Pathos and Progress

Just two weeks before we completed this issue, the space shuttle Columbia tragically disintegrated in the skies over Texas. At press time, NASA is still investigating what happened, but ASQ members are already wondering whether quality could have played a role in preventing the disaster. (For a thoughtful discussion, check out the postings on the QP Discussion Board on www.asqnet.org.)

No one doubts quality tools and methods are being used to find the root cause. Some members of ASQ's Aviation/Space & Defense Division work in aerospace, including a few at NASA. In the coming months, as more information becomes available, we hope to bring you insight and perspective from division members on quality in aerospace and, specifically, the Columbia tragedy. Please stay tuned.

Considering the magnitude of this disaster, especially in combination with all the current and potential crises in the world, I feel almost guilty sounding optimistic. Yet I can't help it, having just come from the first ASQ and QP Business Excellence and Customer Satisfaction (BECS) conference. The energy and enthusiasm among the attendees, speakers and exhibitors was positively infectious. This is a good sign for the quality movement.

While customer focus should be the foundation and most important element of any business strategy, we all know that isn't always the case. The comment I heard most often during the conference was, "If customer loyalty programs make so much sense, why aren't more companies doing this?"

Substitute the word "quality" for "customer loyalty," and it's a familiar refrain. One member of a conference panel commented that with ISO 9000:2000, this is the first time companies actually have to worry about their customers' needs, at least in terms of conformance to a standard. Previous versions of ISO 9000 required only that customer complaints be documented.

This stronger focus on customers is just one reason proponents of ISO 9000 are anxious for organizations to become registered to the 2000 version--not just to make the Dec. 15 deadline but also because a robust ISO 9000:2000 program can help an organization get everyone on the same track toward improvement.

What I found most encouraging about the BECS conferene was that many of the attendees are just starting--along with their organizations--on their customer focused improvement journeys, and they can't wait to get going and reach the next level. With that kind of eagerness and engagement, these new disciples of business and performance excellence can only advance the cause of quality.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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