When you grow your company, there are many things to keep an eye on. Customer feedback, cash-flow, returns or complaints. One thing that will help you keep all those in check is maintaining high quality.
Let’s assume, when you started your company, you have been doing everything yourself and new every single detail of the product or service you were selling. You were in full control of the quality you put out there.
Now, as you grow, this changes. You need to delegate work and hire people to do tasks for you. Also, you simply can’t (and from my point of view, also shouldn’t) quality test every piece of work that leaves the company yourself.
So what to do about it? How to ensure or increase high quality while you grow your company? Let’s jump right in.
Step 1: Define what high quality means for you
There are a million different definitions for quality out there, and righteous so. Depending on your product, customers or even your strategy, it might be very different what you consider high quality. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that quality generally means the ability of your product or service to satisfy the customer.
In this first step, you should now break down what exactly that means for your business. If the reliability of your product is what generates value for your customer, then that’s quality. If a specific outcome of your service or speed in reaching that outcome is of value to your customer, then that’s quality for you.
Try to narrow down what generates value for your customer and how. This should be the bar that you want to keep up while scaling.
Step 2: Measure quality
Now that you know what’s high quality for your customers, you should find a way to measure that quality. To do that, you have to define what you measure precisely and then set up regular reporting for it.
Ideally, when you decide what to measure, you measure something that is a very early indicator for quality – a leading indicator – compared to a late, so-called lagging indicator. Imagine your definition of quality is the highest product reliability.
A leading indicator may be intense sample tests for your finished product as it comes out of production. A lagging indicator could be warranty claims. Not much you can do to fix issues when your warranty claims go up, because things had gone wrong way before that.
When deciding what to measure, keep in mind that the data to measure it needs to be attainable. Additionally, you need a person that is responsible for regularly compiling that data and presenting the metric.
The frequency in which you measure depends on your definition of quality and the metric you defined to measure it. If you are a B2B service provider with a few big clients, there’s most likely no point in measuring quality every week if you have defined it as positive customer feedback. Contrary, if you are an e-commerce store with high sales numbers, you want to look at your returns rate more often than weekly.
Step 3: Fix quality issues as they arise
With your metric in place, you will identify drops in quality early (if you chose leading indicators). React to those drops with the known quality tools. There’s a million of them out there, here’s an excellent compilation. I want to pick out two tools here because they are beautiful in their simplicity and effectiveness.
THE 5 WHYS
The idea of The Five Whys is super simple. For any given issue you encounter, ask why five times. This iterative questioning of the cause for a phenomenon will lead you to the root cause eventually.
THE GEMBA WALK
Another powerful technique is the so-called Gemba walk. If quality issues arise, walk (literally, walk) to the place where the problems took place and see for yourself what’s going on. May sound silly, but think this through. If your third party logistics company messes things up, then visit them. If your customer support gets terrible reviews, take a few hours and sit next to your reps as they take the calls. And then: Observe and listen.
If your operations are remote, check out our blog post on Remote Gemba.
These tools will help you discover what’s going on. The next step is to assign the responsibility to fix the issue to one person in your team. Of course, they might need a whole task force because it’s a multidisciplinary problem. However, giving one person the lead creates the accountability necessary to get it done.
Step 4: Prevent quality issues from arising in the first place
The above is merely putting out fires as you go. It’s necessary, but it isn’t what we want. We want to make sure that our quality stays high throughout our growth journey. There are several things that you can do to achieve that:
Give everyone that works directly with or for customers the autonomy and the responsibility to make the customer happy. Only if you combine the two you will see successes.
Many companies tend to gravitate towards the opposite: Standardize and automate heavily to the point where you lose connection to the customer. Try to avoid that.
ESTABLISH A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT MINDSET
We mention this a lot, and it only gets more important. Your team needs to be sure of two things:
- All problems and mistakes must be brought up to everyone’s attention. Nobody’s being blamed or shamed.
- Knowing a problem, everybody’s ambition is to create a fix that resolves the issue once and for all. Following the poka-yoke methodology, your aim should be to “mistake-proof” the process for the future. (Read more on process improvement here)
This mindset will make your organization learn from mistakes and get better as you go. We recommend implementing a structure to foster this. E.g. collecting all issues from customer support or operations at a central and transparent place and then discussing them in a weekly team meeting.
TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN
As you grow, the skill sets your team needs to be successful changes. Where there was a great sales rep, she now might be in charge of a whole sales funnel. Where somebody was manually packing and sending out your orders, he might now be responsible for managing a logistics partner. People need ongoing training in stable setups. That’s true even more when you grow.
I hope you’re scaling at tremendous speed with impeccable quality.