Increase Quality to increase Productivity
If you see people in your business as the accelerator for productivity then when
you want to "step on the gas" you are just stepping on people.
Innovation comes from people who take joy in their work.
Lets look at how understanding and making improvements to quality will give
you the productivity increases you are looking for.
"Good news!" the mild mannered manager says as he saunters over to your desk
coffee cup in hand.
"The executive team have only called for productivity increases this quarter..
"By what method?" you dare to ask already knowing the answer.
"By working smarter and harder of course!"
Want to increase your own productivity or productivity in your business?
By what method? Hint: it is a quality answer. This is not a quick
fix. Our ingredients for success
We will get to quality. Lets start with the idea of productivity.
Productivity is a measurement - not an actionable task. You can put focus
on the number but as with any quota based management approach it will lead
to employee demoralization and poor results in the long term.
"Measurements of productivity are like accident statistics.
They tell you there is a problem, but they don't do anything about the
William E. Conway
The 3 basic steps to moving anything forward are:
- Knowing where you are at the moment.
- Defining where you want it to be.
- Building the bridge and taking the step to get you there.
These are simple but powerful questions. It is ok to stop and think about this. It is what
you call planning.
Yes two of these steps involve measurements. Measurements are important! If you
don't know where you are before you start you won't know if you've gone
anywhere. If you don't know where you want to be than any road gets you there -
because you haven't cared where you are going. But measurements do not lead
staff or inspire personal action. It is hard to set appropriate goals. It is
even harder to provide guidance on how to achieve them. You should hire smart
people and get out of their way. But you also need to tell them not only what
you want done, but why and by what methods are appropriate.
Often like in our situation above - we receive a destination and not a map or
support on how to get there. Not really much of a plan anywhere in sight there
is there? Leadership?
So lets think about a better way. A method for management that gets us closer
to the right track. One of our favorites is the "System of Profound Knowledge".
Forget the overly deep name and lets have a quick look.
W Edwards Deming put forward a method for management built around the 4 pillars of:
Appreciation for a system:
Seeing your business as a system and understanding how it works.
Knowledge of variation:
Understanding types of variation and how to determine if a process is under
control. Changing things that you do not understand is tampering no matter how
Theory of knowledge:
Commitment to understand what is happening through iterative experimentation
and challenge. No blind assertions.
For working on productivity through quality lets start with understanding people.
The thing about people.. We want to do great work!
You cannot increase productivity by telling people to increase their
"So everyone is just going to have to start rolling up our sleeves" he offers
sipping his coffee quietly.
"We are the problem? You mean we have been slacking?"
"No - Just dig a bit deeper and get more."
"You are saying that everything else around us, the system, does not require
improvement and all we need to do is more of what we are already doing?
"Umm.. but there will be a bonus!"
We want to take pride in the work we do. We love mastery - the idea of being
good at the things people respect us for.
Research shows that once people are at a fair pay base, monetary
rewards do not motivate the way managers hope they do. When jobs involve even
the slightest amount of thinking, extrinsic rewards systems reduce performance.
People are best inspired by intrinsic motivation.
For the modern workforce the three core intrinsic motivators are Autonomy,
Mastery and Purpose. Dan Pink has researched, spoken
and written about this quite extensively.
We want the freedom to work how we like, and have influence over our own rules
and conditions. We have the need to direct our own lives and our own work. This
is why micromanaging employees is a bad idea. Can people choose their tasks, or
at least the order they are done? or the time it is done? or the tools and
We want to improve our skills, we want to continuously learn and get better at
what we do. When you no longer feel like you are growing it is the beginning of
the end for your current job. This is why training and R&D time is a must. Are
they assigned enough "goldilocks tasks" that are the just right level of
We want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We want to feel our
life/ work is meaningful and it serves a higher purpose, aligned with our
values. This is why clear strategy and goals mean so much. Do you and your
people know what their work is used for? How it fits into the overall plan for
If effort is actually the reason there is constrained productivity then
resolving this issue is not something an employee can do. It is the job of
management to connect the appropriate people into the appropriate environment.
