Developing customer focus
A British Steel case study

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Page 3: Total quality performance

British Steel 4 Image 5Quality refers to the individual characteristics of each product or service that enable it to satisfy consumers. The consumers’ perception of the quality of a product or service is one of the most important factors in determining its success. Total Quality Performance goes beyond quality assurance. It is concerned with creating a quality culture so that every employee will seek to go beyond just satisfying customer requirements. The customer thus becomes central to the production process.

In 1991, senior managers at Shotton Works gave a commitment to develop a total quality culture, by learning lessons from other companies, not necessarily in the steel industry, and seeking best practice, whatever that might be and wherever it might be found. The primary objective was to meet customer requirements and expectations through improved performance and the elimination of defective work. The programme required a commitment from every employee to the Right First Time philosophy.

To produce a strategy for total quality the management committee considered the following questions:

British Steel 4 Diagram 1The total quality programme began with a series of awareness workshops for everyone across the organisation. More than 2,000 employees were introduced to the principles and philosophies of total quality. Quality Improvement Teams (QIT) were set up to run alongside the workshops to address important quality issues. Emphasis was placed on the processes of quality improvement and problem solving. By improving processes and quality, these teams generated many ideas which made substantial savings for the business - £12 million in six years.

Learning from mistakes and attacking problems where they occurred were critical to the growth of a learning culture. The total quality programme also developed an awareness of the need to improve the speed of the organisation in managing change. There were a number of problems such as:

  • an inconsistent manufacturing strategy
  • conflicting objectives
  • personnel blinkered by old ways of working and thinking.

People needed to understand where the organisation was going and what it was trying to achieve. A clear vision which could be understood by everybody needed to be established. This was provided by the publication of a vision statement ‘to be our customers’ preferred supplier’ and further by the establishment of critical success factors (CSFs) against which some form of measurement could take place. These CSFs were:

  • high customer satisfaction
  • process efficiency
  • maximum people contribution
  • optimum cost effectiveness
  • excellent business systems.

The achievement of the CSFs, and therefore the success of the business, is underpinned by a comprehensive employee education and training programme, notably in the following areas:

  • problem solving and quality improvement
  • annual performance appraisals for everyone
  • measurement of all key operations and targets.

The total quality philosophy helped to break down old barriers, promote consistency and challenge the old way of doing things.

British Steel | Developing customer focus