13 March 2012

How do you "sell" quality?

quality
March is here and so it is the new ASQ CEO Paul Borawski blog post, with an interesting topic to discuss: How Do You “Sell” Quality? How do you convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for–pick your ending–performance excellence, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?

The answer is: 

"Numbers, give me numbers. Please, talk in terms of money (return on investment)"
I can almost hear those phrases from several senior executives when discussing about quality. So focusing on results of the bottom line (bottom line is the line in a financial statement that shows net income or loss) is the best (only?) way quality professionals can convince senior executives about the importance of quality. 

It is sad we have to use the word "convince". I think senior executives must have the knowledge necessary and the commitment to discuss, with quality professionals, about quality improvements/goals instead of being convinced to take a decision for the company benefit. The thing is that quality, in many cases, is considered a non-value added activity that only waste money instead of increase profit.

During my years working for a software development company, where I implemented CMM (Capability Maturity Model) Level 2 and performed auditor activities, I have learned how to sell quality. I can consider myself a Quality Seller and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine this scenario:
- 100 employees software development company.
- 95% of employees were men, with passion for coding and getting software runs, no care about forms/procedures/audit.
- Entire quality area was running only by woman, with passion for processes, for having everything in the correct place at the correct time, focusing on metrics and improvements, implementing CMM Level 2.


Kind of a scenario for a real epic battle... joking!

At that time, selling quality to the CEO was not that hard; he was the one that proposed to implement CMM, thinking of course in the profit it would bring and not in the real value of implementing a model like CMM.

Now the "conflict" began when I have to train software engineers about quality, teach them processes and then audit their job. It was hard to "sell" quality to them and let them know and understand that quality has the same importance as getting the software working right on time.

My seller strategy: I have to say that if you have passion for quality and you really believe that quality is so important in a company development, and you show that passion when teaching/auditing others about it, is as easy as pie. I put all my passion doing my job. Added to that, getting along with my coworkers so they didn't see me as the crazy lady that came with checklists to see if they are doing their job using the established processes, was a good ingredient to sell quality. Wearing my best simile, grabbing coffee for my auditee and myself, talk about how everything is going, and then started with the audit within a pleasant environment is the best way I found to sell quality.

Some of the lessons I’ve learn from my experience as quality professional in a software development environment are: 

  • Focus on numbers that can provide better quality for less cost in a short-term period. 
  • Gather good data and evidences to use as support of your ideas. 
  • Talk in a positive way when negative times hit the company. Forget about “poor quality” phrase and talk about improvements
  • Times change: be updated and do not cling on a bunch of obsolete procedures. Make things lean and work with agile metrologies can help you to convince senior executives to continue investing in quality. 
  • Be proactive. Show a big smile and help people instead of being a person that only correct their way to do their job. 
  • Forget to try to educate senior executives about processes and models; go directly to the point of discussion proposing strategic successes that will impact the short-term bottom line.
  • Keep your passion for quality.
I would like to share with all of you a paper "Quality Meets the CEO", wrote by Jeffery E. Payne, ex-CEO of a software quality business. I found his point of view so interesting because I have experimented everything he says.

Because of this topic, the "Quote of the Month" I've selected is: "You've got to be success minded. You've got to feel that things are coming your way when you are out selling; otherwise, you won't be able to sell anything" ~Benjamin Jowett


So, how do you "sell" quality?

7 comments:

  1. Good thoughts. A positive attitude is very helpful. It is a very big challenge to sell many executives that just want to keep doing the same old stuff with minor changes.

    When you talk about taking the improvements into the workplace the focus on those that are doing the work is exactly right. A big problem is trying to convince people they need to get used to doing things differently without a tangible benefit. This is especially true in organizations where executives have pushed down lots of ineffective management changes (usually because they didn't bother to find something useful settling instead for something that was easy to sell). And sadly this history of poorly implemented management change is very common.

    Taking care to show benefit to those being asked to adopt better methods is very important. I have written about some ideas on my blog

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2010/12/08/building-adoption-of-management-improvement-ideas-in-your-organization/

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2010/07/13/building-on-successful-improvement/

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2007/10/01/bring-me-solutions-not-problems/

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    1. Thanks John for stopping by and leave your comment.

      Reading one of your ideas, I totally agree with you in: "Creating a maintaining a dialogue that while quick wins are possible, much bigger wins are possible by building on the gains to adopt more critical improvement (and often more complex and requiring more effort)." Even though that "maintaining a dialogue" is a hard job to do.

      Thanks!

