Sunday, October 28, 2012

Increasing the Value of Quality

During my 31 years in Quality engineering and management I have come to understand, appreciate, advocate and promote the greater role of the quality professional in organizations large and small. Though the average person on the street still thinks of quality as QC and inspection activities (aka "little q"), the demand for "Big Q" strategic, enterprise-wide quality has never been stronger, nor the urgency and importance greater. Today's continuing difficult global economic condition is causing uncertainty in the marketplace. Just this evening the CBS television news documentary 60 Minutes asked the question, "Are we headed for a recession or economic recovery?" Many businesses are scaling back their growth plans and even shrinking their work force in order to limit their exposure and reduce their risk in these uncertain times; they are exhibiting a bunker mentality, hoarding their cash instead of investing in capital expansion, commercializing new products and hiring new talent.

Every year since 1999, The Conference Board has asked hundreds of CEOs from the world’s leading organizations to identify their most critical challenges. The top five challenges from the 2012 CEO Challenge are Innovation, Human Capital, Global Political/Economic Risk, Government Regulation, and Global Expansion.

ASQ has conducted six Future of Quality Studies – in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011. The studies comprise three major components.

  1. Identify the key forces that are most likely to shape the future of quality.
  2. Develop alternative scenarios describing how these forces might unfold.
  3. Determine implications for organizations, the quality field, and for quality professionals.
The 2011 ASQ report, titled "Emergence" discusses the 8 key forces affecting the Future of Quality as summarized from the input of 140 participants in 33 countries: Global Responsibility, Consumer Awareness, Globalization, Increasing rate of Change, Workforce of the Future, Aging Population, 21st Century Quality, and Innovation.

The similarities and overlap between these two studies validate the alignment and importance of Quality's increasing role to deliver organizational performance excellence and business results. I believe the Baldrige Criteria serves as an excellent framework to position Quality responsibilities throughout any organization. The Baldrige Criteria categories address leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, workforce engagement, operations management, continuous improvement and business results. 21st Century Quality goes beyond traditional product and service quality. It is about total customer experience: quality as defined by the customer in every transaction, every encounter - and everything in between.  21st Century Quality starts and ends with the customer. Quality has the opportunity - the obligation - to advocate for the customer (internal and external) throughout the Value Stream. Validating the voice of customer (VOC) to assure differentiating performance and competitive advantage is a key opportunity for the Quality improvement professional. The savvy Quality professional also understands the weakness in VOC methods to gather unarticulated customer desires, and is able to experiment with and facilitate new ideation methods.

Continuous improvement of the voice of process (VOP) is the traditional role of Quality, associated with assuring product and service quality. However, simply meeting specifications (requirements) is no longer good enough. Meeting requirements reinforces a goal post mentality where everything in-spec is equally good. Customers and patients today are more discerning; competition and regulations are becoming more numerous, and the pace of change is accelerating. Today's Quality professional recognizes the value of a quality-by-design, "Run to Target" mindset and is able to convey the merits of sustainability and statistical thinking to help organizations achieve operational excellence. Operational Excellence delivers cost-effective solutions through capable and stable, yet responsive and agile work systems and processes. Today's Quality professional is able to teach, coach and manage an effective Quality Management System to assure regulatory and industry compliance and business continuity. Today's Quality professional is also able to recommend, coach and lead the most appropriate continuous improvement methodology given the organization's culture and needs.  Lean, Six Sigma and Quality together support an overall business performance improvement strategy comprised of problem solving and continuous improvement. Lean philosophy abhors waste. Lean is a continuous improvement methodology that seeks to reduce cycle time and increase flow (i.e. speed) to consistently deliver quality product/service on time at the right quantity and value. Six Sigma is a project-by-project problem solving methodology that seeks to reduce defects for reduced variability and cost, and improved customer satisfaction. Quality processes exhibit predictable aim with minimal variation. Consistent quality and flow cannot be achieved without stable, capable processes; however, entropy is constantly at work. "Entropy acts on every process, causing it to move toward deterioration and decay, wear and tear, breakdowns and failures", says Dr. Don Wheeler. Holding the gains and demonstrating a personal commitment to continual improvement is everyone's job. Successful business performance improvement requires the participation of employees at all levels of the organization. Implementing continuous improvement where everyone is involved greatly enhances employee engagement, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. Quality's role as change agent and catalyst for change is a critical, growing responsibility in today's fast paced global economy.

The experienced Quality professional, skilled in strategic planning and change management, is also able consult and facilitate in strategy development, deployment and execution. Hoshin kanri/ business process execution methods are a new frontier for today's Quality professional seeking to make an impact at the C-Suite for enterprise improvement.

I believe the strategic, customer-focused Quality function is uniquely qualified to help businesses mired in indecision and paralyzed by fear to achieve sustainable, quality growth. As Quality professionals we should seek every opportunity to teach, coach and consult to enlighten others that delivering total customer experience requires everyone's participation, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, confidence and growth.

No comments:

Post a Comment