Not Your Father’s Quality

On Feb. 16, 1946, the organization now known as ASQ was born as the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC). It was an incorporation of 17 disparate quality societies comprising about 1,000 members. (For more information on ASQ’s history and 60th anniversary, check out www.asq.org in the coming weeks. The May issue of QP will also include related articles.)

The new organization’s constitution read, in part: “The purpose of this Society shall be the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the science of quality control and its applications to industrial progress… .”

Fast forward 60 years. Advancing and disseminating knowledge about quality is still a key part of ASQ’s mission, as is the focus on quality as a science and its applications to industry.

In 1946, that science consisted mainly of a handful of statistical standards, concepts and tools, most notably control charts developed by Walter Shew-
hart (known as the father of statistical quality control, or SQC) as part of his pioneering work at Western Electric and AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Though control charts and other SQC elements are still a vital part of every quality professional’s toolkit, today the science of quality encompasses a vast, complex array of concepts, tools and methodologies. Take the articles in this issue, for example. Voice of the customer is just one aspect of customer focus, now a tenet of quality and business in general.

Or consider “Lean Lessons” (p. 74), a new bimonthly column debuting this month, or the report on project teams (p. 59). In 1946 lean meant only thin, and teams were mainly the entities that played sports, not a staple of workplaces nor an example of the “people” side of quality, as they are today.

Changes in that people side take on another meaning. For its 50th anniversary in 1996, the Society (still known then as ASQC) created a booklet called “American Quality Pioneers.” Of the 55 profiled, only five were women; all appeared to be Caucasian. Note, too, the emphasis on American. Quality’s diversity today includes a decidedly global perspective, and ASQ has endeav-
ored to reflect that in recent years.

When those pioneers wrote and taught about quality’s applications, they were referring solely to manufacturing. Today’s quality professionals also apply their skills and knowledge to service industries, healthcare, education and even government. Admittedly, progress in those areas has been slow, and opportunities still abound, but quality has no doubt reached far beyond the dreams of the Society’s founders.

But the founders didn’t use the word “applications” by itself; they included the concept of “industrial progress.” Today we call it organizational performance or business excellence. For all the changes in the last 60 years, that is one of quality’s most important and constant roles.


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