The Role of Quality – The Only Path to Improving Productivity

LookWarehouse or call center, manufacturing or non-profit, service industry or product sales, the role of quality continues to be misunderstood.  Sometimes, it appears that quality is intentionally misunderstood.  Often it seems as if quality and compliance are synonymous, even though quality is a small part of compliance.  Some businesses call quality “Quality Assurance,” “Quality Control,” or the “Quality Department.”  Regardless of the name, quality is the only path to improving productivity; however, productivity is measured.Inspiring Quotes on Quality - Fortune of Africa Swaziland

I have worked with businesses that used quality as a stick to beat employees and ultimately fire them.  This is an absolute abuse of quality and the quality people!  Worse, it hinders productivity because everyone becomes worried about meeting quality demands and not meeting customer expectations.  The employees who meet “quality” in these organizations are depressed, morale is pathetic, and the brand suffers significantly.  What really hurts, everything costs too much takes too long, and the company is not competitive, flexible, viable, or even worth mentioning.

What is Quality?

Bobblehead DollQuality is a process of striving to improve.  Interestingly, people inherently know when they have received quality or not.  Be it a person, a company, a community, a state, a government, etc., how one approaches quality as a process for improvement defines that person, company, community, state, etc.  Some companies think, “We have a quality department, we are meeting quality metrics, we are doing just fine in quality.”  To which I reply, in my best imitation of Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H 4077, “HORSE HOCKEY!”Quality Quotes (40 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

Why; because that company cannot define what drives the metrics being reported.  That company has a quality department but not a quality attitude, quality focus, and quality determination.  It cannot be stressed enough if your people are not quality first; you are losing between 33% and 50% of your potential!  Worse, the loss of potential is always hard to pin precisely to a direct problem when the problem is lodged in something as amorphous as “quality.”Chinese Crisis

Recognizing Quality Value

Let’s do the numbers together.  A manufacturing plant, a call center, and a warehouse are examples A, B, and C, respectively.

Example A: Employee A has been trained on making a part; he has never been told how his parts affect the finished product and is sometimes sloppy in creating pieces.  But, because he is within set standards, his sloppy work can be cleaned up at another station, so Employee A does not want to improve quality.  Producing 200 parts made per day, with anywhere between 5 and 75 pieces, needing additional work; Employee A has an overall cost to the company above and beyond expected costs.  Regardless if Employee A increases his productivity to 250 to 300 pieces per day, his defects remain potential lost.Blue Money Burning

Example B:  XX Team has 15 agents; each agent is expected to handle 80-100 calls per day.  But the quality metrics are so stringent; the team can only meet 35-40 calls per day on average.  However, the business processes to complete work, and meet the quality standards, handicap any single agent from meeting the 80-100 calls per day.  Does the company look at the agents or their business processes and quality standards?  The business will demand higher productivity and never realize that the churn increase is from burned-out good employees walking away!blue-money

Example C:  Inbound product receivers, outbound product shippers, and quality are the three departments in a warehouse.  Inbound, they do not consider themselves part of a quality initiative; their productivity is driven by how many items get properly stowed per day.  Outbound is where the company focuses as this is where the customer satisfaction is directly observed; how much an outbound picks and prepares for shipping is productivity.  Quality is considered someone else’s job as a quality department counts for compliance to SOX and other legislation.  Inbound and outbound employees know their positions, and because they are not quality, they can create quality problems intentionally or not, and someone else will always take care of the problem.  Dirty part locations with inventory from other areas don’t matter; quality will fix it.  Torn or damaged product in a location, it doesn’t matter quality will fix it.  In this case, 2/3rds of the employee potential for improving quality is AWOL!

TOP 25 POOR QUALITY QUOTES | A-Z QuotesNow, someone might think, these are hypotheticals, not real businesses.  Those examples are directly from my experience.  Yes, these examples are slightly oversimplified for brevity; however, not having a whole company quality culture hinders productivity.  This is a truth inescapable.

Co-Equal but not Co-Valuable

kpiProductivity, however measured in your company for goods or services, should be a co-equal part of quality.  Yet, if equality cannot be achieved, err on the side of increased quality until productivity catches up.  The value of productivity is measured in green money, cash.  The value of quality is measured in blue money, potential.  Bringing up my favorite axiom, “Burn enough blue money, and cash evaporates, and no one can trace where the cash went!”

