What is Quality?
My cousin, Dale, asked me about quality and how we, as small builders, could achieve quality when the bigger and more well known builders were using nationally well known contractors and in some cases multi national ones. This set me thinking about this blog. Quality is a much abused term and almost always people limit it’s scope. Quality is achieved in both minute as well as major items. I remember while working for Scotts India ( a subsidiary of Scotts Holding, Singapore), I had to search high and low to get the kind of printing material used by the Holding Company, in its Logo, for printing my visiting cards. No compromises.
When did Achieving Quality start for me…
In my first job, the training I got was meticulous. Straight lines was a non-negotiable requirement. Oftentimes the Masons or the contractor couldn’t understand what we were going on about with the need for straight lines. This was because we in India had forgotten what our ancestors had created as masterpieces – they all had amazing workmanship. In my early years, we used to hire Temple Masons to do specialized work such as cornices. Isn’t it revealing that quality workmanship was still with the Temple Mason? Wasn’t your building worth the same quality? Now, one reason for the drop in quality was the fact that specialized workmanship, whether in Brick work or Carpentry or Tiling was the forte of tradesmen who learnt their trade over the years having it passed down to them by their forefathers. This breed of specialist was dying as people went in search for other trades and the younger generation did not want to work in construction. Hence, we had to teach this trade to people from scratch. How they learnt it depended on the teacher and their ability to pick up.
In SI, where I learnt all the basics of quality, I spent almost three or more months preparing draft letters to clients, which were vetted by my GM, before I was allowed to send out a letter by myself. Even then a copy of all letters or work orders or anything that went out of SI were put up for the viewing of the GM every morning, first thing. The relief I used to feel if twenty minutes went by and I wasn’t called in was palpable. I do NOT accept poor quality correspondence, I do not accept poor quality driving, I do not accept poor quality construction. I do not accept poor quality in anything. Period.
How do you ensure that quality is maintained?
I spoke about letter writing and printing earlier. Now, lets take driving. I began wearing a seat belt from the time I got my first Maruti 800, a second hand vehicle, in 1990. Seat Belts were not standard specifications then. Therefore, I bought seat belts ( they were very cumbersome in those days) and had them in my car. I never drove, nor allowed anyone in the front passenger seat, to travel with me, without wearing a belt. I always used my two side view and rear view mirrors. In the early days we had only one mirror in a car as standard issue. I fixed the second one myself. Invariably everyone had the side view mirror closed – why, coz other traffic hit and damaged the mirror. Well, if you had your mirror open , you would have avoided hitting others. This helped me get a driving licence much faster when I was in Oman. My driver ( I refer to him as my sarathy) had his driving technique altered and continuously monitored so that he drove as well as anyone could in Indian conditions. When one day, I saw him slow down and stop to allow some people to cross the road, I patted my own back and said to myself – well, I think I got it right. He had begun to make quality in his work an important factor. That’s what I patted myself for. He did something naturally.
In our business of construction, we have to keep going at workers and contractors about quality. As the owner of VDB, I had the luxury of setting the rules of what I wanted as quality work. I visited site at least once a week, sometimes more. Certainly more than twice as we started to get to finishing. Many contractors packed up and left unable to maintain our desired quality. For us the model units were not for the purpose of sales but for setting quality standards. A few years ago, I openly challenged my clients, to show me areas of quality where I am not as good as the bigger players. I set my standards on a few, such as the earlier version of a listed company I will refer to as S. My constant benchmark in Bangalore, in the VDB years, is TE.
In my next Blog I will take you through the various areas of Quality, the way I learnt it and how I passed it on and how I imposed it. This was just a pre face and if you, my readers, have any specific questions, please share them in the Comments section.
( No, Quality is not only for those who have OCD, 🙂 it is the only way we can benchmark ourselves as we try to produce world class products and workmanship…)