," said the R&D Manager, smiling as the potentially boring session suddenly became intriguing. "I suppose we should call you 'NTQM' until you can tell us who you really are!"
"If you like," NTQM smiled back warmly.
"I don't know what you mean," scowled the Finance Manager. "Quality is quality, and we sure as hell need it managed better around here."
"You're right, an explanation is due, and if you'll give me an hour of your time, I'll explain," said NTQM.
The people round the table variously grinned, frowned or stared curiously, but they all nodded and muttered their consent.
"I hope this is going to be worthwhile," muttered the Production Manager to the Service Manager. "I've got some real quality problems down on the line."
"To understand what I mean, we must first agree on what we mean by the word 'quality'," said NTQM, picking up a marker pen and walking over to the flipchart at the side of the table. "I have some views, and I'm sure you have too. Can you tell me now what 'quality' means to you?"
"Less scrap," said the Production Manager, immediately. NTQM wrote it down on the flipchart.
"A product to beat the competition!" said the Marketing Manager, looking pointedly at the R&D Manager.
"Clear requirements," retorted the R&D Manager.
"Good margins," said the Finance Manager, warming to the idea.
Other people also joined in.
"Fitness for purpose."
"Reliable components from our suppliers."
"Conformance to requirements."
"Very happy customers!"
NTQM listened, nodded, and wrote down each suggestion on the flipchart as it was called out. She had almost filled one page before they finally slowed and stopped. She then stepped back and looked pensively at the flipchart for a few moments.
"I can see that some of you have been reading around the subject," she said, to a few knowing smiles, "and everyone has a valid viewpoint, quite reasonably based on their experience. However, we need to find a definition that we can all agree on. To cover all these points, we need to step back and look at quality from a broader viewpoint. Can you summarize what all your descriptions are about?"
There was a period of quiet in the room as people studied the list of their suggestions for definitions of the word 'quality'.
"Hmm. It seems to be something about what we should be doing, but perhaps are not." The Service Manager looked thoughtfully at the flipchart.
"There's no perhaps about it. We are nowhere near as successful as we should be! But what is the common key to it all?" asked the General Manager.
"Well," began the Marketing Manager, "I suppose in that case you could say that they all are about the business in some way."
NTQM moved to the main flipchart and wrote, at the top of the page:
She turned to face the people round the polished wooden table and asked, "What do you think? Can you agree wholeheartedly with this? Can we make this statement the cornerstone of what we mean by 'quality' in this company? Can we use these two words, 'quality' and 'business', interchangeably?"
There was a pause, as people slowly nodded. "It's essential," said the General Manager. "I've never seen it described in this way before. I don't know why not, because it makes total sense."
"Of course", agreed the Service Manager. "If what we're doing is not good for the business, then why on earth are we doing it? This could help stop us falling down so-called 'quality' rabbit-holes."
There were other signs of agreement around the table, although several frowns also remained.
"Too often, also, I've seen business managers treat quality as a separate agenda, to be agreed in principle, then ignored in practice." The murmurs turned to shuffles of discomfort and unease.
"If quality means business, then business management means quality management. Which means you are the quality managers of this business."
She paused and the people looked back, their faces showing the disquiet they felt. They knew that it was true, but no one had put it into words before, and certainly not the previous Quality Manager.
One of them smiled. "So where does that leave you?"
"That's a very good question." NTQM smiled back. "I believe that there are things I should do and things that I should not do, but I would like to put off talking about this subject until later."
"It seems the word 'quality' has caused some confusion about what is, after all, what we should be doing anyway," said the General Manager. "It is as if there was some international conspiracy, aiming to confuse us or distract us from the real business. No wonder our previous quality efforts have failed."
The R&D Manager raised an eyebrow. "Then perhaps we should fight back, conspiring in turn to eliminate the word 'quality' from our vocabulary."
The Production Manager frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "This is all very neatly put, but saying 'Quality means business' is no use to me. What can I do about that down on the factory floor?"
"You're right, of course," said NTQM, sombrely. "We need to develop this statement further, into something we can all act upon. Perhaps we can then indeed conspire to eliminate the word 'quality' and the confusion it has caused."
"Whatever we come up with, the result must be clear and easy to communicate," cautioned the Human Resource Manager.
"That seems reasonable," said NTQM. "How about restricting it to this single flipchart page?"
"That's good," said the General Manager. "I'd like something which we could make real use of. Something to drive what we do."
Everyone else signalled their agreement. They had all seen quality manuals you could hardly pick up. A single page seemed a far more palatable prospect.
The General Manager sat back, steepling his fingers. In his earlier meeting with NTQM, they had agreed that what we needed in the company was a common understanding of what quality meant, on which subsequent actions could be based. He had agreed with NTQM's proposal that everyone should be involved. So far, it seemed to be working, but there was quite a way to go. The proof would lie in the reactions of his staff.
And the big