Quality is one of the most complex concepts to be understood as there is no universal definition to it. Everyone views quality in their own subjective manner. Moreover, the views on quality very much depend on the different criteria used to evaluate it. For instance, Deming, a well-known and influential quality management guru, did not define or describe quality specifically.
In one of his last books, he stated that ‘a product or a service possesses quality if it helps somebody and enjoys a good and sustainable market’. Business excellence is often characterized by principles, practices and techniques in managing the organisation and achieving results, based on a set of fundamental concepts or values. Many countries have developed their own models and frameworks to evaluate and recognize organizations for their efforts in business excellence through awards programmes.
In Singapore, for example, the Business Excellence (BE) initiative was started by Spring Singapore to assist organizations strengthen their management systems and processes for high performance through the adoption of the business excellence framework. In my opinion, “Quality is a means to an end for business excellence. ” essentially means that, ‘quality is a tool to achieve the objective of business excellence’. In this context, quality is marked by ‘a concentrated expenditure of involvement, concern, and commitment’.
An example is the National Library Board (NLB) which oversees both the National Library Singapore (NLS) as well as the Public Libraries Singapore (PLS). By anchoring quality as one of its cornerstones, NLB has received numerous Business Excellence Awards from Spring Singapore. The Business Excellence Framework consists of seven criteria categories such as Leadership, People, Planning, Information, Processes, Customers and Results. Leadership The leadership criterion concentrates three main areas: senior leadership organizational culture and corporate responsibility.
Senior management has to demonstrate that they lead by example when it comes to pursuing business excellence through quality. In NLB, the senior management plays a pivotal role behind its commitment in transformation into a top quality and world-class, user-friendly library network. This common vision shared by the senior management, is articulated in the strategic priorities of its strategic plan. NLB’s NLB’s vision is to ‘build a knowledgeable and engaged society by inspiring lifelong learning, bringing knowledge alive, sparking imagination and creating possibility for a vibrant and creative Singapore’.
To communicate and disseminate their plans and directions, the senior management will engage in brainstorming sessions with the middle management at the annual Corporate Planning Retreat. The purpose is to anticipate new customer needs and plan for new services to meet those needs. Other channels of communications include feedback sessions, in-house newsletter, websites and new media. The senior management team has consistently advocated a set of core values related to NLB’s role of serving the community at large.
This set of core values were reviewed and formalized as shared values, as well as incorporated into the NLB’s Performance Management Programme (PMP). As a result these core values are indoctrinated in every employee when performing their day-to-day operations. In fulfilling its corporate social responsibilities, NLB is dedicated to serve the wider public, included the less privileged. Such projects include Project Delivery where volunteers are ferried by volunteer cabbies and the annual Charity Book Donation where used books from the libraries are donated to over one hundred charities.
Planning The planning criterion concentrates on the strategy development and deployment. The key is to have systematic short-term and long-term plan, so that organizations can maintain or increase their competiveness position in the market. For long-term strategic plans which happen every three to five years, everyone which includes the senior management, staff and external stakeholders will come together to devise the strategic directions forward. On the other hand, NLB conducts its Corporate Planning and Review Exercise (CPR) quarterly to map out its short-term plans.
The objective is to beef up NLB’s agility and reactiveness in responding to trends and changes. Information The information criterion concentrates on the management, analysis and use of data and information to improve and support decision making at all levels of the organization. Decision making and planning would be more efficient and effective if essential data and information are readily available. Good information management and benchmarking are indicators of an excellent organization. Extensive use of data and information analysis are used to support NLB’s planning, operations and performance review processes.
Its mission, vision and strategic plans are the basis for selecting, analyzing, evaluating and managing data and information to facilitate the stakeholders’ needs. An initiation is the Knowledge Management (KM) programme to align its strategies of achieving customer excellence, operational excellence and innovation excellence. In addition, NLB also engages in benchmarking exercises to learn from best practices in both public and private sectors. This is achieved through benchmarking projects or activities which close learning or performance gaps and improve organizational processes, which is held every three years.
