Case Study Newspaper

TQM Case Study: Newspaper Focuses on Customer Service

Niraj Goyal

Quality in the total quality management (TQM) method is defined as customer delight. Customers are delighted when their needs are met or exceeded. The needs of the customer are:

  • Product quality
  • Delivery quality
  • Service quality
  • Cost value

Improving customer service was the focus of two projects within the deployment of TQM in a mid-sized newspaper in India. This is the second piece in a three-part series of articles featuring case studies from that deployment; Part 1 of the series featured projects leading to improvements in product quality. Part 3 looks at supply-chain improvements.

Reducing Advertisement Processing Time

The newspaper closed its window for booking advertisements at 4 p.m. every day. However, many of the newspaper’s advertisers expressed that they would be delighted if this limit could be extended to 5 p.m., as they were not able to send ad materials on time for the 4 p.m. deadline.

The TQM leaders formed a team consisting of representatives from each link in the ad-processing chain of work. The team attended a two-day quality-mindset program to expose them to the concepts of TQM and also to open their minds about experimenting with change.

Defining the Problem

In TQM, problems are defined as Problem = Desire – Current status. Therefore, in this case:

Problem = Desired closing time – Current closing time = 5 p.m. – 4 p.m. = 60 minutes

The 4 p.m. deadline had been instituted because:

  • Deadline for sending the ad pages to the press was 6:30 p.m.
  • Standard cycle time for processing ads into pages was 2.5 hours

Achieving a 5 p.m. ad closure deadline meant reducing the standard ad processing time by 40 percent, or one hour. To define the current state, the actual time spent preparing pages to go to press was collected over several days.

Defining the metric: If T= (page processing time – page-to-press deadline), then for 99.7 percent on-time delivery, or 3 sigma performance, the average T + 3 standard deviations of T should be less than 0.

Measure the current state: The ad closing deadline could not be delayed by an hour without delaying the dispatch of the newspaper to press by an equivalent amount. Therefore, the current state was calculated by measuring the delay compared to a notional 5:30 p.m. dispatch time rather than the actual deadline of 6:30 p.m. Calculations showed that:

  • Average T = 72 minutes
  • Average T + 3 sigma of T = 267 minutes

The problem was defined: reduce 267 minutes to less than 0 minutes.

Analyzing the Problem

The team monitored the time spent on each activity of the ad process (Table 1).

Table 1: Time Spent on Ad Process
Ad receiving4 p.m.
Dummy “dump”4:30 p.m.
Pagination complete6:30 p.m.

During the 4 to 4:30 p.m. period, ads received at the last minute were still being processed. At 4:30 p.m., the material was dumped into the layout for pagination, meaning arrangement on the newspaper pages using software and manual corrections. To achieve the objective of a 5 p.m. ad content deadline, the pagination time had to be reduced.

Brainstorming why pagination took two hours produced three possible major reasons:

  • Error correction
  • Delayed receipt of ad material for a booked ad
  • Last-minute updates from advertiser

All this work was carried out after the last ad was submitted. Team members suggested that if ads were released for pagination earlier, removing errors could begin simultaneously with the processing of the last ads in order to reduce cycle time. They agreed to give two early outputs at 3:30 and 4 p.m., before the final dump at 4:30 p.m.

Testing the Ideas

Table 2: Problems with New Process
ProblemEffectRoot CauseSolution
Missing material removal15 to 30 min.Material delayed or not receivedOnly feed ads once all materials received
Error file found after last release10 min.Not checking pre dumpCheck for errors pre dump
Special placement instructions not followed10 min.Processing team not aware of special instructionsGive instructions as received
Distorted ads in PDF15 min.Ads not corrected before feedingCorrect before feeding, include in SOP
Ads inserted post pagination completion20 min.Ads accepted after deadlineEnforce deadline
Total time savings possible70 to 85 min.

The process was repeated four times (Table 3).

Table 3: Further Process Observations
ProblemEffectRoot CauseSolution
Observation 2
Repeating old practicesReiterate SOPs
Scanning of materials delayed45 min.Agree on scan turnaround time
PDF conversion problem15 min.Programming problemIT to resolve
Zip error file not scannedZip not required
Observation 3
System failure at peak time75 min.Use back-up system
Observation 4
Add-on section integration delayed25 min.Start integration in pre-dumpsAdd to SOP

Checking the Results

Nine weeks of continuous implementation yielded dramatic improvement. Average processing time was reduced by an hour, from 72 minutes to 12 minutes. However, the level of variability, although 50 percent lower, was still unacceptable. Analysis of the variability showed that it was largely due to slip-ups in implementing the SOPs.

Standardizing Controls

The team used an x-bar control chart (Figure 1) to monitor and improve performance regularly.

Figure 1: Control Chart of Ad Processing Time

Gradually the performance improved. Two months after implementation, delivery time had progressed from 267 minutes late to 12 minutes early. The deadline for receiving ads could now be relaxed to 5 p.m., delighting the advertisers.

Reducing Customer Complaints

Management indicated that the number of credit notes given to advertisers was too high. Credit notes, issued to rectify errors made in sales invoices, were used to fend off considerable customer annoyance. But this system caused trouble for the paper. Besides increasing non-value-added work, credit notes sometimes resulted in financial loss because customers could use the credit toward ads that had already been booked as sales.

During the previous 12 months, the newspaper had received 80 credit notes per week. The team agreed to try to reduce that number by 50 percent in Phase 1.

