Quality and efficiency

 

A while ago I published an article on this blog entitled “Why doesn’t the quality community get it?”. The article was subsequently re-published┬áby the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI) on their site, to a somewhat mixed reception. In the post I suggested that the reason so many “quality professionals” struggle to obtain the elusive “top management commitment” was because they make little attempt to meet management half-way and understand basic business dynamics and realities. I suggested that many within the “quality community” could do worse than to take a look at themselves as a starting point if they wanted to change the situation.

You only have to take a look at some of the comments on the CQI site to note how quickly denial kicked in. I was running a serious risk of rubbing a few folk up the wrong way, but those of you know me well will understand that the possibility of that was never going to bother me.

Anyway, time has moved on, and today I have been involved in an on-line discussion that was originally centred on comparing ISO 9001 with TQM. The discussion somehow evolved into one about efficiency and effectiveness, and this was where I had an epiphany. During the course of the discussion two things became apparent.

1. Many practitioners considered that efficiency had little, if anything, to do with ISO 9001, and consequently was outside of the remit of the quality department

2. A lot of quality people did not even understand what the term “efficiency” actually means

To illustrate my second point I’ll use the example that one contributor stated that efficiency was about “doings things right”. Well it isn’t. That is closer to the definition of effectiveness. Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing

What is efficiency?

The term efficiency has meaning in a range of contexts, not just quality. Here are a couple of definitions from the worlds of physics, economics and lastly from quality.

Efficiency in physics

The ratio of the effective output compared to the total input within a system”

Efficiency in economics

“Situation in which it is impossible to generate a larger total from the available resources”

Efficiency in ISO 9000

“Relationship between the result achieved and the resources used”

All of these definitions say more or less the same thing, that a state of efficiency compares what you get out to what you put in. A highly efficient system, therefore, is one that produces the most conforming output items for a given input.

Efficiency is NOT about “doing it right”

When politicians claim that a public sector department is inefficient, they are not claiming that they can’t do their job. They are suggesting that the department costs more to run than it should. They are claiming that there is too much waste in the system. That if the department was more efficient, then we’d be getting a similar output, but we’d not need to spend so much to get it.

Now, there are two things that amaze me when it comes to some “quality” people;

1. Just how few appear to have grasped this fairly simple and fundamental concept

2. Many quality professionals do not see “efficiency” as part of their brief in any way

Understanding this has been my eureka, my blinding flash. Now everything is clear to me. Now I understand why many quality professionals fail to engage senior management and turn them on to quality. The fact is that if senior management were to try and run a business using the narrow view of quality adopted by many quality types, we’d be closing the doors in no time.

Businesses have to be efficient. If they are inefficient, they become uncompetitive. They may be able to produce conforming and functioning goods, but they can’t make any money in the process. Call me obtuse, but if I was a senior manager and I had a quality manager that had not grasped that basic concept, and had not looked at how his “quality strategy” could help me make a decent margin, I’d not have much time for the guy either.

When Philip Crosby suggested that quality people needed to speak the language of the boardroom in order to be effective, he wasn’t throwing in a disposable sound bite, he was succinctly making an incredibly important point. In fact if I was a CEO who had a quality manager who did not think that efficiency was part of his job, I’d be looking for a new quality manager within five minutes.

… and finally (courtesy of Michael Palin in his 1977 film Jabberwocky) a demonstration why process improvement must always be introduced under controlled conditions …

0 Quality and efficiency
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16 Responses to “Quality and efficiency”


  1. shaun says:

    Message to LRQA USA DO NOT TRY AND SPAM VIA MY BLOG AGAIN If you have something to say then fine, and back links are an accepted and integral part of blogging, but if all you're going to post is "nice read" followed by a load of links I will spam you out every time

  2. Mark Harbor says:

    Well said :) Not too dissimilar to my own blog >> http://bit.ly/cwqLH3 and a concept that really does need to be understood by all support services methinks, not just Quality Management

  3. shaun says:

    Too bloody right it does, Mark. The problem exists to much the same degree in HR especially, in my experience Check out the ISO 9001/TQM discussion on LinkedIn CQI Group to see where this all comes from

