When you decide to purchase a certain product or pay for a needed service, it is your expectation that you will receive something of value and of good quality. When quality is not up to par, think about how it makes you feel. I have been places where my first visit was my last due to the poor quality of service and/or product.
So it is with our Federal customers – from attitude, to attire, to timeliness, they are measuring performance. As consultants for the Federal Government, it is imperative that we pay close attention to the quality of our work. Good quality work will yield good past performance ratings, repeat business (exercise of option periods), and a good reputation among industry (good subcontract opportunities, etc.). Low quality work will disappoint a customer.
I’d like to recommend six guiding principles to ensure quality control – which can lead to customer satisfaction and, as a result, repeat business.
In this post I’ll look at three principles to consider before, during, and after working on a product to ensure a high quality product:
In my next post I’ll discuss the role of due diligence, preliminary review and lessons learned.
Understand and Beat Deadlines
It is important, once an assignment comes your way, to ask for a deadline, if it wasn’t already shared with you. This is important because some customers, when they have asked you to do something, assume that what they have assigned you is your top priority and may not know or have forgotten that you have 10 other “hot” items on your list to finish for the day. You may think that you’ll get to it within the next day or two, and they may be looking for it by COB that day. Missing a deadline can convey that you are not reliable, which can lead to a perception of poor quality. Even if you were to submit a perfect product, it has now been tainted with lateness.
For instances where you can manage expectations, always do so. For example, you may believe that you can finish something in a couple of hours; however, you’re not accounting for those ad hoc things that come up throughout the day, or the time you could use to build in quality checks before submission. If the customer doesn’t ask for it sooner, just let him/her know you could have it to him/her by COB that day. COB is whenever you stop working, so, as long as it’s in their inbox by 11:59 p.m. or physically on their desk by the time they arrive in the morning, it will be considered on time. Then, when you are able to finish it even earlier than COB, you have exceeded expectations, and the customer is dazzled!
Know Your Audience
How does this aspect tie into quality control? Well, if you don’t know who your audience is, you will provide a product that doesn’t fit the audience, and this will be perceived as a poor quality product (you didn’t give them what they needed). Whether it’s “too high level” or not up-to-par, the customer will still have the perception that you are lazy (if not up to par) or wasteful (too much time spent on one thing) and didn’t bother to do what just made sense for the audience. For instance, why would you prepare a PowerPoint presentation fit for an SES when the audience is a program analyst who needs some results in an Excel spreadsheet? Another example would be leadership who may have come from a different agency which may have certain templates in place. The templates provide a guideline for quality standards. You must know what these templates are and how to use them. Otherwise, it will appear you didn’t do it “right.” Knowing your audience is very important.
Start Early for Success
People procrastinate because they do not look forward to the work at hand. However, you must work past this inclination and start as soon as you possibly can to give yourself enough time for editing and second-eye reviews (without second-eye reviews, I have seen the quality of work suffers). Furthermore, if you can finish a product sooner, you will have time to let it sit for a few days and come back to it to read it afresh with your own set of eyes. You will be surprised how something that may have made sense to you when you first wrote it doesn’t flow well at all when you read it a couple of days later. When you start to work on a product as soon as practicable, you are giving yourself more time to ensure high quality.
For effective acquisition support, preparing a schedule and/or a Procurement Administrative Lead Time document (PALT) is most useful because it will force you to complete certain steps and documents by a certain date in order for an entire procurement package to be completed on or before schedule. Involve each of the team members who control milestones in the process. Using a schedule or PALT will help you facilitate the acquisition planning process for the Government, which leads to the perception of high quality work.
High Quality Takes Practice
Quality control is more than making sure you have no misspelled words in your document. It’s an intricate process of individual effort and accountability, team work and scheduling. Quality control must become a practice and has to be continuous. Next time I’ll look at the importance of due diligence, reviews, and lessons learned in achieving quality control and customer satisfaction.