Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mark Cuban--Quality Guru?

Mark Cuban, in case you've been living in a cave, is the controversial owner of the Dallas Mavericks. He's been in the news lately for a couple of reasons. For one, his team made it to the finals of the NBA playoffs. For another, he just received a big fine for comments he made on his blog, BlogMaverick.

Cuban's one of those guys who you either seem to love or hate. For our purposes today, I'll assume you belong to the former group, but it really doesn't matter. His comments today in a post called "I know you are, but what am I..." are worth considering, even if you can't stand him.

In commenting on the fact that he's been called a variety of names recently, he says:

"To me, the proof is always in the details. No matter what business Im in, most people work in headlines mode. They think that if they say or write something that makes a good headline , then there must be substance to their point. That’s not the way business works. Which is why most people never get further than the middle.

Substance comes from detail. Luck comes from detail. Winning comes from being willing to do the work on the details. Learning comes from investing in details."

He goes on,

"No one does the work. They do “their jobs”. Nothing more. Which is why , despite all “he is the best, he is the worst” commentary from people, none of it matters in the least bit.

The easiest thing in the world for anyone to do is Tivo a game and then break it down. What any of the 13 participants on the court did and how they did it is pretty easy to document for 99.9 pct of the time on the clock. The other .01 can be grey. It doesnt really matter. Aggregate data from a lot of games over a lot of seasons, and all of the sudden you have a database with value.

Once you have information, then you can add brainpower and try to do things better.

Once you have information, then you can start to define excellence and strive for it, measuring your progress along the way."

Isn't that what continuous improvement is all about? First decide where you are. That's the Organizational Profile part of the Baldrige Application. Then study the data, decide what an excellent organization looks like and then go for it. Sounds a lot like PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

Personally, I couldn't care less about the NBA. I like college hoops, but the pros leave me cold. But, I admire Cuban for his willingness to take a chance, and to call a spade a spade. His business philosophy has certainly made him successful and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Mavericks back again next year, winning the whole thing.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Starting In Earnest

As promised, I received my Missouri Quality Award examiner packet yesterday afternoon via FedEx. As I mentioned earlier, confidentiality forbids me from saying anything about the applicant to anyone. It really ticks my wife off. But, there are sound reasons for keeping applicants' information confidential unless the applicant chooses to divulge it themselves. Of course, if they win the award, they're obligated to share their stories. But for now, loose lips sink ships.

I will say that my applicant is in an entirely new industry for me. That's part of the beauty of the system. They get reviewed by examiners who have no preconceived notions. It makes the award system very fair. It also gives me an opportunity to learn about business through an entirely new lens. It's definitely a win-win.

Once each examiner has reviewed and scored the application, the next step is for all the examiners to come to a consensus. When we're done with the individual review, we send our score books to the award headquarters. Then each examiner for the applicant will receive copies of the other examiners' score books. We'll each take one of the process categories along with the corresponding results categories and combine all the comments. In most cases, there will be a lot of duplication, which will be eliminated.

At the end of July, the team will get together to discuss our work and come up with a consensus score book. If the applicant doesn't go on to a site visit, this is the feedback that they will receive. If they do get a site visit, the consensus score book is the document that will be used to prepare the site visit team.

Our consensus meeting will be here in St. Louis, which is good news. The one day consensus meeting is intense and can get very long. Last time, mine was in Jefferson City. Adding drive time to the meeting time made for a very long day.

Tonight I'll begin the first read-through of the application. The goal of this first pass is to get a feel for the applicant's business and to look for Key Business Factors. Once that's done, then I'll begin to really dig in. They estimate it takes about 40 hours to examine an application. Last time that was about right. We'll see how it goes this year.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Missouri Quality Award

Over the next 30 days or so, I will be working on the first stage of the Missouri Quality Award. Confidentiality prevents me from writing anything about the applicant, or their application. But, I thought it might be interesting to write about the process itself. Even though the mission of this blog is to talk about using the Baldrige criteria for improvement, and not for winning an award, I think it's important that you understand how the criteria work. Understanding the process may give you a better idea of how the criteria might apply to your business.

