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Quality is not just about products and services: Subir Chowdhury

Subir Chowdhury summarises his 'Six Sigma' approach for achieving excellence.

twitter-logoAlokesh Bhattacharyya  twitter-logoAnand J         Last Updated: January 4, 2012  | 16:53 IST

Subir Chowdhury, chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, is one of the eight Indians in Thinkers50, a global listing of world's best business minds.  In an interview with Alokesh Bhattacharyya and Anand J, he speaks on the importance of quality in the context of business.

On the importance of quality in the context of business

Year after year "business" consistently proclaims its commitment to quality. Yet they continually devise flawed processes that turn out flawed products or services. This results in businesses constantly looking for ways to fix the problems associated with the flawed products or services-or firefighting.  Businesses refuse to take the steps necessary to prevent those problems from occurring in the first place.  Taking responsibility for quality, not quality control, is everyone's business and is absolutely critical to the success of every organization.  Businesses must instill this quality mindset in their corporate culture so quality becomes a part of everything they do!

On which is more important-quality of processes or quality of employees
Organizations can only succeed when the quality of their people, or individual quality, is given the same importance as the quality of the processes that they utilize.  Quality is not just about products and services. It is about people as well.  Taking personal responsibility for quality or "people quality" is just as integral as "process quality".  Individuals must also exhibit and practice quality in everything they do.  Individual quality breeds process quality, and the combination of the two leads to a highly successful organization.

How does Six Sigma help companies improve quality?
Six Sigma is an excellent process and has helped many organizations over the years achieve excellent outcomes by improving efficiency and trimming waste.  However, Six Sigma is a detailed, demanding, step-by-step system which requires significant training on a variety of tools and processes, many of which may go unused or are not applicable to the problems out hand.  So companies may have gotten disillusioned at Six Sigma and gone into "process fatigue" trying to apply all the processes or tools without clearly understanding why they were using the tools, what issues they were trying to resolve and how it would impact the organization as a whole. They need only apply a critical few tools to effectively and efficiently solve the problem or the issue.

In essence, that's how I developed my next generation revolutionary management system called LEO (LISTEN-ENRICH-OPTIMIZE) that is introduced in my books "The Ice Cream Maker" (Random House 2005) and "The Power of LEO" (McGraw-Hill 2011). We learned from what we saw happening in the real world.  Today, we tailor the tools we use to fit each company's circumstances.   Whatever program we recommend will be geared precisely to the company's particular requirements.  And I promise organizations, that if they follow the LEO methodology, they will achieve a significant, measurable increase in the quality of their operations.

What role has senior leadership to play in maintaining quality in a company?
Every company has to have a product and/or a service, which is of the highest quality possible, so that their customers will eventually need or buy from them.   Establishing and maintaining a quality culture is absolutely the driving force to a company's overall success.  And critical to that is the actions and behaviors exhibited by senior leadership in support of this culture.  My LEO methodology addresses this within one of the four key cornerstones of the methodology: "All the people all the time."   And "all the people" means just that: ALL the people-no exceptions. If leaders demonstrate and consistently reinforce and reward the actions, behaviors and desired outputs they expect, then the quality culture of the organization develops, evolves, and is ultimately supported by "all the people all the time."  

Is there a case for companies to have a designated Chief Quality Officer?
In my viewpoint, every CEO must play the role of 'Chief Quality Officer'. It should not be a title or just "lip service to quality" by the CEO; rather his or her actions must promote and practice "Quality" in everything every CEO does. Frankly, I think that delegating "Quality" to a specific person, team or department is absolutely the worst thing any organization can do these days.  "Quality," (not quality control or end-of the-line quality) should be the responsibility of everyone in the organization.  In essence, quality should be everyone's business. When quality is the focus of every one in the organization, productivity increases, costs decrease, products and services are developed to exceed expectations and ultimately the organization benefits tremendously from adopting this mindset.

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