One of the many engineering projects I worked on in the 1980s was aimed at increasing the quality of the synthetic fibre the company produced. There were two benefits claimed for improved quality:
- We could reach more discerning – and, therefore, more lucrative – markets for our product, and
- By reducing the quantity of product that was rejected, we could significantly increase productivity.
Later, whilst working for another organisation, I was part of a team introducing a concept called Total Quality Management (TQM).
TQM is a philosophy based on the work of an American, Professor W.E.Deeming. An engineer and statistician, Deeming was instrumental in creating the Japanese post WWII industrial ‘miracle’. As producers in the USA and Europe found themselves unable to compete with Japanese quality in the 1980s, they began to adopt the same underlying principles. Soon they were incorporated into national and international standards. The International Standards Organisation, for example, defines TQM as: “A management approach of an organisation centred on quality, based on the participation of all its members and aiming at long term success through customer satisfaction and benefits to all members of the organisation and society.” (ISO 8402:1994)
Implementation involves every member of the organisation in thinking about how to improve the way they carry out their individual functions, and seeking ways to continue improving. A great deal of effort is put into training so as to ensure every member of the team develops his or her full potential.
Quality Principles for Creatives
How might these principles be adopted by creative people, especially writers? After all, we mostly work alone. We can still aspire to continuously improve in everything we do. Great artists regularly produce sketches and studies in preparation for a significant painting. A writer will produce several drafts of a novel before showing it to a trusted beta reader. Jeffrey Archer is on record as producing at least ten drafts of every one of his novels, all in longhand. Only then is the book released to an editor who will suggest further improvements.
But a book is more than the content. There are many other factors that contribute to the quality of the finished article, including cover and formatting. It is at this stage that the work ceases to become the product of a single individual and is handed over to a team that might include an agent and publisher as well as editor and cover designer. All members of the team need to have in mind the single goal of “success through customer satisfaction”. In this case, of course, the customer is the reader.
What steps do you take to ensure reader satisfaction? How easy do you find it to work with others – beta readers, cover designer, editor – to achieve that aim?