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© Han van Loon 1996 - 2006

STARS Initial Workshop
From the start, STARS has been developed and improved through workshops. The following text describes the initial workshops we ran to develop STARS. This article was published in the American Society for Quality: Quality Progress in the the One Good Idea column in 2000. It describes why and how we developed STARS. 

How to attract and retain a motivated and dedicated workforce? 

In software and IT this is a challenge. Staff are in high demand and job swapping is common in the industry.

Customer focus demands quality solutions, sometimes leading to long, stressful working hours to meet deadlines. 

ISO9001 and ISO15504 focus on product and processes. What about people? 

Why work for one company and not elsewhere? One reason - company culture. What is company culture? Ask and you get a wide range of responses. 

As part of an induction program with new staff, we looked at how to present our approach to quality and company culture. In summary: 

Staff should enjoy, learn, communicate and contribute in an interesting, open team environment to achieve customer goals.


Setting the Goals

Our goal was a concept covering:

Personal approach to Quality

Teamwork and company culture

Continuous improvement

Doing the job right 

Doing the right job!

Thinking about It

Every quality advocate is aware of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (PDCA). However the difference between 'Do' and 'Act' is unclear to many people, so we 'acted' . We wanted a simple, improved diagrammatic concept with a memorable acronym. 

STARS was born. 

The first set of individual steps were easy to define:

Set Goals




Supply Improvements


Acting on It.

Having a concept on paper is fine, but how to implement it.

We work-shopped the concept of quality with induction participants. We asked questions like:

How do you define Quality?

What is a quality product you are familiar with and why? 

What makes a place great to work in?

We got a lot of 'typical' answers. We white-boarded responses into the shape of a star. About half way through the session, people started to pick up that we were aiming at something. We then presented the concept.

First go, not a great success, but we were learning, and the concept was okay.

Review It

We used the company's own Human Resource Manager and the Training Specialist to sit in the induction to provide feedback.

We knew we had to lead people into their responses in a less demanding manner. We also knew we had to shape the questions better as the session evolved to draw out personal experiences.

Corridor conversations with some of willing participants provided useful feedback. The basic concept was sound.

We needed a better way to lead to the concept.

The workshop approach worked. People remembered more about the session afterwards.

Improve it

The feedback went into refining the concept. The workshop approach evolved.

In the next induction we asked people:

What do you do to get a good result in your job? (personal concept of quality)

What is the advantage of working in a group? (team culture)

What things do you look for in a product you buy? (product quality, customer focus)

We still asked individuals. Then everyone grouped similar responses, and we presented the concept.

By the third induction session, we no longer asked for each individual to respond. We collected responses until they ran out (around 15 minutes) and chose 4 to 5 common topics. 

We formed a team per topic to come up with more ideas. Teams were selected 'at random' with both quiet and responsive people. They were given ten minutes to make up a list (we deliberately put them under time pressure to simulate a typical problem). We drifted around the workshop and injected thoughts if a team stalled. The quiet person in each team was asked to present the findings. 

Then we formed new teams to come up with common themes from the findings (another 'arbitrary' ten minutes - animated discussions went longer). Prompting would help shape the themes. 

The teams would present their themes. The teams often would come up with something resembling the STARS points. 

We summarized by showing the STARS concept. Each point is added in rotation (we go around the STAR six times). We pointed out some of the roadblocks (time pressure, apathy, misunderstanding, lack of communication and uncooperative individuals). We discussed their reaction to the concept.

Participants came away with a refreshed view on Quality, a simple model as a reminder and learnt that in our company culture, we want them to enjoy themselves, learn, communicate and contribute in a team environment to customer goals, and that we reward both individual and team efforts.

We found that we had a useful, easily understood concept that provides a refreshing approach to quality management education, and a handy Aide-memoir.