Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Future of Quality: What I want the future to contain


Last week I wrote a blog post describing my observations about the ASQ 2015 Future of Quality report.  I was a little disappointed with the Quality Leaders portion of the report so I thought I would submit my desires what ASQ and the QBoK need to consider for the future.
 
My graduate degree is in Operations Research.  It is a degree that is a precursor to all these “Big Data” degrees that schools think are trendy right now.  One of the major downsides to having this type of degree is that it is heavily technology dependent, meaning it requires advanced computational capabilities to be successful.  Fortunately, the past forty years has closed the technology gap dramatically (how I miss IBM punch cards, NOT!) where we can now design, test and execute some pretty robust mathematical models in the space of a couple of hours with a simple spreadsheet.  
 
One of my favorite texts was written as a one day course on industrial operations that expanded into a Masters degree program at Northwestern.  IMO, Factory Physics, has become THE source for the mathematical models behind basics processes. It is the best text to explain Little’s Law, a basic tenet of industrial engineering, the lean concept of flow, and Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.   Don Wheeler’s The Process Evaluation Handbook is not far behind though his is more of the “pure quality” approach.  This is surprising that as much as ASQ is hyping STEM and engineers as quality practitioners, they don’t advertise these books as part of the ASQ bookstore nor do they test a lot of the text’s concepts. 
 
I consider this a MAJOR shortfall in the QBoK.  In the study of processes the QBoK is limited to the qualitative analysis of processes.  They are more concerned about drawing process pictures and less about understanding why a process performs the way it does MATHEMATICALLY.  Once we study in this manner, it is easier to identify impacts on process, model them, and then experiment by changing them.  ASQ certifications test our knowledge of simple math models and designs of experiments but they do not teach how to study the process of successfully setting up the models in the first place!
 
Understanding how processes behave is one thing but an area that the quality community have barely scratched the surface is to understand human behavior and its impact on processes and systems.  Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline opened my eyes about human behavior in the work environment.  I understood how Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model fit into the work environment and a good number of things that I was taught about leadership while an Army officer totally failed when applied outside that environment.
 
 Which leads me to my last QBoK “hole” – Leadership.  Bill Troy started the conversation in his December 2014 blog post and the theme that the Quality Practitioner was also a leader.   Reading the blog responses lead me to believe that there is no true definition of leadership.  I see this daily in people who have had little or no knowledge of what is needed at the next level of an organization are thrust into leadership positions who are little prepared and struggle mightily.  Most eventually settle in to a comfort zone that keeps them employed but are they really executing in the way the organization needs them to execute?   What are we as a professional society doing to prepare people that understanding process and understanding people are the building blocks for leadership success?
 
 The ASQ leadership academy, announced at the 2015 WCQI Business meeting, is a band aid that helps too few people.  I find these programs, especially executed in academia, create elitist types of behaviors rather than those necessary to be successful in a working environment. We need to offer knowledge broadly so that it impacts a large number of individuals. 
My future quality world contains a broader acceptance by quality practitioners of the mathematical underpinnings of processes, better cognizance and appreciation of human behavior, and a more concrete definition of what leadership really is.  Probably be a good surrogate to a liberal arts education, but that is topic for another time…
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