More thoughts on TQM

The science of TQM (read my last post on the topic here) teaches its students and graduates to think laterally and logically about processes when something goes wrong instead of metaphorically slapping the television set, as we all used to do back in the day when the signal was lost.

While randomly inspecting a few rooms with my quality-assurance team recently, I observed a perfect example of the TV-slapping phenomenon from a couple of members of our engineering team who were trying desperately to squeeze an expensive new sofa into one of our suites.

After a great deal of huffing and puffing, it appeared they had given up, as the sofa was just too large to go through the doorway. They then decided to dismantle and remove the door from the frame, a solution which, although practical, would have caused some damage.

At that point I asked our engineering team leader to take a moment to think about alternative solutions. Then, after a few minutes of head scratching, I stepped forward and easily unscrewed the four sofa legs, thereby allowing it to pass easily into the suite with no fuss and no damage to the sofa or to the expensive ornate door — all achieved through the “appliance of TQM science” (along with a little bit of good, old-fashioned logic). 

Another example of the appliance of TQM-style thinking occurred after several of my hotel guests staying at a previous property had complained about the heating system “not working” during one of the coldest winters that usually warm and humid country had endured in decades.

My team was really puzzled as to the cause of these complaints, because — due to the fact that the hotel had no heating system — we had diligently informed every guest about this cold fact upon their arrival and had provided every room with extra warm blankets and bathrobes to compensate for the unseasonably chilly weather. Yet the complaints kept coming about “freezing-cold rooms.”

One of my team members suggested we change all the window gaskets, which would have been an expensive proposition for 500 rooms. Another suggested we buy portable electric heaters, again an expensive proposition, and another gentleman suggested we temporarily close the hotel until the weather improved, which was not an option I wanted to consider as we were fully booked for the week ahead.

My suggestion was to speak with the 10 guests who had complained about the cold rooms the night before, check their suite windows and any other possible source of intrusive cold air before we “slapped the TV,” so to speak.

Upon entering the first room with my chief engineer and the director of housekeeping, I asked the guest if she could tell us a little more about the problem, as the temperature in the room at that time seemed to be ambient and perfectly acceptable.

The guest told me that during the day the temperature was fine, but when she returned in the evenings the room seemed to get much colder, even after “switching on the heating.” I responded by informing her that we had no heating system, at which point she walked me over to a wall-mounted AC control unit, which clearly indicated the following three options;

1. Air conditioning

2. Fan

3. Heating

I then called over my chief engineer and asked him to explain this anomaly, to which he responded by informing me that when the hotel had been designed, the owners had considered installing a heating system, but later declined due to the cost implication and because the outside temperature rarely fell below a hot and humid 30 degrees C (86 degrees F).

He also added, almost as an apologetic footnote, that although the heating system was declined, the owners had still gone ahead and installed the wall-mounted AC control units, as they had already been purchased. This meant that when the heating switch was activated, instead of warm air venting through the system, what was actually delivered was chilled air from the central air-conditioning system, which was still active despite the unseasonably cold temperatures outside.

I immediately apologized to the guest and all the other complainants for the confusion and quickly arranged for the AC to be switched off and for the heating sign to be covered with a small piece of white duct tape. The next morning, we purchased and installed new wall temperature-control units for every room, without the heating indicator.

Later that year a state-of-the-art heating system was installed, but the main point of this story is to stress that before making any quick (or quack) assumptions about any problem, it is wise to first step back and think laterally and logically about causes and effects, TQM style. By doing that, you may save a lot of cash and perhaps even your business.

Please share any TQM projects that you have personally been involved in and the results.