2011 in Quality: Successes and Disappointments

It’s hard for me to consider that it’s the middle of December already. There’s been something incredibly fast about this year. Don’t know whether it’s the advancement of my years, or if, as the ASQ Future of Quality Study suggests, it’s the “increasing rate of change.” I’d rather it be the latter, except for the trepidation of what lies ahead as the rate of change continues to accelerate.

I want to thank all the Influential Voices bloggers for reading View From the Q and using their good voices to get the word out. And thanks to the many blog readers and commenters for the gift of their interest and views. The quality community has much work to do if quality is to find its rightful place in society. Whether improvements are large or small, personal or social, it seems “modern” quality is not well-understood.

While ASQ has a voice, the community is making a mistake if it assumes our voice is enough. That’s why World Quality Month in November was exciting. It gave us a glimpse of what could be possible if more voices, those of the world’s quality organizations and their members, joined in harmony to bring attention to what we all know is true – quality works!

I’m frustrated by the gap between where we are and where we could be. I suspect that frustration helps stoke my fire. I’m frustrated by how poorly understood quality is, and frustrated more by how difficult it is to change the status quo. Now, I only need to look around me, turn on the news, pick up a paper, or scan the Internet to realize the quality community isn’t alone in its challenge to change the status quo. So perhaps I should look back to realize how far we’ve come. There are so many stories of success – those are the stories I tell – but there could be so many more.

A year ago I asked about your New Year quality resolutions, and many offered thoughtful actions. If that was the “do,” I’m curious now about the “check.” How did the year unfold? What successes were recorded? What disappointments? Or, maybe, what was the most significant quality event of the year for you, and why?

I’ll offer two disappointments. Both are close to home for me. The U.S. Congress deemed it necessary to discontinue funding of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program and President Obama agreed by signing an omnibus bill. It was disappointing that all our efforts to inform Congress about the value of the program and its proven return on investment were, it felt, ignored. Soon you will see an economic study that measures the social benefit-to-cost ratio of 207-to-1, but it didn’t seem to matter.

On the bright side, we have a 23-year legacy to take into the future. We have a Baldrige Foundation, the Alliance for Performance Excellence, and nearly 40 state and regional programs. We also have the passion and dedication of an incredible team of people on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, and together we will transition the program into the private sector. While necessity may be the mother of invention, this necessity seems so short-sighted.

The day after President Obama signed the bill that ended federal funding of Baldrige, I received a notice from the U.S .Department of Health and Human Services announcing a new billion dollar grant program to stimulate innovation in healthcare. What if, instead of spending this money, we learned from the 2011 Baldrige recipients in healthcare (not to mention the other 15 healthcare recipients since 2002)! How much we could learn!

And while I’m on the topic of healthcare, my second disappointment is that Dr. Don Berwick left his position as administrator of the U.S. Centers of Medicare and Medicaid. Don’s lifetime of leadership in healthcare quality won’t end with his all too-short tenure at CMS, and I look forward to where his intellect will next take him.

Ending on a high note, the most significant experience I had this year was while attending the 8th China Shanghai International Symposium on Quality, hosted by the Shanghai Association for Quality. I had an opportunity to hear Shihong Tian, the Director General of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), describe what reads like a national quality plan. I know there’s a big difference between plans and results. But results seldom follow in the absence of plans. So, I will watch with interest and enthusiasm as the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy works to carry out its plans. The world may well benefit. Leadership is welcomed and needed.

Here’s to 2012! To you. To your families. And to quality!

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