Friday, November 05, 2010

Raising the Voice of Quality

In his October 26, 2010 post to ASQ’s new blog “A View from the Q”, Executive Director Paul Borawski announced that ASQ was embarking on ASQ 2015 - an initiative to evolve ASQ’s role in the world to “Raise the Voice of Quality.” Paul notes that in November 2010 ASQ joins the world’s quality organizations in observing World Quality Month, stating, “We join the world in its efforts to bring attention to the impact quality is having in every corner of the globe. Better quality in products and services, better healthcare, better education, better government, better nonprofit organizations, better communities–individually and collectively making the world a better place”.

Paul Borawski asks what it would take to get the world’s attention to focus on quality; to have the world realize the full potential of quality?

I can’t describe it but I’ll know it when I see/feel it...
The first challenge is to have a common language around Quality. Joseph M. Juran’s Quality Control Handbook is the standard reference work on quality control and established Juran as an authority on quality. In his book Juran defines quality as fitness for use described by:
• features that meet customer needs, and
• freedom from deficiencies (errors, waste, defects, etc.).
Juran is widely credited for adding the human dimension to quality management. He pushed for the education and training of managers. He also developed the "Juran's trilogy," an approach composed of three managerial processes: quality planning, quality control and quality improvement

W. Edward Deming's conceptualization of quality suggests that quality must meet both explicit and latent needs. Deming believed that quality should be the underlying philosophy of a business rather than simply a component of its strategic plan.

Philip Crosby , in his 1979 book titled Quality is Free, defined quality in terms of Conformance to Requirements. My difficulty with this limited definition is in the following key areas:
1. It reinforces a goal-post mentality and behavior where everything inside the specification limits is treated as equally good
2. It assumes that specifications were soundly established in the first place, and continuously validated over time to keep pace with changing customer needs
3. It assumes the test methods for which the specifications were originally developed are relevant to customer use. Furthermore, are the test methods robust to uncontrollable noise and other effects? Are they stable and capable?
4. It assumes the sample being tested is representative of the lot. Has the product presented for inspection been sampled properly?

David A. Garvin ("Competing on the Eight Dimensions of Quality", Harvard Business Review, November-December 1987) proposes eight critical dimensions or categories of [product] quality that serve as a framework for strategic analysis: Performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality.

Genichi Taguchi defines the lack of quality as a loss to society. The societal-loss perspective suggests that “quality is the loss a product causes to society after being shipped, other than losses causes by its intrinsic functions". Losses to society result from either off-target performance, variability in performance or harmful side effects. Losses due to harmful side effects are referred to by economists as "negative externalities" or external diseconomies of production or consumption. Diseconomies of production occur when a producer's actions result in an uncompensated loss to others. This societal loss perspective of quality is the foundation of today’s “Green” and “Sustainability” initiatives.

Have a strong customer focus to improve key value streams
Regardless of how the producer/provider might define quality, the customer is the ultimate judge of quality. A “quality” product, service or transaction must deliver value to the customer – as perceived by the customer. It has been my experience that the single most impactful driver of quality is a strong customer focus (followed closely by process and system improvement, and total involvement). Customer focus is the greatest enabler of employee engagement – and employee engagement is critical to the long-term success of an enterprise. The notion of “Loss to Society” is a powerful driver to the continuous improvement of systems, processes, products and services because each of us wants to leave a positive legacy for our children and grandchildren.

Paul Borawski has said that “vision represents the end state, strategy represents the starting point...” (Quality Progress, June 2007). I further suggest that the organization’s values and principles establish the boundaries of acceptable norms and behaviors among its people as they deploy and execute the strategic, operational and tactical plans towards accomplishing its mission.

Customer focus must be internalized and structured as a key organizational and personal value. Per the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, Leaders must
• identify and innovate product offerings to meet the requirements and exceed the expectations of customer groups and market segments, and
• create an organizational culture that ensures a consistently positive customer experience and contributes to customer engagement and workforce performance.

“Quality at the Source”- the practice of shifting responsibility and ownership for quality to the production operator – recognizes that quality cannot be inspected into the product; rather, quality is designed and built into the product at each step of the value stream. Quality by Design and Quality at the Source are good first starts but customer focus requires more. All of the various customer touchpoints in an organization – marketing, field sales, customer service, technical service, quality engineering, complaint analysis, etc., must be aligned and coordinated into a cohesive organizational strategy.

Leaders must talk the talk to clearly and consistently communicate their expectations, and walk the walk to personally model the desired behaviors. Every individual must take personal accountability to “own” a customer issue when it presents itself, and personally see the issue to its successful resolution. Voice of Customer (VOC) should not only be an integral component to new product development, but customer feedback and VOC validation must be integrated into the Management of Change process. Customer requirements are constantly changing. That what was once an exciting feature eventually becomes an expected or even basic need (see Kano Model).

Apply statistical thinking everywhere...
Quality performance beyond conformance to requirements is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. A focus on the customer (and an eye on the competition) will help assure the organization will not be satisfied with the status quo, but will promote organizational learning and continuous improvement. The ASQ Statistics Division has been promoting statistical thinking for 30 years as a philosophy of learning and action to understand and manage variation for performance excellence. Statistical thinking can be applied to improve strategic, managerial and operational processes everywhere.


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