Monday, June 10, 2013

Maintaining 'Continued Relevance' of Quality

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, surely comes up with some good questions. Asking good questions is a key characteristic of quality professionals. Or atleast it should be. I have admired Paul for his ability to elevate the dialogue. In our meeting during his visit to India earlier this year I returned very impressed with how dedicated he was to make ASQ the global voice of quality. We need more like you, Paul.

This month Paul has asked two very fundamental questions. If answered and acted upon, they could change the course of quality. Read his blog here. His questions are:

§  What is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?
§  And, what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?

Both are heavily loaded questions. With no clear answers.

Challenge of Continued Relevance
So, what is the most important challenge the quality community faces? I think it is continued relevance. As a profession we are in a trough. One peak of the GE fuelled Six Sigma is behind us. Another peak awaits us somewhere. There are no Juran and Deming and there might not be any again.

This time we have to create it soon rather than wait for it. Why am I being so pessimistic? I am not. I am being realistic. Look around us:

Most quality teams are shrinking in size
Some of our work is now so routine that it has moved to operations
Not much new has happened by way of methodologies for over a decade
Attendance at conferences is low
Training rates are at a low never seen before
Not many new jobs are being advertised, and I could go on.

I have written earlier about the poor quality of quality professionals these days. Many of us are in the profession because it appears easy and relaxed from the outside. And this is killing us slowly. Slow poison.

Hiring better quality professionals, training them to be even better, pulling up our socks and delivering on business results seem to be the key to continued relevance. I feel more is required though. Quality professionals need to be trusted advisers – people who can advise business on what can be changed for the better, what new business can be taken, how we can save more money, what can we do about people engagement. Advice that can be turned into material benefit.

Quality in design will be another key requirement of us. We all know if quality is built in at design stage then life is easier in production or service delivery. That begs a question. What do we improve if quality is already built in? We will need to be creative in finding improvement opportunities. Increasing use of IT applications will mean processes will be by design better.

What are we delivering?
Paul’s second question is around what question we need answered to advance the state of quality. I think this question is – What are we actually delivering?

I can be accused of being short-sighted and in a state of panic but I am convinced that we have to fight to get back our credibility on the leadership table.  Let us look at the last year in our careers. What have we delivered – tangibles? The time to build culture and ingrain a continuous improvement culture may have passed us by. It may return but not before we have won our credibility back.

How much more business did we bring?
How much money did we save the business?
How many processes are faster because of our work?
How many processes are more accurate because of us?

The questions we asked earlier were how many green belts we trained and how many courses did we conduct. Enabling people to deliver or help us deliver is already part of the deal. It is not a deliverable.

Better people in Quality
So, what will make us more relevant and help us deliver more? Better people in our profession. We have to attract a better set of professionals to what we are attracting now. This cant alone be done with money. We have to have a better purpose for them to join us. It won’t hurt to have some very ruthless professionals join quality for some time.


We can be relevant again. We have to be. Business will need a quality voice. It is now up to us to invent our future.

2 comments:

Jagadish C A said...

Mr Tiwari:

Interesting answers to the questions posed by CEO of ASQ.
My two cents on the topic below.

He posed two questions - first is about challenges faced by quality professionals and second one is about advancing state of quality.

I will try to answer by linking these to some of the irreversible trends happening in the business world today.
- Today’s big innovation & high quality becomes must have to survive in the market place of tomorrow. Pace of innovation has accelerated.
- Quality levels in general have been continuously improving no doubt due to contribution of quality Gurus such as Juran & Deming but also due to contribution of ordinary quality folks. Consequently, it is almost impossible for a single company to hold on to quality edge for too long.
- Prof Noriaki Kano’s famous model is more relevant as ever. Quality attribute which delighted customer yesterday becomes the must have attribute of today, otherwise it is likely to result in customer dissatisfaction.
- Due to rapid advances in technology, speed of processes have increased great deal and level of manning required has coming down rapidly. At the same time, skill levels required is constantly going up.
- Though there is some talk about reversing of the trend, global supply chains have come here to stay. Work goes to the most efficient and economical.
To survive and thrive in this challenging environment everyone has to change his behaviour suitably. Quality professionals are no exception.
Though number of available quality tools / methodologies have not increased much in the recent years, amount/sources of data available for improvement projects has increased exponentially. This is the so called big data.
To facilitate improvements projects under these circumstances, different types of techniques may have to used.
Some examples of new techniques –
use of NoSQL instead of SQL to query unstructured data which is not in the traditional data table format. Data mining techniques like Machine learning which relay on computer programs themselves to find patterns in data. New software frameworks such as Hadoop which can be used for processing enormous amounts of data quickly and cheaply.
Use of data from social media (such as Twitter & Facebook) for understanding customer satisfaction and company reputation.
Another emerging trend particularly in manufacturing is - internet of things whereby machines, products exchange information in real time.
Running improvement projects using data from techniques such as these can lead to significant advancement of quality .

Doing things like these can result in advancing state of quality.

Jagadish C A
qmaxim.wordpress.com

aravind108 said...

Excellent article and some profound thoughts which have been boldly expressed. Couldn't agree with you more....I am sure many quality professionals are going through these thoughts at least occasionally but seldom openly articulated.