Quality Shouldn't Stand Alone as an Entity

I am a quality assurance manager and engineer who has been in and out of the quality profession for many years. After reading the article "Recognizing the Critical SHIFT" (Lori L. Silverman with Annabeth L. Propst, February 1999, p. 53), I must comment on the section on quality assurance.

The statement is made that "all organizations need some kind of quality assurance system because it defines how the work is performed and monitored." I was surprised that quality assurance people did all this, as I thought management, both business and technical, initiated and directed designs, factory operations, or organizations to do the work to produce a service or product.

This attitude that quality organizations run everything is a source of much friction in all types of businesses, which rightly assume that management has this prerogative. One example is the introduction of ISO 9000, which certainly is a needed discipline in manufacturing and other organizations.

Somehow, I think employees see the press for ISO quality standards as a grand manipulation by management, but not as a quality standard. This effort may be valuable, but can be very disruptive when it permeates an entire organization. People see the certification process as intrusive and meaningless--so much more paper shuffling to get them to do what they already do well but now must write about and document endlessly. They don't really feel committed to total quality management, six sigma, and ISO 9000. To change this, I suggest that these quality programs be called by their proper name--management processes.

All the tools are available to measure, control, define, standardize, and chart quality ad infinitum. All is heavenly except getting people to buy into it. The management of an organization must be totally committed to quality and able to lead everyone to march to the same drummer. Commitment to quality starts at the top, not with the quality assurance organization.

When the quality system begins to take hold, management must pay for this new way for years to come and account for the value of the money spent. Full support of upper management to a quality system is a prodigious management task, not started or owned by the quality assurance department. The most important part of the task is the continuous training, involvement, and selling of quality principles to everyone in the organization and continuous monitoring to measure the acceptance of the quality idea. The saddest development is an organization that pays only lip service to quality, shows little visible improvement, but has all the paperwork done correctly.

I am troubled that in the Silverman/Propst article, quality seems to stand alone with its own buzzwords and own corps of practitioners. It is treated as a full profession by a growing number of quality workers. Personally, I think this is the wrong direction and isolates quality from the total concept of modern management, where quality is one discipline among others, such as executive leadership, organization, marketing, and finance.

Lakewood, NJ

Author Response

he excerpt from Critical SHIFT: The Future of Quality in Organizational Performance that appeared in the February issue is Chapter 2 of the book. Because of space requirements, information related to the reader's comments did not appear. This reply focuses on two issues raised by the reader: who is responsible for a quality assurance system and whether quality should stand on its own as a discipline.

All organizations that desire to continually meet ever-changing customer requirements need a fully functioning quality assurance system. However, having this type of system in place does not imply that it is the responsibility of a so-called quality department to develop, implement, and maintain it.

As is true of any major organi-zational system, it is the responsibility of management to orchestrate its creation, deployment, use, and ongoing management and improvement. Today, some organizations accomplish this through a separate management steering committee, whereas others incorporate quality assurance issues into existing management team meetings.

We encourage organizations to use the latter approach, in conjunction with the active involvement of frontline employees, as the conduit to integrating quality throughout all aspects of their businesses. Otherwise, the use of a parallel management structure reinforces quality as being separate from the mainstream work of the organization.

If a quality department (or function) exists, it may assist with specific quality assurance activities, such as tracking quality costs; managing quality system documentation; initiating, scheduling, and conducting audits; and coaching individuals and work groups. But, while the department may facilitate the processes needed to accomplish these activities, management owns them.

In the introductory chapter to the book, we draw three conclusions from our qualitative research. First, the concept and practice of quality are timeless. However, "quality," as used within the context of total quality management, has fallen out of favor. While many outside the quality profession readily suggest that quality is dead, we strongly believe that it is going through a profound metamorphosis.

Second, when the practice of quality has finished its metamorphosis, it will have fully merged with, and ultimately transformed, the field of management. This field will no longer function as merely the sum of its component disciplines--accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, operations, and so forth.

