Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quality and Leadership

There are four important goals that contribute to success of any project. They relate to - Safety, Quality, Time and Cost. Given that safety is non-negotiable, it is not a variable in the equation. Of the remaining three, many a times I have seen quality being sacrificed at the altar of time and cost. 

I was in a dilemma. One of the key vendors who had assured me delivery of a critical piece of equipment in time, at the time of ordering, was now dragging his feet. He said, "I can only deliver it by end of the month". We were just in first week of March and that meant three weeks of delay. Considering a week's float in the project schedule later, it still meant two weeks of actual delay.

My project team had worked overtime and found an alternative. With our float completely consumed and with some luck, we would be able to meet our time target with marginal increase in cost but significant difference in quality. My team was pushing for a decision while I was struggling with the dilemma.

What should I do?

Project managers across the world are faced with similar situations everyday and more often than not they decide in favour of time and cost.

There could be other considerations. A friend recently shared a story with me. A large bearing manufacturer required a very high quality wash to remove small particles remaining in the ball bearings which otherwise would erode the bearings over time. If the wash medium could be cleaned further by an order of magnitude the performance (wear and tear) of the bearings could be guaranteed by a factor of 10 X implying that you may never have to change bearings of your Car unless it is damaged in an accident. The cost of doing this was prohibitive and therefore there were no takers.

Enter new disruptive technology. The wash medium could now be cleaned at an affordable price to the level one could have only aspired before. You thought every ball bearing manufacturer would fall for it. Surprise! Surprise! Still no takers? Now the manufacturers are worried about the volume of business that they will get if the quality is improved by 10 X. A significant segment of their business, the spare parts market, will vanish in no time.

Though cost, time and other business considerations have their own benefits in short term, the benefits of choosing quality over these far outweigh in the long run. So ask the question what will be cost of my decision over the life cycle of the project or how will it serve my customers. 

This is what I did. I renegotiated the time for project completion. What? Am I grateful for it? You bet.

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