How do you balance quality and profitability?

zen rocks balanced and harmonious

Recently a continuous improvement professional asked, “How do you balance quality and profitability? If you maximize one, do you trade off the other?” My answer was:

My partner and I just finished writing a book on  safety, quality and productivity in the construction industry from an inventive point-of-view. What we found was really amazing. In the fewest possible words here’s the bottom line. Where ever you have a safety issue (or quality issue) you also have a hidden productivity issue. Solve for safety (and/or quality) and productivity efficiencies usually come along for free.

  • From a Six Sigma perspective, accidents are variation.
  • From a Lean perspective, accidents are waste.

The same holds true with quality issues; they are variation or waste. In other words, when you are thinking in terms of trade-offs you have already limited possibilities. So try to stick with the problem longer. Don’t stop once you have figured out a trade-off. Solve for the underlying core variation/waste/issue and you get more safety, more quality, more productivity all at the same time. Now that’s a win-win situation.

A person can be taught to think like this.  Hope this was helpful.

And then, a really insightful comment was made about using the idea of harmony instead of balance.  To which I responded:

Although balance is a wonderful thing when you are trying to stand on a tipsy object, it is not helpful in trade-off situations. Harmony is a much better concept. Harmony is a mindset based on optimizing quality within the system constraints. Quality is what the “customer” wants. You need to understand what all the customers within the system want and then you solve the problems so that everyone gets more of what they want and less of what they don’t want.

Using a 8 hours for work/8 hours for family/8 hours for sleep scenario let’s say you have to work 10 hour days for 6 months. You reallocate your 2 hours extra at work by spending one less hour with your kids, but you spend one of those hours you have with your family doing something that will wear you all out – something fun, something active, something where you laugh and wrestle and enjoy each others efforts. You all go to bed earlier, get to sleep quicker, and sleep deeper. Now you only need 7 hours sleep and you had extra quality time with the kids (much better than sitting around watching a sitcom) so they feel more bonding even though they had less time with you. See, it’s not about balance, it’s about getting more of what everyone wants and less of what you don’t want.

There are hundreds of ways to solve this “trade-off” scenario. It is a mindset. A problem-solving mindset (innovation, if you want to call it that) that allows you to go way beyond trade-offs. And here is an extra benefit: it is so much fun to think that way it makes my cheeks hurt from grinning so big.