A Day With the Future of Quality

Edwin Garro is an ASQ Fellow and founding member of ASQ Section 6000, Costa Rica. He pioneered ASQ certifications in Central America. Currently he serves in ASQ’s awards board. He is an ASQ CQE, CQM/OE, CQI, CQA, CSSGB and CSSBB. He is the CEO of PXS, a leading consulting firm with offices in Costa Rica and Colombia. He has a B.Sc. in Industrial Engineering from the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, and a M.S. in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

In August of this year, I visited a junior high school class at the San Rafael de Poás Technical High School, in the mountains of Alajuela, Costa Rica. This is not a typical junior class; these 15-   and 16- year olds will graduate in 2017 with a technical degree in Quality and Productivity.

It was not my first visit to the class.  Ever since I discovered this new Quality and Productivity program, I have been fascinated by it.  These remarkable teens will certainly play a role in the future of our profession.

The Quality and Productivity Technical Program

As a whole, the cluster of medical devices companies is the largest exporter in Costa Rica. All the big names are here, Baxter, Boston Scientific, Abbott, Hospira, Hologic, Moog, just to name a few. Over the years, many Costa Rican professionals have specialized in “all things FDA,” and being ASQ certified is a formal requirement in many of these firms.

One area in which there is still a shortage of manpower is quality technicians. The Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE) took the  concerns of the customer (general managers of the medical devices cluster) and worked with the National Education Ministry (MEP, Ministerio de Educación Pública in Spanish) to create  this very innovative program.

Instead of reinforcing the existing associate degrees, they decided to create a high school technical degree in Quality and Productivity. Over a three-year period, students will receive 2,880 hours of education in management fundamentals, process improvement, quality control, quality enterprises and English. Five technical high schools started the pilot deployment last year; Colegio Técnico de Poás started this academic year. Seven more schools will start in the next two years.

Take a look at the objectives of the program, and keep in mind that the students will still be teenagers when they graduate:

1. Prepare technicians in accordance with the demands of current and future markets.

2. Promote the values and attitudes of quality.

3. Encourage the development of creative and critical thinking structures, which will allow students to deal with the continuous changes in social and economic systems.

4. Stimulate a quality and productivity mindset.

5. Promote quality through Statistical Process Control, local and international standards, the study of waste and the effective use of raw materials, seeking sustainable development with the environment.

Even though there are no graduates yet, companies are already lined up to receive these  students for their technical practice (the last three months of their senior year).

I myself am the product of a technical high school, having studied graphics arts and printing at Don Bosco Technical High School in the early 1980s. I know the impact of this kind of education. My printing background led me my first general manager position, and for the last 16 years, I have owned a successful lithography business.

My meeting with the quality and productivity teens

Every time I arrive at the school, I tell the students and their teacher, Yesenia Alvarado, an industrial engineer by profession and high school teacher by vocation, how much I admire them. They are part of the first truly global generation.  When they enter the job market, their quality knowledge will be a great advantage, even if, as many of them have told me, they go on to college and study something completely different.

During my August visit, I honored a promise I had made last time I came to the school. I told them I would bring all kinds of souvenirs from WQCI in Tennessee. They took my “loot” coming from the booths at exhibit hall, everything from pens to USB memories.

Second I gave them a quick lecture on the future of quality, which is kind of a paradox because they are the future of quality.

Third, and here comes the important part, I made an exercise with them. I asked them about their worries, about how they see the future. We made an affinity diagram exercise (see picture left) and after that a multi-voting session. These teenagers, many of them the sons and daughters of coffee production families, are already thinking about their future jobs and their opportunities in life.

Their three main concerns were:

 Lack of good English language skills for the global market

 Unemployment

 Low salaries

At age 15, they are more worried about the global job market than about prom night or first dates.

To encourage them, I told them that it is precisely their quality education and near future technical degree that will guarantee their full employment and market rate salaries, plus I urged them to pursue full college degrees. It was uplifting to see the students demanding better English classes because they know the current four hours per week is not enough to master a second language.

I don’t know what the future will be for these teens, but I do know that their odds are better with such a good education this early in life. The Costa Rican quality and productivity teenagers give hope to our profession.   I view their generation with a lot of optimism and I would be interested to know if there are similar project in other countries.

How Does Knowledge Management Complement Quality?

Arun Hariharan is a quality, knowledge management, and performance management practitioner. He has worked with several large companies and is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach.

