Trim waste, maximize margins Featured

10:31am EDT September 22, 2006
The terms “quality control” and “quality assurance” in today’s business lexicon can mean virtually whatever any business wants them to mean. Quality is a sought-after virtue that ostensibly cuts across the regulatory, risk management, engineering, security, supply chain, customer satisfaction and end product departments of a business. It includes corporate preventive actions, ISO compliance, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, corrective action and much, much more.

“When people talk about quality, they are talking about best practices, continuous improvement and tapping the full power and knowledge of an organization,” says Vera Lewis-Jasper, executive director for the Quality Center at Tri-C’s Corporate College. “Quality means making your company, your products and your services better. It can define and drive an organization. In today’s world, engaging in a quality initiative can mean the difference between success and failure.”

Lewis-Jasper oversees professional development and training programs on topics that help companies tie business process improvement to the bottom-line. Smart Business talked with her about achieving corporate quality in today’s markets.

Why is it critical to find out what a company or organization’s most significant opportunities, concerns or vulnerabilities are as they relate to quality initiatives?
Because today’s business landscape has changed, across the board and in every industry, clients demand more for less. So if you’re not looking at quality issues, most likely your company is not growing and innovating. If you don’t have a quality or continuous improvement initiative you are not No. 1 or No. 2 in your business sector. Ninety-nine percent of companies that use quality processes achieve better employee relations, achieve higher productivity and customer satisfaction and own a greater share of their market.

How do successful companies trim waste and maximize margins?
First of all, trimming waste and maximizing margins must be part of an overall strategic quality goal. They are only parts of the whole process. Companies must look strategically first before they very carefully choose the projects to reduce costs and increase profits. For example, one of our service clients wanted to improve customer-satisfaction ratings. After successfully implementing a quality program not only did customer satisfaction increase but its bottom line also improved. Why? Because when you evaluate and streamline processes, you reduce mistakes and redundancy.

How can the process of benchmarking help an organization?
Benchmarking is a point of reference against which organizational processes are compared or measured and it is how best practices are established. Companies choose a leader in their industry — and more often these days a leader in a different industry — and identify the chosen company’s best products, services and business processes. Then it can systematically integrate the discovered knowledge into its own products and processes.

Benchmarking requires an organization to be open to new ideas and learn from what others do best. For example, in the 1980s, many companies were benchmarking Toyota. They benchmarked Toyota’s production system and customer-satisfaction ratings. In the hotel industry, clients often benchmark the Ritz-Carlton and look at front desk processes and housekeeping practices.

What is the relationship between quality, best practices and innovation?
Without quality, it is difficult to innovate because your products and services aren’t where they need to be. Everything is interrelated: quality, best practices, benchmarking and innovation. Innovation is often the result of successful quality initiatives.

What types of industries can benefit from quality and Lean Six Sigma principals?
No one is excluded. Anyone from the service and finance sectors to hospitality and transportation can benefit. Sports teams are getting into it these days, in addition to security companies and banks. Government entities are starting to embrace quality, too.

And, often, their reasons are different. They may include improving the bottom line, increasing productivity, solving problems or improving customer satisfaction. For example, many government officials use Six Sigma principles to provide more city services without increasing taxes.

VERA LEWIS-JASPER is the executive director for the Quality Center at Tri-C’s Corporate College. For further information on Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College, phone (866) 806-2677 or visit www.corporatecollege.com.