August Roundup: What's The Future of Quality?

Last month, ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers wrestled with a big question: What road will quality take in the future? In his August blog post, ASQ CEO, Bill Troy laid out two scenarios—one evolutionary and one revolutionary.  Some bloggers took one view or the other, while others explored how the counterpoints merge or complement each other. Take a look.

Evolutionary: Anshuman Tiwari writes that quality is evolutionary by nature, not revolutionary, and that’s fine. Edwin Garro notes that “we quality professionals surely are the basic units of an autopoietic system“–that is, one that can reproduce and maintain itself as necessary. Jennifer Stepniowski writes that a cautious revolutionary approach that doesn’t forget its roots generally thrives. And John Priebe adds that an evolutionary approach is superior to a revolutionary one.

Revolutionary: Aimee Sigler proposes that sustainability is the truly revolutionary idea in quality. Rajan Thiyagarajan makes the case that the future of quality will be revolutionary–as does Nicole Radziwill.  “We’re going to need new models for business, new models for education, and new models for living if we are to satisfy the stated and implied needs of an increasingly interconnected Internet of people and things,” she writes. And Don Brecken sees the future of quality as a battle.

Both/And: Manu Vora predicts that the future of quality will be 80% evolutionary and 20% revolutionary. Jimena Calfa argues that the future of quality will be both revolutionary and evolutionary. Bob Mitchell also says the future of quality will be both–resulting in “resulting in uneven incremental, breakthrough and disruptive levels of performance improvement.”

Neither? Scott Rutherford asks if conditions exist for a quality revolution, finding that they do not, as quality is rarely part of educational curriculum.

John Hunter writes that the key to predicting the future of quality lies in the decisions made in the executive suite. Lotto Lai looks at the future of quality through the lens of the film “The Matrix.”

Guy Wallace writes about the role of marketing principles in the future of ASQ.

Dan Zrymiak believes that quality is moving from control and performance excellence to emphasizing innovation.

Michael Noble notes that the consumer has a key role in defining the future of quality: “But let me argue that ultimately change will not be driven just from within the professional community because the real driver of change comes from public demand on one issue or another.”

The Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

In 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville, a French political writer, wrote his classic work, Democracy in America.  His observations about America were a fascinating window into the times and issues of the day.  Part of the power of his observations was his detached perspective.  He could stay above the intense political currents, prejudices, and passions of the times and report on what he saw and heard.  His writings still resonate today and tell us about the American character and culture.

I am a little bit like Mr. De Tocqueville, abroad in a foreign land, albeit not as articulate, learned, or astute.  In this case, the land is the quality community. As a newcomer to the quality field, I don’t have an insider’s grasp of the culture, language, or heritage, but I have a great admiration for your passion for quality.

While being a visitor can be frustrating and confusing, I hope you will see it also gives me the advantage of a certain amount of objectivity.  The quality community has many different constituencies, each with its own perspective.  There is broad agreement on some things and sharp disagreements about others.

One of the things I bring to this post is my respect for what you know and what you do.  I came from a military background where you quickly learn that standards and certifications are serious business.  Being in a field such as yours, where we also value learning, standards and certifications, feels noble and right to me, and I bring the advantage of a certain detachment from one particular quality perspective, which I hope will serve the community and ASQ well.

One of my early observations is that I believe there are two very distinct views about the future of quality we need to at least acknowledge, if not actually reconcile.

Evolutionary change: I would describe one view as the ascribing to evolutionary change.  The quality movement has been immensely important and successful in many fields and will continue to grow and evolve, but will do so in recognizable and well-defined ways.  We will move down traditional paths but reach new destinations and make new inroads into fields that are underserved today. We will keep doing what we do well and find ways to do it even better.

Revolutionary change: I would call the second view as seeing revolutionary change in the future of quality.  Some of the ways we brought value to our businesses, industries, and communities will have to fundamentally change.  We will have to bring value to the C-suite as much as to the production line. We must have tools that will facilitate a meaningful contribution at ever more senior levels to make the impact our customers and colleagues want.  Knowledge, which we value so highly and have worked so hard to gather, organize, and refine, must be shared much more freely in the age of new media.  Even what we describe as quality may be subsumed by different umbrella terms such as “organizational excellence or “risk management.”

