In Part I of my blog, I discussed the need to be able to measure performance to ensure the product performs as required and processes are functioning properly to correct prior deficiencies. I teed up the challenges associated with measuring performance in a service environment with the simple example of a restaurant dining experience. The issue is – when there are no clear objective performance criteria to measure, how does one identify, assess, and measure the subjective criteria? In this part, I’ll talk about two key factors that can help overcome the challenges and contribute to achieving quality in a service environment. These factors are communication and relationship building. First, let’s start with some important questions to ask around an illustrative scenario.
What are the important aspects of performance you want to measure and are there ways to measure them? I’ll use an example pertaining to professional services to frame the challenge. My customer hires me to prepare and provide reports assessing the progress of sub-Components in completing tasks for which he has provided funding. Pretty simple for him – he gives another government office money to do something and he gives me money to report the office’s progress to him monthly. How do I know what constitutes a quality product on my part? How has he defined and quantified that in my contract? Do my reports have to comply with a specific format? Am I allowed only a certain number of grammatical or spelling errors per page? It’s very possible that I can comply with all observable and quantifiable requirements and still not deliver a product that meets his needs.
Communication is a key factor of success in this case. How well has he communicated the requirements to me and how well have I responded to those requirements. The communication needs to be constant, open, and positive. What do I mean by this? Webster defines communication as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals. Our communication must be constant – we should continually be exchanging thoughts and ideas so that I have better insight into what’s important to him. Our communication about the topic at hand must be open and honest, based on mutual trust.. And finally, our communication must be positive so that the process doesn’t break down.
We leverage our open communication to build our relationship. We should strive to treat the business relationship like a partnership. Granted, we each have our own goals that may initially seem incompatible, but through open communication, we will be able to find that overlap area that allows us both to succeed. Both sides must be focused on mutually achieving their goals and willing to work together to do so. An adversarial relationship or a “gotcha” environment will not foster open communication and will likely not lead to an ongoing partnership.
With that partnership established and open communication practiced, the customer is able to explain what she needs to be successful. I’m able to describe what I will provide that meets her needs, complies with the terms of our contract, and allows me to meet my goals as well. After I’ve delivered my product, we’ll go through it to ensure it meets her needs. We’ll do interim updates and frequent status checks to facilitate delivery of an on-target product. If we don’t get it right the first time, through honest feedback and a positive approach, we fix it, together. She will provide regular feedback and I will adjust accordingly. With communication and collaboration throughout the activity, my understanding of what quality means to her grows, and I’m better able to deliver that high quality product. (And going back to Part I – she’ll come back to my restaurant!)
This sounds easy, and it’s easy to describe here. But it’s not often easy to achieve. But if both parties to the contract are willing to truly work together and establish this approach, they will find that their chances of meeting their goals and objectives (mutual and individual) are drastically enhanced.