Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Role of Quality in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

As part of its continuing series of Roundtable discussions among the "Influential Voices of Quality" participants, ASQ asks, "As Industry 4.0 continues to evolve, what can quality professionals do to ensure they will be an integral asset throughout this industrial revolution?"

First, let's begin with an operational definition of Industry 4.0.
Wikipedia defines Industry 4.0 as "the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing. Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a "smart factory". Within the modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the value chain".

Accenture released a report in January 2015 that concluded an industrial-scale version of Industry 4.0 could add $14.2 trillion to the world economy over the next 15 years.

Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com illustrates the four industrial revolutions:


So, the fourth industrial revolution is the move towards digitization including automation, robotics, artificial intelligence. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) in the United States is a non-profit organization comprising manufacturers, suppliers, technology firms, government agencies, universities and laboratories that share the goal of advancing the thinking behind Industry 4.0. Its purpose is to construct an open, smart manufacturing platform for industrial-networked information applications.

In a Forbes article dated June 20, 2016, Bernard Marr states that in order for a factory or system to be considered Industry 4.0, it must include:
  • Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
  • Information transparency — the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order to contextualize information.
  • Technical assistance — both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems and the ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
  • Decentralized decision-making — the ability of cyber-physical systems to make simple decisions on their own and become as autonomous as possible.

Having defined Industry 4.0, it is clear that assuring such inter-connectedness of software, sensors, devices and data centers requires a quality system that delivers data integrity, privacy and reliability in addition to assuring reliable, rugged, scaleable, fully-integrated systems and processes that seamlessly data-share between networks while consistently meeting producer, governmental and customer needs. Opportunities exist for the Quality professional to make significant, innovative contributions in areas of software quality assurance, reliability, process validation, environmental life testing and accelerated stress testing, Real Time Process Monitoring, multivariate statistics, 1st Principles and transfer functions, advanced calibration and big data analytics. Now, more than ever, product development and commercialization teams must assure reliable machine-human interface ease of use and real-time results-driven feedback loops. And, of course, discover even deeper insights to the ever-changing voice of customer (and voice of process) along with a comprehensive understanding of the customer experience throughout the value chain (e.g. journey maps), and assure that the organization is measuring the right key metrics to deliver success.

Industry 4.0 offers exciting new challenges to the Quality profession while building on our expertise of problem solving, process improvement, and managing the organizational white spaces to sustain customer focus and achieve operational excellence.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Enhancing & Sustaining the Role of Quality

The March 2017 ASQ Influential Voices roundtable discussion topic asks, "How can we prevent quality professionals from being perceived as a “thing of the past”? What adaptations need to occur in the quality industry as a whole and on the individual level to revitalize the industry and attract the next generation of quality professionals?  

In his Square Peg Musings blog response, Scott Rutherford attributes the source of this ASQ discussion topic to recent LinkedIn posts by others suggesting that the role of manufacturing quality appears to be backsliding to that of end-of-line product quality inspection and a system of Risk and Reward where defective product is either repaired or replaced in the field or the purchase price is refunded, with little focus on process improvement and prevention.

My years of experience in manufacturing as a quality professional, coupled with my experience as a Baldrige Examiner where I have evaluated organizations across the economic spectrum of healthcare, education, government, small business and non-profits leads me to conclude that the Quality profession is not dying, rather transforming and expanding into traditionally non-Quality departments or operations of the organization. For example, a key tenant of Lean is that everyone - at all levels of the organization - becomes a problem solver. Six Sigma belts are sometimes the Quality professional but more often the subject matter expert in a given discipline or function, and is positioned as a career development opportunity perhaps leading to future management or leadership positions. Many non-manufacturing organizations have replaced the traditional "Quality Dept." with employees staffed in departments responsible for "Customer/Patient Satisfaction" or "Operational Excellence" or the like. Many service industries have developed their own quality certifications specific to its own needs, mission, vision and culture.

Which begs the question, is there a fulfilling career opportunity for someone pursuing a role - or perhaps currently feeling trapped (i.e. career plateaued) in a current role - in the Quality function?
A real concern of mine is that many organizations seem satisfied by equating quality to standards conformance. Their quality professionals are primarily engaged in documenting procedures and requirements, auditing for compliance, and issuing reports. Though a required set of activities in certain compliance-based industries, this in itself is not a particularly engaging nor growth activity for the quality professional. A primary role of Quality is Business Process Management to improve the organizational white spaces - the communication and handoffs - between departments to assure operational excellence. By first focusing on and optimizing these internal customer-supplier relationships within the organization the Quality professional builds organizational capability to better serve the needs of its external customers. A Customer-first culture must be nurtured by leadership to enable organizational performance excellence. A genuine focus on the customer/patient always results in a more engaged workforce leading to process improvements, innovation and performance excellence.

