Don't be afraid to take the steps necessary.

I've learned a great deal about how quality professionals feel in the past few months.

I've learned that those of us who are frustrated with the issues plaguing the quality profession and impeding our potential contribution to our organization can fix it. That it is possible to get back to the activities that make our products better and our customers happier, instead of the activities associated with the sole pursuit of quality certificates. I know that the number of increasingly fed-up quality professionals is huge, and that means we have a solid core of professionals to help us get back on track.

I also know that most of the problems in the quality profession are self-induced.

A tough pill
That maybe a tough pill to swallow, but we need to wake up to that fact. My company is ISO 9000 registered because the quality manager at a big potential customer made it a requirement. It's almost like the quality manager needed to reinforce how important his ISO registration was by making us register to it.

Several studies including a 1996 Dun and Bradstreet Survey and a 2002 English Engineering Quality Forum Report have concluded that more than 60% of all companies become registered because of a customer requirement to do so. Fellow quality managers force this requirement on us.

In a sense, this is great news too. If our profession's defects are internal, then we have total control to fix them.

Back to basics
When I started this campaign to initiate positive change in the quality community, I was expecting major opposition from the advocates of the current entrenched quality trends. It is refreshing to see that 90% of the people I talk with, or get e-mail from, are in strong agreement that the state of the quality profession is poor, and changes to get back to quality basics and focus on our great quality visions is desperately needed. Don't be afraid to speak out. You may be surprised with the support you will get if you express your concerns from a continual-improvement perspective.

I've also been inspired by several e-mails from quality managers who refused to jump on the quality trend bandwagons and have stuck to the basics. They should be commended for their dedication to true quality principles. In each of these e-mails, the lack of ISO 9000 registration or attachment to a quality trend has not lost them business and has allowed them to use those resources on things their customers really care about -- quality parts, not quality certificates.

Do you want to be part of the solution? The first step is to stop being part of the problem. Ask if you are requiring your suppliers to do things that add no value -- like being ISO 9000 registered. Don't be afraid to be the first one to step-up and say, 'This is not adding value so it is no longer a supplier requirement.' If you want your customers to say this to you, then the change has to start somewhere. If we want to evolve from being easy-to-lay-off compliance officers back to the highly value-added role of continual improvement change agents, we need to behave like change agents and initiate value-added change. Be the one that goes first.

Be vocal
The other thing you can do today is start being vocal about your concerns with the quality profession -- and suggest solutions of your own. Create your own support network by finding like-thinking associates to plan and execute some change. Local ASQ (American Society for Quality) meetings may be a place for grass-roots change. Get involved and make your membership work for you.

If you want more information on my opinions regarding the problems in the quality profession and what can be done, let me know and I'll send you my paper that I presented on this topic at the last Annual Quality Congress. If you want to initiate some change in your local ASQ chapter, let me know and I'll send you my PowerPoint presentation that you can easily present.

The purpose of this column is to spark some discussion that will lead to positive change. I would like to hear from you -- please send me an e-mail and let me know what you think can be done to get out of this crisis. If we want to be valuable change agents, there is no better place to start than our own profession.