There is no shortage of advice on how to achieve quality. The only apparent problem is how to choose from among the innumerable models and methods on offer.
Also, quality is something that everyone must be in favour of, as no one ever argues that there should be less of it. So, by default, we must assume that there is both the will and the way for organisations to improve the quality of their work.
However, in reality many organisations and managers seem to find managing quality difficult. If you have been involved in trying to implement quality initiatives you already know that it rarely works out that way. This can lead to cynicism about quality management and give it a bad name.
All claims for a universal panacea in management should be treated with extreme scepticism. If it were that easy, there would be no unsuccessful organisations.
As consumers, most of us normally prefer to deal with organisations that offer high-quality goods and services. Consequently, we would expect quality organisations to have more satisfied customers and so achieve a greater degree of success, whether in terms of profit, or value for money in the not-for-profit sector.
This commonsense analysis is also supported by research evidence. For over 20 years the Strategic Planning Institute in the USA has collected data on more than 3,000 companies (over 600 of them based in Europe). The Profit Impact of Market Strategy database, PIMS, as it is known, has consistently shown that the single most important factor affecting a business’s performance is the quality of its products and services.
Organisations offering higher quality than their competitors achieve the highest market share and the greatest profitability. An observer might therefore reasonably conclude that organisations should certainly try to achieve a high level of quality.
Given the quantity of advice on quality management available, it would appear that it ought to be fairly simple for any organisation to improve its quality. However, people’s experience both in work and as consumers would suggest that this is often not the case. Many organisations have learned to their cost that converting the good intentions of managers into the successful implementation of a quality improvement programme is not straightforward.
Surveys examining the track record of various quality programmes have found a high level of dissatisfaction with them among the organisations concerned. Smith et al. (1994), for example, report that only one-third of 500 US companies surveyed felt that their quality programmes had had a significant impact on their competitiveness, while only one-tenth of 100 British firms surveyed believed that their quality programmes had achieved tangible results.
The same authors also quote another survey showing that two-thirds of quality programmes ground to a halt after two years because they had failed to produce the desired results.
Oakland (1989) lists some of the main difficulties experienced by those implementing quality improvement programmes:
Next week we will discuss some of the problems associated with implementing quality programmes and how quality initiatives, even after a successful introduction, can simply fade away over time if not properly serviced.
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