Many quality professionals, including statisticians, have remained mired in their rapidly diminishing consultative roles of teaching statistical tools, analyzing data, designing experiments and performing internal consulting duties while having few leadership responsibilities and limited accountability.

This conundrum, however, offers significant opportunities to step forward and make a case for their leadership in creating the next generation of statistically minded leaders that could take their organizations to the next level of sustainable improvement.

On the surface many might think this has already happened at most companies, but this isn’t as widespread as one might expect. Not all company leaders or their quality professionals are forward thinkers—but the time is ripe for an evolution.

One of the foundational truisms is that management must lead any culture change if it is to be successful. Quality professionals can expedite this by showing leadership the potential power of a statistically minded organization based on a few basic principles.

Maintain a bottom-line focus. As Philip Crosby reminded us, the primary focus of management is money, making more money and not losing money. Quality professionals must move beyond “show me the data” to “show me the money.” The principle of all project management should be bottom-line impact.

Focus on the vital few tools. Exposing organizations to a wide variety of tools that can be put inside their giant toolbox may make the quality professional feel vindicated, but it’s a low-yield strategy. A better one is to focus on the vital few tools integrated with a problem solving framework that is sequenced and linked together. The user will know how the output of each tool is used as the input for one or more other tools. The use of a Six Sigma DMAIC tool set might be the answer, but there are others to consider as well. The key is to confine the set to the vital few (of the hundreds available) and make sure each tool generates outputs that become targets for the next tool in the sequence.

Employ top talent to lead the effort. Significant improvement is too important to be left to just anyone that might be available. Quality professionals need to help their management understand that the clearest message they can send about how seriously they regard an improvement initiative comes when they announce the people who are named to take on key roles. The organization will judge the effort as crucial if it has been staffed with top talent. If it’s staffed with second-stringers management shouldn’t expect the initiative to be received with enthusiasm.

Create a supporting infrastructure. For many companies this has been achieved with a Six Sigma team-based infrastructure with team champions, sponsors, facilitators, leaders, and team members. Regardless of the system adopted, it should consist of a project selection process, formal training program, project tracking and monitoring systems, an audit process for closed projects, a communications plan, and an employee reward and recognition plan. 

Provide focused training. Leaders often underestimate the value of formal training. Resistance can often be overcome by combining training with live projects as many companies do already. Project-based training not only produces more immediate financial business results, but it also makes for more effective training.

Focus early on “quick wins.” In the early stages of improvement, project teams should take advantage of low hanging fruit which can often be found from process mapping. Streamlining processes through reduction of complexity, waste, redundancy, and non-valued added work are areas to look for quick wins. People like to succeed. When they see early tangible results, they are eager to repeat the process.

Plan for longer term improvement. After gaining momentum with a series of quick wins, focus on optimizing and controlling processes by improving value-added work, ‘squish and scoot’ process variation, improving process flow, reducing cycle time and enhancing customer satisfaction. We should be reminded that maintaining momentum comes from the effect that achievement of significant, measureable benefits has on the outcome.

Maybe more than ever, quality professionals are in a position to influence how their organizations run. To be successful in this role, quality professionals must recognize that they are in the culture change business, which requires that they first help change leadership’s thinking through the kind of carefully structured initiatives and principles described here.