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.