Posts Tagged ‘variation’

by ulterior epicure

One of the core principles of quality improvement is that you improve quality by reducing variation.  In a learning context, this is often a hard point to get across because of the differences in learning styles and needs of learners.  But that’s really a discussion about offering variety.

Here’s how I explain the differences.  Baskin Robbins has been famous for decades for offering 31 flavors.  On any given day, you might see several different types of chocolate ice cream from mint chocolate chip to rocky road.  That’s variety and most people would say it’s a good thing.  They cater to the tastes of a wide range of customers.  However, if every time you ordered chocolate it tasted different that’s variation and that’s not a good thing.  You’re not getting a different flavor, you’re just experiencing lack of quality control in the ice cream making.

So here’s how it applies to training.  Let’s assume that new salespeople learn by going on joint calls with experienced salespeople.  Without a lot of structure and direction, it’s likely that the training will be different on every call and with every mentor.  They may sell differently so they will teach differently.  This is not because of the differences in the students by rather the differences in the instructor.  Imagine going back to 10th grade history.  Depending upon the school system, the school and the teacher, you will be a different class.  Some will be good, some will be bad and other will be indifferent.  Because of the variation, the quality of what you get is by the luck of the draw.

The best way to reduce variation is to identify it and try to reduce it, just like working on any other process.  As you do, you will also find you can take out time, waste and cost.

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Variability is a key enemy of quality.  In training, it shows up in a lot of places especially in these situations:

  • Multiple classroom instructors
  • Joint calls with other salespeople
  • Hands on training with a supervisor
  • Buddying up with other call center agents

In addition, there is often variation depending upon when you were trained and sometimes where.  The class of 2008 often gets something different than the class of 2009.

You can see the effects of this variation in different levels of performance, different job practices and different levels of knowledge.

So how do you drive out variation?  It’s really the same as any other quality improvement project.  You need to treat learning as a process not as a series of events and then look at what causes variation and look for quick hit ideas on how to drive it out.  Working on it as an ongoing quality improvement project works well.

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