So ... "What adaptations need to occur in the quality industry to revitalize the industry and attract the next generation of quality professionals?" Some of my thoughts:
  1. More ASQ focus and training on quality's role in driving and achieving innovation
  2. More ASQ focus and training to aid the technical Quality professional in making the successful transition to management and leadership.
  3. More ASQ involvement in K-12 education curriculum to increase certain quality concepts teaching in STEM courses (e.g. statistical thinking)
  4. More ASQ involvement with community colleges, universities and business schools to increase the awareness and discussion of quality principles and the Baldrige Criteria.
The successful Quality professional has adopted a philosophy of life-long learning beyond the areas of technical Quality and data analysis to broaden and strengthen his/her individual capabilities, in both "hard" and "soft" skills.
  1. Interpersonal Communication
  2. Social Media (for customer engagement)
  3. Change Management
  4. Leadership Behaviors
  5. Strategic Planning and Execution
  6. Community Involvement
  7. Coaching and Mentoring
The future of Quality is us. We cannot afford to sit idly by, or risk irrelevance; seek new opportunities and experiences. (e.g. What is the role of Quality in automation and robots?) "The best way to predict the future is to create the future" [Peter Drucker].


Monday, November 14, 2016

Ensuring Growth of Quality & Customer Integration

In its December 2016 blog post ASQ asks its Influential Voices of Quality participants how quality and customer integration growth be ensured. In my opinion sustainable quality growth must begin with a customer-focused culture of performance excellence characterized by servant leadership, customer listening, continuous improvement, high performance and empowerment, innovation, intelligent risk taking and knowledge management.

A sustainable enterprise must be agile, responsive and adaptive to ever-changing customer expectations and competitive pressures while demonstrating superior competency in anticipating future requirements and excel at re-inventing itself to capture market share leadership.



In today's world of inter-connected global supply chains and exponential rate of change, the sustainable organization must strategically prioritize its information systems and customer listening processes. All employees must be provided the skills, training and tools necessary to solve customers' problems. Employees must be trusted, respected, expected and empowered to use this newly acquired information to pursue innovative solutions and take intelligent risk. Failures must be accepted as a necessary learning experience while key learnings are actively and intentionally managed and shared to promote and advance organizational knowledge growth. High performance and desired behaviors must be defined, encouraged and rewarded.

Active customer listening provides unique insights into customer (and potential future customer) satisfiers and dissatisfiers. Social media word-of-mouth offers a powerful competitive advantage to the organization that is able to successfully cultivate a cadre of consumer-trusted customer advocates. 3rd party sites are available to help you monitor and track consumer ratings and comments on retail and social media sites. Appoint a Customer Listening Officer (CLO) and function; create a page on Facebook, Instagram or other social media platform; establish a ratings & reviews page on your own business' website and your partners' websites, etc. Contract with a 3rd party provider such as BazaarVoice, TurnTo, PowerReviews, etc. to collect and download this data on a regular basis. Then establish an internal process to sort and report the data to management, looking for nuggets of insight on where/how to improve. Most importantly, respond in a timely manner directly to the consumer where possible (e.g. Facebook, Instagram posts).

It all starts with authentic, ethical, inspired leadership and a critical understanding of your organization's mission and vision. "Start with Why" to understand why your organization exists: what differentiates your enterprise from the competition? What is your brand promise? Then, design your organization's structures, systems, processes, products and services to consistently deliver that customer-focused why.

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Integrate the Younger Workforce into Quality

A couple weeks back I was asked by ASQ to present my thoughts on the Future of Quality: How organizations can better integrate the younger workforce into the Quality profession. My response equally applies to all members of the workforce, and is the culmination of my 34 years experience with 3M Company, 30 years as a member leader in ASQ, and 7+ years experience as a Baldrige Examiner.

Using the Baldrige Criteria as the framework for my discussion, there are two Items (1.1 and 5.2) that specifically apply to the issue of organizational sustainability and workforce engagement:

Item 1.1 "Senior Leadership"
  • How do senior leaders’ personal actions guide and sustain your organization?
  • How do senior leaders’ actions build an organization that is successful now and in the future?
Item 5.2 "Workforce Engagement"
  • How do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication, high performance and an engaged workforce?

Organizational alignment begins with a shared vision, mission and values.


