Three significant challenges of implementing quality improvement teams

Implementing a quality improvement project within an organization can be a challenging endeavor.  People resist change, so implementing changes to existing processes can scare employees accustomed to doing things their way.  When we talk about improving quality, we generally refer to quality as measured by the customer.  Referred to as Voice of the Customer, companies measure feedback and survey results to determine what the end-users of their service like and dislike.  From there, they are able to strategize ways to improve the product or service using continuous improvement methods.

The first step in implementing quality improvement is developing a team.  While this may seem like a simple task, a poorly prepared team will quickly develop flaws, and the project could fail.  Management should spend just as much time developing the right project team as they do dedicating resources.

Team development takes time because people have different strengths and weaknesses.  Just because someone is good at their daily tasks doesn’t mean their qualified to lead a process improvement project.  Let’s look at the top three reasons implementing quality improvement teams can be difficult.

1. Gaining buy-in:

People do not like change; this is a well-established fact.  This is why we hear sayings like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While people understand the concept of quality improvement, they rarely like the idea of committing to a structured change.  There are many reasons for this.  The most common reason is out of fear.  Fear of the unknown leads people to imagine worst-case scenarios.  Perhaps they will be laid off, or their job will become noticeably harder.  This is rarely the case, but it doesn’t stop people from worrying.

Project champions will need to dedicate significant time to communicating the project’s mission and goals.  All company stakeholders must be considered when planning a communication strategy.  If buy-in can’t be achieved, the project is doomed to fail before it begins.

2. Consistent training:

You might think that the hard work is over once the initial improvement team is in place.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  Quality improvement teams need proper training before implementing a change management policy.

You’ll start by considering what type of quality improvement process your company needs.  Smaller companies often use Total Quality Management principles that have been popular since the mid 80’s.  Larger companies often select process excellence or Six Sigma methods, since these quality improvement methods yield measurable results.  Working with a process improvement training company can help you determine the best option for your unique situation.  Using a 3rd-party consultant has advantages since that company has no bias or preference to your existing processes.  They can look at the situation in a neutral way and give you advice on which processes may work best.

3. Project charter development:

Developing a project charter is rarely as simple as it should be.  The first problem usually appears when you try to develop the problem statement.  Team members rarely agree on the source of the problem or struggle to define the problem at all.  A major challenge in one department, is normal procedure in another, so getting everyone to agree is problematic.

This is where a strong project champion needs to take charge.  They’ll need leadership skills to guild the team, define the problem, and set goals to develop new processes that address the issue.  Only then can they determine the project scope and plan deliverables that they team can achieve.