Returning to Example A, the employee does not know, has not been trained, and is unaware that their actions are directly costing the company.  Since there is a quality person to check and “fix” the mistakes, the loss of potential is immeasurable until the business leaders have to increase the manufacturing price to account for the added work in quality to correct the errors.  Hence, when all metrics are equal between quality and productivity, err on the side of quality, and productivity will catch up.

Exclamation MarkWant a secret; it does not work in reverse!  Erring on the side of increased productivity increases costs elsewhere, burns potential, and ruins company bottom-lines.  Quality cannot “catch up” to productivity — an example best witnessed in manufacturing and warehouses.  The potential costs between manufacturing or multiple handling of products carry a potential cost, with no means of recovery.  Thus, it remains imperative to understand the roles of productivity and quality defined early, and placed in the proper order, to avoid significant cash hits to the bottom line.

Quality – A Culture, Not Just a Department!

cropped-2012-08-13-07-37-28-1.jpgA quality culture is an extension of the individual’s professionalism, always striving to be better.  Not faster, not slower, but better every day.  Training is a dynamic part of quality, and learning something new should be encouraged.  Yet, training, especially in call centers, always seems to take a back seat to operations and productivity.  All because productivity is not correctly understood and placed in its proper role.  Training and quality are potential or blue money expenses where the return on investment will be unknown.  Why; because quality and training place tools into the hands of employees, who then go on to build or destroy based upon the examples of leadership.

Quality Image Quotation #4 - Sualci QuotesQuality should be felt in every conversation, in every process, in every program, in every interaction.  As the most important customer in a business is other employees, the quality program is the most important activity and process for enhancing the business’s goals, aspirations, and daily production rates.  A culture of quality will then have the ground to grow and room to expand.  But, a quality culture will not grow overnight, nor will it grow without causing stagnant processes to change.

Knowledge Check!Consider a seed.  To grow, that seed has to be destroyed completely; but no one ever mourns the loss of the seed for the potential fruit to be born from that seed growing.  The same is true for a quality culture growing; the culture will destroy the seeds of stagnation, the apathy of indifference, and the processes and procedures that are not valuable to the new quality culture.  Will you allow a quality culture to grow?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Memorial Day 2021 – Are you sure this is “proper” remembering?

Knowledge Check!It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a sick and twisted organization.  It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) tries to recommend how the VA should be operating in accordance with currently established procedures, methods, and policies for the benefit of the veteran community.  It is no secret that I continue to write about the VA in the hopes of sparking interest in communities and obtaining more fair, honest, transparent, and humane treatment for veterans by the Government agency tasked with caring for veterans.

On this Memorial Day, as you sit down to barbecue, family, friends, sports, I would ask that you take a moment and consider if this were how you would like to be remembered?  Are the actions described proper for remembering those who sacrificed and came home?  Are these actions, which are adding to veteran funerals, an appropriate way for veterans to be leaving this world?  If the answer is no, I ask for your help changing the Federal Government by electing people who will scrutinize the government more stringently and demand change in all government agencies.  If you deem this behavior acceptable, please leave a comment detailing why you think so.  I want to hear your thoughts.Image - Eagle & Flag

From a VA-OIG report published on Wednesday 26 May 2021, we find the following announcement:

Phillip Hill, a former VA program analyst, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for stealing personal information from veterans and VA employees while employed at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. The investigation revealed that Hill contacted another individual and attempted to sell personal identifying information to a buyer for approximately $100,000.”

Now, I am thrilled this guy was caught.  I am glad he will do time behind bars.  Yet, why did Assistant US Attorney Jana Harris allow a plea deal?  Where are the VA supervisors who should have been monitoring this employee’s work and behavior?  What are the details of the deal?  The VA continues to have nothing but IT/IS security, and these problems are decades old.  Still, the elected representatives allow the criminal behavior to exist until the criminal is caught, and then the elected representative’s crow about cleaning the swamp.  Is this how you correctly remember veterans, their sacrifice, and their memories?VA 3

I suppose the following VA-OIG report, released 27 May 2021, should begin with congratulations.  The Department of Veteran Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) mostly processed monetary proceeds records accurately.  However, the following continues to astound and amaze me:

Service and pension center staff do not have timeliness measures for proceeds incorporated in their performance standards. Setting a timeliness standard would help encourage the closing of these proceeds. The OIG also found that ineffective monitoring contributed to delays in handling proceeds. The Debt Management Center had only limited internal monitoring but instituted new practices for monitoring proceeds in February 2020, shortly after this audit began” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Why are government employees not held to a productivity and quality standard?  Being a veteran with regular concerns involving the VBA, I cannot help but wonder why quality and productivity are not required?  As an industrial and organizational psychologist, the first step in improving responsiveness to customers is to increase productivity and implement quality measures.  I know the Federal Government’s legislative branch, e.g., Congress, has insisted on developing quality measures.  Yet, the same tired excuses built upon designed incompetence are allowed to survive, and all the VA-OIG can do is issue more recommendations.  Consider something; proceeds include payments to dead veterans.  How much financial hardship occurs at the passing of a loved one?  How much more difficult can that death become when months down the road, money spent is suddenly being demanded back because some incompetent bureaucrat failed to do their job in a timely manner?