On May 24 and 25, examiners in the St. Louis area got together for two days of training. The process was repeated in central Missouri and in Kansas City and is similar to the training given to Baldrige examiners and probably to examiners for most other state awards as well. Training consisted of reviewing a "case study", or a fictional application from a fictional company.

Over two days we review techniques for comment writing, individual scoring, consensus comments and scoring, and site visits. Perhaps a timeline will give you some idea of how it all works.

Applications were due at the Excellence in Missouri Foundation by the end of last week. The award office has been working feverishly for the last two days (Monday and Tuesday) to get the applications ready to send to the examiners. Examiners are matched to applicants base on several factors including award experience, industry background, and lack of conflict of interest. The aplications will be sent FedEx to the examiners to day, to arrive tomorrow. We have until July 3 to complete our first stage work.

The output from each examiner in the first stage is a completed score book. The score book includes comments on the applicant's answers for each of the award's criteria. Comments are made on strengths and opportunities for improvement. Opportunities for improvement are not weaknesses, they are exactly what the name says. What can this applicant do to move up to the next level?

Finally, each examiner will score the applicant on each item. Applications are then returned to the award office in preparation for stage 2, concensus review. Stay tuned.

Update: 6/8/06 The link above to the Baldrige case study is a link to last year's. You can download the 2006 case study here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In Flander's Fields

The day was originally called "Decoration Day" as a day to decorate the graves of our fallen soldiers from the Civil War. Today we call it Memorial Day. It was first observed on May 30, 1868. It wasn't until after World War I that it became a day to remember the dead of all wars.

In 1971, congress passed the National Holiday Act moving Memorial Day to the last Monday in May so that we'd always have a three-day weekend. Some say that we've lost the original meaning of the day by making it part of a long weekend, and they may be right.

Many of us can remember when everything was closed for days like Memorial Day. It was a day of peace and rest. Today, many of us will have to work on Monday. The brave men and women who have given their lives for our country did so to protect our freedoms, including the freedom to work, play and shop on the day set aside to remember them.

In 2000, congress passed the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution. It calls for all Americans to pause for a moment at 3:00 PM (local time) on Monday for a moment of silence.

Our lives move much faster in 2006 than they did in 1868. We do everything in a hurry. Under the circumstances, maybe a "Moment of Remembrance" means just as much as an entire day meant 200 years ago.

Where ever you are on Monday, whatever you happen to be doing, we hope you'll join is in remembering those who have died so that we can enjoy living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In 1915, John Mc Crae wrote a poem for Memorial Day. It was called "In Flanders Fields."

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Quality Is Hard!

I spent the last two days attending examiner training for the Missouri Quality Award. It's an intense couple of days. Even though many of us had been through the process before, some many times, it only seems to get a little easier each time. Like quality itself, quantum leaps are few and far between.

It reminds me of a former boss of mine. When things got tough, as they often did back then, he would say, "If this was easy, anybody could do it." Today, we might say "That's why we get the big bucks." :-)

As we were getting ready to leave this afternoon, someone, not a new examiner, said, "You know, this is hard." Of course, he was right. Quality is hard. It's hard to do and it's hard to evaluate. As a business person, it's very difficult to make an unbiased evaluation of your own business. That's why the Baldrige criteria are such a valuable tool. They don't tell you how to run your business. They give you a framework within which to work.

They tell you what to look for; what questions to ask. You start by evaluating your business. Where are you now? What's important to you? Why do you get up in the morning and what keeps you awake at night?

Once you have an honest appraisal of where you are now, the criteria tell you what questions to ask relative to the things you've decided are important. The answers will tell you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. Sometimes that's not easy to hear.

