Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Happiness in Quality

Are you happy in your Quality job? That was the question posed this month by ASQ CEO Paul Borawski after he referenced a study in his blog about Software Engineers having the highest job satisfaction in the U.S. For me, my basic answer is "yes" I am happy in my role as a Quality professional, an area in which I've worked for more than 12 years and studied at the graduate level (leading to a Graduate Certificate in Quality).

The main reason that I am happy about working in Quality is that we are one of the few groups in a company that can and usually does interact with all other areas of the business on a regular basis. Just consider the requirements in ISO9001 (ISO/TS16949, ISO13485, AS9100, etc.). As a Management Representative or internal auditor you can interact with top management, Accounting, Human Resources, Design, Safety, Production and Maintenance. And the interaction is at a detailed level as the people need to explain their actions to you and you need to compare them against their procedures and the requirements. No other group in the company has this role and they do not have the opportunity to learn so much about their company. Another reason that I am happy in Quality is that I enjoy preventing problems and working with teams of technical experts to instill high quality in the design and in the process.

That being said, I think that quality as an idea needs to be more integrated into the business rather than as a separate concept. I've made the same argument for Lean and Six Sigma in previous blogs and I think that quality also needs to follow the same route, to be more embedded in the thinking of everyone in the business but most especially in the minds of top management. Businesses need to find a middle ground between the relative extravagance of Japanese quality (highly leveraged companies with lots of resources) and the bare-bones "good enough" attitude that permeates much of American quality today (minimal leverage and resources). There is a middle ground that must start from the mindset of the management of the company. Apple is an example of a publicly traded American company that thoroughly trounces its competitors (including Japanese Sony). How do they do it...? Why can't we do it...?

I think that we need to look at Quality differently. Rather than aping Toyota's processes for lean (much of which was learned from Henry Ford who wrote about it 90 years ago) we should find the new Vanguard of Quality, Quality 3.0 for the 21st century. To think differently not only about Quality but about how we conduct our business in general. If we can do that then I will be truly happy working in Quality....

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Selling" Quality

When I think of "selling Quality" as Paul Borawski described in his blog I think that what we are really trying to sell is the "Quality Department" or the "Quality Tools" or some other concept that implies an additional cost to an organization. If people understood that Quality can be free then there would be nothing to sell; anyone would want higher Quality if they didn't have to pay anything (money OR effort) to get it.

The act of selling should be redirected as an act of education. Those C-level workers need to understand that the tools to be successful have been around for decades. In fact, the two big improvement initiatives of recent times, Six Sigma and Lean, have been around for a very long time. Six Sigma is simply a consolidation and repackaging of the statistical tools first promoted by Shewhart, Deming and other quality experts since the 1920s. And Lean, while being reintroduced to America by the Japanese 30 years ago, actually started during the time of Henry Ford (read My Life and Work for Ford's early description of just-in-time, decades before the Japanese learned of it from him). No need for some consultant or expert to teach their organization (and charge exorbitant fees to do so), the knowledge is freely available; however, the will must be there to correctly use them. That's the main reason that the Japanese have been so successful, they thoughtfully and thoroughly apply the tools in everything they do. These two things, knowledge of the tools and their correct application, can lead to much success for any organization.

Our responsibility as quality professionals is to educate our superiors and peers to the free nature of quality tools and how to correctly apply them in our organizations. We need to "de-mystify" Quality and make it a part of everyone's work, including and especially the C-level workers. Once they can understand that then we can go a long way to adding more value to our organizations and society.