In It to Win It

Quality 4.0 report reveals what organizations must do to prepare for the future

By now, most people probably are familiar with the term “Quality 4.0.” After all, QP has dedicated two full issues to the subject over the past two years (plus various other articles and columns), and ASQ has developed an entire conference around the topic. What people are curious about, however, is the current status of Quality 4.0 initiatives within organizations.

To find out more, Boston Consulting Group, ASQ and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Qualität, the German Association for Quality, teamed up on a study called “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0.” The study was conducted in early 2019, during which time researchers talked to executives and quality managers from more than 220 organizations across 18 industries about their Quality 4.0 efforts.

Researchers wanted to know:

  • Participants’ views on Quality 4.0 today and five years from now.
  • The most important use cases.
  • Major challenges and skills needed to successfully implement a transformation.

“The research was done in a two-step process. Phase one was a quantitative online survey, and then we supplemented those findings with qualitative expert interviews,” said Bill Brody, the ASQ market research manager who oversaw the study. “And we spoke to experts across a whole spectrum—from academia to industry across a variety of sectors.”1

Here’s a glimpse at what researchers learned:

The status of adoption

Everyone who participated in the study acknowledged the importance of Quality 4.0, yet very few have a plan forward. Only about 25% of participants said their organization has a detailed strategy or roadmap for transformation, or advanced knowledge of Industry 4.0.

“Only 16% of organizations have started implementing Quality 4.0 initiatives,” said Brody. “Sixty-three percent have not even started planning. That 16% who have started implementing, we’re calling those folks the frontrunners.”2

Many participants said their organizations don’t have even a basic quality culture, with only 27% strongly believing everyone in their organization has a clear understanding of the organization’s quality goals and objectives. Overall, most organizations just aren’t prepared.

“Only one-third of participants say that they understand how digitization will change quality management roles and skills,” the study said. “Even fewer participants believe that their company has the right people in place to run a Quality 4.0 initiative (17%) or has a clear strategy for attracting Quality 4.0 talent (5%).”3


Although Quality 4.0 is the application of digital technologies to quality management, most survey participants didn’t identify technology as a major barrier to implementation—they named a lack of digital skills and talent as the top challenge. On a scale of one to 10—with one being a minor barrier and 10 being a major barrier—a lack of digital skills and talent ranked 7.3.

“This shortage leads to fierce competition for digital specialists, both within the company and externally,” the study said. “An unclear digital strategy ranked second among the most important barriers to implementation, and lack of quality culture ranked third.”4

Other barriers do relate to technology, such as outdated systems, fragmented quality data, and data quality and integrity. When frontrunners started implementing their initiatives, they assumed they had good data. As the initiative moved along, however, they quickly realized that wasn’t so as they ran into data integrity issues.

Pertaining to the frontrunners, Brody said: “Once you start on the journey, you realize you’ve got to get all your systems talking to each other. You may have thought that was going to be easy—it turns out probably not as easy as you thought. You have a data integrity issue—you thought your data [were] pretty good, [but] once you start implementing, you find out [they are] probably not as good as you thought [they were].”5

According to the study, participants also consistently underestimate cybersecurity as a challenge:

“Indeed, the fact that major cyberattacks continue to occur despite efforts to prevent them indicates that companies must carefully assess the vulnerabilities that Quality 4.0 initiatives create and must work with experts to address the resulting exposure.”6

Keys to success

Overwhelmingly, survey respondents believe that empowering and training people are the keys to a successful Quality 4.0 implementation. Soft skills continuously were at the top of the list—things such as problem solving, change management, communication and working with others.

A close second was technical skills, with 60% of participants saying analytics, big data and statistical expertise were extremely important or very important.7

Rather than finding new people with these skills, 70% of participants said they were going to retrain their current workforce.

“They’re going to upskill their workforce,” Brody said. “They realize the need, they’re going to take care of it first and then bring in the technology … So the companies that are winning are realiz[ing] there’s a need to upskill their workforce in order to successfully implement these programs.”8

These skills are only part of a successful implementation plan. The study details six additional elements that will help organizations implement Quality 4.0:

  1. Prioritize pain points.
  2. Identify, test and scale up use cases.
  3. Develop a vision and roadmap.
  4. Establish technology and data enablers.
  5. Manage the changes.
  6. Foster a quality culture.

“Success requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the full range of strategic, cultural, and technological issues,” the study said. “Companies that master the challenges will be rewarded not only with lower defect and failure rates but also with competitive advantage in the form of greater customer satisfaction and improved operational efficiency.”9

To read the full report, visit asq.org/quality4.0-research.

—compiled by Lindsay Pietenpol,assistant editor


  1. Bill Brody, “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0—Part 1,” video, ASQTV, https://videos.asq.org/winning-the-race-to-quality-4-0-part-1.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Daniel Küpper, Claudio Knizek, David Ryeson and Jan Noecker “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0,” Boston Consulting Group, ASQ and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Qualität (German Association for Quality), July 2019, asq.org/quality4.0-research.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Brody, “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0—Part 1,” see reference 1.
  6. Küpper, “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0,” see reference 3.
  7. Brody, “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0—Part 1,” see reference 1.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Küpper, “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0,” see reference 3.


Küpper, Daniel, Claudio Knizek, David Ryeson and Jan Noecker “Winning the Race to Quality 4.0,” Boston Consulting Group, ASQ and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Qualität (German Association for Quality), July 2019, asq.org/quality4.0-research.

