Monday, January 26, 2015

5 Keys to Quality Problem Solving I learned in a Pizza Delivery Store

Early in my career as a Quality Claims Investigator for a textile company, I was flown to Denver, Colorado, to “save” a fast food uniform program. A box of knit shirts had arrived in my office the day before. Our customer claimed the fabric was “falling apart” in the field. 

It was true. The shirts were in poor shape: severely faded color with holes, snags, and rips. The knit shirt program was just a few months old. What happened to our fabric?

During the next two days, I visited 6 different pizza delivery stores during two shifts to observe our product “in the field.” This visit became pivotal to developing my quality problem solving techniques.

This is what I learned:


Talk to the end user. Although it is important to develop a relationship with management, the end user provides a wealth of information about product performance. In my example, the end user was a pizza delivery employee. 


 Ask open ended questions and ask all end users the same questions. I developed a questionnaire to use in the field. Despite many distractions and numerous employees, I collected valuable data.


Be curious and observe the product in use. Is it being used the way you assumed? The key to my case was a washer and dryer in the back room.


Be prepared to wait. Show consideration of break or lunch times. Work your investigation around their schedule. In my fast food fieldwork, I sat in the backroom waiting out the lunch rush. I used that time to compile my notes and observe my surroundings.


Often during this research, comments were made about my company making the horrible shirts. I remained calm and explained that I was there to conduct an investigation to solve a mutual problem. I didn’t have the answers and needed their help.

Problem Solved!


My fieldwork investigation revealed several factors leading to fabric failure:

1 - The uniform shirts were being worn on 2 shifts for 7 days a week. Employees selected shirts from stock laundered at the store. This practice accelerated fabric wear.

2 - Name tag pins were often laundered with the shirts. Snags and holes were caused by the movement of shirts and pins in the washer and dryer.

3 - Broken plastic filters in the dryers caused snags and rips in the shirts.

The 5 problem solving keys of communication, consistency, observation, and patience served me well in the pizza store case.  The uniform program was saved. My fieldwork became a specialty, and was marketed as a value-added feature of our fabric program.

In his January post, Bill Troy shares points he gained in discussion with Paul O’Neill, expert in healthcare economics and former Secretary of the Treasury. Click here to read that inspirational article.