January Roundup: Quality Inspirations

Do you have a quality role model or inspiration? This was the topic for ASQ’s blogging group, the Influential Voices, in February.  A quality role model could be anyone from a guru to a mentor to a person who is not “in quality” at all, but still embodies quality principles. Here are the main inspirations for ASQ’s Influential Voices:

Family: John Hunter was deeply inspired by his father, a statistician, as well as statistician George P.E. Box. Jimena Calfa writes about being inspired by and learning about quality from her kids. Luciana Paulise remembers the quality lessons she learned from her mother.

Professional mentors: Manu Vora remembers various mentors and thought leaders he encountered during his career.  Lotto Lai blogs about first research supervisor.  Bob Mitchell found inspiration from leaders at 3M. Chad Walters is inspired by fellow lean blogger and onetime ASQ Influential Voice Mark Graban, while Nicole Radziwill is inspired by a psychologist and an activist. Aimee Siegler finds quality inspiration in both her professional and personal life. Rajan Thiyagarajan learned four lessons in quality from his inspiration, a professor.

Icons and beyond: Jennifer Stepniowski is inspired by Steve Jobs.  Edwin Garro writes about quality lessons learned from a famous pediatric surgeon. Sunil Kaushik blogs about finding quality inspiration in an anonymous online forum and TED talk.  And Pam Schodt wrote the intriguingly titled post 5 Keys to Quality Problem Solving I learned in a Pizza Delivery Store.

December Roundup: What Does Ambition Look Like in Quality?

The word “ambition” can be a loaded one. To some, ambition means striving above and beyond for excellence. To others, ambition can mean overstepping defined goals or boundaries. In December, ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers talked about what ambition means to quality.

Not surprisingly, this became a somewhat contentious topic among the group. Does quality need more ambition, or is ambition the wrong goal for the field? Which side do you take?

Pursuing ambition: Pam Schodt writes about how to encourage the quality message at work. Quality thinking is not just about ambition–it could be the key to putting all aspects of a business together, says Luciana Paulise. Babette Ten Haken encourages us to have an ambitious conversation about quality. Rajan Thiyagarajan talks of importance of collaboration when pursuing quality ambitions. John Priebe writes that ambition means solving problems.

Lotto Lai writes about what ambition means to quality organizations in Asia. Tim McMahon says that an organization’s executives must have high ambitions for quality before we an ask for ambition in others.

And Edwin Garro looks to the famous Latin American comic strip “Mafalda” for a lesson in quality and ambition.

Quality lacks ambition: Sunil Kaushik argues that quality isn’t ambitious beyond the scope of a particular project. Manu Vora agrees, listing ways that quality can improveQuality on the whole is not ambitious enough, and that’s fine, argues Anshuman Tiwari.

What do we mean by ambition? Michael Noble reflects on the definition of quality put forth in Robert Pirsig’s cult classic novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Dan Zrymiak has an epiphany of value, purpose, and function in terms of quality. John Hunter looks to Deming to define and set goals for ambition. Nicole Radziwill responds by discussing Deming’s 14 points in a different context.

To Bob Mitchell, ambition means that “we must increase our agility, become ‘comfortable being uncomfortable,’ and think globally in today’s flattened world.” To Jennifer Stepniowski, ambition in quality is more of a matter of marketing quality, a challenge that she addresses in her post.

Scott Rutherford finds the original question misplaced, arguing that quality is expectation, not ambition.  And Jimena Calfa writes that ambition in quality must be a passion for quality on the part of the individual.

Learning About Quality From Counter-culture

This is a guest post by Nicole Radziwill, an assistant professor in the Department of  Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She writes about research in the quality field, quality consciousness, and innovation on her blog, Quality and Innovation. Nicole is also an ASQ Influential Voices blogger.

What can you learn about quality in the middle of a counter-cultural gathering in the desert? A lot. And that’s just the start.

Quality and innovation can be managed, but transformation must be catalyzed by new insights and experiences. It’s the process of inner transformation that allows us to see possibilities for creating future value.

On August 24, my partner and I embarked on our annual trek to the Burning Man festival to be transformed. Burning Man is a yearly gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in the harsh wilderness of the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada, U.S.

Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Image Credit: John David Tupper (photographerinfocus.com)

We joined 70,000 others in the creation of Black Rock City, a temporary community dedicated to art, technology, and radical self-expression that is dismantled (leaving no trace) a week later. The entire city is decommodified. No money is exchanged at all; however, gifts are given frequently. If you need something, it’s expected that you ask around. Someone will provide it! The community is guided by 10 Principles that include participation, communal effort, and civic responsibility.

A Quality-Minded Approach: A quality-minded approach is essential. You’ll be in the desert for several days, so you need to bring sufficient food and water. Your shelter must withstand mud, extreme heat, hypothermia-inducing cold, and dust storms with hurricane-force winds. You need to make sure you don’t forget anything; you can’t just run to the store and quickly pick something up.

Basic Quality Tools: Some of our camp mates learned this the hard way. When we arrived, they were building a 30-footdiameter geodesic dome. It would serve as the base of operations for a neurogaming event, which challenges two players wearing EEG headsets to see who can get into a meditative state the fastest. As they unpacked their gear, the discussion became heated.

“Where’s the projector? It’s the most important part of our installation!”

Without a projector, the competitors’ scores could not be displayed to the crowd. No one could find the projector.

The project manager asked, “Who was in charge of the checklist?”

Team members glanced quizzically at each other.

“What checklist? What do you mean?”

Unfortunately, basic quality tools weren’t part of their pre-trip planning.

“Didn’t you make a checklist so you’d be sure not to forget mission critical things like… the projector?!”

Fortunately, they found another camp willing to provide a projector on loan for a couple days.

Waste and Value: Burning Man also trains me to think about waste in a totally different way. There are no trash cans, so what you bring in you must pack out. You can’t dump gray water on the ground due to Bureau of Land Management requirements — it has to be packed out, too. Loose hairs are also considered MOOP (Matter Out Of Place).  I found myself choosing canned drinks instead of bottles (which are easier to safely crush and recycle), sparingly transferring dishwater of varying hues between dishes of varying dirtyness, preparing only enough food for each meal (and eating it all!), and being extra careful combing out my hair. In a socially and environmentally conscious community, I didn’t want to leave any MOOP.

The “out of place” component of the MOOP term is also very instructive because it encourages you to consider whether you’re dealing with true waste, or something that just needs to be somewhere else to add value. (Could MOOP become an established term in the quality profession?)

Embracing Variation and Innovation: What I love most about Burning Man, though, is that you are continually surrounded by technological innovation and beauty — all contributed by the participants. Interactive art installations are scattered throughout the city. For example, one night we sat in a “binaural beats therapy” pod, the size of a cargo van, that provided a light and sound show that stimulated a sensory deprivation environment. The environment encourages you to temporarily embrace variation, experience freedom from marketing and economic transactions, and practice giving, receiving, and expressing gratitude.

To quote another attendee: “To celebrate the collective expression and actualization of an entire city is nothing short of transformational. That’s what happens every second of every day on the playa. No one is just pushing paper or wasting time doing something they don’t want to be doing.”

Key Takeaway For Quality: This exploratory culture has been spreading around the globe for the past few years. Regional events can provide anyone with the opportunity to participate in this experiential, transformational culture that catalyzes innovation.

But you don’t need to attend an event as radical as Burning Man. You can find hints of quality and even transformation in any offbeat event near you. Quality isn’t something restricted to an office or manufacturing floor.

How can we implement liberating environments like this — that drive purpose, value, and meaning–while retaining a focus on quality?

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?