The Moment of Truth

Education consultant Jenny Cronin and Dick Evans, Principal of Stockport College, attempt to explore what the ‘Moment of Truth’(MoT) is and where it occurs in the education and the business worlds.

In the world of quality assurance (QA), dominated by jargon, a particular expression is being increasingly adopted, the Moment of Truth (MoT).

It sits comfortably alongside other helpful and generally accepted phrases, for example, ‘right first time’.

MOT is an example of a piece of jargon that does serve us well, in that it triggers fundamental and essential questions and precipitates meaningful reflections on the issues of processes operated in business in whatever field they operate.

Increasingly, businesses are ultimately being judged by their external customers by the quality of their products and services. Many of their QA systems are now using operational self-assessment approaches and techniques. The processes that underpin self-assessment require staff in the organisation to analyse each aspect of their work within the business. Many businesses, especially manufacturing, are configured into teams and often operate island processes and products which requires linkage other teams in the business. A chain of activities constitutes the business from the input to the output stages. The quality of the output critically depends on each of the stages and the progression chain that links them. It confirms the old adage ‘The chain is as strong as its weakest link’. This immediately raises the issues about locating and defining the internal and external customers. If the business is a high quality operation it follows that each team is also operating at the highest level. Each team is an internal customer to other teams and their MOT could be said to be at the hand-over point in the process. Judgements can be readily made about their particular part and the quality that attaches to it. In the manufacturing world, quality at any particular hand-over point can be assessed, for example, by random batch sampling approaches. Does the product, at that stage, conform and comply with the company’s and/or its external customers’ standards for that particular stage/phase of manufacture? Accurate metrology techniques can be used to assess the degree of accuracy or conformance to the specification that has been laid down in the manufacturing process.

Ultimately, for manufacturing business, the moment of truth is when the product passes from the hands of the manufacturer to the customer. Has it, in all its stages of manufacture, finally emerged to the specification which the customer and supplier initially agreed? Business excellence approaches often refer to “the five dimensions of quality” which, if fully complied with, will result in a favourable Moment of Truth.

These five dimensions are:

  • right specification – designed to the description and quality required by the customer.
  • right conformance – the resultant product conforms with the specification.
  • right reliability – the product not only meets the first two dimensions but is also available.
  • right delivery – the product is provided where and when the customer requires it and in the appropriate quantity.
  • right value for money – at a competitive price and quality in the customer’s terms and at a price that is profitable for the supplier.

All of these dimensions must be defined in terms which can be measured and as ‘right’ for the customer’s requirements.

COLLEGE APPLICATIONS.

If the same approach were applied to the management of quality in colleges for the benefit of students’ experiences and achievements, would this provide any useful insights into the MOT in a college context?

When is the Moment of Truth in each of these?

momentoftruth

For the manufacturing company the MOT is when the external customer is satisfied/dissatisfied when the product passes into the external customer’s hands. For a college, the MOT is less easy to define as the external customer (student/learner) is involved in at least four out of the five dimensions of quality. It could be argued that the learner, or potential learner, should be involved at the ‘right specification’ stage too, even if not personally but through their interests being represented at consultative and market research stages of the college’s decisions about what qualifications it intends to offer its community. For the individual student the MOT can be at the early stages of ‘right conformance’ and ‘right reliability’ or at innumerable other stages, particularly if measured in terms of when things ‘start to go wrong’. Given that all students are individuals, the potential for things to go wrong rather than right has to be faced perpetually. The role of staff is to spot the potential for things to go wrong with individuals, e.g. being predictive, anticipatory and preventative.

HOT SPOTS AND COLD FACTS.

Perhaps another business excellence phrase helps us here – ‘hot spots’. Hot spots are points in the work/ delivery process where things can go wrong. It is down to each work team to identify these when they work as a team to develop the work process which is their primary responsibility. This can only be done by starting from the key outputs, which their customers require. In college terms these are both the primary end users – students and internal customers – staff colleagues in other work teams who are also serving the primary end users – students. In the business excellence model this is a process of dialogue and negotiation. The customers describe their requirements, usually in general terms and it is then down to the work teams to define these in specific work tasks to achieve an output as close as possible to the customers’ requirements. It is important at this stage to go back and tell the customer if their requirements are beyond the capability of the team, but also what can be achieved. All of these stages are recorded and involve all the team so that everybody knows what is needed to achieve the agreed outputs.

Throughout the delivery process regular and consistent measurement to specified targets is essential, not least so that the team can control the variables in the ‘hot spots’ and ultimately identify the quality of their outputs. Practical documentation is intrinsic to operations in this way of working, but before an organisation can get to this stage of detail, a foundation of clear missions for each work team is essential. This must be based on the mission of the whole organisation and the definition of its key business processes which then illuminate what the range of work teams need to be. In business rationale, co-ordinated and sequenced processes are key to success at the moment of truth. They are built into the whole operation of the business and require all staff for implementation. No one is exempt.

The training and compliance in the organisation’s quality ethos and practices are a compulsory part of being an employee.

The performance of the business is also dependent on certain critical success factors, namely:

  • leadership.
  • consensus.
  • clear responsibilities.
  • trust and openness.
  • clear objectives.
  • space for innovation.
  • planned activities.
  • empowerment/involvement.
  • effective communication.
  • recognition

It may be that this kind of quality delivery process is easier to apply in industry. Are manufacturing processes substantially linear in their operation towards the goals of key outputs? Are the delivery processes in colleges much more transposable between different work teams or is this more significantly a feature of colleges’ histories and culture? On the whole colleges have, until fairly recently, seen the whole business of measurement of performance as something overlaid on the ‘real’ important processes that they are involved with rather than intrinsic to everyday operations. The cultural norm has historically been for teachers to think that they should handle most key business processes and the relationship with the end user – the student. Team working has also come only recently into the college culture in which the individual has historically held pre-eminence. But many colleges are learning that identifying more precisely the roles of different work teams and their relationship to each other as internal customers and to the external customer (the student) is more likely to lead to success.

Downward pressure on college budgets has also led to colleges looking for business management solutions in other sectors than their own. Many colleges are experimenting, out of economic necessity, with attempting to produce quality of performance, which satisfies the student at the lowest internal costs to the organisation (another tenet of the business excellence model). Whether the adoption and adaptation of these business approaches will step by step improve colleges’ business performance is still open to debate. What is certain is that there is a moment of truth in the relationship between every college and every one of its students. That is when the student knows whether the contract embarked on with the college has actually come up to expectations and resulted in the achievement intended at the outset. Whatever organisational model and culture a college espouses, that is the Moment of Truth that cannot be evaded.

The above article has been informed by the approaches to quality assurance adopted by Lea Ronal (UK) pic, High Peak Laboratories, Buxton, Derbyshire.

References:

“Business Excellence Model” Publications can be obtained from British Quality Foundation, 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1X 1EW. Tel: 0171 963 8000. Fax: 0171 963 8001

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