Probing the Limits: My Ideal Quality System

July 1, 2003
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A great quality system draws upon the best elements of many quality programs.

Many great things are happening in the quality profession. I’ll deviate from my normal mode at looking for “improvement opportunities” in the profession to what’s working well by constructing my ideal quality system using the best parts of several quality approaches.

In my ideal quality system, I would make sure that a quality-centric focus on continual improvement, like Six Sigma, was the foundation of operations in all areas of the company—not just the manufacturing department. Unlike Six Sigma, though, everyone would be involved. To foster this quality culture in all parts of the company, on-going training on the basic quality “body of knowledge” would be required that constantly reinforces the basics and empowers everyone to use the tools, methods and approaches that have proven to be effective.

My ideal quality system would have a focus on early, “up front” issues, mainly in sales, marketing, and engineering that are emphasized in Watts Humphrey and Frederick Brooks’ software quality methods. Sales and marketing would pursue an in-depth understanding of customer needs, wants, and problems and how our products can address those issues. Quality methods would be the backbone of gaining this knowledge that dictate company vision, strategy and focus, giving the company a competitive edge. The new product specification would come from this intimate knowledge of the customer and would rarely change while the product was being developed. A locked-in specification would give engineering a chance to do extensive early planning and keep to a well thought-out plan and schedule.

I would take the new ISO 9001: 2000 requirement for customer feedback and publish that data internally to keep everyone focused on the customer. Internal politics and seat of the pants strategy and decisions that are prevalent in many companies would be avoided because the customer, the ultimate judge, would constantly be evaluating every company action and decision.

Leadership, often the root cause of quality system failure, would be largely self-directed. While a good leader is always needed at the helm, knowing what needs to be done and being motivated to push the company toward those objectives would be accomplished by sharing internal information in an open-book management policy and customer research. On-going brainstorming on needed changes would be largely self-determined by well-informed employees using brainstorming and analysis techniques such as Pareto charting data from fishbone exercises.

Management would be Deming-centric. The four components of Deming's Theory of Profound Knowledge—appreciation for a system, knowledge about variation, theory of knowledge and human psychology—would be the foundation of all management actions. In addition, management would be guided by Deming's 14 Points of Management. A quality-centric approach to everything would align with Deming's Quality Chain Reaction Theory that states when quality is the focus, everything else—profitability, efficiency, satisfied customers and happy employees—falls into place.

Despite my general dislike of ISO 9001, I think the standard provides a good model on how to structure a quality system. I would also adopt ISO’s approach on documenting systems using the same structure, but to a lesser degree than the standard or most auditors require. I also like ISO’s emphasis on internal auditing, but I would use the Baldrige criteria to do internal audits.

The Baldrige criteria is an excellent auditing tool for those who want to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. As a guide for auditing or assessing a company, it is much more comprehensive than the ISO standard. It covers all areas of the company, unlike ISO. All quality efforts would be focused on optimally meeting customer needs and improving our business. The Baldrige criteria does a great job of staying focused on the customer and supporting the company strategy. No time or energy would be focused on quality certificates of any kind, including the Baldrige award. Baldrige audits would be done by a cross-section of employees that include the most insightful people in the company.

Have I accomplished this transition at my company? No, but I am trying and I am making progress.

The quality profession has tremendous ideas to contribute to organizations, but the methods are greatly under-utilized.

The quality profession has tremendous ideas to contribute to organizations, but the methods are greatly under-utilized.

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