Feb 9, 2010

Fix root-cause to cure multiple symptoms!

Sometimes we come across doctors who treat for symptoms. After the medication period, these symptoms may reappear. Sometimes you will find the opposite: with one medicine multiple issues will vanish. This is true in business too.

When I started my career as a programmer in TCS, the prominent programming language used was COBOL. We were using punch cards for keying in the program. We were allowed maximum 3 compilations before any program was compiled error free. Beyond that the issue would go to the Center Manager. Sometimes even one punching error, such as a hyphen missing in the Working-Storage section, could result in hundreds of errors. Fixing that one error used to eliminate those hundred errors.

When I took charge as Quality Head in one organization, we wanted to pilot ‘Defect Prevention’ or ‘Causal Analysis’ in one project. We choose a project that was just starting the system testing. I was expecting about 8 to 10 errors in system testing and the intention of the causal analysis was to analyze the root cause of each defect, fix the root cause and eliminate a few categories of defects from the system. But the system testing gave me a surprise when the testing team reported about 800 defects. Then I realized even the basic processes were not working. We strongly enforced self-review and peer-review with a documented checklist at every phase, as an immediate solution.

Once I called all project managers for a meeting and asked them to list all the problems they face to ensure quality. Again to my surprise, there were 47 unique problems listed. I realized that if I started working on those problems sequentially, it could take several years. From my previous experience, I knew that several problems related to project management and quality can be eliminated if we go for process automation. That was the time when we took a decision to go for an enterprise wide project planning and defect tracking tool.

Even after decades of Quality movement, some organizations are struggling with several operational issues. Think of a situation where everybody in the organization knows their purpose, their responsibilities and goals. Assume they are excited about it and have a mechanism to track it; they are working towards achieving the overall organization goals and objectives. In this scenario, it is not difficult to imagine that several classes of issues will vanish from the organization. That is why, several large organizations that implemented business performance management systems continue to thrive even during recession.

If you are finding several performance related problems, you could look at Balanced Scorecard as a solution to several classes of problems your company is facing.

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