What's the Next Big Thing?

I often am asked that question or hear it bandied about. The questioner typically is talking about the next big thing after Six Sigma, total quality management, business process reengineering, quality circles and so on.

I usually decline to answer because A) I don't have a crystal ball and B) I believe the question is based in wrong thinking. I agree with quality professionals and experts who believe quality may not be as relevant or respected as it was 20 years ago because of this tendency toward "flavor of the day, next big thing" positioning.

Many people believe quality has developed by evolution, not revolution, building on the foundations established by pioneers such as Philip B. Crosby, W. Edwards Deming, A.V. Feigenbaum, Kaoru Ishikawa, Joseph J. Juran, Walter A. Shewhart and Genichi Taguchi; adding new concepts and tools; and adapting all to the situation, organization and current business environment. Six Sigma is no different, nor will the next program to gain wide-spread attention and adoption be.

In addition, achieving performance excellence, customer loyalty and all other desirables associated with true quality takes a systems approach using a variety of tools, programs and methodologies woven together within a cohesive strategy. Read profiles of Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winners, and you'll see few, if any, of these organizations employing just one methodology in attaining this level of success. And, rather than waiting for the next big thing, they proactively pursue improvement.

But even if quality doesn't need a next big thing, it's useful to look ahead for clues to what might be coming. Though this issue's cover articles focus on Six Sigma, authors Rick L. Edgeman and David L. Bigio (who, unlike me, may have a crystal ball) provide an outlook I think pertains to quality in general . They highlight these trends and potential developments:

  • Organizational resources will likely remain sparse.
  • Supplies of the world's resources are dwindling, so besides a continued focus on the financial bottom line, there will be heightened interest in the environmental, societal and technological bottom lines.
  • Citizens will continue to insist on accountability and better use of resources by governmental agencies.
  • Our healthcare system--full of errors and runaway costs--will not get better anytime soon.
  • Increased consumer demand for improved products and services, better  value and shorter cycle times will continue.

Can you see a need and opportunity for your skills and knowledge in any of these areas? Could they portend the next big thing for you?

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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