Any increase or alignment in autonomy, mastery or purpose is required to inspire
the intrinsic motivations to produce results.
"So I actually wanted to talk to you first as you are the expert when it
comes to this process" He says. You smile and nod as you continue to listen.
"We think we have a solid opportunity to break into a new market with this
product. Can you imagine what that would mean for their customers if they used
our product that way?"
You think about how awesome that would be and he continues.
"You know we would have problems supporting that kind of demand on our volumes.
Can you spend at least a day a week this quarter working through how we can
experiment to try overcome those limitations? If not maybe there is a new
feature we could add that would help?"
Armed with pursuit of mastery, some autonomy and fueled by purpose you set to
thinking about volume and value..
The thing about productivity.. the problems aren't always where the results are
There are 2 kinds of productivity you can increase:
Physical productivity (the focus on Efficiency)
This is the quantity of output produced by one unit of production input in a
unit of time. For example, a certain process can produce 10 units of output per
hour. If you can increase this to 12 units of output per hour you have increased
productivity. It is natural to think about this in terms of a factory or
production line. It does however apply to any paradigm such as jobs per hour.
Phone calls made. Project tasks completed. When we want to improve physical
productivity we are asking:
Do you want to do more tasks in the same amount of time?
Do you want to make more things in the same amount of time?
Economic productivity (the focus on Effectiveness)
This is the value of the output obtained from one unit of input. For example,
if a worker produces in an hour an output of 2 units, whose price is $10 each,
then his productivity is $20. If you change this to produce 1 unit of output
worth $30 you have increased productivity. This may be about how you prioritize
your time. The particular types of things you do or produce. When looking to
increase economic productivity we are asking:
Do you want to increase the value of a task produced in the same amount of time?
Do you want to achieve a different higher value task in the same amount of time?
Notice time plays into all of these questions? What volume and/or quality can
we get done in the hours of the day we have.
How Productivity can be improved
To understand how to improve something you need to first understand what limits
it. This shows you the knobs that can be turned to influence the outcome.
Physical productivity is constrained by:
- The volume of input or source material we have.
- The quality of that input.
- The technology that is used in the process.
Economic productivity is constrained by everything physical productivity is and:
- Creativity. Can your skilled labor create something or a solution that is
- Pricing. Things are always worth what someone is willing to pay for it.
- Demand. No point increasing the production of something that isn't wanted.
Increase physical or economic productivity by examining the same 3 places.
- The production process itself - the technology tools of the trade.
- How we go bout doing the work, or making the thing.
- Can we change technology?
- Can we use alternative methods?
- Do we need more of some kind of input to be able to improve this?
- The decision making and governance process surrounding it - how we manage
the process, the red tape and rules.
- Are there steps that can be mitigated?
- Are there reductions in time frames in the decision making processes to be made?
- Is everyone who needs to be involved in the loop?
- The external parties and environments in which you operate - what we get and
who we have to deal with to get it.
- Is the quality on inputs appropriate?
- Are we sourcing inputs from the most appropriate place?
So how do we scale source inputs, our ability to handle them, improve technology,
utilize creativity, reduce pricing and increase demand?
The thing about quality.. nobody is unhappy when it goes up.
"Improve Quality, you automatically improve productivity." - DR. W EDWARDS
Focus on improving quality - not productivity (you will get productivity for
The Deming Chain Reaction
20 years ago in his book "Out of the Crisis"
Deming wrote about the chain reaction that focusing on quality triggers. It
looks like this:
Cost savings come from the idea that: "If you don't have time to do it right you must have time to do it again.
This may also look very manufacturing orientated and you would be right in thinking
so. However these principals transfer and apply to all kind of product and
service based businesses.
What do we mean by quality? Quality of the product or service? Quality of the
processes that build them? Quality of the technology used in their creation?
So what do we mean by quality in this context?
Juran write about quality as
being the Fitness for purpose or Fitness for use which is orientated
towards the customer.
