Pot holes in Mumbai: A Quality Perspective


At a recent Mumbai First governing board meeting, I was pronounced “guilty” for not improving the Quality of pot holes in Mumbai! I sheepishly smiled. The board was right.

Yes, Mumbai First must do something. So, I reflected on the fundamentals:
» Who defines Quality? The customer. In this case, the citizens of Mumbai.
»  What is Quality? Fitness for use. In this case, use of the pot holes by the citizens of Mumbai.

This leads to the question, does Mumbai have a culture for Quality? In my view, the habit of extraordinary tolerance by citizens, nurtures pot holes in Mumbai.

So, the original question requires disruptive thinking. It is not a matter of improving the Quality of pot holes. It is a matter of finding innovative uses for them.

I guess I have deviously made my point.


Pot holes are a chronic problem on Mumbai roads. The population of pot holes is growing. While some are getting mature with time, others are in their infancy. In my view, a pot hole is a vital symptom, of a much larger road transportation problem. Just repairing a pot hole is a case of fire-fighting; not fire-prevention. Sadly, and erroneously, we blame the worker.

In order to solve the chronic problem of pot holes, we need to find the root cause. One hypothesis is the capability of the contractor. Yet another, is the process of outsourcing work to contractors. A third could be the culture we have endured. And so on.

To test these hypotheses, one would need data, information and knowledge. It should be a collaborative exercise of citizens across the length and breadth of Mumbai.

I am sure we can find solutions to the first hypothesis. We have the capability to build world-class airports in India. This includes the effective roads enveloping the airports.

In regard to the second hypothesis, we have a solution in a Quality Fable. The fable is inspired by R C Bhargava, the then Managing Director, Maruti Suzuki.

Purchase Department as Quality Consultant – reproduced as is from Quality Fables™ Book 1

What do you purchase from vendors?

The following Quality Fable may help you articulate your answer.

I was invited to speak at an Annual Vendors Meeting of a car manufacturer in North India, a couple of decades back. Very excited at the prospect of learning from Japanese leaders about the state-of-the-art methods for quality management, I readily accepted the invitation.

The meeting was held at The Taj Palace, New Delhi, in the largest conference room available. Horse shoe seating was provided for the top 100 vendors. Seated in the front, facing the vendors, were the Managing Director of this car manufacturer, two Japanese leaders, a consultant from the Juran Institute, and me.

The session commenced with an address from the Managing Director. The essence of this address was as follows…

                “A warm welcome to all our A-Category vendors. Thank you for your contribution to a very successful year, even in these turbulent inflationary times. We are appreciative of your product quality and timeliness of deliveries. On behalf of my company I would like to see each of you prosper and grow. Therefore, from next year we would like each of you to drop your price by 3%…”

OMG! Did I hear it right? Must be a mistake! What you really mean is an increase in price by 3%. These were the thoughts racing through each of the 100 vendors’ minds.

Smiling, he continued…

                “I have trained my executives in the purchase department on ‘Quality Improvement & Cost Reduction’. Each executive will be assigned to a couple of vendors. Their mandate is to improve your process capability by solving chronic problems using a structured quality improvement methodology. The related reduction in Cost Of Poor Quality (COPQ) should be 10% of your total costs for next year. You keep 7% of the savings and transfer the balance 3% benefit to my company…”

OMG! Can this be true?

He continued…

                “The COPQ in any of your companies is likely to be over 20% of your total costs.”

Thereafter the Japanese leaders explained the concept of chronic waste in cross-functional processes. Waste that is even budgeted for by top management!!

Next, the consultant from the Juran Institute explained the underlying concepts of COPQ.

Oh yes, on my part, I shared the experiences of my clients from the automotive sector with the ‘Juran on Quality Improvement’ methodology.

I am sure you have by now guessed the answer to the opening question. It’s Process Capability.

Lessons Learned
»   Top management budgets for chronic waste in cross-functional processes
»   The by-product of quality improvement is cost reduction
»   COPQ in any organization is over 20% of total costs
»   The purchasing department should serve as quality improvement consultants to vendors
»   Organizations purchase process capability of vendors
»   Win-Win partnership between purchaser and vendor
»   Transparency in joint costing facilitates partnerships
»   Purchase department must conduct itself as a world-class customer.

The third hypothesis has a solution in a Quality Fable built around the Johnson & Johnson credo.

PROFIT Must Not Eclipse Other Priorities – reproduced as is from Quality Fables™ Book 2

For the past 18 years, during the monsoons in Mumbai, the Indian Merchants’ Chamber hosts several Examiner Training batches for the Ramkrishna Bajaj National Quality Award. The sessions on Leadership, as well as Customer Focus, are the ones I enjoy conducting.

Participants love stories. One of my favorite stories is the one on Why Principle Centered Companies Excel? This is a story I repeatedly heard from Frank Tedesco, Vice President at the Juran Institute, in the early 1990s. During that stage of my Quality journey, I did not fully understand the depth of his story. Only after I started repeating it, again and again, did I discover the enormous treasure of wisdom.

Johnson & Johnson, in its corporate credo, lists the stakeholders that its employees are asked to honor through their managerial and operational decisions. The stakeholders are prioritized as follows:
»  Customers
»  Coworkers
»  Management
»  Community
»  Shareholders

Johnson & Johnson is not a philanthropic organization. Its corporate credo also declares the obvious: Business must make a sound profit. However, the company also pledges that profit must not eclipse its other priorities.

In 1982, the Johnson & Johnson credo was put to the test. This is the well-known disaster case of Tylenol. Eight people died from ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.

The Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors immediately recalled all 31 million bottles of Tylenol from the shelves of stores, even before the root cause could be established.

The company also promptly redesigned the Tylenol containers and introduced tamper proof packaging.

Even though Johnson & Johnson turned out to be blameless, the crisis ended up costing the company $240 million and eroded its profit significantly. But its decisive action saved the Tylenol brand and generated a wave of goodwill amongst its customers.

Lessons Learned
»  A company’s values are crucial to its competitive success
»  It is dangerous to sacrifice a reputation at the altar of profit reports
»  Long term value does not rise or fall, independent of social impact
»  Every action a company takes can be interpreted as a statement about what it stands for
»  A principled company will fortify its reputation
»  Reputation is the guardian of a brand.

In conclusion, we can do it. In fact, the Cost Of Poor Quality (COPQ) of any organization is at least one-third the total cost. Where chronic problems persist, it is much more.

If we solve the pot holes problem, the tax burden for Mumbai citizens can reduce, as a logical by-product. It is time for Mumbai First to boldly express the Voice Of Citizens (VOC). Citizens are customers.

Building a “trustworthy’’ reputation demands principle-centered values. A tolerant attitude of the reverse leads to failure / accident prone outputs. Citizens are human; and human life is precious.

On the other hand, if we are content with pot holes on Mumbai roads, we should find innovative uses for these amoebic works of art: grow trees; build fish ponds; offer boat rides; swimming pools for children; supplement water supply; and more.


Krishna Manjrekar

21/09/2018 11:42:32

Very Nice blog by Mr.Suresh ji.....Worth reading.


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