If it's any consolation, the examination is difficult too. Each examiner has his own education, his own experience, his own comfort zone. I do different things every day, but they're all within my so-called area of expertise. I know the products. I know the customers. I know the industry. Suddenly, I'm thrust into another business; another industry. I'm way outside my comfort zone. What is a Pugh Matrix, anyway?

OK, so it's hard. But, like my ex-boss said, "If it was easy, anybody could do it." Thank goodness there are things that we can do to be better than average; better than the rest. Who wants to be like everybody else? We want to be better. No, scratch that. We want to be the best. We want to be role models. We want to stand on top of the mountain. Guess what? That's hard.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Legendary Service

Over the weekend, I was in Columbia, MO for my son's graduation from the University of Missouri. Columbia is a city of less than 100,000 population. The University boasts nearly 30,000 students so you can imagine that graduation weekend puts a bit of a strain on the local hospitality industry.

On Friday evening, we were looking for a place to eat dinner. My son's roommate/landlord suggested a new restaurant nearby. Since they live on the western edge of the Columbia area, we guessed that they might not be as busy as something closer to the campus. We were right, but we were also wrong.

The restaurant is called the Cherry Hill Brasserie. It's a small place and it was full. On the other hand, the wait for a table was only about twenty minutes; not bad considering. We took a seat (four seats, really) at the bar and waited for our table. While we waited it was obvious that the place was "slammed" which is my former-waiter son's term for busy. My guess is that since the place is so new,this was their first graduation weekend and they weren't prepared for the crowd.

To make a long story short, or at least not so long, we were seated in about the amount of time the hostess had predicted, and the waiter took our order promptly. Then things started falling apart. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. We had no bread. We had no napkins. When the bread came, we had no bread plates. It was obvious that the place was very short-staffed and everyone was working very hard, they just couldn't keep up.

About a half an hour after we had placed our order, the waiter approached our table with kind of a deer-in-the-headlights look. "Sir, I'm so sorry for your wait. The kitchen misplaced your order and they're just starting on it now. I hope you'll be patient. We're really busy tonight. To make up for your long wait, your dinner will be on the house."

As you might guess from the name, this isn't a fast-food place. Dinner for four wasn't cheap. This was some serious damage control.

When dinner finally arrived, it was wonderful. I could cut my steak with a fork. Everyone else's meal was equally good. When we were done, the waiter suggested desert, but, because of the size of the portions, there were no takers. As we were eating, both the manager (probably the owner) and the bartender came to our table to make sure everything was OK, and to add their apologies for the delay.

The waiter had said that dinner would be on the house, so I waited for him to bring me a bar tab, since I didn't expect that to be included, especially since we ordered a round of drinks after he told us that the meal would be gratis. No, there was no charge for anything, just another apology.

I don't imagine getting a free meal after the restaurant makes a mistake is all that unusual. But, you have to understand, we walked into the restaurant about 7:00 and left about 9:30. On the Friday night before graduation in Columbia, MO, there's not a restaurant in town where we could have gotten in and out any more quickly. In fact, I would guess that 3-4 hours was more the norm.

But for this restaurant, that wasn't acceptable. They were under-staffed, they made a mistake on our order, and they apologized and made up for it. I may never go back to the restaurant, because now that Patrick has graduated, I'm not likely to be in Columbia very often. But, I have told this story to everyone I've talked to over the last three days, including several who live in Columbia. I'm telling it to you. Of course, you know where I'm going with this. Customer service, above and beyond what's expected is the stuff that legends are made of.

A free round of drinks, or free desert, or a percentage discount would have been enough to satisfy us. And a month from now, I wouldn't have been able to tell you the name of the restaurant. All I would remember is how slow they were. But, we were far more than satisfied. We were surprised and delighted. That's the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that you can't buy. You have to earn it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

It's a Small World

I guess it's ok to link to myself. I wrote this yesterday for our company blog and think it's worth sharing here. The internet has made the world a true global village. We can learn much from one another and have an influence on others that we can't even imagine.