Taken to Task

Scale back quality implementation to get management on board

by Magid Youssef

Many quality managers suffer through daily confrontations with top management and department heads who aren’t committed to total quality management (TQM).

As a result, these quality managers think their processes are being sidetracked and that they’re only in place to satisfy contractual obligations. They struggle to uphold a quality culture within the organization and can lose their passion—or worse, their jobs.

But there’s an easy way to build quality into the organization: by working inside out—or, to put it another way, by applying quality management principles at the task level.

A task is a simple job assignment or direct instruction from managers to team members. By focusing on the task as a miniature process that requires inputs and produces outputs through a set of activities, task quality management can drive organizational quality when top management lacks commitment to TQM.

But there are a few things to keep in mind when undertaking a project of this nature:

Target: Less sophisticated managers relay tasks from their superiors in a redundant fashion without putting much effort in "processizing" the task to make it a quality-oriented endeavor. In doing so, they forget about the reason behind the task and what will be accomplished. Remember to identify the objectives of the required task before getting under way.

Time: Most managers assign tasks with their attention focused on the time spent on the task. But, in some cases, they’re not focused on the time as much as they are on the output. Very few managers balance the requirements for individual tasks while focusing on meeting tight deadlines. If you want your project to be successful, make sure you record the expected time for completing the task.

Tools: Empowering your employees is the key to building quality at the task level. Being empowered means they have the required knowledge, tools and skills to achieve the desired results effectively and efficiently.

Knowledge includes an understanding of the contextual target the task aims to fulfill, as well as a solid background of technical information and reference standards that assist decision making and focus on the qualitative parameters of the task performance. The tools required for carrying out the task should facilitate its completion within the predetermined timeframe. Skills can only be acquired via comprehensive training throughout the process of completing the task.

Training: Very few managers take the time to identify the training needed to develop an employee’s skills and complete the task at hand. When you identify the training required for the task, include future training needs.

Technical standards: Good document control management requires keeping a copy of the technical information and reference standards relevant to the assigned task readily available and updated for easy cross-reference. Unfortunately, it’s rarely done in an effective way. When setting out on a project, outline the applicable standards and keep updated copies on hand.

Tracking: Tasks undertaken by employees are generally not totally independent of other related tasks. Thus, it’s important to coordinate and integrate a task’s inputs and outputs to ensure total synchronization with related tasks. But remember to place those actions under the jurisdiction of employees carrying out the assigned task. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving them unempowered, unmotivated and, worst of all, uninformed.

Takeaway: Identify the format for the submission of the results, and state the deliverables. If the context is changed, thereby requiring a different interpretation or format for the task outputs or deliverables, clarify the reason by explaining the contextual history of the change and correlating the subsequent task changes required.

By taking quality to the task level, you can optimize performance, improve communication, empower employees and avoid the oft-encountered conflicts of adopting a full TQM initiative. These smaller gains at the departmental level can inspire top management to embrace—and even champion—a quality culture within the organization.

Magid Youssef is an architect at Spiracle Design in Mississauga, Ontario. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. Youssef is a member of ASQ and a certified quality assurance manager.

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