Police state

Q: I want to change the "quality police" perception within my organization. Where do I begin?

Submitted via QP reader survey

A: To change the organization’s perception of quality, you need to shift the thinking from quality being only your job and you policing other employees to making quality everyone’s job. Quality is more than audits and process improvements.

There is also a human component to quality that W. Edwards Deming included in his four dimensions of profound knowledge:

  1. Appreciation for a system.
  2. Understanding variation.
  3. Building knowledge.
  4. Human side of change.1

Quality improvement involves looking at breakdowns in the system and not policing people. To shift perception, you need to get employees involved in making the system improvements. When developing a plan, you may want to consider Everett Rogers’ five attributes to facilitate adoption:

  1. Relative advantage of the change over other changes or the status quo—in other words, what’s in it for me?
  2. Compatibility with current culture and values.
  3. Minimal complexity in explaining the change.
  4. Allowing people to test the new change.
  5. Opportunities for people to observe the success of the change for others.2

Create an environment that rewards employees who identify system improvement opportunities. By shifting the culture to acknowledge people who identify improvements, you answer the question of what’s in it for them. Have employee teams test the identified improvements, thus securing buy-in at the process-owner level. Those team members will then become champions of the change as they share the team’s success with others.

Shifting from a quality police mind-set to a system that rewards employees for participating is the way to achieve long-lasting results.

Ellen Hardy
Hardy Enterprises
New Lisbon, WI


  1. W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, second edition, MIT Press, 1994.

  2. 2. Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, fourth edition, Free Press, 1995.

For more information

Data difficulties

Q: Data-entry errors result in our small company having too many billing errors. Because this affects our cash flow, I’ve been asked to come up with a way to reduce errors. I have no experience in this. How should I get started?

Submitted via QP reader survey

A: The usual responses are to train or discipline employees. But in all likelihood, those aren’t the best long-term solutions. Training is necessary but not sufficient. Start by considering the workflow, mapping the process and identifying the most frequent or important types of errors.

The specific solution depends on the specific causes. That being said, there are many opportunities to reduce data-entry errors by focusing on improvements to the work environment, equipment and information systems, as well as the people side of the process.

Regarding the environment, ask the employees what they think the issues are, and then make a visit to their actual work area to see for yourself. If possible, put yourself in their shoes by sitting in and doing their job for a while.

Ideally, there should not be simultaneous responsibilities that prevent complete focus on data entry. Consider distractions such as noise level, room temperature and work space setup. Other people in the area talking and making noise can be detrimental to concentration. Ringing phones and radios also may prevent complete focus on the job, and interruptions for any reason should be avoided.

You should also consider the employee’s consecutive length of time on the job without breaks. Physical and mental breaks that last just five minutes every hour can refresh employees.

With respect to the equipment, consider an ergonomics assessment. The computer screen should be large and the keyboard positioned comfortably. The desk size should allow for an uncluttered view of the paperwork containing the data being entered.

If data entry is over the phone, a speakerphone or headset is essential. Don’t overlook simple things such as chair height and position, which should be set for comfort. Have the company’s safety officer perform a full ergonomic assessment.

Software or information system design also can prevent data-entry errors. The software should be fully validated to provide the intended reliable and accurate results, as well as catch errors if it was designed for that purpose.

We have all seen and used some of the mistake-proofing features of data-entry programs. Automatic field filling, dropdown or selection-list menus, and a requirement for double entry are commonly employed. Design or use a data-entry program that requires all data fields be filled in. That may mean including N/A as a selection option to ensure all fields are addressed, even if they are not used.

Calculations should be automated using formulas or macros to ensure accuracy. Look into specific types of financial accounting or barcode software—whichever is applicable to your situation.

Barcode software can error-proof the system by automatically retrieving all the product features, thus minimizing how much manual data entry is required. If mistakes can’t be prevented, the database may be able to at least detect them through feedback or notification of data values outside a defined range.

Regarding the people side of the equation, you should ensure personnel have the physical and mental ability to perform the job, which may require eye tests. It’s also important to:

  • Provide training.
  • Make written documentation or verbal communication on how to do the job readily available, clear and concise.
  • Motivate the people and hold them accountable by setting metrics and providing performance feedback.
  • Use incentives such as individual and group rewards and recognition. At first, prioritize accuracy over speed, and then challenge the employees to maintain excellent accuracy at a faster pace.

As is generally true with improvement opportunities, the best solution comes when all aspects of the relevant processes, procedures and people are considered.

Scott A. Laman
Senior manager
Teleflex Medical Inc.
Reading, PA

For more information

  • Bhalla, Aditya, "The Right Mix," Quality Progress, May 2009, pp. 32–37.

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