 

His latest book, The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook, provides “hands on” advice for implementing Knowledge Management (KM) – not merely with technology, but with the more challenging leadership, strategic, and culture / behavior aspects of KM. The primary purpose of this book is to enable the reader to implement a strategic KM program in an organization and derive business results. This book is particularly addressed to CEOs and senior management to help them understand how they can use KM as a strategic tool to achieve their business objectives.  Purchase The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook from ASQ.

 

Arun spoke with ASQ about Knowledge Management, how it can be used effectively, and best practices.

What is Knowledge Management (KM)?

KM is an enabler to achieve an organization’s objectives better and faster through an integrated set of initiatives, systems and behavioral interventions – aimed at promoting smooth flow and sharing of knowledge relevant to the organization, and elimination of re-invention.

KM seeks to facilitate the flow of knowledge from where it resides, to where it is required (that is, where it can be applied or used), for achieving the organization’s objectives.

In your experience, what are the challenges that prevent some organizations from achieving results from Knowledge Management? How can these challenges be avoided or overcome?

The root of the challenge is that some organizations and their leaders seem to think that KM is all about technology. Examples abound of companies that have sunk truckloads of money in KM technology such as portals and collaboration tools, but did not get the results that they expected.

In my experience, there are four groups of factors, which I call the four pillars of KM, which will determine whether you get substantial and sustained results from your program. These are – in order of importance – (1) Leadership, people, and culture; (2) Keeping KM relevant to your business; (3) Measurement of KM (you need to measure both the enablers and results); and (4) Standardized KM processes and technology.  Your KM program will give you sustained results only if all four pillars are in place.

Does KM, with its emphasis on knowledge storing and reuse, kill innovation?

No, it doesn’t – KM only kills re-invention. And re-invention is not the same as innovation. If a particular type of work has been done by someone somewhere in the organization (or, ideally, even outside), another person re-inventing it or trying to get results through trial and error methods is not being innovative, but merely wasting their own and the company’s time and resources.

KM seeks to actively promote innovation by encouraging sharing of new ideas and at the same time eliminating re-invention. In fact, KM, by ensuring that your existing organizational knowledge is available in an organized fashion, facilitates further knowledge creation (in other words, innovation).

Our experience shows that every time existing knowledge from the organizational knowledge-base is reused, some new knowledge is created in the process of applying or customizing the existing knowledge to the present situation. Some companies that I work with also have KM initiatives such as IdeaExpress (a scheme for generating innovative ideas from employees), which are nothing but innovation factories.

Can quality and KM complement each other?

Absolutely. While Knowledge Management and quality are distinct disciplines, my experience working with both taught me that there are several ways in which the two can complement each other. Companies that have both a KM program and a quality program have the unique opportunity to get them get in tune with one another.

How KM can help quality: In several companies that I worked with, the KM program frequently helped us to identify potential quality-improvement projects. For example, some of our high-impact Lean Six Sigma projects were identified as a result of our KM program bringing in relevant knowledge in the form of competitor benchmarking information. Some of our best quality-improvement projects started as employee-ideas from our structured idea-generation initiative, a part of the KM program.

Also, successful quality-improvement projects were often done as pilot-projects in one part of the company. Once successful, these projects could be quickly replicated across the company through the best-practice sharing process that is in place thanks to the KM program.

How quality can help KM: On the other hand, we were able to quickly institutionalize best practices identified through the KM program by making them part of standardized business processes. This was possible because the company’s quality program ensured that it had a strong foundation of standardized processes, subject to continuous improvement. Secondly, the quality program ensured that critical business processes are clearly identified and mapped, making it easy to prioritize and focus KM efforts on these processes.

In companies where we implemented lean management, I added “re-invention of the wheel” to the list of different types of waste that lean commonly talks about. And, clearly, re-invention is one of the evils that KM seeks to eliminate.

In several companies, KM and quality are both important components of the business excellence program, and they complement each other beautifully.

The synergy between KM and quality is also borne out by the fact that, several years ago, well known excellence models such as Baldrige and EFQM added KM-related criteria. The revised ISO 9001:2015 also emphasizes the importance of KM in a new clause.

Is KM primarily about technology, or is there a strategic and/or culture aspect to it?

