Probing the Limits
Still Passionate for Quality?

May 5, 2003
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There's a lot wrong with the quality profession today, but together, we can fix it. Is your passion for quality as strong as ever? I'm guessing it is not.

I'm still very passionate about quality, but I have to admit, it's been hard to keep the faith with many of the changes that have occurred in the quality profession over the last few years. I think there is lots of evidence that things have changed for the worse, and I find that very frustrating. There is hope, though.

My passion for quality grew during the height of the TQM movement. In my first job as a manufacturing manager, I was introduced to many serious manufacturing and business problems that seemed to be unsolvable. Then came TQM training and an introduction to W. Edwards Deming. I still put Deming in a class by himself. Deming was a true visionary. He really understood problems in organizations and offered original and revolutionary approaches to addressing those problems. Learning about Deming was a wonderful, powerful, eye-opening experience.

My next revelation came at a conference where I heard Shin Taguchi explain the Loss Function. What an extremely powerful management concept -- that quality is the gap between how good something is and how good it possibly could be, and that we should continually focus on narrowing that gap.

The true believer
I've been a manager in the manufacturing industry for 15 years now, and I'm currently the chief operating officer at Spectra Logic Corp., a maker of robotic tape libraries. I'm not a consultant. I'm still our quality manager and I'm living with real quality issues every day. Despite an education in engineering and business, I attribute the successes I've had in my career to my quality-based, Deming Chain Reaction approach to all issues. Not only do I believe in quality concepts, I've seen first hand how incredibly effective they are. I'm a true, passionate believer.

I'm also very frustrated with the state of the quality profession right now. Putting it in terms of the loss function, there is a large gap between what quality professionals are contributing and what they could be contributing to their organizations. I find it terribly frustrating that the focus of the quality movement has shifted away from the great quality visionaries. What has been put in their place is an inappropriate level of attention to things such as ISO9000 -- a marketing driven, time consuming standard that does a poor job assuring that companies meet a relatively low quality hurdle. We in the quality profession have evolved from being change agents to compliance officers.

I know that this is a broad generalization. There are some good things going on in quality today, such as an emerging interest in the Baldrige Criteria. But with that said, I must also maintain that we have generally regressed on our journey to foster continual quality improvement.

I recently became so frustrated that I wrote a somewhat controversial paper that I presented at the ASQ's Annual Quality Congress in May. In that paper, I criticized the direction of the quality movement and made several suggestions for getting the quality profession back on track. I see tremendous potential but a terrible misdirection of quality resources today. To be credible continuous improvers, we need to put at least as much focus on ourselves to continually improve as we do on others.

Let's talkM/b>
Wes Iversen, Quality's editor, heard my AQC presentation and invited me to write this column, which will appear in this space every month. I'm very excited to be writing this. Often, I will raise issues that may not set well with some, and I will be critical of the quality community. I expect that this will trigger disagreement-but that is fine. My goal is not to be a rabble-rouser, but rather to initiate a constructive dialog that will lead to positive change. After all, we can't change what is wrong with our profession until we start talking about it.

I hope that the dialog that this column generates will lead to changes that will refuel your passion for quality. I also hope that changes will occur that will reestablish quality professionals in their rightful role as change agents leading the way to new highs in end-user quality and organizational performance.

To get the dialog going, send me an e-mail and tell me what you think is wrong -- and what is right -- with the quality profession. Let me know if you want a copy of my AQC paper.

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