  4. Marianne Booth says:

    I so agree - Effeciency and effectiveness are quite different. I sometimes think of it this way: Senior Management really represents the needs of the business shareholders (ie make a profit, so keep cost to a minimum) so they tend to be very concerned with efficiency. Of course they are not stupid, so they also pay attention to the needs of customers - expressed by effectiveness - (ie how well, or accurately the output meets their requirements) because if the business looses customers they will go out of business. Quality professionals would do well to remember to balance the equation very carefully, and when talking to senior management, emphasize they have not lost sight of efficiency in their rush to make the process more effective. It's all about balancing the Voice of the Business, with the Voice of the Customer

  5. Shaun says:

    For the life of me I can't work out how something so blindingly obvious to the man in the street can be so lost on so many so-called quality professionals. Thanks for your comments, Marianne

  6. Michael says:

    Right with you Shaun. I see this stuff all the time. And, when teaching these issues within a learning environment of a course, the differences are often received as though this is new and original thought ... to my amazement at times.

  7. shaun says:

    Well, yes, Michael. I think you're right. Amazement Somehow as though "efficiency" was some sort of advanced concept "beyond quality" if you like I suggested in a forum the other day the "measurement of processes" was an ISO 9001 requirement that was concerned primarily with efficiency, but it seemed to fly right out the window. My point was that if we are monitoring and measuring the product for conformity, for what other reason would we bother taking process measures?

  8. ISO 9000 says:

    yes, efficiency should be there in ISO standards while anyone applying ISO for their organizations.

  9. [...] a functioning and functional organisation. I have also had reason to doubt whether the concept of efficiency is properly [...]

  10. [...] So if you don’t, and you want to follow the argument, you’ll find it helpful to read this [...]

  11. Travis says:

    Excellent post (as always) and spot on. Quality Professionals should be aware that they are there to make money. Once they understand this, then, can they do their job efficiently and effectively.

  12. Shaun says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Travis. Right now there is one of those tiresome discussion threads running on the CQI LinkedIn Forum that goes something like "How can the Quality Manager convince (in this case) the Finance Department of the value of Quality". Predictably the drift in responses more or less assumes that "finance" people are ignorant dimwits that can't see the wood for the trees (at other times "top management" get the same treatment). I despair when I see these threads as just how few can contemplate that the problem might not be with "finance" but much closer to home and, god forbid, it is "quality people" that need some perspective about the work and wider objectives of others. Quality is an enabling activity, not an end in itself.

  13. Ashok Deobhakta says:

    Really enjoyed your post, and also your replies. I think quality professionals do understand the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. But, in majority of cases, they are not effective in communicating their ideas/strategies in the organization, including top management.

  14. I'd be looking for a new quality manager within 5 minutes too, or sooner, if I had such a one. I'm just in the middle of doing a review for a company with various sites whose quality system had been designed and 'run' by someone who appeared to see her role as passing external audits (in the main) and nothing at all to,do,with efficiency. Yikes, spare me, where DO these people come from? And WHERE did this idea come from that efficiency has nothing to do with quality ?? Incidentally, I don't understand why this blog post is 2014 but all the other comments predate that by a few years. Unless they were all seriously ahead of themselves?

  15. I'd be looking for a new quality manager within 5 minutes too, or sooner, if I had such a one. I'm just in the middle of doing a review for a company with various sites whose quality system had been designed and 'run' by someone who appeared to see her role as passing external audits (in the main) and nothing at all to,do,with efficiency. Yikes, spare me, where DO these people come from? And WHERE did this idea come from that efficiency has nothing to do with quality ?? Incidentally, I don't understand why this blog post is 2014 but all the other comments predate that by a few years. Unless they were all seriously ahead of themselves? Ashoka, facts and data have a way of being compelling communicators. If a quality professional has data on efficiency (for example), why on earth would they have trouble on communicating this? 'It used to costs $x and take Timex and now it costs $y and takes Time-y''. Where is the problem in communicating that? Unless there is nothing to communicate of course.

  16. Shaun says:

    It's a re-post, Jane. Every so often I re-post an older article. Obviously the comments come with it. I thought I'd re-post this after I found and added the Jabberwocky clip.

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