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  2. Let me share with you some interesting comments I’ve received about this topic on the ASQ LinkedIn group:

    1. GUY W WALLACE • Agreed - especially about not trying to educate executives about the in's and out's of Quality. Another thing improvement professionals can do is demonstrate that they really understand that there are problems/opportunities that should be foregone - due to their negative or nil ROI. Too often improvement advocates don't display business sense - and would seem willing to spend unlimited funds for meager returns.

    Guy Wallace Blog Post: http://eppic.biz/2012/03/13/10-minute-video-how-do-you-sell-quality/


    2. SCOTT RUTHERFORD • I have a significant problem with ROI as a tool to sell anything. It is a purely speculative estimate, often used on forms to justify major expenses, and is often the only variable used to prioritize competing projects. Unless there is an agreed upon organizational model to estimate ROI consistently it becomes a cause for who can lie the best.

    For example, it is time to replace the roof on my house. I leave in a hurricane alley. What is the marginal cost for waiting for a hurricane to damage the roof so my insurance will cover it or spend a few thousand dollars to replace the roof? What is my ROI on the roof? Can I easily estimate a dollar value for protecting my home? My roof does not provide a return in a monetary sense...

    Although I agree that we need to understand our audience when selling leadership anything, and speaking positively and with passion helps in the selling process, crappy number estimates only work the first time. If the promise does not produce in the future, your reputation and your job could be on the line when management comes back to you and asks, "What kind of ROI are you providing me today?"

    I apologize for sounding cynical but I have got too many forehead scabs based on hitting brick walls.

    To Guy's last comment, I agree there is an economic value to things. But sometimes quality is about doing the right thing regardless of cost. How can we accurately estimate cost avoidance because in a lot of cases a lot of quality is based on cost avoidance?

    For me, to truly get the required buy-in, we have to sell hearts and minds. The WIIFM (What's in it for me) has got to address the immediate need regardless of ROI. It's not enough to sell them on it, they have to stay engaged, embrace quality. You also need to sell the workforce because they are the ones who are going to get it done or having it done to them.

    Scott Rutherford Blog Post: http://srlean6.blogspot.com/2012/03/selling-quality-both-parts-of-it.html


    3. GUY W WALLACE • I think you have to ask yourself - for your specific Context - who the decision makers are - and how do they make their decisions. Most organizations of any sophistication use ROI (or ROA or RONA, EVA, etc.) to level the analysis field for all of the assumptions such as Cost of Capital (will it be going up or down over the planning horizon), to reduce the gaming of the end results - when choosing what to do. For example, when you can only afford 3 of 9 opportunities to invest - how would you chose? That's what ROI was created to do (by DuPont in the 1920s). ROI is used upfront to choose among options - it was not intended to look backward and prove in results (there are/were too many other variables). And yes, crappy numbers are always crappy numbers. Misusing numbers and ROI never leads to anything good.

    Guy Wallace Blog Post: http://eppic.biz/2012/03/13/10-minute-video-how-do-you-sell-quality/

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    1. 4. My response: I believe that mixing numbers (ROI or any other parameters) with passion, heart and mind is the way we, improvements professionals, can get the response from CEO we are looking for. Sadly (or not) most CEO needs “numbers” over every other thing.
      Also, as I said on my post, improvements professionals have to be updated and aware of the situation of the company, as you GUY said: demonstrate that they really understand that there are problems/opportunities that should be foregone.

      And yes SCOTT, selling to the workforce was, in my experience, the hardest part on "selling quality". I had to understand what is going on in the field (“GO TO THE GEMBA” lean phrase that I love), how they work every day in order to be realistic writing processes, instead of only focus on what a model (CMM or ISO) said.

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  3. Comment by Christian Paulsen

    Jimena,

    Excellent post! This is not only a great way to sell Quality, it's a great way to influence any culture change. I've worked with many Quality professionals over the years. Some were great at being part of the team. Others created a wall between departments. It's clearly more fun to work together and feel like a team. What's even more important is that you can learn from each other and will learn to trust each other's judgement more when you work together.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Chris
    christianpaulsen62.wordpress.com

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  4. Selling quality isn't easy, and it's very important. You need to have senior managers on board, have them aware of the importance of quality, to have them enable and support their employees when it comes to quality.

    Data and facts help to sell quality, as I described in an article on the business benefits of reviews (http://www.benlinders.com/2011/business-benefits-of-reviews/). Also managers have an imp[ortant role when it comes to improving quality (http://www.benlinders.com/2011/what-drives-quality-operational-management/).

    Improving quality needs some selling, to get management commitment!

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    1. Thanks Ben! we all are looking to get our management commitment! It seems a very hard work.

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