I predict a lively debate in the days ahead and I look forward to reporting what I see and hear among you who hold the keys to our future in your hands.

In the meantime, what do you think? How will the future of quality unfold?

Establishing a Culture of Excellence: A Conversation With Arun Hariharan

Arun Hariharan is a quality, knowledge management, and performance management practitioner. He has worked with several large companies and is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach.

 

Written for both quality practitioners and business leaders, his latest book, Continuous Permanent Improvement (Quality Press, 2014), is a strategic distillation of experiences, anecdotes, stories, case studies, and lessons learned from successes and mistakes in nearly three decades of experience.

 

Hariharan has worked with business processes, systematic thinking, customer focus, quality, and performance measurements in a variety of companies and industries as diverse as financial services, telecom, manufacturing, conglomerate, and management consulting.

 

He spoke with ASQ about key lessons in establishing a culture of continuous permanent improvement.

Q. You talk often in your book about the need to establish a culture of excellence at an organization as a way to ensure success. Others would use profitability or market-share as a way to gauge success. How do excellence and profitability work together to define success in an organization?

Arun Hariharan: In a business, clearly, profitability and market-share are key measures of success. A culture of excellence is an important enabler to achieve financial results – in any event – to achieve them in a sustained way. A culture of excellence will ensure that the organization is proactive and does not miss any improvement opportunity. It can be said that financial results are the end and a culture of excellence is an important means of achieving this end – that’s how they work together.

I would like to use the example of Toyota and another automobile manufacturer (that shall remain unnamed out of respect for the dead!). Both started their automobile manufacturing operations around the same time some decades ago. Toyota decided to follow the path of excellence.

The other company, because it enjoyed a monopoly for many years in its market, made good money for several years despite palming off a shoddy quality product. The party lasted as long as customers had no choice. In the 1980s competition set in, but this company still refused to pay attention to quality or excellence. It believed that it would always have a bunch of “loyal” customers despite its poor quality and despite competitors offering better value.

The reality turned out to be very different. From the very first year that competition set in, the company that did not believe in excellence started losing market-share, eventually going bankrupt. An announcement of its shutting down appeared recently. On the other hand, Toyota, a company that believes in a culture of excellence, is a world-leader in profitability and market share.

Q. How big of a role should upper management play in establishing a culture of excellence versus regular employees?

AH: Upper management is the biggest make or break factor in establishing a culture of excellence. More than merely telling people that excellence is important, it is important to demonstrate to employees that upper management means this. The best way to convince employees is for senior people to actually get involved and spend time in excellence.

For example, I know CEOs who have spent time month after month for years in reviewing quality and customer related performance measures – with the same seriousness with which they review revenue and profits. Another important thing that upper management must do is to ensure that employees’ performance appraisals, starting with the CEO, include measures related to excellence – and that people’s bonuses and growth in the company are actually linked to this.

Perhaps the most important element in establishing the culture of excellence is for upper management to create an atmosphere where employees genuinely feel encouraged, not afraid, to make quality problems, defects and customer-complaints visible, so that they can be solved and prevented.

Q. Is there one particular tool or tools that you recommend are used every day in an organization that wants to commit to establishing a culture of excellence?

AH: We found that if strategic COPIS, root cause analysis, value stream mapping and simply listening to customers can become the organization’s habits rather than merely seen as tools to be used by a few, they will go a long way in establishing a culture of excellence.

Q. How should leaders capture, retain and apply organizational knowledge gathered in the pursuit of excellence?

AH: I look at customer-voice (which could include complaints or data obtained by surveys) as the most important part of organizational knowledge gathered in the pursuit of excellence. Once this knowledge is captured, some of the methods described in my recent book (such as root cause analysis to get to the root of the problem, identify the solution, and make the solution permanent by embedding it into the process) could be applied.

Another important part of organizational knowledge that we found worth retaining and replicating is completed excellence initiatives, including formal quality improvement projects. For example, an improvement project done in one part of the organization could be easily replicated in other locations if the organization has a structured way of capturing, storing, retrieving and applying relevant organizational knowledge.

Do You Have a Clear Vision?


