A change is coming

Q: I want to change industries and apply my quality background somewhere other than manufacturing. Where do I begin?

Submitted via QP reader survey

A: With a shift in the U.S. gross domestic product from manufacturing to service,1 it makes sense to start there. And after being in the financial services industry for some time, I have observed a couple of truisms.

First, the manufacturing sector is about 20 years ahead of the service industry in its quality journey. This comes from my firsthand experience in the service realm, where a manufacturing quality professional’s knowledge and experience are quite valuable.

Second, finding a coach to help you with the transition is helpful—and almost a necessity. I figured out the transition on my own, but it was not easy to shift to a new industry, and I made mistakes along the way. Considering some of the following points might make the transition easier.

My transition into the industry began in September 1999, when I received a phone call from a former supervisor who had left the company and started a consulting firm with another colleague.

They were working with a major financial institution in North Carolina, which led him to ask me what I thought about going to work for a bank. My answer: I didn’t think much of it, and I didn’t know anything about banking. After I went to the bank’s website, however, I saw there could be a fit. The rest is history, and I’m glad I made the transition.

The takeaway here is effective networking can be the catalyst for an industry change. Never burn bridges, and keep all of your relationships healthy. I owe my transition to financial services to my former boss.

Maybe the best way to get your name out there is to speak at conferences. I have registered with a national organization and have presented multiple times—locally and nationally. In addition, organizations regularly post requests for speakers or papers on their websites.

Another way to make professional connections is by participating in quality award programs. I was involved with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for four years and made contacts in many different areas, particularly in industries outside manufacturing.

Writing magazine articles and columns is another good way to network. I began my working relationship with QP as a member of its editorial board. After reviewing several articles, I tried writing one of my own. Since then, I’ve contributed a handful of articles to ASQ and another national organization, an exercise that has been very rewarding and an excellent way to stay sharp.

Participation in professional social networking sites is another excellent way to network, keep up with your old contacts and leverage them for future opportunities. These websites are just like your resume in that they need to be kept current with recent accomplishments and added job responsibilities.

One particular networking site, LinkedIn, allows you to recommend colleagues. Taking the time to do this for your contacts is an excellent favor to do for someone. And don’t hesitate to ask someone you know for a recommendation.

Since moving from manufacturing to service 11 years ago, I’ve learned there are two critical components to the transition. One involves a coach, and the other involves an exercise.

Having a coach to help with the transition is crucial. I quickly realized there were abundant opportunities to have a significant impact on my company in the quality area. What I did not have was someone cautioning me to take it slowly and to be pragmatic.

After making the transition, you may see—as I did—that while there are impact areas at every turn, the company may not be ready for change, and your bosses may not see the need for a quality system.

To find your way through new opportunities, I suggest writing a white paper outlining your value proposition and articulating your value to the new company.

In my case, the white paper was a roadmap and, later, the basis for several magazine articles. There was nothing earth shattering in the content. Rather, the fundamental approaches to quality—the things that made me successful in manufacturing—were highlighted, emphasized and simplified. The secret was to keep things simple, pragmatic and incremental.

Taking the time to put together a similar paper will give you experience with articulating your value proposition. This will help you be succinct in future job interviews, thus not overwhelming prospective employers.

Another key lesson is that what is perfect can be the enemy of what is good. Knowing how to cherry-pick elements of a quality system rather than implementing a full-blown system helped get management on board. It was easy for them to digest the quick-hit value add of a particular area without getting bogged down in the details of a wholesale quality system implementation.

To summarize, it boils down to networking and knowing your value proposition. These two things can facilitate your transition out of manufacturing into a different industry. Here’s wishing you the best of luck with a successful search and transition.

Keith Wagoner
Director, continuous improvement
Lincoln Financial Group
Greensboro, NC


  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis, "Gross Domestic Product: First Quarter 2009 (Final)," www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/2009/pdf/gdp109f.pdf.

Get organized

Q: I have 30 years of experience with quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) in the government service industry, as well as with regional quality management. I have organized quality departments in which accountability is to clients first—working as a change agent on their behalf—and the president or CEO second. The programs I have managed have been successful.

The problem I face now is that management does not understand total quality management (TQM) and is dictating to me. As a result, quality is a dumping ground for other people’s work. Is there a guideline written on how to organize a QA/QC department?

Abu Nasser
Columbus, OH

A: You mention you already have experience organizing quality departments and that the programs have been successful. You know what works, and that probably adds to the frustration in your current situation because you are being told to do something different.

To answer your question, there is no universally accepted written guideline for organizing a quality department. Many organizations build their quality organization on the ISO 9000 standard, which will ensure your department has critical policies and procedures in place. But effective management must go beyond those requirements.

I suggest you consider reviewing ASQ’s body of knowledge (BoK) for certified quality managers. The ASQ BoK is not as widely recognized or accepted as the ISO standards, but it may provide the level of detail you seek. Compare your department’s structures, systems and activities against the BoK requirements to assess the vitality of your department.

In a perfect world, you could persuade your boss to participate in this assessment with you. You will both benefit because you will be working with an objective standard. You mentioned your boss does not understand TQM, so the process will be informative for him and perhaps make him less likely to dictate.

If your quality systems are already strong, you will benefit because your boss will see evidence of your efforts during the assessment. If weaknesses and gaps are identified, work with your boss to formulate an improvement plan.

It is unfortunate your department has become a dumping ground. As quality professionals, we recognize the necessity of a technically competent staff. If your boss is willing to participate in the assessment, he may gain a deeper awareness and appreciation for the experience and skill levels required to run a successful quality organization.

As the quality manager, you play a critical leadership role within the larger organization. You will need to work with your management peers to ensure work assignments are performed by the appropriate department. For example, your staff should not be responsible for process design, but you can provide support for design reviews and perhaps lead process improvement initiatives.

Based on your many years of experience, you may expect certain things and take other things for granted. Some of your peers may not have the benefit of prior experience working with a world-class quality organization. Be patient and work with them as a partner.

You may want to try having candid one-on-one conversations with the other managers to determine whether there are negative perceptions regarding you or your staff. Perceptions are hard to overcome, but if the issues are not addressed, they will inevitably find their way to your boss and trigger another round of negative feedback. Some of the toughest problems we face as quality professionals are not technical, but instead are political and interpersonal.

Andy Barnett
Consultant, Master Black Belt

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