A recent Harvard Business School blog article shared some key lessons in creating a culture of quality within one’s organization.
One of those key lessons was the importance of leadership emphasis in creating such a culture.
While it is certainly important for leaders to model the quality behaviors they would like their individual divisions to follow, this extends beyond actions to the share of airtime given to quality through their regular interactions with their direct reports and with other staff.
In the context of project delivery, one way to identify whether there is a genuine commitment to quality is to count how frequently delivery-focused language (vs. quality-focused language) gets used during executive management’s participation in steering committee meetings or during their reviews of project or portfolio-level reports.
If the predominant focus in their feedback is on hitting dates or meeting financial constraints and only rarely are the topics of deliverable quality or requirements achievement mentioned (except when it is in the context of schedule, cost or regulatory impacts), this emphasis is not likely to be missed by project teams. In turn, teams will tend to focus their efforts on schedule and cost targets – short term gains for long term pains. In such cases, it doesn’t matter how many town hall meetings are held in which the importance of quality is proclaimed by leaders – staff know that’s just lip service.
To create a more visible balance between tactical delivery objectives and quality-related ones, sponsors and executive stakeholders should require quality-focused metrics at both the portfolio & project levels, and the determination of project health status should go beyond triple constraint or financial realization indicators to also incorporate assessments of quality. Dashboards, wall posters and other such high visibility tools could be used to highlight quality metrics, tips & techniques.
This needs to go hand-in-hand with creating a culture where staff are not afraid to raise warning flags and where there is true transparency of health reporting from the team all the way up executive views. In such a culture, taking a page from the Toyota Production System, executives could encourage their staff to be able to push a virtual “STOP” button alerting them of quality concerns in a timely fashion.
Where focus goes, energy flows.