Out of Quality, Out of Business
Shifting the perception of quality from nonessential to essential
by Diane G. Kulisek
Being lean used to be associated with poverty and starvation. Today, being lean refers to profitability and fitness, especially in business. Cutting corporate fat, or nonessentials, has become as important for organizational health as slimming down is for personal health.
Unfortunately, quality seems to get tossed into the corporate fat vat more often than it should. How could quality have shifted from being essential to nonessential, and how can we shift the perception about quality back to one of being essential again?
How quality turns nonessential
Designing quality into products and processes—a lean approach—can justify elimination of quality inspection. Statistical tools such as design for manufacturing, process capability optimization and statistical process control, along with process automation, can reduce human errors, avoid rework and scrap expenses, and stop costly warranty returns or field repairs.
In principle, becoming lean sounds sensible. In practice, there can be major flaws, beginning with the misperception that quality is nonessential or even wasteful. Here are five major flaws:
- Confusing detection with prevention. Quality control and quality assurance are definitely not the same things, although they can be easily misunderstood. Quality control is about detecting mistakes after they have been made. This is also known as inspection. Quality assurance is about preventing mistakes from happening. This is also known as quality engineering or quality management. When people unfamiliar with these differences say quality is nonessential, they are talking only about quality control. Unfortunately, this may be all it takes for the top management of a company to decide to eliminate all quality professionals from the workplace, including those who prevent quality mistakes.
- Accepting fiction for fact. Quality assurance professionals ensure quality has been designed into a product or process using the statistical tools mentioned earlier. Without this information, decision makers may believe quality has been designed into products or processes when it has not. Without quality control, quality mistakes will also not be detected.
- Focusing on the short term without the long term. Liability associated with knowing about quality problems has made it impractical for top managers to seek information about quality problems.1 Their most effective short-term strategy might be to avoid information about quality problems while others in the organization work to solve them. Unfortunately, problems seldom go away when ignored and, without quality assurance professionals to identify the problems and champion their solutions, the problems will likely grow in the long term.
- Confusing bad quality with good quality. The absence of quality may have become confused with the presence of quality. Bad quality leaves more of a lasting impression than good quality. Bad things are wasteful. If some quality is bad, it might be tempting to say quality is wasteful.
- Mistaking excellence for quality. Excellence and quality are not interchangeable words. According to Robert Pirsig, quality came from the Greek word arete, which means excellence with virtue.2 Excellence without virtue is, therefore, not quality. Pirsig also said quality is the result of care.3 Those who stop using quality in their language may instead start using excellence. Excellence, unfortunately, does not require virtue or care. Just as a process can be perfectly in control but totally incapable, an organization can be excellent at providing a product or service about which nobody cares.
Restoring quality as essential
Quality has always been a selling point. In fact, quality sells itself. If we want to re-establish how essential quality is, we need to demonstrate that business cannot go on without it.
Marketing professionals use statistical analyses to determine what customers want. Quality professionals use statistical analyses to ensure customers get what they want. Sales professionals present the key features of products and services customers care to buy. Quality professionals ensure the key selling features of products and services are cared about by those who provide them.
Capitalize on similarities between marketing, sales and quality professionals. Synergy describes a situation whereby a group working together can produce a better single result than the combined independent results of the same individuals working alone.
Here are several ideas about how quality professionals can develop synergies with marketing and sales professionals:
- Interface with prospective customers about quality requirements.
- Attend customer-related events on behalf of your company to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to quality. Enlist help from sales or marketing to develop your presentation.
- Publicize your organization’s quality-related achievements by sending press releases to popular industry and trade publications.
- Report quality performance related to dollars shipped, sales booked and customer satisfaction.
- Make quality-related presentations on behalf of your company to industry, professional or community organizations.
- Include your title and company name in your profile and become active in business-related, internet-based social networks, such as LinkedIn.4
- Participate in expert industry surveys by respected independent research agencies on behalf of your organization.
- Share copies of materials from your sales and marketing-related efforts with your organization’s top management.
Quality does sell. Bad quality sells other companies’ products and services. Good quality sells your company’s products and services. Great quality sells greatly. The bottom line is, when it comes to selling what your company has to offer, if your company is out of quality, your company is out of business. I’d say that makes quality pretty essential.
- Diane G. Kulisek, "Has Quality Become a Liability?" Quality Progress, January 2007.
- Wikipedia, "Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/moq_(pirsig).
- Dean Summers, "Pragmatism and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: A Study of Robert Pirsig’s Contribution to the Pragmatism of Peirce, James and Dewey," http://robertpirsig.org/Pragmatism.htm (case sensitive), 1994.
- LinkedIn is an invitation-only professional networking website at www.linkedin.com. For an invitation to join the ASQ LinkedIn Group, contact the group manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane G. Kulisek of Simi Valley, CA, is director of quality for Moore Industries-International Inc., president of CAPAtrak LLC, a writer and motivational speaker. She holds a master’s degree in engineering management from California State University, Northridge. Kulisek is a senior member of ASQ and is active with the ASQ Chemical and Process Industries Division and ASQ San Fernando Valley Section 706. She holds ASQ certifications as a manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality engineer.