People The people criterion concentrates on how the organization realizes the full potential of the workforce, emphasizing on human resource strategy, training and development, employee satisfaction, and employee performance and recognition. NLB has strong emphasis on people management and development, which allows it to attract talent and retain a strong pool of competent and committed staff. NLB has an organizational culture that offers diverse opportunities for staff to contribute and innovate. For example, it develops a project-centric environment to encourage cross-functional staff involvement.
A learning needs analysis (LNA) exercise is launched annually to identify the learning and development needs of NLB’s staff. These include courses, seminars, workshops and learning visits. In support of the work-life strategy, NLB has an employee health and satisfaction framework which involves welfare programmes, workplace health programmes, an open communication system and a recognition system. The NLB Performance Management Programme (PMP) is a comprehension promotion, compensation, recognition and reward system that motivates employees to achieve high-performing standards.
In recognizing staff who have displayed commitment and exemplary behaviour in their service performance, they are recognized through awards such as Annual Quality Service and Staff in the Limelight awards. Processes The processes criterion concentrates on the key processes the organization deploys to pursue its objectives and goals, including the design process, operational and delivery processes, and supplier and partnering processes, so as to add value to its performance. Technology is employed extensively as a key tool to help implement customer-centric service innovations and improvements.
First, NLB launched a text messaging service to support easy access to information with specific questions. NLB provides answers to users at an average of 5,000 queries a month. Second, NLB leverages and partners with search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN (GYM) to provide access to reference collections. Third, the one-stop self-service terminal allows library customers to handle transactions such as membership registration and checking of loan records by themselves. This reduces the need to access such services separately and reduce waiting time.
Customers The customers criterion concentrates on how the organization determines customer and market requirements, enhances the relationship with its customers, and determines and improves customer satisfaction. Developing and enhancing customer value is a key strategy for NLB to develop an effective customer relationship management framework. Customer touch points are intended to leave a positive impression on customers’ minds, so that they would continue to use library services.
An example is the transaction machines like the e-kiosk terminals, borrowing stations and book drop machines which facilitate self- service and reduce transaction timings. The annual Customer Satisfaction Survey helps to reaffirm customer perceptions and expectations. The Customer Satisfaction Index determines the level of service performance as well as identifies areas of improvements. Results The results criterion concentrates on the organization’s key performance results, such as customer results, financial and market results, people results, and operational results.
The key measure for customer satisfaction is the overall Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI), a compounded indicator representing NLB’s customers’ perception of its collection, customer and information services, programmes and exhibitions, staff, communications etc. A significant measure of NLB’s product quality is the average shelf life of its books in the public libraries. It has significantly improved the average shelf life of its collections from eleven years in the early 1990s to close to five in 2007. Question 1(b) Employee motivation can be seen as the level of energy, commitment and creativity that an employee brings to his or her job.
It is the driving force for a person to think, plan and act towards a desired goal. Quality of a service or product, on the other hand, has no precise definition tagged to it. The evaluation criterions on the quality of a service or project are based on many factors. However, it widely accepted that quality is often associated with the customer perceptions of the service or product. Improved or better work motivation will translate to positive results such as increase in quality of a product of service. One, motivated employees will improve productivity.
They tend to work higher efficiency rate and produce products or services in a shorter time frame. Two, improved productivity equates to more monetary gains. When manufacturers can produce more products, they can sell more products. When service providers can serve more customers, they generate higher revenue. Monetary gains can then be used as incentives to further motivate employees, or at least maintain their morale level. Three, when employees are motivated, they tend to stay in the company longer. In addition, retained employees have a better understanding of the company’s operations and culture.
Every time an employee is being retained, it means lesser time and money will be spent on hiring and training a replacement. All in all, motivated employees will tend to invest more time and effort in producing the best products or services possible. They take pride in their work, resulting in high-quality products or services. Question 2(a) Deming’s Profound Knowledge System In Deming’s early work in the United States, he advocated 14 Points of management for quality improvement. Unfortunately, there were some critics about these points had no clear rationale.
