There are several reasons for inspection, including: Conducting a periodic reality check to see if you are comfortable with what you offer; measuring to validate the level of performance delivered against the commitment; and ensuring that process improvement opportunities are examined.
These are two different goals and require two different inspection strategies.
The "reality check" strategy is somewhat more qualitative and subjective.
It has real value in communicating concern and commitment.
The strategic approach is focused on identifying service level compliance to performance requirements and constant improvement of everyone''s systems and processes to prevent problems.
Both valuable strategies should be pursued in tandem.
Who Should Inspect Performance?
Customers are satisfied when their expectation for performance is met by their perception of performance.
These inspectors produce numerous observations about performance, keeping service management teams on their toes.
In some ways, these observations reveal the most accurate and timely information about service failure.
From a "reality check" point of view, this is good information.
On the other hand, in general, customers are not interested in all of the requirements of the performance specification.
From a strategic management point of view, this limitation is a shortcoming that could absorb short-term resources at the expense of long-term company goals.
When a contractor is retained, buyer inspection is a natural option.
Buyers know when customers are unhappy or when there are service problems.
They are onsite every day and can quickly respond to customers and direct the resources of the contractor.
Yet, buyer inspection can suffer from insufficient time availability, insufficient technical inspection skills, inconsistent or unreliable data and measurement bias toward buyer cost savings and multi-tasking distraction.
With a careful investment of time, people, training and money, these risks can be minimized.
Even in this case, buyer inspection is often a measure-by-exception process that focuses on problem-solving and periodic reality checks.
For the most part, that''s about all the time the buyer has to devote to the inspection effort.
Further, this misses the point that the real value of performance measurement is to achieve their strategic goals of increased competitive positioning and contractor process improvement.
Another inspection alternative is to have the service provider become responsible for inspection.
The service provider has the technical skills and is onsite.
Further, they will often become aware of problems before senior management.
And, they certainly have an interest on the performance numbers.
Nonetheless, service provider inspection generally suffers from a number of defects, including: Reluctance to find fault with their own staff; inconsistent time allocation for inspection; in-house inspection criteria is usually inflexible and often does not reflect the customer connected criteria or specified key performance indicators (KPIs); and inconsistent or unreliable data.
There is always a suspicion that a provider''s inspection is biased.
However, with a documented and dedicated investment of time, people, training and money, these risks can be minimized.
An alternative to either buyer or provider inspection is buyer and provider joint inspection.
This inspection strategy brings greater technical skills to the inspection process through contractor/in-house manager involvement.
Further, time allocation problems are improved by the more formal joint tour, the suspicion of bias is minimized and there is greater creditability in the findings.
Notwithstanding these advantages, several problems are not dramatically reduced.
To one degree or another, each party still brings a certain amount of bias toward their own interest.
Further, each party continues to have other priorities and constant distractions on their time.
Finally, in real terms, two people cost twice as much as a single-party option.
Another alternative is performance inspection by a neutral third-party.
Third-party staff are thoroughly trained, supervised and monitored for accuracy, consistency and objectively.
They are supported by company support staff, tested regularly and certified annually.
Their sole task is to reliably and faithfully measure the outcomes specified in the performance contract, without regard for the contract consequences to the buyer or contractor.
This creates reliable, unbiased information that is useful to describe both performance and process improvement.
It is in everyone''s mutual interest to have the most accurate and reliable information available for decision making.
Whatever measurement strategy is selected, almost any systematic measurement of service level performance is beneficial and highly recommended.
Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland, www.ealtd.com. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.