13 March 2012

How do you "sell" quality?

March is here and so it is the new ASQ CEO Paul Borawski blog post, with an interesting topic to discuss: How Do You “Sell” Quality? How do you convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for–pick your ending–performance excellence, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?

The answer is: 

"Numbers, give me numbers. Please, talk in terms of money (return on investment)"
I can almost hear those phrases from several senior executives when discussing about quality. So focusing on results of the bottom line (bottom line is the line in a financial statement that shows net income or loss) is the best (only?) way quality professionals can convince senior executives about the importance of quality. 

It is sad we have to use the word "convince". I think senior executives must have the knowledge necessary and the commitment to discuss, with quality professionals, about quality improvements/goals instead of being convinced to take a decision for the company benefit. The thing is that quality, in many cases, is considered a non-value added activity that only waste money instead of increase profit.

During my years working for a software development company, where I implemented CMM (Capability Maturity Model) Level 2 and performed auditor activities, I have learned how to sell quality. I can consider myself a Quality Seller and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine this scenario:
- 100 employees software development company.
- 95% of employees were men, with passion for coding and getting software runs, no care about forms/procedures/audit.
- Entire quality area was running only by woman, with passion for processes, for having everything in the correct place at the correct time, focusing on metrics and improvements, implementing CMM Level 2.

Kind of a scenario for a real epic battle... joking!

At that time, selling quality to the CEO was not that hard; he was the one that proposed to implement CMM, thinking of course in the profit it would bring and not in the real value of implementing a model like CMM.

Now the "conflict" began when I have to train software engineers about quality, teach them processes and then audit their job. It was hard to "sell" quality to them and let them know and understand that quality has the same importance as getting the software working right on time.

My seller strategy: I have to say that if you have passion for quality and you really believe that quality is so important in a company development, and you show that passion when teaching/auditing others about it, is as easy as pie. I put all my passion doing my job. Added to that, getting along with my coworkers so they didn't see me as the crazy lady that came with checklists to see if they are doing their job using the established processes, was a good ingredient to sell quality. Wearing my best simile, grabbing coffee for my auditee and myself, talk about how everything is going, and then started with the audit within a pleasant environment is the best way I found to sell quality.

Some of the lessons I’ve learn from my experience as quality professional in a software development environment are: 

  • Focus on numbers that can provide better quality for less cost in a short-term period. 
  • Gather good data and evidences to use as support of your ideas. 
  • Talk in a positive way when negative times hit the company. Forget about “poor quality” phrase and talk about improvements
  • Times change: be updated and do not cling on a bunch of obsolete procedures. Make things lean and work with agile metrologies can help you to convince senior executives to continue investing in quality. 
  • Be proactive. Show a big smile and help people instead of being a person that only correct their way to do their job. 
  • Forget to try to educate senior executives about processes and models; go directly to the point of discussion proposing strategic successes that will impact the short-term bottom line.
  • Keep your passion for quality.
I would like to share with all of you a paper "Quality Meets the CEO", wrote by Jeffery E. Payne, ex-CEO of a software quality business. I found his point of view so interesting because I have experimented everything he says.

Because of this topic, the "Quote of the Month" I've selected is: "You've got to be success minded. You've got to feel that things are coming your way when you are out selling; otherwise, you won't be able to sell anything" ~Benjamin Jowett

So, how do you "sell" quality?