Quality Magazine

Face of Quality: Manage the Human Side of Quality Improvement

June 7, 2011


Quality professionals and management have a toolbox with a variety of basic quality tools and quality management techniques at their disposal to help manage quality improvement projects and initiatives. Quality professionals are generally proficient in the technical tools; however, we need to understand that the human side of quality is just as important because that is what determines, at the end of the day, real success.

Not long ago I found some data results from an on-line survey conducted by The Benchmarking Exchange. Survey respondents were asked to identify their biggest problems when implementing quality improvement projects. The results, in priority order from largest to smallest, include: lack of human resources to implement changes, acceptance of results by department heads, lack of financial resources to implement changes, communicating results and acceptance of results by senior executives. Here are a few steps to overcome these issues:

Establish the need for change. Identify the impact on customer satisfaction, employee involvement and financial returns. However, don’t overlook any potential risks in ignoring the project or moving forward with the change. If we can identify an opportunity that provides not only customer and financial benefits, but reduces the pain and grief for those involved, we have a win-win that everyone can support. You must have full, visible support from senior management.

Assemble the right team. Choose the team that will be responsible to oversee the project recommendations and implementation. Select the best and brightest to lead the effort, carefully choosing representatives from all stakeholder groups. Cross-functional teams with diversity are very important. These teams must be properly resourced and supported by the management team. Team member participation should be recognized as part of their job, with implementation metrics tied to performance reviews.

Define the vision and the strategy. A management sponsor might provide the initial project scope, but every team should confirm the vision and strategy which essentially makes it theirs. The team has to be able to clearly articulate the project’s scope and expected benefits. It is critical to gather all the pertinent data and information through use of a variety of quality tools.

Remain focused, but set aggressive goals, which encourage the team to look past incremental improvements and evaluate creative solutions which will bring about exponentially more benefit.

Move quickly but don’t skip steps. Aim for projects to last 90 to 120 days. Identify project milestones where the project could be terminated and still deliver results.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Second to securing top management commitment is the need to communicate. Develop a communication plan for all stakeholder groups and keep everyone informed. Benefits of the change and resulting benefits need to be told and retold to gain buy-in and continuing support. Stay visible, be open and remain flexible to suggestion that will further the improvement and keep it moving forward.

Encourage broad based actions. There are many quality tools and management techniques available for quality improvement projects. Select the right tools for the project. Start with a defined improvement methodology applicable to the scope and nature of the project. A logical, data-driven improvement methodology can ensure recommendations are based on best solution rather than “gut feel” or opinion.

Don’t underestimate the time required for implementation. Formulate a detailed implementation plan that includes best and worst-case scenarios. Convince management of the need to resolve any potential problems before implementing the plan.

Celebrate success. The team should be properly rewarded and recognized for their team accomplishments. Plan for incremental celebrations when quick wins or a predetermined milestone has been reached. Don’t hide or downplay setbacks if and when they occur. Focus instead on how the setback is being addressed and what changes are being made as a result.

Ensure compliance. Control is a huge issue when it comes to change. Many changes stay in place for a while but gradually slip back to the old way. It is important to ensure sufficient controls are in place to prevent a backslide.



People and organizations don’t turn around overnight. Be patient, persistent and flexible. An organization committed to quality improvement will foster a culture of change in which improvement becomes a way of life because it is ingrained in the organization’s DNA.