ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2002


The Role of Quality and Teams in the 21st Century

We’re all acutely aware that the world around us is changing and that the pace of change is escalating. For some of us, this reality is exciting; we can’t wait to move into new territory. For others, we face the changing world with some degree of trepidation. Regardless of how we feel about change, we all realize that being successful in the future requires some foresight and preparation.

About 10 years ago, Frank M. Gryna, noted author and researcher, published a two-part article on “The Quality Director of the ‘90s” (
Quality Progress, April and May, 1991). News for a Change has asked Gryna to look back at his views in that article and to share his perspectives on what actually happened and where he thinks quality and teams are going in the 21st century. We believe that Gryna’s insights can help all of us prepare to embrace the future—no matter what it holds for each of us.

NFC: In your article, you predicted that the quality director of the future would likely have two primary roles: administering the quality department and assisting upper managers with strategic quality management. Do you see these two roles continuing to be the focus for 21st century quality directions?

Gryna: Yes, the primary roles of the quality director will continue to be administering the quality department and assisting upper managers with strategic quality management (SQM).

We also need to face a reality in small and medium-size organizations—they don’t do formal strategic quality management; thus, the quality director spends most of the time on the technical activities of the quality department. The elements of SQM definitely apply, and the quality director should be steadfast and introduce these elements on a timely basis.

NFC: One key role change that you mentioned in 1991 involved transferring activities from the quality department to line departments. You wrote, “In recent decades, it has become clear that by far the best way to implement quality methods is through line organizations rather than through a staff quality department. (Isn’t it a shame that it took us so long to understand this point?)” Now that 10 years have passed, how successful has this transition been? Do you believe that most organizations now hold line managers and operators accountable for quality? If that’s the case, how have results been affected?

Gryna: Yes, organizations do hold line managers and operators accountable for quality.

For those organizations that made the investment to train the line in quality methods (and provide time and technical support to implement the methods), the results have been excellent.

Other organizations made little or no investment but instead announced that quality has been integrated into the line organization and used this as a reason for reducing the size of the quality department. But, “talk doesn’t cook rice.” In these organizations, the results have been marginal, sometimes worse.

NFC: Let’s take this one step further. Has transitioning the day-to-day quality assurance activities to line departments undermined the job security of quality practitioners? If not, how do they maintain their value to the organization when they have transferred control to the line departments?

Gryna: Jobs in quality departments have been lost. Poor consolation. Historically, in lean times, staff departments feel the bite first.

Some thoughts for practioners to maintain value to the organization:

  1. Assist upper management on SQM
  2. Provide an independent evaluation of outgoing product quality. If detailed inspection has been transferred to line operators, history tells us that upper management needs an independent evaluation—and this can be done on a sampling basis. Analogy: financial audit.
  3. 3. Provide independent audits of critical quality-related activities conducted by the line. The line must be sold on this—no “gotcha” mentality by the auditors.
  4. Develop new quality methods for the line, but the line must dictate priorities on its problems, and the new methods must address these priorities. No developing a pet technique and then going on a search for a problem that needs that technique.
  5. Particularly for items “3” and “4,” the quality department should take responsibility for success of their activities. How? Charge the line departments for conducting the activities—just like a consultant. Yes, this is risky, but it will make for a better quality department.

NFC: You also forecast that quality planning would become a more important part of the quality practitioner’s role. You noted that quality planning would be focused not only on preventing defects but also on understanding customer needs and translating them into product and process specifications. As you look at today’s workplace, do you see quality practitioners working comfortably beside marketing, market research, and sales personnel? Is quality truly part of the “design team”? Or does the age-old tension persist between “design” and “implementation”?

Gryna: I see quality practitioners working comfortably beside marketing, market research, and sales personnel. But a “design team” develops a new or revised product. In service industries, this often involves marketing and associated personnel.

Manufacturing industries have a separate development function with dedicated design engineers who are fiercely proud and protective of their designs. Quality practitioners must prove to design engineers that quality concepts can contribute to the effectiveness of the design. Respect must be earned before quality people will be truly accepted as part of the design team.

