Point 1: Total Quality at PwC with Joel Liebman
Joel Liebman, PwC Public Sector, and Constancy of Purpose
The 10 Commandments, Hammurabi’s Code, the Terms and Conditions for all of your app downloads. Certain rules and principles stand sacrosanct in the narrative of human history. For students of quality, W. E. Deming’s 14 Points assume a similar status. Deming codified his philosophy with the aim to transform American industry. In this endeavor, he proved quite successful. Through his research, publications, workshops, and consulting work, Deming played a foundational role in the Total Quality Movement.
In this series, I take each of his famous fourteen points and view them through the lens of QUEST Alumni and their work today.
1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
– W. E. Deming, Point 1 of “The 14 Points”
For the first installation in this series I spoke with Joel Liebman, a Cohort 14 QUEST alumnus and manager in PwC Public Sector, which supports federal, state, and local government entities to solve complex problems. Joel and his team deliver financial management, internal control, and risk management solutions for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, one of the seven main components comprising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
PwC Public Sector won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2014, the highest honor an organization can receive for quality and performance excellence in the United States. They are the only professional services organization ever to earn this distinction. I spoke with Joel about the journey to achieve the award, how he has grown from the experience, the impact of the award on PwC Public Sector, and how that translates to greater value for its clients.
Joel, could you contextualize the difficulty of achieving the Malcolm Baldrige Award for our audience?
The year that we won the award was not the first year we applied for the award—it took us 3 or 4 cycles before we were accepted. It was really a testament to our persistence as a firm and public sector practice. It’s extremely challenging to achieve the award as Malcolm Baldrige is the highest honor for quality in the U.S.
Side note: “Both Xerox, a 1989 winner, and Corning, a 1989 finalist, admit to having spent, respectively, $800,000 and 14,000 labor hours preparing applications and readying employees for site visits by Baldrige examiners.” (Harvard Business Review)
To achieve such a coveted award I’m sure it took the entire practice. What efforts did you have to put in personally to achieve this award?
It definitely did take the entire practice. The Malcolm Baldrige initiative was driven and championed at the top by Scott McIntyre (U.S Public Sector Leader) and his commitment to quality. It emanated out to everyone within the public sector practice. We had to understand fully what it took from a day-to-day perspective to deliver a level of service worthy of the award.
In order to demonstrate and communicate our efforts, as a manager, I was part of a group that was potentially going to be selected for a group or individual, multi-hour interview by Malcolm Baldrige inspectors. I had to be ready to discuss our people, processes, and infrastructure that support our internal and external commitment to quality and run them through any questions they may have on our services or our available resources.
It seems like there was strong buy-in from the top.
The year before we won you could tell that we were all in as a practice. Leadership essentially took a dedicated group of our top performers to solely focus on preparing our application, coordinating our evaluation, and ultimately achieving the award. There were numerous webinars, in-person training sessions, and regular conference calls with our employees at all levels. From senior leadership to our first year associates, we had to fully understand the infrastructure that supports our business and how that infrastructure manifests in the highest quality services delivered to our clients.
Given that you’ve spent over 6 years in the firm, how did you see PwC Public Sector transform throughout this process?
PwC Public Sector was only 5 or 6 years old when I joined the firm and I would guess our headcount was only around 400-500 people. We’ve grown to a point to where we are over 1,000 people now. When you grow a sizeable business at such an impressive rate, it can become challenging to maintain a level of consistent quality every single day. So to support that level of execution it is really important to build an infrastructure with a strong commitment to quality. It is engrained in the culture of the firm. The pursuit process [of the award] each year and over the course of those 3-4 years was a great opportunity to get better, self-evaluate, and see where we can improve to increase our quality. Even the years we didn’t win the grand award, we gained valuable feedback we subsequently incorporated into our business in the name of continuous improvement.
What type of recognition have you seen in the community?
Quite a bit of recognition. Scott McIntyre has done a speaking tour and worked with other businesses to improve the quality of their work. Many of our clients, some of whom were very familiar with the award from their own industry experience and even some of their experiences pursuing the award, were noticeably impressed.
We discussed Deming’s 14 Points before the interview. How would you communicate the importance of “constancy of purpose” for a firm to QUEST students today?
There is no substitute for it. When I think about the drive of the typical student in the QUEST community, this, [a firm with constancy of purpose], is the kind of environment that we can succeed in and contribute to in very meaningful ways. Otherwise, you’re in an organization that risks complacency. It is often easier to do things the way they’ve been done which doesn’t move you personally or professionally forward.
Any last message you want to leave the reader with?
I would just say that the journey doesn’t end with the achievement of the award. It wasn’t the apex. It was great validation, but we still recognize that our efforts require continued improvement. There is still plenty more to do to uphold and improve that level of quality. Plus, there is the opportunity to be a multiple award recipient, so there is always that.
Thanks Joel! Awesome speaking with you!
For additional information on PwC Public Sector and their Malcolm Baldrige winning year you can reference the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s website: http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/award_recipients/pricewaterhousecoopers-public-sector-practice.cfm