What is your organization doing to prepare for the transformation to Quality 4.0? Tell us at editor@asq.org.


Survey: U.S. Manufacturing Vital To Strong Economy

The vast majority of Americans—95%—say they think manufacturing is strong and important to the U.S. economy. However, only one-quarter say they think the current state of the industry is either growing or stable.

In its second annual “Manufacturing Perception Report,” Thomas Co., a product sourcing, supplier selection and marketing company, surveyed more than 1,000 Americans to learn about their concerns and perceptions of the manufacturing industry. Among the survey’s findings include:

  • America’s brand: 62% of respondents prefer to buy products made in the United States, while 55% of respondents think the quality of U.S.-made products is superior to the quality of products made in Asia or Central America. Fifty-seven percent of respondents think products made in Europe are typically of the same quality as products made in the United States.
  • Manufacturing careers: 79% of respondents think government funding should be used to support apprenticeship initiatives.
  • Sustainability: 75% of respondents report that sustainability has a very important or large impact on the goods and services they purchase.
  • National security: 87% of respondents say they feel that a strong manufacturing sector is very or at least somewhat important to national security.
  • Tariffs: 46% of Americans feel increasing tariffs on imported foreign goods and services is too disruptive for the U.S. economy.

For more from the report, visit https://tinyurl.com/thomas-manuf-survey.


Next Year’s LSS Conference Takes Shape

The 2020 Lean and Six Sigma Conference will take place Feb. 23–25, 2020, in Phoenix. The theme of the event is “Applying Lean and Six Sigma for Organizational Excellence.” Focus areas include:

  • Embracing change.
  • The best of lean and Six Sigma in the digital age.
  • Integrating lean and Six Sigma principles, tools and techniques in Quality 4.0.
  • Delivering on what’s next.

Visit asq.org/conferences/six-sigma in the coming months for updates on keynote speakers and programming.


6 Organizations Named 2019 Baldrige Recipients

Six organizations were named recipients of the 2019 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, announced in mid-November. The recipients are:

  • Adventist Health White Memorial, Los Angeles (healthcare category).
  • Center for Organ Recovery & Education, Pittsburgh (nonprofit).
  • City of Germantown, Germantown, TN (nonprofit).
  • Howard Community College, Columbia, MD (education).
  • Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Oak Brook, IL (nonprofit).
  • Mary Greeley Medical Center, Ames, IA (healthcare).

The Baldrige judges also are recognizing best practices in one or more of the Baldrige criteria categories by organizations that applied for the award but were not selected as a recipient in 2019. This year, the judges chose one organization for this honor:

  • GBMC HealthCare System in Towson, MD, was recognized for its role-model practices in leadership.

The 2019 Baldrige Awards will be presented at a ceremony during the Quest for Excellence conference March 24-27 in National Harbor, MD.

For more background on 2019’s recipients, visit https://tinyurl.com/2019-baldrige. For more details about the conference, visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe.

Getting to know…

Amanda Foster

Current position: ISO representative for Westcode Inc., a rail systems manufacturer.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in communication and writing from Houghton College in Caneadea, NY.

What was your introduction to quality? In early 2011, my company’s senior program manager called me into his office. Along with the president of the company, they told me that the company was seeking ISO 9001:2008 certification and they’d like me to lead the effort. I responded with, “You want to get what?” Later that year, we successfully passed our certification audit and I was hooked on quality.

Is there a teacher who influenced you more than others? Why? One of my college professors, Dick Wing, loved his work, the school, the students, the subject matter and life in general. His outlook was contagious. He made a practice of inviting entire classes of students over for dinner at his home each semester and truly investing in their lives. Houghton College desires to produce servant-scholars, and he certainly exemplified that ideal.

Do you have a mentor who has made a difference in your career? I have served as an International Team Excellence Award (ITEA) judge since 2014. There have been so many mentors making a difference in my career through that program. Some of those mentors have given me encouragement when I needed it. Others have patiently taught me how to use concepts and tools I had only read about. One provided a job reference when I recently made a career change. One even called me to offer condolences after my father passed away.

What is the best career advice you ever received? Read. If you want to become an expert in any field, constantly improve your mind on the subject by reading, discussing and being challenged by others.

Any previous noteworthy jobs? I spent 18 years with my previous employer, D&R Technical Solutions Inc., first as a desktop publisher, then a quality facilitator and quality manager. The company was my introduction into the quality field.

What ASQ activities do you participate in? I have served as an ITEA judge since 2014—five cycles as a preliminary-round judge and three as a final-round judge. In addition, I have presented at my local ASQ chapter, served as a subject matter expert for the certified quality auditor exam revision and reviewed abstracts for the technical committee for the ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement.

Personal: Married to my husband Mel since 1997. We have five children (four sons and one daughter).

What are your favorite ways to relax? Sewing, knitting and reading.

What books are you currently reading? Becoming by Michelle Obama with my book club and listening to the audiobook of Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell during my commute. Because I am in my first lean manufacturing position, I have been reading a lot of books on that subject lately, as well—most recently, Office Kaizen, by William Lareau.

Are you active on social media? I love that on myASQ, I have access to so many brilliant minds in the quality field in one place. I also use Facebook and LinkedIn, but not extensively.

Quality quote: Take time to listen and learn from others.

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