Monday, June 25, 2012

Quality – What’s the next flavor of the month?

I know the title sounds terrible but you cannot tell me that someone you know or has come in contact with you has not said these same words.  As a professional it is insulting.  But, that same comment provides opportunity especially as it applies to ASQ and their tri-annual Futures Study.

I would contend that we (quality profession as a whole) do not do a good enough job at providing context nor supporting the basic tenets of our profession.   My last blog post talked about the two definitions of quality: little q – conformance to specifications, and Big Q – the strategic focus necessary to improve organizationally.  You need both aspects of quality to move organizations forward.
From a historical perspective, most of the “new methods” talked about from Henry Ford's day through the 1980’s were directed at little q.  A literature search of that period’s quality journals and magazines  talk about Go/NoGo gages, mistake proofing, statistical process control, acceptance samplingprocess capability, and the 7 Quality Tools; all focused on identifying problems with the prime purpose of making a product to specification.  
In the mid to late 80’s the tide started to turn, Armand Feigenbaum started talking about Total Quality Management. Eli Goldratt was taking his physics training and applying it to processes. ISO 9000 was developed (first published in 1987). Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was developed.  Motorola was creating training called “Six Sigma.” James Womack was trying to make sense of what Toyota was creating in their manufacturing facilities.  All of these were focusing on Big Q.
Today, there are refinements.  There are many versions of Six Sigma out there.  Pascal Dennis wrote Lean Production Simplified that became the bible for most of the Lean consultants out there with the task of translating the concepts into other industries. Forrest Brefoygle has written a series of books talking about applying a scientific approach to quality in an organization.  Jim Harrington just published a book with his take on the same model. 

One aspect that is becoming more into the forefront: behavioral quality.  All of the above elements have behavior change as part of their DNA but there are new set of consultants who are disciples of Senge, Scholtes, and Drucker implying that Big Q is closely tied to Social Responsibility and organizational leadership.  In my mind, the next “best” methodology will focus on behavioral aspects.

Yet, if we take a step back in time, Joe Juran and W.Edwards Deming got it right. These two were the giants.  Older versions of Juran’s Quality Handbook had the lion’s share of little q stuff but a good third of the book had examples of application at the organizational level.   I am still in awe of Deming’s 14 Points. Reading Senge’s Fifth Discipline, Rother’s Toyota Kata, Scholtes’ The Leader’s Handbook, one can make so many connections to Deming's work that it is surprising that someone has not done it before. 

In my mind, if you want to get to the source of the problems we are facing today organizationally go back to ­Out of the Crisis.  I firmly believe there will be another “flavor of the month.”  It will probably be focused on behavior.  It will also have strong ties to Deming.  Is it wrong? No, because any methodology that better communicates the power of quality moves the entire profession forward.

Until next time!

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