Management
Face of Quality

Where Is Quality Heading

December 5, 2012
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The future of quality is still being written.
 
In previous columns we have written about what quality means, the direction it is taking, and the role that the quality professional can, and will, play toward that end. With the start of the new year almost upon us I thought it timely to again discuss these topics.
 
There has been a lot of effort to make predictions about the future of quality. (If interested in reading the last ASQ report, visit http://asq.org/public/view-from-the-q/asq-2011-forces-summary.pdf.) Only time will tell if any will come true, but one thing is certain—it won’t be business as usual. 
 
We’re already more than a decade into this new century, and companies are still waiting for the “next big thing” to surface. Many are riding the Six Sigma and Lean wave, but still seem to be waiting for the next silver bullet. Certainly reducing variation and removing waste are good things but, by themselves, they won’t save many organizations from continuing to work on the wrong things.
 
It doesn’t matter how streamlined organizational processes are or how much waste has been removed, if organizations aren’t satisfying their customers and treating them as life-time partners, they will fall short. As we’ve mentioned in previous columns, this is a significant opportunity for quality professionals.
 
It’s fashionable for corporate America to downplay the role of the quality professional. It’s even fashionable for some to say that quality is disappearing as a function within organizations; however, I firmly believe that the quality professional’s role is more important today, and will remain so, than ever before. The quality profession is still evolving whether we want it to or not and we have to be part of the solution.
 
Being a long-term provider of advanced quality training courses, a former senior leader of a Fortune 50 company, an ASQ Fellow, and a regular columnist on quality, I am often asked for my perspective about where quality is heading. Two years ago I spoke to the ASQ World Quality & Productivity Conference about specific directional changes and driving forces influencing those changes, and not much has changed since. 
 
There are five key fundamental forces that are most apt to shape quality in the foreseeable future. 
 
1. Quality must positively impact the bottom line. Company leaders must be convinced that quality actually adds to the bottom line. It’s not that executive leaders don’t believe there is a link between profitability and quality, but they are looking for more direct evidence. This means that quality professionals must be fully conversant in the language of finance and economics. It is imperative that we become bilingual.
 
2. Customer expectations will increase. Customers have increasingly become accustomed to speed, efficiency and excellent service. The expectations from internet transactions will continue to influence retail transactions. Companies must realize that the value of their customers must be measured in lifetime terms. Service quality will continue to play an increasing role in the retention of customers. The same expectations can be predicted in both government and public service sectors.
 
3. Trust and confidence in business, government and public service leaders will continue to decline. Consumers will become increasingly conscious of and responsive to the perceived ethical conduct of organizations they patronize. The ethical aspects of a growing number of issues will assume greater importance. The quality profession has long been associated with ethical conduct; therefore, the quality professional can provide much needed support to executive leadership.
 
4. Management systems will increasingly absorb quality functions. The desire to eliminate or absorb quality functions became a trend in the 1980s, but most companies weren’t able to “pull this off.” Quality remains more important than ever. However, organizations will continue to effectively absorb quality functions into their management systems. The quality tools and body of knowledge will be adopted by a wider spectrum of functions, making it more difficult to define who and what constitutes the quality profession. There will, however, remain a core of true, independent, quality professionals whose skill set will have to be more diverse and more strategic than in the past.
 
5.There will be an increasing need to merge the technical side with the human element. Over the years technology has advanced exponentially without much regard to the human element. As society moves forward innovators will be forced to increasingly consider the human element when developing and introducing new technologies. The increasing complexity of life and the speed of change will create a premium on those things that simplify life.
 
The future of quality is like a book and the final chapter has yet to be written. Quality professionals are well-positioned to help author the details of the changes that are coming and to help their organizations as well as society meet these changes effectively.

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