This is the nineteenth and last in a series of discussions of quality guru W. Edwards Deming's fourteen points of quality and their ramifications for information quality, excerpted from my book entitled, Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality, now available from John Wiley.
Every information quality initiative will struggle with the first 13 of Deming's points of quality. The long-term success of an information quality initiative depends on this final point. Management must organize itself to make the first 13 points happen. Point 14 states: "Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job."1 An information quality team will be overwhelmed by the apparent enormity of the task of information quality improvement alone. The good news is the information quality team is not alone in the mandate to make information quality happen. Information quality improvement is everybody's job. Top management is where the quality starts and continues. This is true for quality of the information products as well as the business products.
Management must take action to transform the organization to an information age enterprise. Those actions include:
- Agreeing to carry out the new philosophy of information quality for improved customer satisfaction and reduced costs of business operation.
- "The courage to break with tradition, even to the point of exile among their peers."2
- Providing leadership and communicating through seminars and other means to a "critical mass" of people in the organization why change is necessary and that the change will involve everyone from information producers and data intermediaries to knowledge workers; from design to production to marketing to sales personnel; from operations to support personnel; from top management to the most junior clerk. Everyone also means application developers, data resource management staff and information systems management.
The Premises of Point 14
Every activity and every job is a part of a process. Any activity or job that involves information is within the scope of information quality improvement. Every process can be improved in an economically feasible way to accomplish one or more of the following :
- Decrease costs,
- Decrease time to market,
- Increase business opportunity,
- Increase ease of use,
- Increase customer satisfaction.
The result will be increased profit and increased shareholder or stakeholder value.
The fundamental technique for accomplishing information quality through process improvement was laid out by Walter A. Shewhart in the 1930s. Dr. Shewhart proposed that the traditional, linear approach to quality control of specification, production and inspection was wrong. The steps must be circular, with the inspection step providing continuous feedback to the specification step to provide continual improvement to the process to reduce variability and thereby reduce costs. Process operations viewed in this way make up a "continuing and self-corrective method" of production.3
This self-corrective method was adopted by Deming and called the "Shewhart cycle."4 It has been popularized as the "PDCA" or "Plan, Do, Check, Act" cycle as a technique for process improvement. The steps are simple, yet effective:
Plan. Develop a plan for improving a process that produces data with unacceptable quality.
Do. Implement the improvement in a controlled environment.
Check. Assess the results to see if the plan has achieved the desired results and level of information quality.
Act. If so, roll out the improvement to provide consistent results.
Management must move forward now, with deliberate speed, to create the environment and organization to guide continual information quality improvement. Every day's delay is a day of lost time, additional cost of defective data scrap and rework, and missed opportunity as a result of poor-quality information.
Everyone can participate in an information quality improvement team whose goal is to improve the input and output of any step in the information value chain.
Management must create an effective organization structure for information quality improvement. The information quality organization must be perceived as providing business direction for information quality. It must play a facilitator role in making information quality happen
You can make things happen by doing the following:
Quantify the costs of non-quality information. Management has no incentive to change the status quo until they understand and feel the pain of the costs of non-quality information. Those costs include lost time due to data cleanup, wasted time and resources due to unnecessary redundancy, customer dissatisfaction with its missed opportunity and lost customer lifetime value due to non-quality information. Management will embrace information quality improvement when they understand four things:
- Many of the obstacles to accomplishing their objectives are the result of not having quality information.
- The cause of non-quality information is defective processes for managing information as well as for creating and maintaining it.
- The direct costs of non-quality information may be 15 to 25 percent of revenue or operating budget, and yet they are entirely preventable at a fraction of the costs of information scrap and rework.
- Management themselves must take action to change. The status quo is what has caused the problem.
Do not focus blame. Focus on defective processes and fix them. People are the most valuable resource. They are only part of the system. Exploit their strengths. Seek out the root cause of defects and eliminate that cause.
Exploit the value of a trained, qualified consultant to advise management. When someone is too close to a problem, sometimes he or she cannot see it. When someone has a vested interest in a process, he or she may be blind to the obvious solution. However, hiring a quality consultant with the right qualifications is more difficult than it sounds,5 according to Rafael Aguayo, a consultant in quality and management who worked with Deming for seven years. Making sustainable organizational culture change is not a task for contract consulting personnel. It requires multifaceted expertise and experience in working with people at all levels, understanding the new paradigms and thoroughly understanding the principles and methods of information quality improvement.
Train an internal consultant. The proper use of consultants is for knowledge transfer. The organization must develop internal competencies in how to conduct information quality assessments and facilitate information quality process improvement.
Simply do it. Be proactive. Take responsibility for yourself. Know your information customers and suppliers. Find out the needs of your customers and strive to meet them. Help your suppliers understand your requirements and listen to them to find out how you can provide benefit to them in return. Quantify the value of the benefits you create as a result. Then publish them, so others can learn by your example.
There are those who contend quality improvement does not work. There are studies that indicate that many organizations that have initiated quality improvement programs have failed to achieve significant gains. Those who reject information quality improvement may shrug it off as unnecessary cost and effort. The questions are: Was the concept faulty? Was the process implemented or performed incorrectly? Did the organization perform a root-cause analysis on the results?
Those organizations that do not address and achieve the 14 points of information quality face the threat of extinction as their competitors start achieving the benefits from quality managed information as did their counterparts in the industrial age. Those who do will redefine the economics of conducting business in the information age.
1 Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge. MIT, Center for Advanced Engineering Study. 1986. P. 24.
2 Ibid. P. 86.
3 Shewhart, Walter A. Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control. Original publisher Washington Graduate School, Department of Agriculture. 1939. Unabridged republication New York. Dover Publications. 1986. PP. 44 - 45.
4 Deming. Op. Cit. P. 88.
5 Aguayo, Rafael. Dr. Deming. New York. Simon & Schuster. 1990. P. 215.
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