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:
- More ASQ focus and training on quality's role in driving and achieving innovation
- More ASQ focus and training to aid the technical Quality professional in making the successful transition to management and leadership.
- More ASQ involvement in K-12 education curriculum to increase certain quality concepts teaching in STEM courses (e.g. statistical thinking)
- More ASQ involvement with community colleges, universities and business schools to increase the awareness and discussion of quality principles and the Baldrige Criteria.
- Interpersonal Communication
- Social Media (for customer engagement)
- Change Management
- Leadership Behaviors
- Strategic Planning and Execution
- Community Involvement
- Coaching and Mentoring