Senior leaders' role to better integrate the workforce into the Quality profession starts by communicating the purpose and critical importance of quality to overall organizational success. Next, senior leaders must elevate the value of an assignment in Quality - with demonstrated contributions - to individual advancement / career progression. Systems and structures that support individual development and career advancement in Quality roles must be institutionalized to assure organizational-wide deployment effectiveness.

Below are some suggestions on how your organization might strengthen workforce integration into Quality while increasing employee engagement overall to achieve high performance and organizational excellence.

1. Build and nurture commitment to Mission, Vision and Values. Then define Behaviors required for excellence.
  • Senior leaders define desired Leadership Behaviors important to the success of the organization. 
  • Senior leaders must model the desired Leadership Behaviors everyday, in every interaction, to build credibility and assure congruence of words and actions.
  • A system of measurement and rewards must be developed and institutionalized to identify, reinforce and motivate the desired Leadership Behaviors

2. Determine the key drivers of workforce engagement to achieve high performance:
  • Senior leaders must create a culture of trust, respect, integrity and ethics
  • Senior leaders must nurture open, honest 2-way communications with the workforce
  • The organization should increase the customer focus of every employee
  • Senior leaders should seek to determine the factors given their organization's culture that increase workforce engagement
  • Systems and processes that encourage innovation and reward intelligent risk taking should be implemented
  • Periodically and regularly survey your workforce on engagement progress (e.g. "Pulse" surveys).

3. Demonstrate career path options for Quality:
  • Integrate Quality principles (and disciplines?) into all operations
  • Champion career progression in Quality
  • Sponsor and reinforce the acquisition and application of new knowledge & skills
  • Intentionally promote from Quality into the other functions and departments, and vice-versa.

4. Leaders participate in succession planning and employee development:
  • Leaders teach leaders
  • Enable the "Everyone a Problem Solver" mindset
  • Provide career broadening opportunities for employees in Quality
  • Institutionalize organizational learning to collect and disseminate new knowledge and best practices
  • Promote mentoring and coaching; experiment with reverse-coaching where the new / younger employee coaches a senior leader in some area of identified need (i.e. social media tools, improving communication methods/style with Millennials, etc.)

With the 2016 World Quality Month fast approaching, I encourage the reader to discuss with his/her organization how have they considered the needs of the younger generation members of its workforce in its preparations for World Quality Month?


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Employee Engagement - The Importance of Quality

The June topic of ASQ's A View from the Q blog is about employee engagement; specifically, ... to what extent do organizations—whether your current employer or previous ones–engage employees about the importance of quality?

“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” Employee engagement is the key to activating a high performing workforce.
Doug Conant
former Campbell’s Soup CEO

Before one can discuss employee engagement we need to begin from an operational definition. Engagement is more than satisfaction. Baldrige Criteria defines workforce engagement as, "the extent of workforce commitment, both emotional and intellectual, to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organization. Organizations with high levels of workforce engagement are often characterized by high-performing work environments in which people are motivated to do their utmost for the benefit of their customers and for the success of the organization." In other words, when the workforce (employees, volunteers, partners, etc.) is engaged it uses discretionary effort.

Studies have shown that an engaged workforce leads to improved organizational performance and outcomes. (See also the "Engagement-Profit Chain").


With an operational definition in hand, to what extent should organizations engage their workforce about quality? Item 5.2 of the Baldrige Criteria speaks directly to Workforce Engagement. The basic requirement asks how the organization engages its workforce to achieve a high-performing work environment. Suggested areas to address include organizational culture, identification of engagement key drivers, assessments of engagement indicators, performance management (e.g. customer focus, intelligent risk taking and innovation), workforce and leader development, learning and development effectiveness, and career progression.

It is my experience (34 years with 3M; 30+ years as an ASQ member; 7 years as a Baldrige Evaluator) that employee engagement cannot be sustained without a strong focus on the customer. Customer engagement is all about quality: quality of our knowledge about the customer, quality of the supply chain, internal work processes quality, product quality, service quality, transactional quality, and quality of customer relationships. Indeed, customer experience is the result of one's end-to-end value stream performance. 3M Quality is customer-focused process and product understanding. 3M culture can be summed by the McKnight Principles where employee empowerment, teamwork, intelligent risk taking and innovation are encouraged and rewarded, and nurtured with training, development, coaching and mentoring. 3M Values proudly enumerate "quality" as an expectation. 3M Quality is not a slogan, it is a way of life.

Finally, several tools exist to help organizations assess its workforce engagement, and measure the financial impact of workforce engagement to its bottom line. For example, Gallup has developed a 12 Question pulse survey instrument to help organizations assess the key drivers of employee engagement. It is said there are 4 main aspects to consider when calculating the ROI of employee engagement:
  • Productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Speed of Onboarding
(Source: Officevibe. *Example only. This is not an endorsement of Officevibe or its ROI Calculator).

