Following are two examples I used for my Quality Classes, during tenure as a Quality instructor
1. “I Believe I’ll Have the Reuben” by Richard I. Ferrin
WHAT MAY I GET FOR YOU today, gentlemen?” asked the man behind the Nine-to-Five Deli counter in Maryville, TN. Little did I know that this question would lead to a gut-level understanding of total quality management, free from the usual jargon.
I studied the menu board above the man’s head and spotted “Reuben sandwich.” I love Reuben’s, but only if the corned beef is lean, the sauerkraut plentiful and well-cooked, and the bread lightly toasted.
“Are your Reuben’s good?” I asked. “The best ” the man said. “Really?” I told him I used to work in New York City and have sampled some pretty good Reuben’s. “Do you really believe your Reuben’s are the best?” “You decide,” he said.
Aha No. 1: The customer determines the quality of a product or service, not the maker or purveyor. The customer is free to use any standard he or she chooses. It could be from the memory of the ideal Reuben frequently ordered for lunch at a tiny, take-out deli on 57th Street or the memory of the Reuben once shared with someone special at an outdoor grill alongside a harbor in Florida. It doesn’t matter.
I studied the menu board for another minute and then said, “I believe I’ll have the Reuben.” My friend Bill, who also had been studying the board trying to decide from among the five meats, six cheeses, and four types of bread, said, “I believe I’ll have a Reuben, too.”
We found a booth and waited. The man turned to his wife and announced our order. They set about making two of the best Reuben’s they could. Before long, he proudly set the creations before us, along with two Clearly Canadian blackberry drinks.
Bill and I are colleagues and friends. While we were waiting, our conversation ranged from who lost to whom in our latest golf match to our plans for raising $22 million over the next three years. Even after the Reuben’s came, we continued the same wide-ranging discussion.
I remember commenting, “These are pretty good Reuben’s, don’t you think?” Bill agreed, and that was that.
Aha No. 2: If you are the supplier of goods or services, you might think that your customers are focusing on the quality of what you have provided. You have knocked yourself out, and you want them to notice. But, horrors, they often don’t, unless the product is obviously awful or absolutely terrific. If it’s just satisfactory or even pretty good, they might very well take it for granted.
When I had about two bites left in my Reuben, the man came out from behind the counter and approached our booth. “Well,” he asked, “how is the sandwich?”
Aha No. 3: The only way to get an accurate understanding of your product is to ask the customer. Standing in the kitchen in a spasm of self-congratulation for outdoing yourself won’t tell you what you need to know. Your best judgment is no substitute for getting direct feedback from the object of your intentions.
Being an educator, when I think of evaluation, my mind instinctively zooms to grades. Shame on me. “An A-,” I said, grading his sandwich.
“What do I have to do to get an A+?” was his quick response.
I was ready with an answer. “It could use a little more sauerkraut.” Frankly, to this day I don’t know whether or not the little deli on 57th Street piled on more sauerkraut than the deli in Maryville. It just seemed that the sandwich would be better and deserving of an A+ if it had more fermented cabbage.
Aha No. 4: Most customers have an unspoken standard, even though they might never have tried to articulate it. Guessing what that standard is or becoming defensive about falling short of some unknown, fantasized ideal isn’t likely to lead to improvement that fully satisfies customers. Never mind the wasted time and vain flailing.I couldn’t believe what happened next. Even though Bill and I were nearly finished, the man went back to the kitchen, pulled a fistful of cold sauerkraut from a container, and was about to plop it on the grill for a minute. Then I heard his wife say, “But that’s all we have.”
“But we can get an A+,” the man said with total seriousness. And on the grill went the whole load.”
Aha No. 5: You have to really care about getting an A+. In just a few minutes, the man was back at our booth with a plateful of steaming sauerkraut. Watching the kitchen scene unfold, Bill and I had stopped eating. It would have been a pity to have finished our sandwiches before he got back.
We stuffed as much sauerkraut as we could into our remaining sandwich portions, sprinkled them with mustard, and polished them off.
Aha No. 6: If you really want an A+ and if you really are committed to total quality management, you had better not just meet customers’ expectations, but exceed them. If you meet their expectations, customers might be satisfied but are not necessarily going to rave about the experience.
Translated into higher-education terminology, a student whose expectations are met in the past academic year might regard the experience as having been a “good year,” but he or she might be persuaded by other urges to transfer to another school. If expectations are exceeded, the student is more inclined to feel that he or she is getting a great value and feel a level of commitment that is contagious.
I suspect the man at the deli didn’t make much money on the Rueben’s that Bill and I ordered that day, but he clearly established us as repeat customers. What’s more, I’ve told this story to hundreds of people since that day, and some of them surely have found their way to the Nine-to-Five Deli in Maryville.
Quality service pays, and it’s not that complicated to provide.
2. “The Tortoise vs. the Hare.”
Summarize Six quality Aha’s in this story.
There are distinct differences in preferred managerial practices used to improve quality in America and Japan. These differences can be illustrated by the story of the tortoise and the hare, in which the slow, steady tortoise defeats the fast-starting hare in a race.
American managers (using the hare approach) prefer drastic changes in large leaps. These changes are often led by individual crusaders at the top management level. Japanese managers (using the tortoise approach) pursue incremental improvements within the framework of available organizational resources, existing structures, and core competencies. They involve teams of employees who are not necessarily from the top of the company hierarchy.
(This comparison between the top-down and bottom-up approaches has been polarized. In real life, successful corporate managers do not strictly use either of the approaches. In an American context, as the risk associated with failure grows, managers tend to hedge their bets by involving bottom-up opinions. Similarly, an over-conservative Japanese manager might never show a significant achievement without taking individual initiative.)
The American quality movement was born in industrial organizations as an extension of shop-floor engineering efforts. It is not surprising that TQM language is anchored in engineering and scientific principles. Even when considering intangible human resources, the tendency is to take a scientific, rational view and look for the one best way.
Furthermore, as organizations grew and became increasingly complex, formal strategic planning was introduced to improve competitive performance. Formal strategic planning was the process to determine the objectives and strategies that governed resource allocation and met the organization’s mission. Use of formal planning to improve the organization’s quality implied that the firm’s quality-related initiatives must adhere to explicitly formalized procedures.
The hare approach
According to the planning paradigm for quality, the quality improvement process begins with an organization’s quality vision and definition (it is generally conceived by the organization’s strategic leaders). Next, quality plans are formulated with a detailed assessment of organizational strengths and weaknesses on one side and benchmarking of the external environment on the other.
These quality plans (action plans) are controlled by the organization’s quality supervisors and managers, who define tactical quality targets. The action plans are handed down to the front-line quality workers for implementation. According to Frederick Taylor, the planning and implementation functions are divided and entrusted to managers and workers, respectively.
In this planning model, the strategic leader or planner plays a critical role. Many believe that a critical requirement for an organization’s quality improvement effort is the active involvement of top management. Commitment by top management (and sometimes threats) sustains the interest of other employees.
There is a tendency by many hands-on leaders, however, not to relinquish control. They take over the day-to-day quality action plans and insist on overseeing their implementation. Such intentions, noble as they might seem, could distract the leaders from carrying out their primary function of monitoring and adapting the organization’s strategic direction in an ever-changing environment.
Under this top-down planning paradigm, managers and workers are expected to adhere completely to the direction set by top managers. Senior management dictates, explicitly or implicitly: “My way or the highway.” Legitimate differences of opinion are construed as opposition to quality principles and can lead to a quick dismissal.
“Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.”