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Measuring quality.

Total quality management (TQM) has been called many other things'"quality control," "quality circles," or "qualitycentered culture." The name is not really important.

What is vital is the understanding that a true quality-centered culture is a way of thinking about and doing business that breaks with the traditional methods and offers new directions for managers and employees alike.

The greatest impediment to quality in this industry is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. What industry eventually learns is that continual arbitrary cost cutting is not an effective strategy.

A quality-centered culture is an organization-wide, standardized system of service delivery that is:

* customer-driven,

* statistically aided,

* management led, and

* constantly changing toward continuous improvement.

Unlike traditional management, which focuses on finding errors and often on allocating blame, TQM focuses on analyzing work systems and on preventive and continuous training for ongoing improvement.

A quality-centered culture is a real process of management with provable results; it is not just this year's slogan or promotion. Nor is TQM an exotic discipline, applicable only in the classroom. lf you cannot give tangible, realistic results from total quality management, you should not be talking about TQM.

If you can't define it, you can't measure it

Before quality can be managed, it must be defined. You cannot manage in general; it must be specific. You have to identify the item and condition that identifies both the customer's expectation and perception of quality. At that level, you can manage quality.

Quality has two aspects--the absence of defects and the perception of quality. Each process has innumerable points at which defects may occur. For example, in cleaning a desk, defects may occur in the dusting, streaks in the polishing, failure to replace items on the surface correctly, and so forth. Every major area in which defects could occur should be identified.

The next step is to survey clients to determine which defects are most unacceptable and to rank defects as to the clients' determination of each's impact on quality.

While ideally all defects should be eliminated, in most cases, the majority of complaints center around a relatively small number of defects. Once you have surveyed customers to determine which criteria drive customer satisfaction, you can concentrate on eliminating defects and on preventing future ones in these areas.

The perception of quality is a different matter, and the process that drives it is very different from the identification of defects. You can have a relatively defect-free environment and still have an unhappy customer.

The gap may result because the customer's expectation is higher than the service being delivered. Whether a customer is happy or unhappy is the result of the difference between perception and expectation. Focus groups and spot interviews with customers are effective in assessing customer perceptions because the interviewer can note perceptions during questioning.

Ask focus group members to rate quality on a scale of one to five. Segment and examine the extremes, either the excessively demanding or the completely satisfied, and look for patterns in the problems that the majority of people perceive. By identifying these prevalent problems and by then improving the process, you achieve success.

A simple example illustrates the point. A key executive in a corporation complained that the new cleaning contractor was doing a poor job and should be replaced. The next night, the cleaning manager sent a crew to the woman's office and did a carpet extraction, dusted and waxed the furniture, and washed the walls.

The next day, the executive again complained to management. The next night, the supervisor personally oversaw the cleaning, but again, the woman complained.

Finally, the supervisor went to talk with the executive and asked her what she looked at when she said that quality was missing. The woman left her office, walked down the hall to the stairwell door, and pointed.

The baffled supervisor asked what about the door indicated to her that quality was not present.

Closing the door, she revealed a set of dirty fingerprints on the back side of the door. "This is what I mean," she said. "These have been here for a week."

By failing to define what this woman meant by quality, the cleaning company had spent $1,500 on cleaning this executive's offices, when all the time the problem could have been solved with one damp cloth. You have to describe the problem as an item-specific event before you can solve it.

Of course, what is important to the customer is not just service delivery, but the process of service delivery. Therefore, you have to expand the criteria beyond the actual service to include such things as the behavior of those providing service, their appearance, and so forth. However, each criterion should still be addressed in a quantitative way.

The focus in TQM is not on the technical aspect of service delivery, although technical skills are important. The customer usually does not know or care about the technique; they are only interested in the end results.

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it

Once quality has been defined, a system must be developed to measure quality on an continuous basis. You must achieve:

* a measurable way to say that you have greater customer satisfaction,

* a measurable way to show that management is prevention directed, and

* a measurable way to show that the cost of quality is going down.

To measure quality requires two aspects--a measurement of the defects and a measurement of the perception of quality. You must measure and monitor both.

Measuring quality begins by establishing customer-defined targets of what constitutes acceptable quality. These targets are established through focus groups with customers.

In focus groups, customers will first talk in general about their perceptions of quality and then move into an itemspecific definition of what they consider quality.

Target levels may differ depending on the customer and their needs--for example, a customer may want an executive boardroom clean with only 5 percent acceptable defects, while the mailroom will be acceptable with 20 percent defects. Remember that it is the customer's perception of quality that is measured, not the supervisor's.

After a target level is established, specific points are designated for each item to be cleaned--desks, sinks, floors, etc. A score is given for each customer'designated item in the process.

Quality is measured by making random inspections within each stratum. Thus, cleaning would be measured by examining a certain number of randomly selected offices, a certain number of randomly selected corridors, etc. Random spot interviews of customers are conducted on a regular basis.

In measuring quality, the principal goal is not to determine if a particular desk is dirty. A certain number of defects is realistically inevitable. The key is in identifying management patterns, in which all or most of the desks have the same problem. If you find a pattern of one error reoccurring, then the management system for eliminating that error is at fault and must be changed to prevent future errors.

If you don't manage it, you can't improve it

Too often we spend our management time managing complaints. In effect, we are managing failure, trying to solve problems after the process has failed.

Instead, quality-oriented managers should be managing the process. looking for and preventing flaws in the process that permit errors and result in customer complaints.

You can train people to eliminate the defects where you perceive a pattern, either a pattern for an employee or a pattern for a group of employees. The measurements of performance should be tracked by employee, by task, on a monthly basis. In this way, the improvement of each employee can be plotted, and areas that hinder quality can be pinpointed and improved.

For example, if you find that all employees have problems with streaks when waxing desks, you analyze the process and determine through testing what causes the problems. Perhaps the wrong type of wax is used, perhaps the old wax is not removed correctly, perhaps the workers need specific training on how to apply the wax.

By testing alternatives, management may determine which change or combination of changes prevents problems and improves actual quality ratings.

In addition to improving processes to increase quality, managers must work to develop a system that encourages and rewards the achievement of quality. You cannot tell people that you want quality if what you reward is only lower cost or productivity.

Because all employee performance is numerically measured, performance tracking becomes objective instead of subjective. Bonuses and other incentives can be tied to reaching or exceeding established quality goals.

For example, in working with a contractor, you can define three levels of quality: not acceptable, acceptable, and above acceptable. Set ranges for each level of performance.

If the contracting firm performs in the acceptable range, it could receive cost plus profit; if it performs below acceptable, it could receive cost minus profit; if it performs above acceptable, it could receive cost, plus profit, plus a sizable incentive. Contractors should also be encouraged to divide the incentive money among the employees.

Focusing on tomorrow

Implementing a system of defining goals, measuring performance, and training for continuous improvement will not happen overnight. It will probably take at least 90 days to reorient management and employees to the new demands of a quality culture. However, within six months, real change is possible. And within a year, a company should be able to establish a stable, quality-oriented culture.

While the commitment is significant, the payoffs are even more so. Costs to achieve a total quality management culture could equal 2 to 4 percent of gross revenues. However, most companies achieve a 20-to-30-percent reduction in errors that more than offsets these costs. Productivity increases, and costs drop significantly.

Management time will also drop significantly if TQM is in place. Because management spends much less time putting out fires, there is time for training and planning to improve quality even further. Genuine quality success guarantees higher productivity, lower costs, and more satisfied customers.

Customers will pay more for quality, even in these difficult times. Why not give it to them?
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Elliot, Vincent
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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