All of us have a customer and a supplier. We get our inputs from somewhere and
pass our outputs onto someone else to consume. They are not always external
parties. Your customer might be another department who is the next step in a
delivery process. We all operate in a larger ecosystem. To understand the fit
for use understand your customers use of what you produce.
Aim your quality initiatives at the needs of a consumer. To plan an increase in quality you then need to focus on an aspect for
improvement. David Garvin defined
these 8 dimensions of quality:
Objective, measurable attributes. How fast does it go?
The bells and whistles outside of the core. What can this one do that others
The likelihood that a failure will occur within a time period. Will it be
available when needed?
The extent that something meets established standards and/or rates of errors
and mistakes in service. Does it do what we expect it to?
The length of life. How long can something be used for until it no longer
make economic sense to do so.
The way things are fixed when they break or go wrong. This covers most aspects
of communication and interaction with customers.
Subjective assessment of how something looks, feels sounds or tastes. Being
subjective you cannot please everyone.
The subjective reputation based on the above qualities.
You cannot pursue quality improvements in all of these areas concurrently. Some
of these aspects are reinforcing whereas others are at the expense of one
another. Understanding your customer and the tradeoffs they are willing to make
helps you build a strategic competitive advantage.
A Systems performance is a product of the interactions of their parts. Every
system is a part of an even greater system. Improving or optimizing one link in a
chain may not create the best outcome for the system as a whole. Rusell L. Ackoff of systems thinking fame often
cited the example:
If you study cars from around the world… Take the best engine, the best
brakes, etc from different models – you can’t put them together into a working
car (or anything close to the best car) The parts wouldn't fit.
Taking what we know.. Some examples
You can't eat the elephant all at once. So you eat it one bite at a time.
But which bite? Is this even the elephant to be eaten.
We work towards our people being intrinsically motivated by the pursuit of
Mastery while working with Purpose and in Autonomy. We want to increase
productivity so we identify the type and possible constraints. Constraints in
mind we look to define the fit for purpose based on customer need. Knowing the
need we identify and look at what dimensions of quality would best serve that
Lets work through an example. We want to increase the Sales Team productivity
in the form of % of converted leads. We could look at the methods and processes
that the sales team work with their marketing qualified leads. However by
viewing our customer acquisition process as a system we can see that the Sales
Team conversion process has both inputs and outputs. In this case the inputs are
the leads marketing provide. Acknowledging that a constraint of quality on
inputs can affect outputs we can optimize in the Marketing Team processes to
help the Sales Team first.
||Improve lead quality
|Aspect of Quality
|Pursuit of Mastery
||Crafting and executing campaigns that precision target audiences.
||Alert and connect to customers who actually have the problems our solutions solve.
Another around personal productivity.
When intrinsically engaged in the work you are doing and in pursuit of productivity,
you are really chasing quality.
You want to finish every day feeling like you have achieved more than you do at
the moment. First you examine your own system you work within and your situation
- Do I have the freedom to make the choices I want to make this better?
- Do I know what skill I am working towards increasing my mastery in?
- Do I know why I am working towards the outcomes I am?
||Increase instances of reaching Inbox zero.
||Everyone that communicates with you
||Everyone that communicated with you
|Aspect of Quality
|Pursuit of Mastery
||Serve the people around you in a timely fashion and increase their perception of your helpfullness/mastery.
"Great news!" manager man says as he saunters over to your desk coffee cup in
"The executive team have only called for quality increases this quarter"
"By what method?" you dare to ask excited to know the answer.
"We are dedicating time to improving that process thats been bugging us"
- Innovation comes from people who take joy in their work.
- People are not your productivity problem.
- If people are your problem it is a management problem.
- Quota based management is bad. Lead with quality
- There are 2 types of Productivity and it is constrained by a knowable set of
- Improving aspects of quality touches and loosens all of those constraints.
- Quality Improves Productivity.
Stop caring about productivity and dedicate yourself to improving your quality.
Focusing on quality gives you time to be more productive.