Monday, August 30, 2010

More Notes on Quality

The company I work for, Osborne Wood Products, presented a large booth at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta last week.  It was the first time I have had a chance to work on the exhibitor side of such a fair, and it was a revelation to learn how much hard work goes into the preparation and setup for an exhibition of this size.  It also requires a dedicated and cooperative staff in order to succeed.  We were fortunate in that each person discharged his or her duties excellently so that one might say everything came off as perfectly as can be expected.
Even though absolute perfection is rarely if ever attainable, striving for perfection at the outset of any project is a good goal and is an aspect of quality.  In our particular situation, the conceptualization and actual production of the elements of our booth and its components had been worked on for months with an eye toward reminding our clients of who we are and what we produce in addition to showing them where we are headed.  The booth components have been being set up in our company gym for most of the summer so no surprises would occur when the actual setup occurred in Atlanta.  Imagining potential problems and solving them before they occur is an important way to ensure a quality outcome.
 In addition to this, the staff for the booth was selected to represent every phase of our operation from design to customer service to production to shipping.  One of the most interesting things to observe was the way these eight people fell into a pattern of duties each morning without them having to be assigned.  Each intuitively understood that the booth needed to be refreshed and cleaned so it would look as new as it did on opening day.  Each staff member finished getting the area buffed up and assumed a position along the perimeter of the booth to begin greeting the day’s attendees.  This sort of attention to detail is an important aspect of quality.
It is said that the proof is in the results.  That being said, at the end of each day of the exhibition I was astonished and impressed to realize the number of people who had stopped by our booth who already do business with us and who really wanted to convey their appreciation for our delivery of quality.  At some point during each day of the fair, each one of our departments was commented on at least once.  I had people tell me how much they appreciated the way the customer service reps check back with them about their orders after they’ve shipped.  Others commented on the quality of the base materials or on the craftsmanship of the finished products.  Still others were impressed with the care with which our merchandise is packed for shipping or with the way we try to stay ahead of the design curve by studying trends and making sure we are including current designs.
So in addition to the fine materials and excellent craftsmanship that I discussed previously, I would have to add that the amalgamation of components that culminates in quality would also include quality ideas, quality relationships, and high quality work ethics.  I would also venture to say that total quality can only come to full fruition when it is cultivated in a culture of quality.  I would describe a culture of quality where the notion of quality is recognized and fostered as a desirable approach to life and not merely a marketing ploy.  I suspect that an insincere nod to quality is not sustainable for the long haul.
On a personal level, it feels very good to realize that one is associated with quality.  It is much nicer to have the opportunity to spend the day saying “why, thank you so much” over and over again than to have to keep saying “I’m so sorry that happened to you – I’ll check into it right away.”  The former is the pleasant result of years of nurturing quality on every level.  The latter is the inevitable outcome of combining poor materials and production with bad attitudes and worse environments.  I’m a lucky boy: I get to work with quality. 

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