Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Head of Quality and...?

I just watched with interest the interview between Ford's Group VP of Quality and New Product Launch, Bennie Fowler, and ASQ's CEO, Paul Borawski here.

While the questions and answers were interesting in themselves I was more curious about Mr. Fowler's role at Ford, and similar roles at other companies. I noted above that Mr. Fowler was the Group VP of Quality and blah blah blah. Why, oh why, do so many companies feel that if they have a high-level person in Quality (and many don't even have an executive or higher level position with "Quality" in the title at all) that they have to make them in charge of Quality and something else? Isn't Quality enough of a job to have an executive level position responsible for it and only it? In my experience the highest "Quality only" role that I've seen is some kind of regional role. Anything higher (Director, Executive Director, Senior Executive Director, VP, Group VP, etc.) is always Quality AND New Product Launch or Quality AND Program Management or Quality AND Health, Safety, and Environment (!!!). WHY? Why is Quality always delegated to share a seat with some other function in a company? How can Quality remain relevant in this way?

I propose that companies that are serious about Quality create a C-level position dedicated to Quality in their organization. A Chief Quality Officer, responsible only for Quality, would be a strong message in any industry but in particular in the automotive industry. Toyota comes close (of course) with their regional Chief Quality Officers but I would like to see someone sitting at a table of a major, global company (preferably automotive) who has the title and responsibility and authority of Chief Quality Officer for the company. Until that happens, how can Quality ever rise above the status of "Head of Quality and....."?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why I Let My ASQ Certs Expire

This year my two renewable ASQ certifications will expire, they are Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) and Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE). I've removed them from my LinkedIn profile and from my resume. On my resume I replaced them with my Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Theta Kappa honor society memberships. Why would I do this, after having both certifications for many years? Two reasons: Credentialism and Applicability


In their book The Puritan Gift the brothers Hopper trace the history of American managerial culture from the Puritans up to the mid-2000's. They also chart its decline since the early 70's due to the "Cult of the (So-called) Expert" and the resulting devastation in society. Their perspective is masterfully explained in a cartoon on the subject of "Domain Knowledge", one of the main subjects of the book (WATCH IT).

One of the damning aspects of the Cult as defined in their book is the concept of "Credentialism." This idea is based on someone's qualifications for a position being based partly, or solely, on their possession of specific credentials. These credentials, whether they be an MBA, a PhD or a CSSBB mask a potential lack of actual knowledge of the industry/company (Domain Knowledge) and lead to a false belief that a person is qualified for a certain position based on specious knowledge. When the position in question is an executive position in a company, or as a consultant advising executives, the results are devastating for a company. Multiply that by hundreds of companies, many of them very large, simmer for three decades and the results are the Great Recession and subsequent slow growth/possible double-dip of the following years. I believe that these ASQ certifications promote this idea of credentialism.


Besides the above objection, based on principle, I believe that there is a real problem with the certification process itself. I took the CSSBB exam in 2005 but in the following six years I have not retained much of what I knew at that time. My job changed from full-time Black Belt to Quality Manager and then Quality Director. I still remember enough statistical knowledge to evaluate the work of others but I could not sit down and, using pen and paper, complete a correlation study as required in the exam. So, obviously my level of knowledge has diminished over the years. However, like in 2008, due to my recertification units (RUs) I could easily re-apply and be re-certified as a SSBB this year. I would then start another three year cycle where I would have to remain employed full-time, take some classes and do some ASQ activities and I could accumulate enough RUs to re-certify again. This cycle can continue ad infinitum as long as I remain a dues-paying member and pay the re-certification fee each year.

In this sense my CSSBB is literally misleading if shown on my resume and public profile. I could not sit down today and pass that exam, even if my life depended on it. So why should I be allowed to have the appearance of having knowledge that I don't actually have? Because I work full-time, take some classes and pay my dues? This "applicability" issue is a part of the overall issue directly related to ASQ's certifications. Of course, ASQ is not alone, I believe that many professional societies that offer certifications follow the same path but I do applaud ASQ for at least requiring an examination for their certifications. This gives more weight to their program than the ones in other societies. This strength is also the solution to this issue: do away with RUs and require people to sit for the exam again to be re-certified. How else to prove that they still possess the knowledge that they had to get the certification in the first place? How else to be honest and have an ASQ certification carry real weight in the marketplace?

Because of these two topics, I will allow my certifications to expire this year and I will not sit for another certification in the future. For the first reason, this is a very big problem and the Hopper brothers offer some solutions in their book. For the second reason, ASQ can and should take my advice and do away with RUs and require people to sit for the exam every time. To do otherwise is to perpetuate a false picture of competence and knowledge in the business world.