A recent episode of ASQ TV explored the state of the quality profession. The interviewees were attendees at the ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement this past May. While there was no overwhelming consensus what that looked like, there were common threads that touched not only on the current state, but more importantly on the future state of the profession.
For instance, Aimee Siegler, Benchmark Electronics, Wisconsin, states that, “I think there’s a lot of challenges because, on the one hand, we’ve told people that everyone is responsible for quality and, at the same time, we all want to keep our jobs. So we need to balance the need of the organization.”
JD Marhevko, Accuride Corp., Michigan, seconded that, adding, “It’s key to be able to translate the results of what you’re doing into the language of business. If you’re not able to do that, you will be brought out of the system as fast as you were brought in.”
These and the other perspectives seen on the ASQ TV program mirror the forces of change shaping quality found in the 2011 ASQ Future of Quality Study—a resource compiled from surveys of quality subject matter experts around the globe.

Viewing the State of the Profession

The state of the profession question was only one of several questions asked of each interviewee. Comparing these answers against other questions asked of the attendees—some of which are viewable at http://videos.asq.org, the ASQ TV website—the state of the quality segment might be perceived as bleak. However, it is important to note that while quality professionals face many challenges now and will continue to face mounting challenges, there are plenty of opportunities as well. As Megan Poirier, General Motors, Michigan says, when answering a question about advice to the young quality professional, “Quality is the touch-point of all functions... [As a quality professional] you become the focal point for collaboration. You have a lot of opportunity to play in all of the fields and you really learn from all of the different functions.”
Whether you see the state of the profession described above as a glass half-empty or half-full proposition, the success of quality within an organization comes down to this: Quality initiatives need executive support. Not the go-do-your-thing-and-make-sure-our-products-meet-specifications support of the near past. Quality professionals need executives that see beyond product and service quality to embrace organizational quality. Has this occurred? Well, yes and no.
In May of this year ASQ released the first in a series of Global State of Quality Research reports. This groundbreaking research endeavors to advance the world’s understanding of and appreciation for what quality is and does in business and industry today, and what continuous improvement can mean for countries and communities tomorrow. Here are a couple of findings that should be of interest:
  • Thirty-three percent of frontline staff members receive quality measure reports on a daily basis; in contrast, only 2% of senior executives receive quality reports daily.
  • There is no significant indication that the use of quality practices generally differs by region. A few variations do exist but are typically related to size, industry, or other unidentified factors.
  • Service organizations are 1.6 times more likely than manufacturing organizations (31% for services vs. 19% for manufacturing) to view quality as a strategic asset and competitive differentiator.
  • Manufacturing organizations are 1.5 times more likely than service organizations (78% manufacturing vs. 52% for services) to use ISO as a quality framework.
  • Only 68% of organizations share product or service quality performance data with customers.
While there are several surprises in the results, the quality measure disparity is significant. Although executives may not necessarily need to see a daily report digging deeper into that data point shows that less than 40% of executives see an annual quality measure report. So, while quality is viewed in pockets of the organization, there is still plenty of work to do to get it into the organization’s DNA. For executives to appreciate quality, they need to understand it and there is no better way to illustrate this point than by linking quality to current events. Enter Quality NOW.
In this monthly e-newsletter, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski takes a recent news item and links it directly to quality principles by stating how quality could have improved the situation, how quality has improved the situation, or how the quality professional can help provide answers for her/his organization. Regardless of the method of communicating the information, Quality NOW makes a strong case for quality and points to the cost of poor quality.
The more we uncover, distill, quantify, and share with each other and our executives, the more likely the future state of the quality profession will thrive.
Download your copy of the Global State of Quality Research report at www.globalstateofquality.org.