Quality Magazine

Probing the Limits: ASQ-- A Consultant's Promotional Tool?

November 1, 2003
Practicing quality professionals vent about ASQ practices.

Many readers of this column assert that the American Society for Quality (ASQ) acts as a promotional tool for quality consultants. To my mind, this assertion appears to have validity.

In August, I wrote a column titled, "Wake Up ASQ!" in which I outlined some of the problems I saw with the ASQ, and I offered some potential solutions. That column created quite a stir and resulted in a constructive call from Ken Case, the current president of ASQ, and numerous e-mails.

More than 70 e-mails from readers were received, and most of them expressed significant concern with the ASQ. Many felt that quality consultants had taken control of ASQ and were using the organization to promote programs that they sold. The most common sentiment from the e-mails was a strong dislike for Six Sigma and how it has negatively impacted the profession. Many e-mails suggested that the Six Sigma movement was more about generating revenue for quality consultants than promoting highly effective improvement tools in the Quality Body of Knowledge.

Another common comment was from seasoned, practicing quality professionals who have seen their ASQ certifications, such as Certified Quality Engineer, become almost valueless and unrecognized because they have been displaced by Six Sigma colored belts. In fact, a survey by Quality magazine showed that the average worker with ASQ certification earned $65,210, as compared to the average salary of $69,270 for Green Belts and $88,110 for Black Belts. The bitterness in the e-mails was usually directed at the same perceived root cause of this devaluation-consultants using ASQ to promote their Six Sigma consulting practice.

To check out the theory that consultants are a root cause of ASQ's ills, I surfed the ASQ Web site and was concerned with what I found.

A Sept. 5, ASQ press release titled, "ASQ Comment on Columbia Shuttle Accident Report," states, "In the (NASA) accident report, the (NASA) board suggests that the application of ISO 9000 may not be appropriate for the NASA business. The American Society for Quality disagrees."

I can understand why NASA is questioning ISO 9000's effectiveness because as an experienced ISO 9000 quality manager, I question its effectiveness. But, I was surprised to see ASQ take such a strong opposing position.

The source of the release is the ASQ chair of the Aviation, Space and Defense Division. That sounds like a qualified person to be writing the release, but I looked deeper. It turns out that this chairman is a quality consultant and author. On his consulting practice Web site, he uses the ASQ logo next to his latest book and a link to ASQ's Web site where his NASA press release is located. Also on the consultant's site is a list of books that he sells through Quality Press, ASQ's book publishing division. One of his books is titled, Aviation Industry Quality Systems: ISO 9000 and the Federal Aviation Regulations.

So, let's sum this up. We have a quality consultant that sells his ISO 9000 book through ASQ. This same consultant is making statements about the shuttle tragedy in the name of ASQ and refuting NASA's concerns with ISO 9000, which is the standard from which he earns his profits. From this example, I can see why I got so many e-mails about consultants using ASQ to promote their practices.

Like most quality issues, the issues at ASQ can be traced to top management. Thirty eight percent of ASQ's board of directors is made up of consultants. Quality consultants would have a lot to lose if all of us "in the trenches" folks stopped chasing the latest quality fad that ASQ promotes.

ASQ members elect the board of directors and I would encourage the members to elect new board members that represent a better cross section of the society. I think that quality professionals in the prime of their careers who are applying, as opposed to selling, their skills would drive ASQ away from the harmful quality trends and back to the fundamentals, which is what the members really want.

In addition, the present ASQ administration needs to put tighter controls in place to make sure that individuals are not using ASQ for their own personal benefit. ASQ needs to focus on promoting members' professional growth, not promoting the latest quality fad. Members pay dues, quality programs don't.

Let me know what you think, or even better, let ASQ know what you think by e-mail at help@asq.org. If you are a member, you are entitled to have the organization serve you. If you are no longer a member, I bet they are willing to change to get you back.