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Capturing and Translating VOC to Deliver Superior Customer Experiences

The topic for the April 2016 ASQ blog is Voice of the Customer (VOC). Specifically, What exactly should voice of the customer mean to the quality professional? How important is it? What are the best ways to gather it?

Voice of Customer is a critical input to the development, commercialization and delivery of cost-effective, reliable and exciting products & services that help assure the growth and sustainability of an organization. The producing organization must first fully understand its supplier-processing-customer supply chain as well as the competitive landscape, while demonstrating the capability and capacity to successfully articulate, measure and improve its own key business processes (see COPs, MOPs, SOPs). For example, what is the organization's mission, vision? Values and principles? Goals and strategic plans? How does the organization go to market? How does the organization make money? What are the organization's core competencies and strategic advantages?

When attempting to define the "customer" it is important that everyone involved in the commercialization process agree on the target customer. One might assume that the customer is the end-user, consumer. But it is often not enough to just consider the end-user needs; the end-user might not be the purchasing decision-maker. For example, who decides what products get placed on store shelves, placed in catalogs, placed in the office supply room, stocked in the parts crib, or made available for on-line purchase; i.e. who is the "Gatekeeper"? In a B2B model, what are the Buyer's needs? What influences the Gatekeeper and/or Buyer purchasing decisions? What are the "Switching costs" associated with any change in supplier? How can your product, brand, or organization help that trade/channel customer achieve its strategic goals better than your competition can? In today's global market where product can be purchased from virtually anywhere on the planet via the World Wide Web, what regulatory, statutory and/or Governmental needs must be satisfied? Of course, let us not forget the Internal customer. How effectively are internal customer & downstream process requirements understood and met by the previous process (internal supplier)? Where can waste and inventory be eliminated in the Value Stream?

There are many ways to collect the Voice of Customer. Surveys are often cited as a common example. However, surveys are very limiting. Problems arise with low response rates and questions concerning the validity of the survey instrument itself. Did the survey reach the intended audience? Furthermore, it is my experience that many survey questions are often poorly written. Bias can easily enter into how the question is asked and/or in the development of a list of possible responses (i.e. multiple choice). The selected Likert scale, if used, may be too narrow to provide any meaningful, useful spread in the data with which act. Before any survey is published the organization should evaluate how well the survey meets the overall objective. How will the organization use the responses to the questions asked? Will the anticipated range of responses help the organization create a better product or service? A word of advice - "pilot" the survey with a sampling of the intended audience prior to launch.


Another weakness of surveys is that they can only identify drivers of "Basic" and "Expected" customer needs. Even if an organization meets 100% of the Basic and Expected needs it will not deliver "Exciting" quality. Customers cannot articulate needs that they are not aware of; but once and organization delivers Exciting quality it is on the cusp of earning customer loyalty. For more information about different levels of needs and satisfaction please review the Kano Model.


Focus Panels are a better VOC tool than surveys because its attempts to identify unarticulated needs, but focus panels assume that one has direct access to the intended customer. Though here again, questions can arise as to how the audience was selected (i.e. segmentation and sampling errors). Focus panels do offer the advantage to surveys in that questions are more free-flowing and can be tailored to the direction of the conversation, often resulting in more insight. Focus panels also afford the producer the opportunity to observe the customer perform a task, often discovering hidden pain points previously unbeknownst even to the customer. I have found C2C's VOC CAGE Model, developed by David Verduyn, to be a great product design process that helps discover unarticulated customer needs.




Surveys and Focus Panels are just two ways that VOC can be captured. There are many more methods available that I will not delve into here. Each of these VOC methods has its strengths and weaknesses in capturing customer wants and needs for a product or service; however, none of them do a particularly good job of capturing insights into how to improve the overall Customer Experience (CX). Developing and commercializing a great product or service is not wholly sufficient if the transactional process outcomes are disappointing. Customer Experience is the total of product reliability and relationship quality that a customer has with an organization, its employees and its partners - every single transaction that a customer has throughout the value chain. From pre-sale to purchase to post-sale and customer service, each step in the value chain is a "moment of truth" that can impact Customer Experience. A relatively new tool called the Customer Journey Map is an awesome tool to help identify drivers and dissatisfiers to delivering superior customer experience. When collecting customer wants & needs, likes and dislikes, do not miss the opportunity to learn more about your competition: why does the customer currently buy the competitor's product? What do they do well? What do they not do so well? Finally, product development offers the opportunity to bring disruptive innovation to the market. How, where can you leapfrog the competition to change the very basis of competition?