QuestionIs this properly honoring and remembering the veterans and their sacrifice?  Is this behavior acceptable in your workplace?  Why do we allow this behavior from government workers?

While never having been a patient at the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio, I have friends who are patients.  The stories they tell about care there would shock and amaze many.  What infuriates me, the VA-OIG just published their report of a comprehensive inspection of this VAMC, and the results are as tragic as a veteran’s death!  The information was released to the public on 27 May 2021.  Never forget, the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio was recently investigated for improper cleaning and sterilization procedures, as well as employee monitoring for compliance for medically reusable equipment, which for this case refers to endoscopes.  With this fact in mind, let us review the comprehensive inspection report.

Limitations on findings:

      • The VA-OIG held interviews and reviewed clinical and administrative processes related to specific areas of focus that affect patient outcomes. Although the VA-OIG reviewed a broad spectrum of processes, the sheer complexity of VA medical facilities limits inspectors’ ability to assess all areas of clinical risk” [emphasis mine].

VA 3The statement provided here is pretty standard and represents the first limitation to the scope of the investigation; complexity limits inspector ability.  Yet, who made the VAMC so complex, the VA.  Who has allowed the complexity to grow as designed incompetence, the VA? Why is the VA allowed to cheat their inspector general through complex operations which limit inspector ability and increase patient risk?

The Focus of Inspection (Investigation Scope):

      • The VA-OIG team looks at leadership and organizational risks, and at the time of the inspection, focused on the following additional areas:

WhyLong have I wondered why the second item in the comprehensive inspection is “Quality, Safety, and Value.”  When the VA continues to present the bare minimum of quality, disregards patient safety, and due to complexity, offers less value than a broken wrench to a mechanic, but I digress.

Finding One:  The VA-OIG issues 12 recommendations to the leadership team, and “selected results showed respondents were generally favorable the national VHA results.”  I have been accused of being cynical, which generally is wrong.  However, when I see words like “selected results” in an investigation into patient care and concerns, I have to ask, “How hard did the VA-OIG have to dig to find favorable results?”VA 3

Finding Two:  Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) represents a value model to help define performance expectations within VA.  This is the standard language for comprehensive inspections.  “In individual interviews, the executive leadership team members were able to speak in-depth about actions taken during the previous 12 months to maintain or improve organizational performance, employee satisfaction, or patient experiences.”  If we accept this as a true statement.  How was an employee able to fake documents, fail to clean reusable equipment properly, and repeatedly get away with this abysmal behavior at this VA?

VA 3Finding Three:  Under Quality, Safety, and Value, we find the following tidbit:

The VA-OIG noted concerns with protected peer reviews, utilization management, and root cause analyses.”

Essentially meaning there are problems with whistleblowers, privacy protection, retaliation against whistleblowers, proper utilization of policies and procedures, and the leadership could not find a problem using root cause analysis if their lives depended upon it.  The source for my interpretation of the VA-OIG results arrives from the following:

VHA Directive 1117, Utilization Management Program, 8 October 2020. Utilization management involves the assessment of the “appropriateness, medical necessity, and the efficiency of health care services, according to evidence-based criteria” [emphasis in the original report].

I have to ask the VA-OIG whether these findings were before or after the employee who endangered patient lives through improper cleaning and sterilization of reusable medical equipment were discovered?

VA 3Finding Four:  Under medication management, we find the following:

The VA-OIG team observed compliance with many elements of expected performance, including pain screening, aberrant behavior risk assessment, and documented justification for concurrent therapy with benzodiazepines. However, the VA-OIG identified opportunities for improvement with urine drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up after therapy initiation, and quality measure monitoring” [emphasis mine].

VaccineIf you read any of the comprehensive inspection reports, you will see this is a common and recurring theme at the VA.  Some of the medication policies are being followed, but the same problem with drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up, and quality measuring monitoring always remain a problem.  It is almost as if the SAIL learning matrices do not even exist as a quality improvement tool.

