Going Beyond the Traditional Quality Function

I spent a couple of days last week in Washington  D.C. at a forum of a new organization called the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition. I must say the Coalition  had assembled a remarkable group of interests from manufacturing, government, research, academia, and associations.

The Coalition explains its goal as such: “A new era of 21st century smart manufacturing will optimize plants and supply networks by starting to transform them into profit centers. Progressive businesses have already begun gathering information and manufacturing intelligence by investing in highly automated and IT-driven production. This manufacturing intelligence enables the factory floor to become a profitable innovation center.” 

In the group’s dialogue, quality came up repeatedly.  More specifically the talents, and skills, of the quality profession – workflow, systems, processes, metrics, cycle time reduction, supplier management, change management, and more.  My thought was that sure,  the quality profession brings a lot to the table.  

My question is, how well understood and embraced are the contributions of the quality professional beyond what is traditionally thought of as the quality function?  My hope is that use of quality is widespread; my fear is that it is not.

I welcome your insights, your experience, and your thoughts on how to increase the value of quality in organizations beyond what is traditionally thought of as the quality function.

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12 Responses to Going Beyond the Traditional Quality Function

  1. Haresh Amre says:

    Beyond Traditional Quality…
    This is a quite pertinent question to ask. As we are celebrating 25th anniversary of quite a few models, standards and philosophies those have shaped modern day Quality profession and professionals, it is necessary for us to look at history and learn from our evolution.

    Initiation of Quality profession can be traced to ‘guilds’ in 13th century. Those were the days of individual craftsman and individual’s competence played significant role in determining Quality. During industrial revolution period, the relationship between quality, productivity and cost was established. Impact of Quality was observed not only on customer experience but also on operational performance. The early 20th century has taken quality from localized improvements to across the value chain thru ‘process’. In the post world war II era, Quality Gurus’ have shared multiple philosophies and principles. Majority of them were focusing on role of leaders and management in promoting Quality and continuous improvement in the processes in order to improve Quality and operational performance.

    1987 is a tipping point for Quality. During that year, we saw emergence of multiple models and standards like MBNQA for business excellence, ISO 9000 series as standards for Quality Management Systems, Six Sigma improvement paradigm at Motorola and Process Capability Maturity Model at Carnegie Mellon University.

    Based on this historical perspective, I observe 5 phases in the Quality evolution.
    1. Quality as individual’s competence
    2. Quality control
    3. Quality assurance
    4. Quality to improve business performance through process management
    5. Quality for business excellence and sustainability
    Though, it is difficult for me to say which phase should be termed as traditional quality.

    It is essential for Quality professionals to bring all the stakeholders of Quality profession on common ground. If leader’s vision for Quality, management’s commitment to Quality, expectations of organization stakeholders from Quality and competence of Quality professionals are not aligned, that it may lead to confusion and chaos in the operations. In my understanding, Organization needs to go through all the phases of evolution till it reaches to 5th phase. 5th phase is a journey that should become integral part of culture / DNA of the organization.

    Stakeholders’ expectations may vary from Quality function based on their immediate need, understanding and exposure to different phases of Quality evolution and perception of Quality professional’s competence. Quality professionals need to identify the appropriate phase for the organization based on industry maturity, competitive land-scape and leader’s vision for organization. They should understand the different competencies required for each of these five phases and invest into self-development. Quality professionals are change agents. They help organization eco-system to transition from one phase of quality to another. This transition brings prosperity and development for organization, its stakeholders and society at large.

  2. Candice says:

    Your question resonated because I similarly share your fear. But more importantly your question hopefully welcomes the movement for a new day in the world of Quality has begun.
    In your arcticle above, you discussed the introduction of modern innovation into the manufacturing environment. I think that the word “modern” here is key. The secret here could be the rejuvenation, facelift and some aggressive campaigning in the area of quality to marry the modern innovations that are reshaping the landscape of the traditional maufacturing environments.
    As long as “Quality” is seemed to be associated with the quality function…..it’s just someone else’s job, a department’s responsibility etc.
    I think that the revolution of Health and Safety within Manufacturing environments over the past 20 years holds the secret for Quality to breaking the existing confines of the Quality Function/Department.

    I think that there is a lot to be expolored in developing an aggessive, pro-active and energetic campaigns within Organizations that mirror the enthusiasm and momentum of the Safety type programmes. Critcal to this is the seeding of Quality and it’s prinicples and benefits throughout an organization, developing the ethic of ‘Quality’.

    I think that your question is a very pertinent one and we all as quality professionals hold the key to transcend the confines of the traditional quality function.

    I hope that one day, you can share the anwer…..

