Quality Has No Borders
Emeka C. Ene
Chief Executive Officer,
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
We implemented BSG's "4-barriers to Quality" program in 2004, at our company, Oildata Wireline Services. Oildata is located in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, a bustling oil producing country in West Africa, usually in the news for the wrong reasons.
Our company had been growing at over 30% annually for the previous 10 years, having experienced a fairy-tale start-up with only 2 employees, my wife and I and exploding rapidly to almost 70 employees within that period.
We provide technical oil-field services to major oil and gas exploration companies and also to many independents. We pride ourselves as being a technologically innovative company operating in a niche market. Most of what we do revolves around fixing bad oil producing wells using sophisticated electronic tools, connected to computers and mechanical devices, which we installed into such wells. Our major competition comes from large multinational oil service companies.
We had experienced two tough back-to-back years and hit what appeared to be quagmire, a plateau of sorts, in our revenue growth.
Our operating statistics had started to unravel as we tried to meet the disparaging needs of our various clients. Resources were stretched, internal inertia required to get even the basic things done, was grinding and frustrating and employee morale was sagging. We kept experiencing unexplainable service-quality problems, yet everyone appeared to be working as hard as they possibly could. We had burnout and one of our key support staff even asked to resign her job, "to be home with baby".
We spent several months searching for solutions. We ordered stacks of books on quality management, I went to business school for an executive management program, and we hired consultants to develop a do-it-yourself approach to fixing the problem.
One morning, after receiving another client complaint, I typed the word "quality" in my Internet browser, to search for a quality program we could adapt to our unique situation. I ran into Bruce Snell's book- "Breaking the 4 Barriers to Quality". I ordered it while attending an executive management program at the Harvard business school.
I was intrigued after reading the book. The approach was a refreshing mixture of intuition and common sense. Yet it all fit together as a strategic and cohesive approach to the QUALITY solution.
After reading the book and getting other managers in our organization to read it, we decided to contact the BSG organization, to find out if they had any training courses or a program we could adapt to the rest of the organization.
I located a phone number from the website and called Bruce Snell.
It might sound like an unlikely story, but when we called Bruce, at the same time, he was also asking God to send him his first Internet client.
We connected immediately and found to our pleasure that we shared the same faith and belief in God. This was the beginning of a friendship and business relationship between Bruce and Karen and our family and company that has now spanned over 6 years.
Bruce immediately offered to travel from his location in California at the time, across the oceans, to train our company in the tenets of the four barriers.
Over the next few years, Bruce visited Nigeria several times and spent many days and nights working with our associates in Oildata. We dealt with breaking down the "4 barriers", developing our processes and procedures and gradually transforming our company into a dynamic and successful organization.
We developed the Q-66 process together with all our associates and this exercise galvanized our staff and transformed our service quality, proving beyond doubt that indeed, quality has no borders.
At first, it was a major challenge getting the program started, because it was not obvious where to begin to solve the many problems that kept popping up. Our clients were losing patience with reoccurring failures, there were errors in reports, lack of follow up with ordering spares, missing invoices, missed appointments, cash-burn with accounts, poor maintenance problems, hours spent trying to locate documents etc.
It was against this context that we set about overcoming the first of the four quality barriers, "Fear". Fear generated inertia and enhanced the "blame culture" within the organization. It tapped into the level of mistrust among our staff, a situation that was borne out of the many quick-fix programs we had tried unsuccessfully to introduce. I remember the first round-table meeting with our people when we introduced the BaseWork Systems 2000 quality program. There was no single question from the audience when we opened the floor for questions after the many presentations on the subject.
We discovered that the greatest tool for breaking down this barrier was the "bottoms-up" participation of the various BaseWork Centers – Getting everyone involved in the process; from drivers to secretaries, managers and field-operators. Together with Bruce Snell, we identified the many "low hanging fruit" and set about learning, identifying and defining our procedures and processes. This process built confidence in our "associates" and their hands-on participation helped to develop "buy-in" and ownership of the program.
Breaking through barrier #2, "Lack of Written Communication" at our organization was analogous to breaking a habit or learning a new language. At most transitioning and innovation driven companies such as ours, we tended to pride ourselves as good communicators, having a hands-on, and get-it-done-right-away approach to solving problems. Unfortunately, most orders and internal requests tended to be verbal, easily forgotten or misunderstood, and worse still, the existing system lacked integrity and could not be held accountable. The net result was a lot of rework, frustrated and overworked employees and internal company inertia, with tons of paperwork and forms to fill out for basic requests, and off course the proverbial "firefighting".