Finding Five:  Under High-Risk Processes, the VA-OIG report claims the following:

The medical center met the requirements for quality assurance monitoring and monthly continuing education. However, the VA-OIG identified deficiencies with standard operating procedures, an airflow directional device, and staff training and competency” [emphasis mine].

Are the SAIL metrics even accurate?  Where is the value in the “monthly training and monitoring if there are issues in following standard operating procedures, problems in staff training, as well as staff competency?  Do you get it?  The training sucks at the VA, and the SAIL metrics do nothing to fix the problem, address the deficiencies, or even improve competency?  The same question arises here, from quality, safety, and value; how was an employee able to successfully pencil-whip the paperwork while not doing their job in properly cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment?  Where are the SAIL documents that should have identified a problem?  Where are the SAIL metrics in aiding in finding root causes for derelict employees?VA 3

Honestly, do you, the taxpayer, consider the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covers the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemeteries adequate to remember the veteran correctly?  Do you, the taxpayer find value in the leadership and investigative arms of the VA to correct and improve performance?  Do you, the taxpayer find that the VA employees are doing their level best to honor, remember, and pass on the legacy of veterans?

Image - Eagle & FlagOn this Memorial Day weekend, please consider the data in this and the other VA-OIG reports regularly relayed on this blog, and ask yourself, are you doing enough to help veterans?  I love Memorial Day, and I love my country, but America has some serious problems, and only when the electorate awakens to the issues can real change begin to be implemented.  We, the veteran community, need you!  We need your voice as we struggle against the incessant attacks from the VA.  We need your votes for the elected representative’s intent on scrutinizing the government and demanding action.  We need you!  Please help us!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 1

Angry Wet ChickenThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has really outdone themselves this week.  I am used to being ashamed of what passes for leadership and administrators at the VA, but this week, they have surpassed themselves.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) filled my inbox with seven investigations results, and the reports of leadership failure should leave every American weeping and madder than wet chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids!

  • A Hope Mills, North Carolina man, Daniel Bruce Ross, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for conspiring to accept bribe payments in exchange for the performance of official acts while working as a federal government employee. Ross previously pled guilty to the charge.  He was also ordered to pay $21,520.00 in restitution.”

Accepting bribes, shameful misconduct, and while I certainly agree with the need for punishment, why does this sentence appear light?  Did the bribe recipient make a deal?  If so, as Paul Harvey would say, “Where is the rest of the story?”

VA 3The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), had their quality assurance program inspected, and the results, oh these results… the VBA administrators should be fired!  There are no excuses sufficiently valid to hide this behavior!

  • To ensure claims decisions are accurate and consistent so veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled, VBA established a multifaceted quality assurance program. The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviewed the quality assurance program and identified a systemic weakness in oversight and accountability… The VA-OIG found that while VBA’s quality assurance program routinely identified claims-processing deficiencies and communicated results to internal and external stakeholders, the Office of Field Operations did not ensure that regional office employees took adequate corrective actions to address the deficiencies identified” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Did you catch that, the leadership who set up the quality assurance program, built into the program a loophole to allow them to not act upon the deficiencies discovered.  Talk about designed incompetence, ineptitude, and outright fallacious behavior!  When a bad decision is made by the VBA, especially due to poor quality assurance, the veteran is out time, money, and resources to gather “new and material evidence” to ask the VBA to review their original decision!  Never are the VBA employees who cost the veteran, ever held accountable, responsible, or made to suffer in kind for their atrocious behavior, and I want my elected representatives to start asking why!

VA SealThe failures of the quality assurance team are not new, 22 July 2020, the VA-OIG found:

    1. …QRT specialists did not identify a significant number of claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Based on a statistical sample, the OIG estimated that 9,900 of the 28,400 quality reviews (35 percent) completed during the review period contained missed claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Quality reviews with identified errors are routed to another QRT specialist for peer review to help ensure the cited errors are The OIG determined that the current peer review process was not adequate to identify errors missed during the initial quality review. In addition, performance reviews of QRT specialists did not promote competency, resulting in missed claims-processing errors.”
    2. Worse, in direct violation of VBA procedures errors identified by QRT specialists, were overturned by regional office managers with 870 errors found where 430 were overturned (49.43%). Why were the regional managers not fired for violating policy?  The VA-OIG continued, stating:

Reconsiderations are requested by employees when they disagree with a cited error. Errors affect employee quality for performance review purposes. The OIG found that VBA’s current procedure regarding requests for reconsideration did not promote objectivity or contribute to accuracy of decisions. In addition, incorrectly overturned errors resulted in inaccurate performance quality for employees.”  Can someone say, Quid Pro Quo?  Should not questions arise about cherry-picking results and holding people accountable?  What about the veterans affected by these quality errors?  Who fights for them when the VA-OIG reports these obscene details and failures in leadership?  Each incorrectly decisioned claim is going to hurt real people, where are the elected representatives?