  3. I like this topic and believe that the Quality Function can be effectively engaged as long as it is involved early enough and with high enough stature within the enterprise. Rather than being limited to “after-the-fact” inspections and controls, the Quality Function will be most effective as a Design partner, Customer and Regulatory advocate, and Executive agent for Finance and Governance. I elaborate in my blog at http://qualitevolution.blogspot.ca/2012/10/redefining-quality-function-from.html.

  4. Glenn Mazur says:

    The Quality Function is Deployed across the organization formally with QFD. This puts the “F” in QFD. What this means is that the quality function is engaged during business planning, project chartering, customer identification and exploration (questionnaires, customer gemba visits, etc.) design and development, build and implementation (manufacturing, service design, software development), testing, logistics, commercialization, support, etc. Why such a broad mandate? Because quality professionals are capable of assuring that all the other activities are done with quality thinking – PDCA, root cause analysis, SMART metrics, rigorous auditing and use of statistical methods, customer satisfaction measurement, and so on. Leave the quality guys out and numbers will be flying around to “prove” whatever the squeakiest wheels want.

  5. Allan Reimm says:

    Your “fear” is justified. Unfortunately the quality function is too often viewed as an impediment to fast everything (R&D, design, APQP, mistake proofing, training, etc.). It does take a certain amount of time to accomplish the traditional as well as the future quality initiatives and all too often management is unwilling or unable to commit the resources or time. Instead we suffer the “pains” which includes for example the cost of an unsuccessful launch of a new product. It is a difficult cycle to overcome and implement what is already known and proven to work. Too often management speaks out of both sides of their mouth not realizing the confusing messages they send to the workforce. After 36 as a Quality professional and past General Manager of four manufacturing plants, I find myself more committed than ever and will continue to work diligently to promote the “Quality Revolution”. I want to get beyond the “traditional” before my career ends.

    • Souby Jing says:

      I totally agree with you. The quality team was lucky in your plant because you are a very thoughtful general manager in understanding quality. But how about most of common companies, what they can do under current theory and limitations. The only way is to try to become a GM and go back to support quality?

  6. John Adkisson says:

    Perhaps it would help to recognize that those who represent the “quality” function also represent accountability. In an organization run by someone like Jack Welch, senior managers would have the entire suite of quality related functions handed to them, and they would enthusiastically embrace it, recognizing the added value (or find work elsewhere).

    However, accountability is a bugaboo in the public sector. Consequently I would expect to see a continuation of the practice where quality professionals are often treated as unwanted stepchildren…

  7. Cyril says:

    Each of us gets frustuated in doing the same type of work. Gone are the age, where one find the repeatative work, today the organizations always look at what and how things can it be better. The word meaningful change in our day to day activities contribute to the development. This meaningful changes is nothing but a old wine in a new bottle. This transformation is based on the new way of utilizing the traditional quality tools to perform better in creative stage.

  8. Larry Pope says:

    I will paraphrase my MBA Economics Professor, there are two answers to any question – It’s Complicated and It Depends. I have had the privilege of working for several pharmaceutical companies in my career. Each had it’s own “Quality Culture.” The strongest of those companies, from the standpoint of economics and regulatory compliance, were the ones that encompassed Quality at all levels of the organization. In one company, supervisors that wanted to become managers had to work in multiple departments before they could progress. For example, A QA supervisor couldn’t spend his/her whole career in QA. They had to move to Operations, Validations, Engineering, or Supply Chain. At first, I did not get the logic of this practice. However after spending a couple years outside of QA, the light bulb went off. I got it. As a QA Manager, I needed to understand the business as a whole not just my narrow element of the business. Over the years, this experience has served me well and I think I am a better QA professional for the experience. When I am hiring individuals, I also look for this varied experience.

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with Paul Borawski that the use of quality is not widespread. Many still rely of the Quality department to keep them “out of trouble.” Doing things the right way, the first time, and everytime is the only way to truely have long-term economic and regulatory compliance success.

  9. Souby Jing says:

    From my opinion, the way can go further is combining the Lean together. In some companies, the quality of flow or layout is even more important than product quality itself. One of my best friends worked in one logistics company in supporting one famous BTB company, but he is sitll with the title of quality manger. And according to some companies’ practice, they usually combine Quality department and ELS department into one to try to get the most valuable result for their organization.

  10. Elizabeth Quijano says:

    I’ve been practicing Quality as a profession for 9 years and I understand the frustration. As Quality we need to develop certain skills to be able to implement tools in our organization. Skills that will be important would be business skills, communication and leadership skills. We have the right tools but we need to effectivly deploy those tools.

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