MBQ Management by Quality

I just attended the WCBF Six Sigma Summit in Chicago. The overriding theme from the conference from presentations by Forrest Breyfogle, Thomas Pyzdek and Peter Pande was that American business leaders need Management By Quality to avoid the kinds of economic disasters we've seen lately. Management schools and MBAs were all skewered on the facts of their failure. 

Each speaker issued a challenge to the quality community to elevate Lean Six Sigma methods and tools to better manage American business.

Social Responsibility

When asked the primary reason for the existence of business, the audience answer was to "maximize shareholder value." Unfortunately, this alone can lead to all kinds of idiotic economic behavior. This single-minded focus leaves out several major stakeholders:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Society
Without satisfied customers there can be no shareholder value. Without satisfied employees there can be no satisfied customers. Without satisfied employees, customers and shareholders, society suffers. 

At every conference lately, I've heard the term "Social Responsibility" bandied about as the solution to our mess. I'd like to suggest that rather than focus on maximizing shareholder value, businesses need a new definition of success:

Optimize customer, employee, shareholder and societal value. 

This implies a balancing of competing requirements. Does Quality Function Deployment (QFD) come to mind? It should. 

Changing the Course of the Titanic

While saying leaders should use Management by Quality sounds good, it's about as likely as the moon reversing its orbit. Consider how much unlearningwould be required to make room for MBQ. Consider all of the leaders and managers that have succeeded by gut-feel, trial-and-error and common sense. They aren't going to suddenly switch to a completely new management method without a significant reason to do so. An economic crisis isn't going to do it. We have to think of a better way.

LSS Isn't Blameless

The Quality community is not without blame. As most speakers noted, Lean Six Sigma has become a project-oriented methodology with little or no focus on the long-term evolution of businesses and management. Peter Pande also pointed out that narrow focus on process can prevent a company from seeing opportunities. We have become too narrowly focused on improvement projects. We need to think bigger.

Stealth Conversion

Let's face it, most quality practitioners aren't in a position to convert leaders to Management by Quality. We aren't part of the "C" club. But there are a couple of "stealth" way's to go about it.

  1. The July-August 2009 Harvard Business Review (pgs. 90-91) has an article: Shareholders First? Not So Fast... by Jeffrey Pfeffer which argues against "shareholder capitalism" in favor of "stakeholder capitalism" (i.e., "customers, employees, suppliers shareholders and the culture at large"). This is the kind of article quality professionals can highlight and send to their leadership team to start shifting the business toward Management by Quality. The HBR can tell leaders things that quality professionals cannot.
  2. When I worked in the phone company IT department, we had several legacy information systems that were growing too cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Several attempts were made to rewrite these monoliths at an expense of hundreds of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, systems that have been around for two decades have too much embedded wisdom; it was impossible for any team to get their mind around all of the requirements. And, the business was changing (cell phones, fiber optics, cable, etc.). In the time it would take to rewrite the system, the business would have changed too much for the new system to work. 

    I was responsible for maintaining several smaller legacy systems. I used a different approach. Whenever I went into a program or module to make a change, I would edit or rewrite the code to optimize future maintainability. Little by little, line by line, I bought these dinosaurs more time and saved several from extinction. 

    I'd like to suggest that we can do the same with quality.

Shortcut to Management by Quality

Anyone who thinks they can institute a whole new way of running a business is probably crazy. There are too many forces holding the old one in place. Remember reengineering? Far too many efforts crashed and burned, almost taking companies down with them. 

I'd like to suggest that every Lean Six Sigma project can achieve its project goals and add a little dose of MBQ. Maybe the control phase initiates a dashboard of management metrics to help managers keep a finger on the pulse of operations. Maybe a dash of systems thinking that links up cross functional work. Maybe add a pull system with some one piece flow. 

Little by little, project by project, Lean Six Sigma can add MBQ to any business system and straighten out the value stream. With every project LSS can steer a business away from the icebergs in its path and stealthily convert managers and leaders to a new system of management. 

Chaos theory says that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can raise a tornado in Texas. I'd like to invite you to be the butterfly's wings. 

Teaching Management by Quality

I had an interesting discussion with Forrest Breyfogle who has created his Integrated Enterprise Excellence system for management. Forrest is a statistician to the marrow of his bones. He'd like every manager and leader to have his level of understanding of variation. Heck, I'd like to have his understanding of variation, but we disagree on how to get managers to that level of understanding. 

If you imagine an S-curve of statistical thinking: 


While it might be fantastic if every manager or leader (or employee for that matter) could suddenly arrive at statistician-level understanding, it's unrealistic to expect it. If, however, we borrow the perspective of marketers who use this curve to invite people to join at whatever level they are comfortable and then lead them up along the curve, I believe we can succeed without alienating anyone. 

It's a covert, stealthy approach to shifting the business management system. 

Here's My Point

Weave the methods and tools of Lean Six Sigma into the fabric of business operations with every project you do. Little by little, employees, managers and leaders will learn the methods and tools of Management by Quality. Little by little, the business will shift to a more robust way of measuring and delivering quality on-time and under budget...which will delight customers which will delight shareholders which will deliver value to society. 

I wish we could just flip a switch to change cultures and management systems, but it's just not that likely to succeed. Instead, we should be like the waves that come back again and again, wearing down the rocks that stand in our way.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537, support@qimacros.com."

Free Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt TrainingTake our FREE Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training online.