Face of Quality: The Future of Quality

January 28, 2009
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During the past 30 years, quality has been a major area of contention for many companies. Companies with better quality products have historically had an edge in the marketplace. However, Dr. Juran and others have warned that a competitive strategy based on quality alone might not continue to be effective at capturing market share. Essentially they present the argument that quality professionals’ future success will lead to the satisfaction of the need in society for their services. In other words, quality professionals will no longer be needed because higher levels of quality are being achieved and quality is no longer a competitive advantage. Consider the following:

1. Societal demands continue to increase. Predictions that the quality profession will become obsolete have yet to materialize. Most likely this will not be the case because of a continuation of the increasing demands from society. Generally, companies trying to eliminate their quality functions by embedding them into other mainstream processes have failed to produce satisfactory results.

While I am in favor of integrating quality functions into everyone’s job and holding people accountable for their own work, very few companies have been able to make this work in the long run. Key quality characteristics and processes are too vital to not be checked and randomly audited by independent, quality functions. In short, independent quality functions are a small price to pay for the protection of a company’s quality reputation and longevity. Customers are not willing to pay for mistakes and will easily transfer their loyalty.

2. The complexity of products continues to increase. As more components are added to products, such as electronics, the need for higher reliability in each component increases. As more intelligent capabilities are introduced to other products, particularly through the introduction of electronics to replace many mechanical systems, there is a similar need for increased quality. This is part of the reasoning behind the Six Sigma movement first introduced at Motorola.

3. The use of technological support has experienced rapid growth. At first, companies replaced simple, repetitive manual tasks with computer technology. Now, companies are using computer technology to replace tasks that have traditionally required a good deal of human intelligence and skill. Society is becoming increasingly dependent on these technological support systems-and dangerously so.

For example, aircraft technology makes it possible for the autopilot to do most of the flying while the human pilot becomes the redundant system. Railroad transportation systems depend on sensing equipment along the tracks. The employees who would have intervened to avoid accidents are no longer there, so the need for high-quality, reliable sensing equipment is great.

The growth in technological support is not limited to products. In everyday service scenarios from banks to hotels, customers often find themselves waiting for complex computer systems to function properly, while service personnel can only helplessly stand by unable to perform the service that in the past could have been done easily without technological support.

The consequences of poor quality in the future will be much worse than just getting a defective product and having to throw it away. Poor quality will lead to an inability to get to work or do one’s job. Poor quality also will invade people’s personal lives by preventing them from enjoying their free time. Try to buy tickets for an event at a civic center when the computerized ticket system is down, or gasoline at a self-service station when the computerized pumps are not fully operational.

The quality profession has evolved and matured to the point where sophisticated customers demand their diverse requirements be met. Customers have developed a growing reliance on the quality of the systems that support their everyday activities. As a result of these trends, there will be an increasing need for quality and quality professionals.

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