The new management will synthesize these areas into a total system, causing organizations to focus on providing value to consumers, employees, and shareholders--as well as service to society. For us, total quality management is quickly becoming total organizational management--what some now call performance management, performance excellence, and operational excellence.

Finally, the inevitable result of this metamorphosis will be a reduction in the number of traditional quality professionals, concurrent with an increase in the number of quality practitioners.

We fully agree with the reader's comments. The real challenge is in the doing--structuring initiatives and organizational roles in such a manner that they truly align with and support these positions.


Student as Customer Idea Long Overdue

he article "The Case for Student as Customer" (Jim Wallace, February 1999, p. 47) is an argument long overdue. I have long been disheartened with the attitude that some universities have toward their students. I attended classes at a Massachusetts college between 1994 and 1996 before I withdrew.

At the time, I was a senior quality engineer working second shift and attending classes as a part-time day student. For the first two years, I was allowed to take exams at times that would not interfere with my work schedule. At the beginning of my fifth semester, I was faced with attitudes that I found shocking in this day and age. I was informed that I was expected to take the day off from work to come in and take quizzes.

No one, including the department head, took into consideration that I was working full time in a professional capacity, and was attending college to obtain a second degree. (Ironically, while pursuing my degree, I received ASQ certification as a quality engineer.)

Wallace also mentions that he attended some classes and noticed that overheads were too small and students were not paying attention. In my experience, I had instructors who either didn't explain themselves well or didn't speak loudly enough, even when asked.

When I asked for clarification on topics, I was treated with responses varying from informative to hostile. However, I had many students tell me after class that I asked good questions and they were glad that someone had said something.

I wish your article had been published back then so I could have sent copies to the department head, the dean, and the Office of Academic Affairs. I congratulate Wallace for covering both the rights and responsibilities of students as customers.


Corrective or Adaptive: More Discussion

he article by Dave Wessel ("An Ounce of Prevention," December 1998, p. 33) on cause-and-effect relationships was very good; however, he incorrectly used an example to illustrate a point. Under the section "Actions to address current problems" on pages 34 and 35, he used the following example to differentiate between adaptive and corrective action:

If, for example, a piece of manufacturing equipment begins to leak oil we could do some troubleshooting to determine its cause (a seal that has worn out). If we replace the seal we would be taking corrective action (eliminating the problem of leaking oil by attacking its cause).

Replacing the seal by itself would not be corrective action; instead, it would be adaptive because the reason the seal was worn has not been determined. If this is not done, then the new seal will fail prematurely, and the equipment will again leak oil; thus, the problem still exists.

An investigation to determine why the seal was worn will lead to corrective action. For example, the investigation may determine that the seal was worn because the equipment was misaligned. Corrective action * in this case would be to align the equipment and then replace the seal.

I understand the author was using this simple example to make a point; however, his article loses some credibility with professionals who are involved in this type of work. Again let me say that I thought the article was very good, and it emphasizes a philosophy that leads to success.

Project manager, Advanced Aromatics


In the article "Using DOE to Determine AA Battery Life" (March 1999, p. 71) the keys identifying the lines in Figures 7 and 8 were reversed. As described in the text of the article, the voltage for the Panasonic battery was lower throughout and dropped more than that of the Panasonic battery. Therefore the lines for Duracell should have been identified with squares and those for Duracell with diamonds.

Another article ("Standards Group to Meet in Late March," p. 26) identified two different men named Jack West as being the same person. Instead, Andrew H. "Jack" West from Maryland is an ASQ past president, while John E. "Jack" West from Texas is chairman of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to Technical Committee 176, which is representing U.S. interests in the development of standards.

Ken Karch was referred to as Ken March in "Applying Concepts to Community Issues" (March 1999, p. 52), and Deborah Hopen's first name was misspelled as "Debra" in the same article.

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