The 1-10-100 Rule 101: How to Manage Quality

Picture this: it’s the night before a big conference one of your clients is hosting. They’ve requested eight different handouts. You’ve got them all printed out, shimmering with the perfect glossy finish your client requested, and have sent them off…and then your client tells you the printed domain address is wrong. Your stomach somersaults, and it should; not only will the reprints cost you, but the extra delivery will cost you. You’ll have to drive to deliver the reprints yourself by the morning. Not only will the reprints and the extra delivery cost you, but the overtime labor will cost you, and the supplies lost along the way will cost you. Now your employees have to pull an all-nighter correcting this mistake, and all the expensive material you used for the last erroneous batch? Wasted.

And not only will the reprints, extra delivery, overtime labor, and lost supplies cost and cost and cost and cost you…but this could have all been avoided in the first place. Because “quality is free”, as Phillip B. Crosby said in his seminal guide that (you can be honest) is gathering dust on a lot of business people’s bookshelves…and if “quality is free”, why isn’t there more of it? Here at CMW, where quality is consistently a top priority, we feel that nothing prevents costly quality correction better than understanding the 1-10-100 Rule.

$1 – The cost of catching and fixing problems in the work area.

$10 – The cost of catching and fixing problems after they’ve left the work area.

$100 – The cost of failing to catch, and fixing problems after they’ve already reached the client.

The further down the line a mistake like that incorrect domain address gets, the harder and more expensive it is to make right — it’s exponential. And that $100 isn’t just costly. It’s embarrassing, too. You can almost see Ben Franklin’s hand going to his forehead. It very well could be the difference between you maintaining a long, fruitful relationship with a great client, and losing them over one giant flub. So how do we at CMW avoid quality disasters and the loss of clients?

We train each of our employees in a very simple process. Here are the steps.

  1. Check. When a project is started in the work area, look over the specifications closely. Precisely. Don’t take anything for granted. If you need to ask a clarifying question to a client, do so — sooner rather than later. You both benefit from making sure you’re on the same page. Then, follow those specifications throughout the working process; continually revisit them and check yourself along the way.
  1. Double check. When whoever started the project hands it off to its next phase, make it what we call a firm hand-off. Have both parties’ eyes on both the product as it stands and the original specifications. The more eyes, the better (just think of it as having the same rules as a Halloween costume). Between stages is a great place to catch and fix mistakes before more work is done. Remember — each time it’s passed on, the damage of error increases exponentially. Don’t let it reach 100.
  1. Triple check. Once a project is done, check it against the original specifications…again. And again. It’s complete, for all intents and purposes, but it’s still in the working area — this is the least costly place to catch and fix errors. Only after a thorough examination is it ready to leave.

You can see how just these simple checks and balances is much easier — and much cheaper — than a full-on disaster. Make sure each of your employees is aware of the risks of error, and the prevention process. If there’s a larger group of people working on a single project, hold a group meeting; get them in a room together and make sure everyone is on the same page. Give them the old 1-10-100 101.

Quality is free! So let’s make more of it.