STARS of Quality Management

A training model that simplifies and endorses a quality culture

by Han van Loon

How do you attract and retain a motivated and dedicated work force? In the software development industry, this is a particular challenge; employees are in high demand, and job swapping is common. Why, then, do some companies have a low turnover rate? One reason--company culture.

My employer, CelsiusTech Australia, is a software supplier that wanted to present its culture, particularly its quality management beliefs, during new employee orientation. We wanted new employees to focus on continuous improvement from the start. As a result, we created a presentation on our quality management culture that made an abstract concept into something more concrete.

Reach for the STARS

Most quality advocates are aware of the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle; therefore, we wanted to use it to help employees visualize our quality management culture. However, the difference between the "do" and "act" steps can be unclear to those new to the cycle. We decided to create a simple, improved diagrammatic concept with a memorable acronym to help new employees understand our outlook regarding quality management. We were able to present this outlook with the STARS diagram.

STARS stands for set goals, think, act, review and supply improvements (see Figure 1). We tested the STARS concept by applying it to perfecting the STARS presentation itself.

Set goals. We set our goal before we even developed the STARS concept. Our goal was to create a concept combining a personal approach to quality, teamwork within the company culture, continuous improvement expectations, the desire to do the job right and a focus on doing the right job.

Think. We completed this step at the outset as well. Thinking about the goal and the company's quality culture is what led us to develop the diagram and cycle.

Act. The act step meant actually presenting the concept. At orientations, we asked new employees how they defined quality, what made a product superior and what characteristics made a workplace successful. On a white board, we wrote their responses into the shape of a star. We then presented the STARS improvement cycle and its components.

Review. A human resource manager and a training specialist attended a few orientations to provide feedback on the presentation. Conversations with participants provided additional advice. We learned that the concept was sound, but that we needed a better way to introduce it.

Supply improvements. The feedback we received went into refining the concept. At future orientations, we asked employees how they got good results in their jobs, what the advantage was of working with a team and what they looked for in a good product. Similar responses were grouped into topics, and teams were formed to add more items to each topic.

We asked the new employees to look at all of the data we collected and identify common themes. One by one, employees offered ideas such as serving customer needs, assessing alternatives and striving for excellence.

We recorded these themes using the STARS diagram. First we labeled each of the star's points (set goals, think and so on). Then we went around the star five times, adding the employees' themes to each of the star's points. We explained the STARS concept and pointed out some of the roadblocks--time pressure, apathy and uncooperative individuals.

After discussing the presentation with participants, we found that our model gave them a simplified view of quality. They learned what the company aims to achieve and how it improves. Newly hired employees were able to assimilate more quickly into the company and be more productive sooner.


The STARS Diagram (Copyright Han van Loon, 2000) is used with permission.

HAN VAN LOON is a management and technical advisor for CelsiusTech Australia Pty. Ltd. in Adelaide. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. He can be contacted at halo@celsiustech.se.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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