NFC: Your first article explored the use of metrics, process capability, and quality control in nonmanufacturing arenas. You described ways that the service sector and software developers could use measurement to improve customer satisfaction. What progress have you seen since that time? Are facts, data, and analysis being used as a primary means to improve quality outside of manufacturing? Are they still being used effectively in manufacturing?

Gryna: The service sector and software developers both have made great progress in using measurements—particularly to report status on final product quality.

But, there is the continuing need (in both service and manufacturing) to provide line people with resources to diagnose the causes of problems revealed by the product quality measurements. This usually requires additional measurements at a more detailed level. Reporting poor performance is clearly not enough.

NFC: You wrote, “One of the most important roles for the quality director of the future is to help upper management set up the structure for improvement, including setting up the quality council, forming project teams, and assisting with training and facilitation.” You also wrote, “Experience suggests that the easy part is teaching problem-solving tools. The hard part is getting the members to work effectively as a team. The quality department will likely be called on to train project teams in team-building skills and managing change. But for many quality departments this will be a startling departure from their traditional technical role.” So, what’s really happened? What role do you see for quality improvement teams in the future?

Gryna: Quality improvement teams will continue to play a pivotal role in the future. Experience has finally made us realize that it’s hard work to get teams to be really effective. Now we know that team membership should not be an “add on” to regular work, we know that trained facilitators are essential, and on and on.

Teams must compete with other important quality-related activities, e.g., ISO 9000 certification and recertification. But, don’t let ISO activities crowd out the work of improvement teams and planning teams. These teams get tangible results that spark an organization.

NFC: In the second part of the article, you commented, “The time has come for a colossal change in the quality director’s role,” and you suggested that “the quality director will have to help develop goals and strategy and bring that strategy to life throughout the company’s business cycle.” Your focus was on “strategic quality management.” In 1991, the Baldrige Award criteria still had a category for “Strategic Quality Planning.” Now that category is called “Strategic Planning.” How do you view the situation today compared to your previous perspective? How should the quality practitioner participate in organizationwide strategic planning efforts?

Gryna: The quality parameter is of sufficient complexity to justify strategic planning just for quality. Of course, companywide strategic planning for all parameters is even more important. The building blocks of strategic planning (for any or all parameters) are great, and these should be applied to do strategic quality planning. Strategic quality planning should be developed and then integrated as a subset of strategic planning.

Notice how the term “quality excellence” is now sometimes replaced by performance excellence. The implications are enormous. It will be fascinating to see what’s at the end of that rainbow.

NFC: “A chief quality officer—really?” That’s what you predicted in 1991. Are we there? Should our readers aspire to that role? Or where else would you recommend they aim their efforts?

Gryna: The title CQO implies a broad-scope role. Such a role has been achieved in some organizations. But, the reality is that in many organizations the role of the quality director is more limited. A quality director must decide what role to aspire to and then draw up a road map on how to achieve that role.

If “quality” becomes “performance,” the scope will really be blown off the map.

NFC: And last, but certainly not least, we’d like you to give some advice to our readers. What three things should they start to learn or do tomorrow to prepare for the future?

Gryna: The trio:

  1. Get full-time experience (at least a year) in a line activity, such as product development or operations. Live their lives and understand their priorities. Trust me, it will change your perspective on the role of the quality department.
  2. If you aspire to a broad role, including assisting upper management on strategic planning, acquire the knowledge on how this is done. If you really want to have a broader role (even going beyond quality), get an MBA.
  3. Don’t dance the jig to any guru. Gather the best ideas from all sources, and then create your own blueprint.

FRANK GRYNA has more than 50 years’ experience in the managerial, technological, and statistical aspects of quality activities. He has been an active author on quality, as associate editor of three editions of Juran’s Quality Handbook, and author of the textbook Quality Planning and Analysis.

Gryna has degrees in industrial engineering, and his experience in quality has included university teaching, industry, and consulting. He is Distinguished Professor of Industrial Engineering Emeritus at Bradley University. He also held positions as senior vice president of Juran Institute, manager of reliability and quality assurance at the Space Systems Division of Martin-Marietta, and Distinguished University Professor of Management at the University of Tampa.

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July 2002 News for a Change Homepage


 In This Issue...
The Role of Quality and Teams in the 21st Century

The Way They Saw It

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?

Book Nook

From Our Perspective

What’s Up?


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