    1. In reading this report, my favorite quote is made:

The OIG estimated that during the review period 2,000 of 4,400 identified errors (45 percent) were not corrected in a timely manner and 810 of 4,400 identified errors (18 percent) were not corrected at all. In addition, there is no process to confirm that corrective action was taken on error corrections. To maximize the effectiveness of the QRT program, additional oversight, objectivity, and accountability should be established.”  Can you say, “DUH!”  Talk about designing incompetence into a procedure to ensure no responsibility ever hits you, the process can identify errors, but cannot ensure the errors were corrected.  What an asinine and inane bureaucratic trick!

VA 3The following has been a review of the VBA’s quality assurance program, investigated in 2020, for failures of such immense magnitude that the VA-OIG returned, less than a year later asking questions about the VBA’s quality assurance oversight, and the problems only worsened as a deeper dive was made into what governs the quality program at the VBA.  Further supporting that the leadership IS the problem in every branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Plato 2The following is a recap of findings by the VA-OIG regarding the continued mistreatment of VA Employees who report allegations of misconduct, retaliation, or poor performance of senior leaders, and other issues to the whistleblower program at the VA.  This topic is of particular interest to me, as when I called the VA-OIG regarding criminal misconduct by senior VA leaders, I was told since I was no longer an employee whistleblower protection do not apply and an investigation cannot proceed.  Since I had been reporting problems since 2018, I asked if those investigations would continue, and was told no, as I was no longer employed.  Hence, a loophole is built into the rules and policies, you have to somehow remain employed to be considered a whistleblower, but not just an employee.  You must be an employee who is not under probationary periods which can last from 1-5 years depending upon the position from date of hire.

Plato 3The following are findings highlighted from the report on the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) and delivered to Congress:

    • Finding 1: The OAWP Misinterpreted Its Statutory Mandate, Resulting in Failures to Act Within Its Investigative Authority
      1. The lawyers were reading the policies and interpreting their intent too strictly and this was chilling whistleblowers at all levels of the VA.
    • Finding 2: The OAWP Did Not Consistently Conduct Procedurally Sound, Accurate, Thorough, and Unbiased Investigations and Related Activities
      1. The OAWP lacked comprehensive policies and procedures suitable for its personnel given that individuals’ reputations are at stake and whistleblowers’ identities must be protected.
      2. The OAWP did not have quality control measures. While some inadequacies were found by disciplinary officials and VA’s Office of General Counsel, this de facto oversight was not an effective or sustainable solution.
      3. The OAWP had failed to provide the staffing and training necessary to ensure it has the expertise, experience, and commitment that yield objective and thorough investigations.
      4. The OAWP had fallen short of its commitment to conduct “timely, thorough, and unbiased investigations” in all cases within its investigative jurisdiction.
    • Finding 3: VA Has Struggled with Implementing the Act’s Enhanced Authority to Hold Covered Executives Accountable
    • Finding 4: The OAWP Failed to Fully Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation
    • Finding 5: VA Did Not Comply with Additional Requirements of the Act and Other Authorities
    • Finding 6: The OAWP Lacked Transparency in Its Information Management Practices

VA 3Is the problem clearer; the official investigative arm of the VA has the same leadership problems as the rest of the VA, and those leaders cannot, or will not, properly train staff to do their jobs!  How many employees have been unfairly dismissed by the VA because they reported to the OIG, like they are supposed to do, and retaliatory actions by senior leadership has cost them a job, their professional reputation, and the VA a chance to improve?

Knowledge Check!I can find no media discussion on this report to Congress where the elected officials took any action to hold anyone accountable.  The speech being reported is milk-toast solid and should have led to public remonstrations and it did not even cause a ripple in a toilet bowl.  Meaning that the legislation from 2017 and earlier is still being thwarted by the VA administration and administrators to the detriment of the VA and the employees discharged who did their job and reported on problems witnessed.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.