A good way to track and improve one's customer experience quality is to track Word-of-Mouth feedback. The internet today enables and empowers the consumer to easily compare product features, reliability, cost, and review user comments. User reviews and ratings are available on nearly every B2C and other customer-facing website and via services such as Yelp!, TripAdvisor, etc. By following - and positively responding to - user reviews the organization can actually build customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. BazaarVoice and PowerReviews Inc. are two service providers that can help your organization track and report customer reviews of your brand and product, to create actionable insights.

Of course, just collecting the Voice of the Customer will not guarantee product or business success. One must be able to effectively translate the "fuzzy" voice of the customer into unique, value-added products and services that will delight the customer while meeting or exceeding all safety and regulatory requirements. Quality Function Deployment (QFD), and Pugh Concept Selection are two matrix-based tools that help organizations develop and select the solutions that best solve customer pain points. A formal phase-gate commercialization process will help keep the product team on task towards achieving the commercialization targets and organizational goals. Prototypes and pilot testing are typical outcomes along the commercialization journey, which provide the product development team the opportunity to examine supply chain and manufacturing feasibility and cost while validating and refining the translated VOC directly with the intended customer.

The quality professional that understands the commercialization process, how to administrate and use the various VOC tools, and where/how to benchmark best practices in COPS, SOPS and MOPS is an invaluable asset to the organization.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Quality Career - What's Ahead in 2016?

The February topic in ASQ's A View from the Q is "Where do you plan to take your career in 2016? What’s your view of careers in quality today - what challenges is this field facing? How can someone starting out in quality succeed?"

2016 brings significant change to my quality career, as I retired from 3M in June 2015 after 34 years of dedicated service as a product developer, process engineer, quality engineer, quality specialist, quality manager, and Quality/Lean/Six Sigma teacher-trainer-coach-consultant. Through the years I have enjoyed building my global network of business leaders as well as quality professionals, colleagues and peers - many of whom I am happy to call friends today.

30+ years of ASQ membership, participation on various ASQ National committees, member-leadership roles in ASQ Divisions and Sections, numerous papers presented at the World Conference of Quality and Improvement (WCQI), membership in the Performance Excellence Network (PEN) and service as a Baldrige Evaluator to the state of Minnesota, all played important roles in broadening my professional network leading to professional growth. My most cherished role is that of mentor and coach. I am so proud to have helped influence the careers and professional growth of my direct reports and mentees, and to have helped shape and sustain the business success of my internal clients and external organizations.

Having retired from 3M last June and moving from Minnesota to Phoenix last July, I am now focused on building my strategic quality leadership consulting business: QualityBob® Consulting. Over the decades I purposely and mindfully built a reputation and personal brand of authentic quality expertise and leadership. Many years ago my friends and colleagues inside and outside of 3M began calling me "Quality Bob". A business associate one day kiddingly inquired as to whether I had given thought to trademarking the phrase "QualityBob". Intrigued, I checked into the process and two years later QualityBob® Consulting became a registered US trademark. Since retiring from 3M my wife and I have been primarily focused on remodeling our Phoenix home (A projected four month project that is finally wrapping up in its eighth month...). I have also launched my professional website and continue to nurture my network. I have renewed my membership in ASQ and Southwest Alliance for Excellence (SWAE) - a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that advances improvement and excellence in organizations, communities and individuals throughout Arizona, Nevada and Utah by using the Baldrige Criteria. This May I am giving a presentation on strategic planning, deployment and business execution at the ASQ Phoenix monthly Program meeting.

Reflecting on changes observed since I began my 3M career back in 1981, I view the biggest challenges facing communities, organizations, governments and even the quality field itself as the exponential rate of change, globalization of financial markets, data security, lack of clean fresh water, global warming and all the associated ills that it brings - droughts, floods, disease, pestilence, famine, etc. But most disconcerting to me is the continued lack of systems thinking by our leaders. Today's complex problems cannot be solved with simple solutions and quick sound-bites. Interconnected, systemic problems require transformational thinking and novel solutions; cooperation and collaboration, not unhealthy competition and lose-lose compromises.

To today's students and apprentices of quality I encourage you to seek out a trusted mentor, participate in professional member societies of quality and organizational excellence, contribute your knowledge, skills, talents and passion to local communities and non-profits, and engage in special projects to broaden your experiences.

Retired from 3M (a great company to work for), but not retiring from Quality,
Robert 'QualityBob' Mitchell