Is 'Good Enough' Good Enough?

Dec. 21, 2004
Not if your competitors product is better.

Back in April of 1989 I had the opportunity to hear consultant and lecturer Jeff Dewar speak at an industry conference. Dewar asked his audience, "How good is good enough?" Someone in the audience shouted back, "Good enough, Id say." Dewar wasnt impressed with the answer. In fact, he was downright miffed. He then showed a dramatic series of slides that showed that being even 99.9% right still leaves plenty of room for errors in todays complex world. For example:

  • If banks were 99.9% right, 22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank accounts each hour.
  • If surgeons were 99.9% right, 500 incorrect surgical procedures would be performed each day.
  • If druggists were 99.9% right, 20,000 incorrect prescriptions would be processed each year.
  • If airline pilots were 99.9% right, 730 unsafe landings would scare the peanuts or pretzels out of passengers flying into Chicagos OHare Airport each year.
Learning Magazine reported in a recent issue that if 99.9% were good enough:
  • 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
  • 12 babies would be delivered to the wrong parents each day.
  • 1,314 phone calls would be misplaced every minute.
  • 2,488,200 magazines would be published with the wrong covers.
  • 5,517,200 cases of soft drinks would be produced without any snap, sparkle, or burps.
Is 100% perfection possible? "Yes," said Dewar. To prove his point, he told the story of Hewlett-Packard and its study of 300,000 semiconductors produced by American and Japanese companies. The results, based on inbound inspection, showed that the failure rate of American chips averaged a smidgen over 0.1%. The Japanese failure rate was zero. Is perfection too expensive? Perhaps. Is it worth the extra cost? Only you and your competitors can answer that question. Near-perfection can be considerably more costly than perfection if your competitors products are better than yours. If everyone in your company did everything correctly the first time, the cost of doing things over would disappear. And your profit margins would plump up amazingly. While prudence teaches us to have tolerance for occasional mistakes, we should never have tolerance for people or production systems geared to producing products that are merely "good enough." Product quality should be more than a buzzword. It should be a corporate conviction and a company commitment. Companies that permit mediocrity get mediocrity. Companies that permit errors get errors. Companies that miss their delivery schedules lose customers. And products that dont work as expected destroy companies. If management lacks the courage to eliminate mediocrity wherever it exists in the company, it has demonstrated to its employees that they work for a company that considers mediocrity acceptable. And that should be totally unacceptable. Excellence is contagious, but so is ineptitude. If the brightest among your employees can polish everyone with whom they work, the dullest among them can dull them. Your responsibility is to fire your dullest employees with enthusiasm, one way or another. If you dont, you deny them the opportunity to become brighter -- or the freedom to work somewhere else where their skills are better suited. Paternalism is never kind to the employee who would fit better in some other work environment. Quality is everybodys responsibility and all employees, including the chief executive, must be measured against your companys standards. Very few companies operate at 99.9% efficiency. Many of us would be very happy with a 99.9% efficiency rating. It would be significantly better than our current performance records. However, a fact of business life is that unless you and your company are constantly striving to achieve 100% product quality, you stand little chance of ever achieving 99.9%. Then the headhunters will be looking for someone who believes 100% is worth the cost. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. and an IW contributing editor.

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