The differences between KM as a strategy and a limited technology-only approach is that a strategic KM Program has the following:

•    Senior management involvement
•    Link with broader organizational priorities
•    KM initiatives (such as knowledge bases, communities of experts and collaboration) centered around pre-defined “mission-critical” areas
•    KM roles clearly defined
•    Close-looped processes for knowledge-sharing and replication in mission-critical areas – not left to choice or chance
•    Technology as an important enabler, but clearly one component  of a larger KM program

On the other hand, a technology-only approach to KM is a narrow view that treats the implementation of some form of technology (usually an intranet / portal with features of document management, storage and collaboration) as the be-all-and-end-all of KM. In such an approach, KM is not linked to organizational priorities or employees’ performance.

Not surprisingly, organizations that take the technology-only view end up getting hardly any results from KM. What is the use of the best technology if we have an organizational culture where people are reluctant to share their knowledge with others, or unwilling to “copy” even proven best practices?

August Roundup: What's The Future of Quality?

Last month, ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers wrestled with a big question: What road will quality take in the future? In his August blog post, ASQ CEO, Bill Troy laid out two scenarios—one evolutionary and one revolutionary.  Some bloggers took one view or the other, while others explored how the counterpoints merge or complement each other. Take a look.

Evolutionary: Anshuman Tiwari writes that quality is evolutionary by nature, not revolutionary, and that’s fine. Edwin Garro notes that “we quality professionals surely are the basic units of an autopoietic system“–that is, one that can reproduce and maintain itself as necessary. Jennifer Stepniowski writes that a cautious revolutionary approach that doesn’t forget its roots generally thrives. And John Priebe adds that an evolutionary approach is superior to a revolutionary one.

Revolutionary: Aimee Sigler proposes that sustainability is the truly revolutionary idea in quality. Rajan Thiyagarajan makes the case that the future of quality will be revolutionary–as does Nicole Radziwill.  “We’re going to need new models for business, new models for education, and new models for living if we are to satisfy the stated and implied needs of an increasingly interconnected Internet of people and things,” she writes. And Don Brecken sees the future of quality as a battle.

Both/And: Manu Vora predicts that the future of quality will be 80% evolutionary and 20% revolutionary. Jimena Calfa argues that the future of quality will be both revolutionary and evolutionary. Bob Mitchell also says the future of quality will be both–resulting in “resulting in uneven incremental, breakthrough and disruptive levels of performance improvement.”

Neither? Scott Rutherford asks if conditions exist for a quality revolution, finding that they do not, as quality is rarely part of educational curriculum.

John Hunter writes that the key to predicting the future of quality lies in the decisions made in the executive suite. Lotto Lai looks at the future of quality through the lens of the film “The Matrix.”

Guy Wallace writes about the role of marketing principles in the future of ASQ.

Dan Zrymiak believes that quality is moving from control and performance excellence to emphasizing innovation.

Michael Noble notes that the consumer has a key role in defining the future of quality: “But let me argue that ultimately change will not be driven just from within the professional community because the real driver of change comes from public demand on one issue or another.”

July Roundup: What's the Purpose of Vision?

Everyone agrees that a clear organizational focus is important, but how is it best achieved? In July, ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers responded to a prompt about the clarity of focus at Volvo and Ikea, and offered their thoughts on how to achieve and articulate an organizational purpose.

What is vision and why is it important? Tim McMahon writes about the role of PDCA in finding organizational True North. Manu Vora says vision is an organization’s dream of the future. Jimena Calfa defines the differences between vision and mission. Babette Ten Haken writes about developing foresight as a leader. And John Priebe writes about the importance figuring out your direction before putting together the road map.

Is a vision really important? John Hunter writes that vision can be meaningful, but is often just pretty words. Guy Wallace is also wary of a formal vision statement—define one, but stay quiet about it, he says.

Which organizations have a clear vision? Dr. Lotto Lai writes about the vision and mission of two organizations in Hong Kong. Nicole Radziwill unexpectedly discovered a quality ethic during a trip to Japan. Bob Mitchell writes about 3M’s vision. Rajan Thiyagarajan writes about vision and clarity at Apple.

Jennifer Stepniowski writes about the success of Subaru’s vision. Dan Zrymiak ponders whether there is such a thing as a Scandinavian model of quality. Anshuman Tiwari gives three examples of companies in which he has worked that have a clear vision and what it accomplished.

On that note, both Scott Rutherford and Edwin Garro examine ASQ’s own mission and vision.

And finally, James Lawther suggests that vision is simply something you’re good at and that also helps people.