ASQ - Energy and Environmental Division

What does the future hold for quality practitioners? There are many possibilities; but if we collectively do our jobs correctly and serve the best interests of our employers and clients, we should eventually work ourselves out of our respective roles. Does this sound absurd and pessimistic? It might, but when you think about it, that should be the ultimate goal of every quality practitioner. Working ourselves out of our jobs is what makes quality assurance the “vanishing profession.”

This is best illustrated with a reference to the costs of quality, namely external failure costs, internal failure costs, appraisal costs, and preventive costs. As quality practitioners become more influential and effective, the relative ratio of these categories favors preventive costs. The system-emphasis of quality assurance seeks to entrench positive and constructive habits into the normal operations of a business or organization, so that outside intervention or assistance from an external party (like a consultant or specialist) is no longer necessary.

Consider the following stages of evolution for an organization moving from the lowest level of quality to the highest. At each stage, the importance and priorities of the quality assurance practitioner change to reflect the most critical tasks of that particular stage.

Stage 1: The Reactive Quality Organization
External failure costs: High
Appraisal costs: None
Internal failure costs: None
Preventive costs: None

At this initial stage, there are no steps or measures taken to evaluate or control the product before its release to customers. The organization is entirely dependent on the feedback from users of the product or service. Any reported problems are resolved.

The role of the quality practitioner is diagnosis and damage control, and quality is centered at the postsales support or customer service areas.

The quality costs are unplanned, unpredictable, unlimited, and often understated. At extreme levels, the costs can rise beyond the material costs to include liabilities, penalties, and the costs of a negative reputation in the marketplace.

Stage 2: The Initial Quality Organization
External failure costs: High
Appraisal costs: Low
Internal failure costs: Low
Preventive costs: None

At this stage, the organization recognizes the hardship that poor quality brings and undertakes some prerelease inspections. These inspections identify problems while the product or service is still within the control of the organization, so the failures are captured internally.

The role of the quality practitioner is still diagnosis and damage control, but she/he serves as the gatekeeper of what can be released. The bulk of the effort occurs after the product or service has been functionally completed.

The quality costs are still unplanned and unpredictable. Appraisal costs (inspections, reviews, etc.) are at their lowest since the individuals performing these functions are not fully committed and can be removed.

Stage 3: The Quality Control Organization
External failure costs: Low
Appraisal costs: High
Internal failure costs: High
Preventive costs: None

At this stage, the organization has seen the benefit of tests and inspections and has committed the necessary resources. As a result, more issues are being discovered internally, with exceptions passing through the gates to the customers.

The role of the quality practitioner is primarily focused on testing and inspection to the point where quality assurance and inspection are seen as synonymous. The involvement of the quality practitioner is focused on the development or in-process activities to find problems early. Material review is also more prominent in this stage.

The quality costs have reduced substantially and should be within a defined ratio of the overall corporate costs (i.e., 8–10% of sales).

Stage 4: The Quality Learning Organization
External failure costs: Minimal
Appraisal costs: High
Internal failure costs: High
Preventive costs: Low

You cannot inspect quality into a product. The evolution of inspection practices effectively identifies problems or defects, but it does not prevent them. At this stage, there is still abundant waste and rework necessary. In order to reduce this waste, investments in preventive costs (training, documentation, equipment, resources, planning activities, supply chain management) are initiated to address potential risks and problems before they manifest into quality issues.

The role of the quality practitioner is highest in this phase, since the quality practitioner is involved in appraisal and preventive costs. Teams of practitioners are inspecting and reviewing work in progress, but they're also training and mentoring other employees in proper quality practices. The high value of internal failure costs justifies the increase in resources in order to reduce waste and rework.

The quality costs reflect the levels of commitment and investment and are spread more evenly throughout the business cycle. The minimal external failure costs reduces the unplanned and unpredictable spikes that may occur.

Stage 5: The Quality Assurance Organization
External failure costs: Minimal
Appraisal costs: High
Internal failure costs: Low
Preventive costs: High

Prevention has a positive impact on external and internal failures. The end-to-end control of quality risks within every functional area of the organization raises awareness of potential issues, which are controlled. The issues that escape control are caught in the net of the advanced and evolved inspection practices.

The role of the quality practitioner is to guide and mentor every employee, partner, subcontractor, or interested party in a manner that will positively affect the final outcome. With increased mentorship and experience, the quality assurance tasks can be explicitly defined and delegated to subordinate or less experienced resources, freeing up the knowledgeable practitioners for more complex and challenging issues.

The quality costs are coming down and reflect a planned, predictable, and defined approach.

Stage 6: The Quality Managed Organization
External failure costs: Minimal
Appraisal costs: Low
Internal failure costs: Minimal
Preventive costs: High

At this stage, the product or service is properly prepared at each critical point so that risks are addressed. The high reliability of these products reduces the need for inspection, so a less stringent sampling plan can be applied.

The quality practitioner should have mentored everyone on the proper practices, and the mindset of the company should be unified with the purpose of quality assurance, removing the need for a quality specialist or consultant. The practitioner has effectively worked herself out of a role.

The quality costs should be primarily in the preventive cost category and should be embedded into the normal operating costs of the business so that they are indistinguishable. Quality objectives are embedded into corporate objectives, and corporate success includes the achievement of quality objectives.

As quality practitioners, we are expected to work toward the evolution of the most mature organizational level. And what is our reward? How many individuals have devoted themselves to their practice or profession, succeeded in their endeavors, and were then advised that their services were no longer required? This sequence of stages explains why that happens and how that occurrence should be seen positively.

This is reality, so how should we react? My personal approach is to seek organizations and opportunities with a dynamic set of products and services. The rapid evolution ensures that there are always new risks and challenges. Growth industries require new employees, who will need to be mentored and trained. This is the best place for a career quality practitioner.

I hope that this helps you evaluate the profile of your organization and your respective role. It definitely puts the fate of quality practitioners into proper context.

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