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].