Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

This month, I’m trying something a little different for our monthly topic for discussion. I recently read an article by Brooks Carder, a longtime member of ASQ who recently worked with our board. Brooks shared the following piece that he’s written for ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership Division newsletter. I think it is well worth our time to read, discuss, and learn from.

As Brooks points out, we have all gone through some kind of conversion.  We know in our hearts we can help make this world work better.  We don’t need to be over-the-top, but we should have the confidence to tell our story, understand our own value, and inspire others.
You may agree or disagree with Brooks’ piece, but as you read it, keep these two questions in mind:

  • How do we encourage those who work in quality to understand their own value? (Beyond the perception of ourselves as “nerd engineers,” as referenced in Brooks’ piece.)
  • How do we spread the message of quality in a marketplace overflowing with ideas about how to boost profitability and ever-changing management trends?

Here’s Brooks’ piece:

One of my college roommates recently sent me an intriguing article, “Redefining Capitalism,” published in the McKinsey Quarterly, by Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer. It came under the heading:

“Despite its ability to generate prosperity, capitalism is under attack. By shaking up our long-held assumptions about how and why the system works, we can improve it.”

Just the notion of McKinsey giving a voice to the notion that maximizing profits was not a good thing intrigued me. The gist of the piece is expressed in one of the opening paragraphs:

“Significantly, this view shifts our perspective on how and why markets work from their allocative efficiency to their effectiveness in promoting creativity. It suggests that markets are evolutionary systems that each day carry out millions of simultaneous experiments on ways to make our lives better. In other words, the essential role of capitalism is not allocation—it is creation. Life isn’t drastically better for billions of people today than it was in 1800 because we are allocating the resources of the 19th-century economy more efficiently. Rather, it is better because we have life-saving antibiotics, indoor plumbing, motorized transport, access to vast amounts of information, and an enormous number of technical and social innovations that have become available to much (if not yet all) of the world’s population.”

When I read this, it reinforced my belief that quality is critical to the function of the economy that is described here. But many of us do not appear to realize that. Consider ASQ’s mission: To increase the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world.

In my opinion this is not sufficiently ambitious. After all, quality is responsible for many of the things that make life better. Just the change in automobiles would represent major improvement in the quality of life, an improvement that was enabled by quality.

My own version of a mission would be: To improve the function and value of goods and services worldwide, and to facilitate the development of new products and services that improve the quality of life.

You may think that this is too ambitious. After all, are we not just a bunch of nerd engineers, sitting at the end of an assembly line, keeping statistics and occasionally convincing someone to change a process for the better?

Well, we are what we think we are. But we should not just settle for that. We have undergone a conversion, and it’s a conversion that is very much like a religious conversion. We believe in something that most people don’t believe in. The something we believe in can make life better in the here and now. We need to understand that this religion must be preached.

My own conversion was at the feet of the Billy Graham of quality, Dr. W Edwards Deming. I had the great good fortune to attend six of his four-day seminars during the final years of his life, and even had some brief conversations with him. My conversion was literally an epiphany.

As a scientist I had difficulty understanding why business was conducted in the way that it typically was. Deming explained that my instincts were right and showed me the path to apply scientific knowledge and common sense to business.

Each of us has undergone a conversion. Probably many of them have been dramatic. Mine certainly was. So small groups of us get together for dinner once a month and engage in our rituals.  There is no incense, no chanting, no hymns, and no vestments for the leaders, unless you count our leadership team polo shirts.

But our religion is not as healthy as it should be. Our numbers are getting smaller and our members are getting older. Where is our outreach? The Mormons send their best and brightest young people around the world on two-year missions to spread the word.

But before we can mount an effective outreach, we need to appreciate the value of our own conversion, and the huge contribution we can make if we can bring our full capacity forward.

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8 Responses to Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

  1. Clay Hodges says:

    Quality is not as ambitious as is should be. I have heard people say that quality is an old tool. There seems to be a belief that everyone understands, and supports quality. It is true that many have some understanding of quality but there is still a ways to go. As long as people assume quality is something everyone does, many will leave it to other people. When quality is at the forefront and monitored appropriately, the organization grows.

  2. You Zhang says:

    Quality is very important and essential in response to the diverse needs of the world. But actually, very likely, people only remember quality is to satisfy customer and make money of them. Even commonly, quality becomes platitude in the company – eveyone knows but no one thank highly of it. Everyone think this the job belongs to someone else e.g. quality department. It’s easy to remember innovation, but without quality, the value of innovation can be greatly decreased. When iphone firstly come to the world, people love it because it delivers the quality we never experienced before. Quality is really not as ambituous as it be!

  3. Penny Pulz says:

    The millennials and those that are coming up today will get ‘quality’. Think about the 3D printer recycling into new products. Our world must change or we will kill it with all the pollution and head in the sand mentality. And young people are open to to old idea of quality as a new idea to save the planet

  4. Mehboob Urrehman says:

    Indeed, quality personnel of the era need a drastic behavioral change to boost outreach of the religion (Quality). And that change comprise of increased self-accountability & decisiveness.

  5. Wilmi Vizcaino says:

    I agree that Quality is not as ambitious as it should be, but this is our responsibility not to call it our fault. I recently had a conversation with a peer who works in a quality position and have direct interaction with production employees. In our conversation, I asked this person what he thought about ISO 9001 and SOPs as a mean to sustain quality, and the answer I received was that he didn’t believe in any of that, the SOPs were out there for audit purpose, he said.

    As you can imagine I was stunned. How can we work on a career you don’t believe in? And, what kind of influence are we going to have on those who know little about what quality can bring to the organization if we don’t believe in it in the first place? To Brooks’ terminology, there are many of us in our religion that don’t truly believe in it, and to reach the heaven of our quality profession (to be ambitious), first we all need to become faithful believers.

  6. Marcia M Weeden says:

    Quality has become so focused on compliance and defining what is desired and meeting those expectations that the other dimensions that quality offers have been forgotten.

    When was the last time we have heard anything about management review or how top management has sat down and taken what quality has done for the past year and utilized that information to make things better for the long run? Even the quality standards reflect the drop of that focus. They have become so generalized that it is easy to delegate Quality to a department. What happened to the quality professionals who report directly to the CEO? Some organizations still have them, but many do not. Quality is often expendable at budget-cutting time.

    Quality is not a single-prong approach to improvement. It is double-ended, but the work that needs to be done at the other end, i.e., within the organization at the top, has been dismissed as not valuable or too time-consuming, forgotten because there were no longer demands for that involvement, or was never understood in the first place.

    Organizations have been so focused on short-terms gains that they’ve thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Lean Six Sigma produced remarkable results by going after low-hanging fruit, but many of these gains were not sustainable or Six Sigma became passé because there was no vision of what else Quality can do. There are only so many times that workforces can be consolidated and jobs shipped overseas all under the name of improving the bottom line.

    Of course there is more that Quality can do. It can be vibrant. It should be involved with the visions of moving forward. That’s not happening. Frankly, those doors do not seem open to quality professionals. It is difficult to show what else Quality can do when it is excluded from the boardroom.

  7. Bill
    Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to re-read a true Quality classic: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. To my mind it is the source of philosophical thought and epiphany and conversion.
    Is there room in Quality for a larger vision? Absolutely.


  8. Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.