European Organization for Quality Annual Congress: As I returned on Lufthansa Flight 436 from Gothenburg, Sweden, I found myself reflecting on some of the big ideas I was exposed to while attending the European Organization for Quality’s 58th Annual Congress this past June.  The Conference was organized by EOQ, the International Academy for Quality (IAQ) and several Swedish quality organizations.  Our Swedish hosts showed us the most gracious hospitality.  Sweden, as you well know, is an incredibly beautiful country and Gothenburg is a city that is both modern and historic.  With English spoken so commonly, it was a breeze to get around, and everyone we encountered was courteous and friendly.  I would like to briefly tell you about three presentations I attended and the one big idea I got out of each one.

Solving Current Problems vs. Preventing Occurrence: The first was Professor Noriaki Kano, an elected fellow of ASQ and the recipient of two ASQ Medals of Distinction: the E. Jack Lancaster Medal for 2002, and the E. L. Grant Medal for 2007.  He is one of the most respected voices on quality in the world.  He traced for us the history of the quality movement, and how Dr. Deming’s concepts were largely ignored here in the U.S. but found a receptive audience in Japan.  He posed a question for us at once simple and telling.  What’s more important, he asked: to solve the current problems you are facing or to prevent their future reoccurrence?

Well, when you ask a group of accomplished quality professionals that question, they naturally tend to start thinking about root cause analysis and finding metrics to help them see where you are going wrong, etc.  About two-thirds of the audience answered that prevention of future reoccurrence of the problem was key.  With a bit of a twinkle in his eye, Dr. Kano emphatically said “NO!  Your house is burning down; you have to put out the fire first.  Only then can you think about preventing a fire in the future.”  The idea I took away from this is that quality tools and principles are not just theoretical knowledge that may help solve some as yet unknown problems in the future.  They are every bit as much for today’s urgent issues and challenges: in our businesses, our communities, and our respective countries.  Quality is not magic, but quality tools can help right now with our toughest problems and it is a good thing for us to remember.

The Success of Ikea: The second presentation was from a gentleman from Ikea, Mr. Ulf Gustavsson.  Ikea has thrived for many reasons, but one reason, according to Mr. Gustavsson, is that Ikea stays in touch with its customers. By that, I mean they give customers what they want–stylish, practical products that are “cost-conscious.” (He explained that the word “cheap” is considered a curse word at Ikea and is never used!) They constantly think about the customer’s experience from the time customers get out of their cars, to finding what they need, to getting Swedish meatballs in the café.  Part of the process of staying in touch with the customer is that every executive at Ikea spends one week a year working in a job that puts him or her in direct contact with customers.  My take-away on this ethic of customer focus was summarized in a key question that Ikea continually asks, “Where and when is customer satisfaction created for your offer?”  That’s a really powerful question.  It forces you to think through what the customer is experiencing and where and when he or she will find satisfaction.

The Vision of Volvo: Finally, we went to the Volvo factory.  I have never been to an automobile factory before, so it was cool to see the big stamping machines and welding robots do their thing.  My takeaway, however, did not come from the factory.  It came from a visit to the Volvo Visitors Center, and the Volvo representative telling us about the evolution of safety features in Volvos, demonstrating their latest safety developments, and explaining the priority safety holds for Volvo.

My big take-away from this visit was discovering the clearest organizational vision statement I have ever come across, which Volvo calls Vision 2020.  It states simply, “by 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo.”  Think about that for a minute. They are saying that by the year 2020 (not that long away) you cannot be killed or seriously injured if you are in a new Volvo, no matter the circumstances of the collision.

The Key Takeaway: I came away moved by the power and clarity the vision can bring.  This focus on safety gives Volvo purpose and direction. It helps Volvo prioritize everything they do.  That’s what I found so enlightening.  We all understand focus isn’t going to solve all your problems for you.  If Volvo makes cars that are too expensive for their market, or lack the features people want, it won’t succeed as a business.  But there is only so much organizational energy, and if it is evenly distributed, you’ll never have a breakthrough.  There has to be focus–and a real vision brings real focus.

Here at ASQ I have been talking a lot about focus as we go through our strategic planning process.  Do we have the right focus and does everyone know it?  How about your organization?   Do you have a clear vision—and is it giving you the focus you need to succeed?