Image in modal.

I had enough. My wife and I sat at a table in the hotel’s dining room, when a woman in a black business suit handed us pens and satisfaction surveys. The print on the survey was difficult to read, so I turned it around to the area where I could add additional comments, and started my list of grievances. “You can’t use an American standard to judge them,” said my wife, interrupting my train of thought. “The American standard is the only one I know,” I snapped back. “They are doing the right thing by asking and besides, I am doing them a favor by responding.” I went back to my writing assignment.

Just then, the woman returned to our table and a worried smile appeared on her face as she noticed me documenting my experience. She presumed the feedback wasn’t positive, and she was right. As she stood next to our table, I realized she may not be able to read my writing (which is barely to an American standard), so I read the list to her.

“The guest elevator has been broken for our entire stay. The internet doesn’t work, there are cockroaches in our restroom, and the toilet doesn’t flush properly.” Her worried smile was replaced by an expression of pain. I never got to several other issues on my list when she said something that put everything in perspective for me: “Your first visit to Cuba?”

How well are the quality standards for your organization understood by the people accountable to meet them?

The hotel we selected for our trip to Cuba was recommended to us by a few friends that had visited the country. They had not stayed in the hotel, but celebrities and dignitaries stayed there so it was natural for us to expect a good experience. But problems during our stay came to resemble a game of “whack-a-mole” as we tackled one problem after another. However, after a week in this country, observing how it has struggled to remain resilient during decades of crushing economic hardships (many as a result of American policy), I can’t really isolate this hotel as the only example of substandard quality. As it turns out, “quality” is relative. And the woman who asked if this was my first time in her country recognized this fact before I did.

This begs the question: how well are the quality standards for your organization understood by the people accountable to meet them? Fortunately for quality managers, there are a number of effective tools to ground the quality team, and the rest of the organization, in what standards are the most important. One of these tools, directly from the Lean playbook, is called the “Critical to Quality Tree” or simply, the CTQ tree. It’s a straightforward tool that can drive critical conversations, ultimately serving as a corporate compass. It’s a starting point for the hotel we visited in Cuba.

The CTQ tree begins with examining “the Voice of the Customer.” Customers can be internal or external to the organization. If they are external, then reliable research is important to identification of preferences versus aversions. Once identified, these needs are prioritized and, most essential, quantified in terms of outputs and specifications. “Guest elevators assessed and serviced no less than once per month,” might be an internal requirement, while “Internet accessibility by guests available no less than 95% of the time,” might be an external requirement. “If addressing the needs of both internal and external customers, separate CTQ trees might be needed,” suggests Darren Dolcemascolo from EMS Consulting Group, a consulting and training firm specializing in lean principles.

Critical to Quality Tree - Internal Requirements
Sample Critical to Quality Tree from a manufacturer of medical suppliess. Courtesy of EMS Consulting Group, Inc.

Quantifying requirements leads to performance metrics and these metrics, for organizations that are truly focused on operational excellence, eventually find their way into a Control Plan. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to readily say “met vs. not met” for each requirement at regular intervals.

There are complementary tools that take the CTQ tree to the next level. A Pareto Chart, for example, illustrates the critical few requirements (based on priority) that lead to overall satisfaction. And a Kano Model, introduced in my previous article (“If you want to improve quality, get out of town”), identifies those requirements that, if not met, will most likely cause customers to completely abandon your solutions.

CTQ trees are best done in the early stage of product manufacturing, or in the introduction of new features. But that doesn’t mean you would not gain value from starting one today. And might I suggest, be sure that functional toilets in your company’s restrooms receive high priority.