100 Tips and Traps for Quality
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Tools of the Trade > 100 Tips and Traps for Quality
Time for a small celebration: This is the hundredth 'Tools of the Trade'
article written since January 1995. So here's a celebration of the number, with
a hundred tips and traps, in no particular order, for today's Quality
- You've got to care. If you don't care passionately about quality, take up
- Be friendly but not a friend. Keep an objective distance so you can tell the
truth without upsetting friends.
- Learn to persuade. Quality is about change, which not everyone appreciates.
- Study psychology. It's the science of people, who are the source of quality.
- Learn to see. Like an artist or photographer, you have to see what others miss.
- Study statistics. Yes, it can be difficult, but it's the mathematics of reality.
- Focus on facts. Facts are about truth. Opinions are only assumed truth.
- Be courageous. Pointing out dead elephants and lack of emperor's clothing is not
for the faint-hearted.
- Manage your time. Do important stuff. Beware of frittering it away on trivia.
- Think of the long-term. Because poor quality has a terrible long-term impact.
- Think of the short-term. Because without it, there won't be a long term.
- Don't procrastinate. Tough things that are worth doing, are worth doing now.
- Model quality attitudes. To lead for quality, live quality yourself.
- Prioritise. Figure out what needs doing first.
- Do the right thing, right. It's not enough just to tick 'we are doing it' boxes.
- Pluck the low-hanging fruit. If you can get high value with little effort, just
- Persistence pays. Never give up and you'll never fail. You'll also be pleasantly
surprised by what you can achieve.
- Speak their language. If you want them to understand you, that is.
- Show and tell. Publicise successes to encourage more.
- Read and digest the standards. If you're responsible for them, you should
understand them in real and realistic detail.
- Letter and spirit. It's easy to follow the letter of standards and create a
paper mountain. Follow the spirit and create real value.
- Trust = reliability + honesty + care. So be reliable, be honest and show you
care about quality, the company and the people.
- Stay open. Don't get blinkered by your systems. There's always a better way.
- To err is human. They aren't perfect. They make mistakes. You too.
- Understand risks. A lot of quality management is risk management.
- Show data visually. Tables of numbers say nothing. Charts can have powerful
- Be proactive. Don't wait for people or problems. Stay ahead.
- Listen to customers. They are the ultimate definers of 'quality'.
- Go and see. Watch processes in action. Watch customers using the products.
Reality is what happens, not what was planned.
- Lead your team. They are your major conduits for action. Develop their ability.
Keep them truly motivated.
- Hire for attitude, train for skills. It is better to start with a person who
cares about quality than one who has just done the training.
- Use the products. Get to know the company products really well by trying them
out and using them.
- Beware of boring processes. It's easy to standardise to the point where you
encourage creative disobedience. Try them out yourself first.
- Take the training. If you want others to do training, you go first. Is it good?
- Translate training into action. When people go on training, are they then using
what they have learned?
- Not everything works. If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough.
- Learn from failure. Failure is only bad if you do not learn from it. And apply
the learning, of course.
- Get the big boss involved. If the most senior manager doesn't actively,
passionately and visibly care about quality, others won't either.
- Quality is not your job. Not when people say 'quality is your job'. Beware of
people telling you what your job is and what theirs is not.
- Light fires. Wherever you find support, help them succeed. Others will
- Be an outsider insider. Be the customers' champion. Speak in their voice.
- Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day.
- Be incremental. Great edifices are built one brick at a time.
- Highlight competitor processes. Show how well your competitors are working.
- Benchmark with the best. Visit leaders in other industries. Take the boss along.
- Teach quality. There's nothing like teaching to find out what you don't know.
- Facilitate. Help people think, understand and decide.
- Minute meetings on the fly. Type as they talk. Check agreement then email
- Promote the CQI. It's your institute. Sell it, and all it stands for.
- Yes does not always mean yes. There's a big gap between people agreeing to do
something and them actually doing it.
- Read Deming. He's dead, but his ideas are still very relevant.
- Learn to listen. Hear the person, not just the words.
- Beware performance metrics. People will work to make them look good.
- Measure twice, cut once. The old carpenter's saw still makes sense.
- Seek to be preventive. Prevention is better than cure. And cheaper.
- A place for everything, and everything in its place. It's basic housekeeping.
- Talk money. Because that's the language of business people.
- Give credit. When things go well, praise all who helped the success.
- Beware blame. Pointing the finger only creates enemies.
- Have a system, work the system. Make it work for the company, not the other way
- Everything's a process. So develop a deep understanding.
- Create transparency. Make things visible. It enables management and creates
- Hate waste. Do everything you can to eliminate it. And get others to hate it
- Love people. The more you like them, the better they'll seem. The more you
dislike them, the worse they'll be.
- Never stop learning. Take pleasure in understanding. Try to learn something
- Encourage creativity. Improvement and competitive advantage comes from doing new
- Get the right people in the right jobs. The most important processes in the
company are hiring and promotion.
- Two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Use them in this ratio.
- Be diplomatic. Represent people in positive ways. Respect local differences.
- Plan the flight, fly the plan. Whatever the weather, having a plan sure beats
not having one.
- Revenue up, costs down, people happy, business clean. That's all a business
- Beware of tampering. Reactive fiddling with processes can make things worse.
- Write concisely. Be both brief and clear in written documents. Avoid both
ambiguity and verbosity.
- Manage expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver. Not the other way around.
- Delight = expectation + 1. Over-deliver, but only by a bit.
- Sell the vision. Have a clear and vision of what quality means. Share it. Live
it until it becomes true.
- Always know the next step. Get there one step at a time.
- Constant improvement. You've got to keep moving to keep up. Then go faster to
- Hold the gains. Embed improvements into the system. Make them 'business as
- What you expect, usually happens. If you expect people to resist change, they
likely will. And your unconscious will be a cause.
- Manage commitments. Ensure they are clear. Then follow up, relentlessly.
- Get involved up-front. Quality starts with design, not testing.
- Develop understanding. The more 'aha's you create, the more you will succeed.
- Build behaviour into the system. Ensure quality actions are in processes and
responsibilities are in job descriptions.
- Manage your stress. Quality work can be very stressful. Ensure you regularly let
it all go.
- The devil is in the details. Develop a 'zoom focus', like going into a fractal.
- Understand the big picture. Beware of getting lost in the weeds. Understand the
whole system as well.
- Always think business. It is there to make money and serve its owners.
- Act dumb. You can learn a lot by asking stupid questions.
- Ask 'why'? Seek causes and reasoning. Find the logic (then challenge it).
- Ask 'why not'? Champion ideas and challenge the status quo.
- Empower. Teach, give responsibility and have great expectations.
- Take your own medicine. Do what you expect others to do.
- Work on culture. A great culture makes for a great company. And vice versa.
- Use technology. Automate what can be automated. Make data powerful.
- Design processes. Don't let them be cobbled together. Use sound design methods.
- Everything's connected. Business is a complex, slippery, 'wicked' system that
cannot be fixed.
- Now and again, step back and be amazed at what you have achieved.
- Write articles about what you have learned. Send them to Quality World.
- There's always more. What's the next 100?
So there you go. Is it everything? No. Is it the world's best list? No. Is it
all common practice? No. This is a personal list based on experience and
conversation across many years. It is not definitive and could have been much
longer. It could easily have been different. But hopefully some things may
trigger some thoughts that will help you in your work.
Next time: Better Networking
in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute