Quality is a big point of differentiation between outsourcing vendors. But how can law firms and corporate counsels determine that their prospective vendor can deliver on quality? Moreover, how can contracting firms manage quality of their outsourcing vendor even if the processes are not performed under their direct supervision.
The key for managing quality is measuring quality. To measure quality, it needs to be explicitly defined. More succinctly: Defining Quality => Measuring Quality => Managing Quality
This past week I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug Hubbard regarding his thoughts on measuring and defining quality. Doug is the author of the very insightful book, How to Measure Anything. Below are some of his thoughts from our conversation.
“When measuring quality, the most important thing is recognizing that quality is not ‘intangible’. Rather, quality is quite tangible and has observable consequences. If it didn’t have observable consequences, why would we care so much about it?”
Hubbard believes that lawyers should excel at defining quality: “At its core, the practice of law is defining legal issues. For example, it is the lawyers’ job to explicitly define each clause in a client contract,” he stated. “It’s all about avoiding ambiguity. The same principles and skills can be used to define quality.”
Defining quality invariably requires defining errors so they can be avoided. “To define quality requires defining what an error means and the appropriate scope of that error,” Hubbard explained. “Events defined as errors can’t be so rare that the error rate is consistently zero. This is misleading about the underlying risk of error. By measuring lower consequence-higher frequency errors, one can use these findings to make more accurate assessments of quality, as the low consequence errors are often indicative of high consequence-low frequency errors. For example, in space travel, if one were only to measure the loss of a crew member as an error, for the first Space Shuttle missions the risk of error would appear to be zero. But if one were to measure the number of high frequency-low consequence errors such as the number of times an O-ring burned through or when foam fell off the external tank, this error rate would be much more indicative of the actual risks.”
Following the same principles outlined by Hubbard, lawyers cannot define errors purely by high-consequence-low-frequency errors, such as avoiding a malpractice lawsuit or sidestepping a default judgment. These events occur infrequently and often do not directly correlate to quality. Rather, when creating a quality management system, legal professionals must use as a barometer high frequency-low consequence errors such as a typographical error or missed redaction.
*These above quotes and others also appear in our upcoming publication, Implementing a Successful Legal Outsourcing Engagement. More details on the book to follow.