Quality: A Mindset

In an email interview with The Daily Star, Subir Chowdhury discusses with Amitava Kar what quality really means, his latest philosophy and upcoming books. Born in Chittagong, Chowdhury is one of the world's leading experts in Quality Management and author of 13 books, including international bestsellers The Power of Six Sigma and The Ice Cream Maker. He was recently appointed an Adviser to the World Bank President Leadership Council.
Subir Chowdhury
Subir Chowdhury

How do you define quality? 

Quality is a mindset that impacts everyone. It is more than a process or programme to be implemented by workers on an assembly line.  It impacts every decision we make, and isn't just limited to the workplace—it impacts us at home, work and school.  It is the difference between being "good enough" and the best you can be.  Quality is everyone's business. The problem for many organisations and even individuals is that they think quality is someone else's job.  

Which management tool works  the best?

Programmes and processes such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, and ISO can make a difference. But they aren't enough.  There are many organisations that have deployed these programmes successfully.  However, other companies have failed. The fact that two companies, virtually identical, can implement the same processes but see vastly different results has shown me that these processes are actually part of the problem. For many organisations, managing quality means addressing problems as we become aware of them. As a result, we stop being proactive and focus on being reactive—and the problems snowball. It is not enough to fix problems after we notice them--the real challenge is to catch them before they happen.  

You once said quality is also the relationship between people in an organisation. What did you mean? 

People who really "get" quality understand it's more than a programme. They have a caring mindset, and are truly exceptional. Quality is not just a process to them, something they check off their to-do list before going home for the evening.   

When I think of the people who have this mindset, I think of the hotel manager who drove two hours in her own car, on her own time, to return a credit card to a Japanese guest boarding a flight to Europe. I think about the hydraulics engineer who volunteered to parachute into a wilderness area to fix one of his company's new water pumps. I think about the shipping clerk who shouldered past jokes and ridicule from fellow employees as he carefully packaged every order as crisply and neatly as possible.  

I've seen with my own eyes the kinds of leaders who inspire. These are managers and executives who walk the talk of quality—at every moment, with every encounter, and at every level of the organisation. For the transformation of the organisation to be complete, every employee needs to embrace this mindset.  

Why did you write your international bestseller The Power of Six Sigma in the form of a story?

Six Sigma is a management strategy that helps organisations of any size to deliver defect-free products and excellent services. The Power of Six Sigma is targeted towards the mass audience from the lowest level employee like an assembly line worker to the CEO. The book was adopted by thousands of companies, big and small, in both public and private sectors as it is the only book on the subject of Six Sigma that explains the methodology in an entertaining way. 

What is your latest philosophy LEO all about? 

If we want to inspire quality, we need to encourage communication, interaction, and implementation. I define this as LEO (Listen, Enrich, and Optimize), and first introduced the concept in my bestselling book The Ice Cream Maker. LEO is a revolutionary process management strategy that is custom-delivered to organisations based on their strengths and weaknesses. LEO has saved millions of dollars to many organisations around the world and increased revenues. 

What steps can organisations in our country take to improve quality of goods and services?

The problems are deeply systemic. At the core, we must change as a people and demand quality from our leaders, in both the private and public sectors. The quality of an organisation or a nation will not improve unless, and until, we have a country of people with a caring mindset. Here is what I've seen: hundreds of organisations in Bangladesh are achieving ISO Certification, but their product or process quality is not good. The fundamental reason for this is that almost all leaders in most private or public organisations in Bangladesh do not have a quality (caring) mindset; many of them don't even feel that quality is their own responsibility. We must start by recognising our weakness first—leaders must embrace quality as their personal responsibility and must demonstrate quality in their behaviours and actions before they can expect people to trust or follow them.

In organisations that revolutionise their quality processes, everyone in the organisation is completely engaged.  People are encouraged to participate in conversations, interact with each other about the particulars of the organisational mission and operation, and rewarded when they implement changes that are productive. People throughout the organisation become energised and mobilised.  Only then will you experience true quality.

What are you working on now? 

In January 2016, my 14th book titled 'Robust Optimization' will be released worldwide as Wiley's Lead engineering title. Currently I am authoring a book titled THE DIFFERENCE that will be coming out in spring of 2017 as a lead business title from Random House.  The book will address the importance of the 'quality of people' in an organisation. LEO or Six Sigma only addresses the 'quality of processes' in an organisation. True quality is a combination of People quality and Process quality.

[Subir Chowdhury currently works as the Chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, LLC, Bingham Farms, Michigan, USA.]


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