When looking back on more than four decades as a quality professional, it is fairly easy to see the evolutionary journey that took place during this period.

During the first decade or so, the role was one of inspection. At that time, we were focused on preventing any manufacture or shipment of products that didn’t meet the stringent requirements of the customer. We viewed ourselves as the organization’s customer representative. We were ready to do whatever it took to protect the organization’s quality reputation while delivering our customer a quality product. We were more police officers of the manufacturing environment with a significant percentage of the organization’s quality initiatives concentrated on this effort.

During the next decade, the quality role began to shift from police officer to correction. Quality personnel began to help manufacturing. We worked with manufacturing to solve problems so they could produce higher levels of quality product. Alliances and partnerships were formed between manufacturing and quality groups as team experiences were shared. Quality personnel became instructors to help the organization learn problem solving and team techniques. Assistance was provided to identify and solve problems. We began to focus more on business type measurements and the identification of quality costs. We ensured that products were shipped on time while minimizing errors. Focus was less on control and more on total quality management (TQM).

The next decade saw quality organizations focused on prevention, particularly with the guidance of professional staff. We drove the resurgence of fundamentals such as statistical process control (SPC), process qualification and supplier certification initiatives. Concurrent engineering surfaced which resulted in quality professionals becoming involved in product development, design reviews and release procedures. We focused on redesigning and reengineering processes to ensure they were capable of producing quality product.

The global effort to “get back to basics” resulted in the deployment of the ISO 9000 requirements as customers were demanding commonality and assurance of quality processes. Old, outdated quality manuals were dusted off and revised to meet the new standards. Documentation became more important than ever and quality professionals were needed to ensure compliance. Quality organizations focused on process assurance with the objective of preventing errors and reducing product costs. Six Sigma was on the horizon and quality professionals were at the forefront. Six Sigma rushed ahead of TQM. This change in focus, if not overall approach, excited management.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the quality profession is changing again. The profession is moving into new areas of responsibility and expertise. The quality professional’s tool box, in addition to the recognized quality tools, now includes strategic planning, knowledge management, portfolio management and organizational change management. Quality professionals are now assisting organizational management by focusing on the development of firm foundations rather than propping up activities that result from poor decisions or actions.

No longer are quality professionals relegated to policing manufacturing or preventing errors, but they are instead ensuring that maximum value is provided to every customer and stakeholder. To fulfill this role, quality professionals have had to learn new skills and continue to reinvent themselves. We not only need statisticians in our organizations, we need experienced managers and project managers.

Today, an effective quality organization considers itself a value-added service. Organizations realize the role these professionals play in their survival and consider the development of their quality organization to be a significant competitive advantage. The quality profession will continue to evolve and have a positive impact on everything within an organization it contacts.