Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is Quality?

This blog started with the idea that sabha (at least the ones we sat through) could be drastically improved in terms of quality.  We phrased it differently at the time. A great deal of that could be attributed to emotion - we were annoyed and frustrated. Then we listened to some katha, chilled out, and focused on Sabha.ology -  improving sabha quality. We realized a few days ago that we never really defined quality.

Make a SMART goal
We asked ourselves: How would we make it a SMART goal? Maybe something like this:

Within the next quarter the core sabha team will present one topic every week and improve quality to a mean of 7, measured by taking an anonymous opinion survey of the core team to rate each talk (1-10).

This is definitely a great SMART goal, but it felt like passing the buck. We could not define it so we hand it off to the local core team to average it out (by wisdom of crowds). While wisdom of crowd works if you have the right people (or so many people that the outliers or "wrong" people get drowned out) it may not work with such a small team. Again how do we define quality?

What would a Judge say
Another way to measure sabha quality could be taken from Justice Potter Stewart, in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding defining obscenity. He stated, "I know it when I see it." Again we all know and feel when we sit in a great sabha but how do we charactize a sabha that is somewhere between great and not so good?

Just Do It
We can read all the posts in this blog or simply read Made to Stick and Resonate! and think about how to apply it to sabha and our quality will improve. But we still did not define quality so we still cannot measure it.

What would Seth Godin say
Here is an excerpt from Seth Godin's blog in this topic:
"Given how much we talk about [sabha] quality, it's surprising that there's a lot of confusion about what quality is.What's a higher quality car: a one-year old Honda Civic or a brand new top of the line Bentley? It turns out that there are at least two useful ways to describe quality, and the conflict between them leads to the confusion.

Quality of design: Thoughtfulness and processes that lead to user delight, that make it likely that someone will seek out a product, pay extra for it or tell a friend.

Quality of manufacture: Removing any variation in tolerances that a user will notice or care about. 

In the case of the Civic, the quality of manufacture is clearly higher by any measure. The manufacturing is more exact, he likelihood that the car will perform (or not perform) in a way you don't expect is tiny. On the other hand, we can probably agree that the design of the Bentley is more bespoke, luxurious and worthy of comment. 

Let's think about manufacturing variation for a second: Fedex promises overnight delivery. 10:20 vs 10:15 is not something the recipient cares about. Tomorrow vs. Thursday, they care about a lot. The goal of the manufacturing process isn't to reach the perfection of infinity. It's to drive tolerances so hard that the consumer doesn't care about the variation. Spending an extra million dollars to get five minutes faster isn't as important to the Fedex brand as spending a million dollars to make the website delightful.

Dropbox is a company that got both right. The design of the service is so useful it now seems obvious. At the same time, though, and most critically, the manufacture of the service is to a very high tolerance. Great design in a backup service would be useless if one in a thousand files were corrupted.

Microsoft struggles (when they struggle) because sometimes they get both wrong. Software that has a user interface that's a pain to use rarely leads to delight, and bugs represent significant manufacturing defects, because sometimes (usually just before a presentation), the software doesn't work as expected--a noticedvariation."

Quality is Balance
The balance of these two types of quality is what we want to achieve. If we cancel sabha one week to do some other activity, we reduce our quality of manufacture. When we start 20 minutes late, or (more likely finish 40 minutes early) we reduce our quality of manufacture. These things can be tackled within karyakar meetings and even in sabha review.

When the presenter starts on time and reads right off the paper we reduce our quality of design. Again this blog is meant to tackle this issue, quality of design, but both are important.

Consider what Philip Crosby realized a generation ago: Quality is free. (free essays are here). It's easier to design outreach quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to do outreach about the Mandir and sabha. It's cheaper to design manufacturing quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to inspect it after sabha is over.

They are both important, so we should avoid a boring sabha that starts and ends on time and uses every part of the syllabus. Also we don't want a really fun sabha that happens every "every once in a while" and where we "just do goshti or talk about satsang in our lives" while ignoring the syllabus.

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