Our steering committee, worked with the various BaseWork Centers to set up an order-request system to process all client and internal requests throughout the organization. We called it FAST and implemented the system around an online asset management system, using the order-request procedures we learned in the BSG training classes. The impact was immediate. We cut down the number of forms required to order materials and supplies and ship them to our field crews from 17 to 2.
We could now track and drill-down requests by the BaseWork Center. Folks in accounts, who usually got blamed for many missed deadlines, could now hold the rest of the organization accountable. The greatest benefit to the organization was in planning and budgeting. Every division now submits and updates their weekly monthly and bi-monthly requests ahead of time and managers are able to prioritize in advance rather than "on-the-fly", with an upset client at the other end of the phone.
Breaking down the quality barrier #3, "Lack of Written Procedure", was at the core of defining our growth and strategy for the next level in our organization. During the several one-on-one sessions with various BaseWork Centers, we quickly discovered that different work-groups or cells as we refer to them, executed client orders differently. There was a lot of improvising going on and we had come to depend on a few "gurus", whose expertise was neither written nor consistent.
Working with BSG, we collated our steps and procedures and connected our systems together. What emerged was a sixty-six-step process, which we christened the "Q-66" process. Q-66 tied together our service delivery process from the first contact with the client, through the actual execution of the service, to a close-out review by management. This set up improvements and through learnings from the service delivery cycle, impacted the bottom line positively.
The process allowed all our associates, the technical sales engineers, field technicians and engineers, support and maintenance staff and managers to understand, visualize and participate in the big picture. As the Japanese say, we connected the "Gemba" or the core of our service delivery process to delivering value to our clients, while eliminating unnecessary repetitions and complete omissions.
Breaking through the fourth barrier, "Lack of training", created a company wide movement to develop data entry skills and disseminate a fundamental understanding of the process of quality and quality improvement. The most important learning benefit of the 24-month program was the commitment every associate (I guess you have picked up by now that all our employees are called associates.), to the monthly hour-long training meeting of every BaseWork Center involved in the program.
Showing up on time and timeliness at meetings was the greatest challenge and at the end, was one of the greatest benefits of the quality program at our company. We have expanded the foundational quality program to include on-the-job skills training; formal career based mentoring, competency mapping and certification for all our associates. We have created benchmarks and measures for monitoring and tracking progress across the company.
The benefits of the quality program at Oildata can be seen from the year-on-year results of one of our most important measures since the program was introduced. The average Job Quality Rating JQR (Best is 100% and worst is 0 %), which measures the quality of service delivery to our clients, has consistently grown from about 55% in 2006, to over 70% by the end of 2008. This measure includes data from independent client evaluations, Q-66 job-preparation and execution indices and maintenance-efficiency scores.
We picked up a few lessons on the road to quality at our organization (We are still on that road!).
The first lesson was that quality transcends cultural and national boundaries. The "4 barriers" were prevalent at our company, similar to the many examples that Bruce highlights in his book. Knocking down these barriers involved applying the same tested principles of top-down management commitment and bottoms-up participation of every one in the organization. There were no short cuts.
We also discovered that commitment by senior management is critical in successfully pushing through major organizational change. We had a number of false starts, particularly with the folks involved in our field services. So, we never gave up, even when fire fighting got in the way and the program took a back seat.
One other important element in implementing the quality program at our company was the rub-off effect from the 24-month training program.
We slowly developed company-wide habits of punctuality, discipline, and record keeping, planning and holding each other accountable. The classes helped us refocus on getting the job done right the first time and galvanized the whole organization around a common purpose.
It became apparent to most folks in the company that although most of the ideas presented in the "4-Barriers" appeared simple and intuitive, "common sense" was not quite so common when it came to implementation and follow through. Every new project threw up fresh challenges and sometimes sent us right back to "fire-fighting" mode.
We discovered that organizational change takes time and involves the active engagement of the entire organization for up to 24 months. This change process inevitably retained its dynamic nature, for it continues to challenge and transform our company today.
BaseWork Systems and the 4 barriers address the softer human perspective of quality within an organization. Most quality improvement methods we came across often-emphasized rules and procedures, which tended to alienate the shop floor.
One of the first lessons we learn in the program are the base values, which happen to be the most abiding;
- Do what is morally and ethically correct
- Treat everyone as you want to be treated