Therefore, the managers felt that they had no tools to reach these goals. It was only near his end of life that Deming began to incorporate the underlying foundations of the 14 Points into a ‘Profound Knowledge System’. According Deming, the elements of this system demonstrates critical insights needed for designing effective management practices and decision-making tools in today’s complex business environment. The Profound Knowledge System comprised of four interrelated parts: appreciation for a system, understanding variation, theory of knowledge and psychology.
Amongst them, theory of knowledge is a section of management philosophy based in systems theory. It is grounded on the principle that every organization consists of a system of interlinked processes and people who make up the system’s components. It is believed that the managers need to understand how things function and why decisions that would influence the future. Essentially, the success of all workers within the system is dependent on the management’s capability to engineer for the optimal level of the entire system.
Deming also emphasized that experience only describes but it cannot be validated. Hence, experience alone is of no help in management. Theory, on the other hand, enables one to learn the cause-and-effect relationships which can be applied for predictions and rational management decisions. The component of theory of knowledge is critical in management as failure to understand it may result in a few unfavourable scenarios. One, management may not know how to plan and accomplish learning and improvement. Two, management may not understand the difference between improvement and change.
Three, problems may remain unsolved despite the best efforts to resolve them. Background of Organization Established in 1987, SMRT Corporation Limited (SMRT) is the nation’s leading public transport service provider which offers a range of integrated commuter solutions. Its core transport business includes an extensive network of trains, buses and taxis, value-added with it retail shops conveniently situated within their stations. Its annual bus and train ridership hit an average of 300,000 and 600,000,000 trips respectively, for the past few years.
Listed on the Singapore Exchange in 2000, the company now has an annual turnover of approximately SGD 1. 1 billion and has total assets worth more than SGD 1. 8 billion. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is a rapid transit system forming the core component of the railway system in Singapore. The MRT network has about 100 stations spanning across a network of more than 140 km. By 2021, when all the current projects have completed, the network will have more than 160 stations, covering a network of more than 220 km.
Before the entry of another operator, SBS Transit Limited, SMRT had been the sole operator of the MRT from 1987 to 2003. Throughout the almost two decades of service, the MRT, under the good hands of SMRT, never had a major breakdown. Because of that, the MRT earned an international reputation for being one of the most efficient transport systems in the world. Situation On 15 December 2011, Singapore experienced a first major breakdown of the MRT. The train disruptions across the North-South Line left more than 127,000 commuters stranded with another 4,000 trapped in the trains.
In the trapped trains, some became panicked after stuck for hours and attempted to break the train windows. Outside of the stations, it created huge chaos in the densely-populated city as commuters were confused over what to do. Train services were disrupted again on 17 December 2011, affecting about 94,000 commuters. Following the incidents, a Committee of Inquiry (COI) was set up on 29 December 2011 to inquire into the train disruptions. Over the span of over 6 weeks, an in-depth investigation was conducted with evidence from 116 witnesses.
It was found that 4 trains lost traction power and stalled on the north-bound track between the stations of City Hall and Braddell, causing a massive train disruption on 15 December 2011. Again on the morning of 17 December 2011, four trains were immobilized as a result of the power supply problems. Technically, the cause of the stalling of the trains was due to the damage of the Current Collector Device (CCD) shoes, which supplies electrical power to the trains. With the CCDs damaged, the trains could not draw electricity to power their propulsion and other systems such as air-conditioning and cabin lighting.
In the context of Deming’s Profound Knowledge of System, it could be seen that the management of SMRT had failed in the area of ‘theory of knowledge’. The SMRT management was unable to apply theories to understand how the MRT system work and how the future might be affected. For instance, the management had failed to incorporate annual inspection on the Third Rail Support Assembly (TRSA) even it was specifically required in the maintenance manual. Also, the original 1985 claw design, used widely on the North-South Line, had a history of claw drops which suggested underlying reliability issues.