Archive for December, 2011

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The Necessity of Quality

December 17, 2011

Context

We are living in a world economy and need to start understanding the need to work accordingly. The Western world continues to despair as the economy moves to countries like Brazil, India and China, but remain focused in working the way things were a century ago.

Recently the government in the UK has stated that we need to place more emphasis on teaching young people how to write computer code. This is absurd as the cost of living, and the corresponding wages will never allow this generation to produce computer code efficiently or economically. At the same time, most of the Western governments are attempting to relaunch the global economy by encouraging people to take out the loans that created the problems in the first place. This was compounded when the British Prime Minister refused to back the European attempt at resolving the debt issue because it could hurt the bankers who were largely responsible for the crisis.

It is time to wake up and acknowledge that the world has seriously changed. If India and China can produce cheap labour, good for them, let’s use their cheap labour. This does not mean that we are surrendering our jobs, but that we need to reconsider the unique differentiating factors.

Currently the work being done in the countries classified as “emerging economies” is cheap; it is not original, it is not creative, it is not of high-quality. The German economy is leading Europe, largely because they have been continuously and consistently producing original designs and high-quality products, wherever the manufacturing was performed – products from companies like BMW, Siemens and Bosch are recognized as value for money.

In a global economy, we need to think in global terms. We need to start focusing on delivering high quality designs and products, and we need to do this systematically, predictably and consistently. Then, we can use the economical labour force that is available to make the products to exacting standards. This requires a number of changes in attitude at every level.

Education

The education system needs to change to fit the new world. We can find the data, the dates, the facts, the information very easily in this world, so we need to start focusing on teaching children to think and to understand rather than to recite by rote pointless bits of information.

My first point is that children should learn about foreign cultures very early. The best way to understand foreigners is to be able to understand their language as the language forms the way of thinking. So, I believe that in this century, we need to accept the fact that every child should learn to speak three languages before the age of ten. This is a time when they can learn languages fairly easily and efficiently. Also, I do not believe that they should focus on learning the “easy” languages spoken by our closest neighbours, but should focus on learning languages like Chinese and Arabic, which will open their minds to some fundamental differences in though processes and cultures.

Next, they should learn to work out the things that will really benefit them in their lives. I believe that we should be teaching activities such as project management and risk management to all teenagers. This will help them in thinking through things, help them identify the consequences to choices and decisions made, help them identify the critical dependencies in their activities and sequence things most effectively to achieve valid results.

Finally, and contrary to most education policies, I would stress the importance of the arts. Teaching young people to understand and appreciate different types of art (painting, architecture, music, ballet, sculpture) will help open their minds to the creative process, encouraging them to make decisions and choices that will widen their outlook on the world. This is in opposition to the system today, in which young people are taught to follow instructions and study only the minimum they need to pass their exams and tests.

The Service Industry

More and more we are living in a world that is run by what is called the “Service Industry”. This includes all the people who are not producing tangible, storable products but are delivering something different. This includes the banking industry as well as consultants (as myself).

The Service Industry needs to refocus and determine what exactly we are providing to our customers. I deliver a service, which means that I need to bear in mind at all times what the benefit of my work is to my customers. Also, banks are not there to make money, they are there to service their customers and need to understand what are the services their customers needs or require and work accordingly.

This is a change from the current attitude, which sees a lot of service providers believing in themselves as being key to the future of society. Banks are rewarding people who make money for banks. Consultants are selling solutions that do not fit the problem. In general, we are all seeking to make work for ourselves, regardless of the cost. This is the attitude which has led to the excessive levels of inflation and price rises since the early twentieth century. It is time to realize that we can no longer bank on continued growth for ever, there comes a time when every balloon must burst.

Subcontracting

As the global market has unified, we have seen increasing need to subcontract and allow other people to do some of the work. It is perfectly normal today for a car to be designed in one country, manufactured on a different continent with pieces from all over the world and finally assembled in a completely different place. This is acceptable if you are considering that the work being done by these people will directly reflect on your results and capabilities.

Choosing a supplier simply because they have cheaper labour costs than your local labour is a guaranteed failure. It is necessary to be able to make sure that the supplier with whom you are working will deliver better quality (to be defined) than you would be able to deliver internally (unless the only quality you are seeking to deliver is “cheap to manufacture”). This is the focus of standards such as “CMMI for Acquisition”, the poor brother in the CMMI chain. This model remains largely under-used because few organizations see it as a good short-term marketing advantage. While the other CMMI constellations are seen as manner in which customers may be impressed by a supplier having a “level”, few are seeking to truly understand how their suppliers are ensuring the quality of subcontractors. And yet, this is probably more critical today than the development processes found in the classical CMMI for Development.

Conclusion

As long as we don’t focus on quality, we are doomed to losing our market, our skills and our values to people who can produce similar products cheaper. This is largely a recent phenomenon which appears to have flourished in the twentieth century when the short-term cheap credit became the focus of the de-industrialized world. The urgency of the change cannot be underestimated.

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