Newspapers and televisions seem to be screaming of economic downturn and recession; there is a gloom in the market and pessimism with whomever you talk on business. Well economics seems to take up and down turn cycles, but for “Quality Improvement” there is never a down turn, no one accepts poor quality, but on the other hand there is an ever increasing demand from customers on high levels of service and quality.
In an economic downward trend there is a feeling of insecurity and skepticism as regards the future and the general tendency is to go slow on all initiatives and projects, true we must be cautious of spending, but panic reaction shouldn’t be the cause to bring a stop to all improvement activities; on the other hand I think it’s time to sharpen the saw. Just like it is said it’s probably the best time to invest in stocks, it’s also a great opportunity to invest in training, development and quality improvement. While it’s difficult to get people to be trained in good times, this is a time when there is less travel, business meetings or visitors; it’s a time when people are relatively free and I think organizations must make best of the situation.
Laying off people is typically an option organization look at, especially people in support functions but this is the time for support functions such as Quality and Training to be working hard. Similarly stopping recruitment of much needed Quality Engineers and Managers is also not a wise thing in my opinion. We may recall the past downturns in economy and how the cycle repeats, so the important question to ask is if we will be prepared when the market situation improves or we will be caught unawares and get into the spiral of firefighting.
It’s time to look into the inventory of knowledge and expertise in the organization and utilize the same for cross training. When I state Quality, it’s not just quality assurance function but overall business process improvements. It may be an ideal time to leverage on the knowledge of Sales, Engineering, Finance and Production Managers, to share their knowledge and experience to others in the organization. You could also take external help for content creation or for delivery of the workshops
Some of the areas to focus in the current situation are as follows:
- Quality Circles: Shop floor personnel can be encouraged to form Small Group Activities or Quality Control Circles to work on problems associated with production, safety or environment issues
- Training on Quality Systems: Quality Management Systems and the associated certification standards like ISO 9000 goes through changes and especially major changes typically every 4 years, but most people in the organization may not have had to opportunity to get an update on the revised standards or may have forgotten the key aspects of the standard and may need a refresher course
- Training on Problem Solving Tools: It would be good idea to impart training on the basic 7 Quality tools and other problem solving tools to officers and managers of functions other than Quality Control, because problem solving is everybody’s business.
- Internal Quality Audits: One of the big issues on internal quality audits is availability of auditors and auditees and this period I guess is ideal to have a much more detailed and elaborate quality system audits
- Review of Systems and Procedures; Not just the standards, but the practices and processes in the organization also change and it is quite common to leave unattended the updation of the revised processes. A team can be constituted to look into all process in the organization from Sales to Stores and make amendments as desired
- Cost Reduction Projects: Cost cutting is the order of the day and hence under the umbrella of Six Sigma and Lean a more focused cost reduction program can be initiated.
- Soft Skill Training: Soft skills such as presentation skills, interpersonal skills have to be continuously fine tuned. Experienced Sales and Purchasing personnel can also handle topics such as Negotiation and understanding Consumer Behavior
- Product Training: It is extremely important for all the technical people to understand the end use of their products and the upcoming technology in the market
- Finance and Accounts: Finance for non-finance is another easy model that can be handled internally and in times of financial crunch this would be a much needed training for the technical personnel.
So when the world is moaning the downward trend, smarter organizations can make best use of this downward trend to sharpen the saw and get prepared for a better tomorrow with quality improvement.