Finding the Root Causes

About 200 credit notes were examined to determine why they had been issued. Categorization of the causes was charted in a Pareto (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Pareto Chart of Complaints Resulting in Credit

Three causes constituted 84 percent of the problem:

  1. Wrong billing – 46 percent
  2. Wrong rate – 24 percent
  3. Wrong material used – 14 percent

Table 4 shows the root causes of a majority of the credits issued, determined using the 5 Whys method, and their corresponding countermeasures.

Table 4: Explanation of Credit Causes and Countermeasures
1st Why?2nd Why?3rd Why?Countermeasure
Wrong billingUnbilled charge picked up; Discount applied incorrectly to all ads in seriesSystem bugRemoved
Wrong rateSales scheme not in sales card; Old scheme continues after updating of sales rate card; Scheme in rate card but not picked up by systemSales cards not updated; Bill system does not pick up entrySOP
Free ads billedSystem does not pick up operator entryModify system to pick up operator’s entry when prompted, rather than automatically taking billing information from the rate table.

The team tested the ideas, which resulted in an 80 percent reduction in credit notes, from 80 per week to 14 per week. The process was adopted in regular operation, and the results were documented and presented to senior management.

Change in Thinking

TQM often leads to radical changes in employee mindsets. The improvements resulting from the two customer service-related projects helped to create a team environment in which any change idea is easily accepted, tested and – if it works – implemented.

Chronicling America: Digitizing millions of pages of historic newspapers


America’s newspapers are an extraordinary historic treasure chronicling the narrative of American history, culture, and life itself. Across the country, these newspapers have been preserved at the state and national levels by local, state, and federal conservators – using microfilm.

While they exist on microfilm, most newspapers are not easily accessed and available to the public to utilize for research.

Unfortunately, these windows into history are rarely used in their current form.

In 2004, the Library of Congress, in partnership with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), began the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), through which the NEH awards states with grant funds to digitize their historic newspapers.

“We’re dealing with newspapers, and when it comes to digitizing newspapers, you have a couple of real big problems: the size and format, the columns, which creates problems for text-readability, and the sheer number of pages. So what I’m looking for is someone who actually can do this for me according to our specs, and at a competitive price.”

– Errol Somay, Director of the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Newspaper Project

The NDNP embarked on a daring mission to digitize and make available newspapers chronicling American history across all 50 states. The work involved in creating searchable and viewable newspaper pages in a free online ecosystem covering a period starting just after the ratification of the Constitution, through the Civil War, America’s great march west, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and so much more. It is quite a large endeavor, and required a unique solution.


That’s where Apex CoVantage and its proprietary Intelligent Zoning and Algorithmic Conversion (IZAAC) technology come in. In 2005, Apex began serving the Library of Virginia in the very first grant phase of the NDNP program. Today, Apex is honored to be the longest-serving NDNP solutions provider, having worked with more than a dozen state NDNP awardees to digitize millions of pages of newspapers.

To begin the digitization process, NDNP awardees select newspaper titles for digitization, create duplicate microfilm copies, and supply the derivative microfilm to Apex for processing. Apex then scans and transforms page images into a set of digital deliverables. To accomplish this work, Apex uses a combination of human intellect and IZAAC’s sophisticated signal processing technologies to disaggregate newspaper issues and pages into granular elements, such as the headline, subtitle, images, and captions. A series of sophisticated tasks are performed using both human and machine processes to then re-aggregate digital newspaper pages.

Monthly, Apex delivers multiple NDNP awardees with tens of thousands of digitized newspaper pages. Files are then submitted by the awardee programs to the Library of Congress, which evaluates the digital files for technical quality and accuracy. Digital files include TIFF, JPEG 2000, PDF, and METS/ALTO XML deliverables in accordance with NDNP technical specifications.

IZAAC technology enables the inclusion of crucial metadata about the digitized pages including title, date, issue, Library of Congress Catalog Number, and more, allowing librarians richer insight into their digital collections. But as advanced a technology solution as IZAAC is, Apex also incorporates human eyes into the process, checking to ensure all information has been identified accurately.

“Library specifications are usually different from the private sector, and a lot more stringent,” explains Errol Somay, Director of the Virginia Newspaper Project, managed by the Library of Virginia. “To get a vendor to understand that can sometimes be a little difficult. They say, ‘Oh yeah, we can do that,’ and then you find out, no they can’t. Because they’re used to a different standard.”

That’s never been a problem with Apex, however, Somay said.

Once the digitized pages are accepted by the awardee and approved by the Library of Congress, they’re ready to be uploaded to Chronicling America, the massive online database where all the content is made accessible to the public.


Apex’s NDNP solution makes every newspaper’s text digitally searchable, allowing microfilm to act as the preservation mechanism, and removes the format barrier between historic newspapers and the general public’s access to them.

Often, the first six months of each NDNP grant cycle is spent hiring staff, choosing a digitization partner, and determining which titles to digitize. That leaves even less time for all 100,000 pages allowed under the program to be digitized in an 18-to- 24-month window.

Apex has an established reputation for meeting all of its obligations on deadline, with minimal rework required. It also provides awardees with access to its Basecamp project management instance, ensuring total transparency while allowing stakeholders insight into the status of project workflow.

Through Apex’s involvement from the outset of the NDNP program, it often serves as a vital consultative resource to librarians and project managers new to the process, answering questions and helping ramp-up new programs together.

Learn more Contact Apex.

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