Many organizations use the criteria from national quality awards for the benefit of getting a thorough organizational assessment, often with no intent of even applying for award recognition. There are various methods that can be used to complete an assessment, based upon many factors, including the size and geography of the organization, the number of facilities, and the availability of internal expertise to conduct an assessment. In this article, the use of quality awards as system assessment tools is discussed.
Using Quality Awards as a System Assessment Tool
Many organizations use the criteria from national quality awards for the benefit of getting a thorough organizational assessment, often with no intent of even applying for award recognition. There are various methods that can be used to complete an assessment, based upon many factors, including the size and geography of the organization, the number of facilities, and the availability of internal expertise to conduct an assessment.
Without completing a formal application, organizations can use a question-and-answer approach to respond to the criteria question from an awards program. There could be multiple responses for each question if more than one input is desired for the response. Some more advanced formats for written responses could seek more probing information for each question. For example, a Baldrige-based written response questionnaire may be formatted to seek a specific response for approach, deployment, learning, and integration for each process-related question. This provides richer information for the purposes of scoring the application using the awards process scoring guidelines.
This approach can be used to gather assessment input from a large number of people. Questions are designed to gather the collective input of the performance of the organization as it relates to the awards criteria. The Baldrige National Quality program provides a free survey for this purpose called Are We Making Progress? This is a 40-question survey which can be completed in about 10 minutes. A survey can be used as the primary information gathering method, or it can be used as supplemental or additional information as part of a more comprehensive assessment. Juran offers a similar performance and operations-based assessment, called the Organization Health Check, which is also free.
A formal application can be prepared that stimulates an actual awards process application. This requires more effort than simple written responses, but it can also be more revealing because of the thought process of the writer in attempting to use consistent language, identify linkages, and the most important strengths of the organization. For organizations that are just starting out, they may decide to answer only the higher-level questions rather than the more specific multiple requirements in awards criteria. For example, if assessing against Customer Focus, the self-assessment team may only respond to the item-level questions as shown:
3.1 Voice of the Customer: How do you determine customer satisfaction and engagement?
3.2 Customer Engagement: How do you enable customers to seek information and support?
This is a much simpler process whereas the multiple requirements from category 3, Customer Focus, include over 25 separate questions compared to only two questions at the item level.
In this approach, the assessment team would schedule interviews with key individuals to respond to criteria questions. During the interviews, the assessment team will record notes about the approaches used and results attained for further evaluation after all of the information has been collected. This approach requires less preparation time than written responses. The disadvantage is that the respondents may not provide complete information during the interview setting, depending upon their understanding of the questions and their recall of all the relevant information. There is also less learning on the part of the respondents when compared to written responses, because of the lower level of engagement.
This is similar to the interview approach, except that multiple people are involved in the sessions for different areas of the criteria review. For example, an assessment for item 1.1, Senior Leadership, of the Baldrige criteria may involve several members of the senior leadership team in a focus group setting. As in the interview approach, the assessment team will record notes about the approaches used and results attained for further evaluation after all of the information has been collected. The advantage of this approach over individual interviews is that of the shared knowledge of the group, and the ability to build on the responses of others to provide complete assessment information.
This is a variation on a focus group approach. Instead of gathering specific answers to the approach questions, respondents will provide their opinions about strengths and opportunities for improvement for each section of the criteria. Responses are captured in real time for review by the focus group. At the end of each focus group, each individual can provide his or her rating of the importance of each opportunity for improvement. This collaborative approach to assessment has the advantage of involving many people in gathering the information and building consensus on both strengths and opportunities for improvement within the organization (Hoyt and Ralston 2001). Many organizations, including Juran and NIST, offer collaborative assessments with current or former Baldrige Examiners.
Juran’s Quality Handbook: The Complete Guide to Performance Excellence, 6th Ed. Excerpt from James Er Ralston’s Using National Quality Awards for Excellence to Drive and Monitor Performance.