I’ve sometimes wondered whether people outside the qualify profession see it as a potentially negative, narrow focus on just trying to find things wrong. Meanwhile, those who have made it a profession are more likely to see it as one with endless opportunities to learn and contribute to the success of the organization and its employees, customers and suppliers.
Perhaps this difference is because quality is not a single field, but in fact the integration of knowledge from many fields of science, technology and management. This can be seen by looking at some of the quality gurus and their more well-known contributions:
- Dr. Joseph Juran – Quality Trilogy (Plan, Control and Improve)
- Dr. W. Edwards Deming – Seven deadly diseases, 14 points for management, system of profound knowledge (system, variation, knowledge, psychology)
- Philip Crosby – Zero defects, quality is free
- Dr. Armand Feigenbaum – Total quality control, cost of quality
- Dr. Kauro Ishikawa – QC circles, cause & effect diagram
- Dr. Shewhart – Statistical process control, Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle
This variety of knowledge is evidenced by technical communities that members of ASQ have available to share ideas, examples that include measurement, statistics, audit, lean, reliability, quality management and innovation. These members can also join industry-specific divisions such as automotive, aerospace & defense, chemical and process industries, design & construction, medical devices and others.
At its foundation, quality is about managing organizational processes that will meet stakeholder needs and expectations. This requires designing processes for product design, supplier management and operations management, which rely on inspection, audits and performance metrics that enable monitoring performance at multiple levels. Risk-based thinking and/or risk management are applied throughout.
This is complicated by the fact that each customer or player who encounters the product during its life cycle may have different definitions of quality. For some, compliance is a primary emphasis, while for others it may be features, performance, aesthetics, etc., depending on the type of product, its uses and the reasons for purchase.
"For some, compliance is a primary emphasis, while for others it may be features, performance, aesthetics, etc."
This multidimensionality then allows each quality professional to find a niche that suits their level of interest in technology and/or management roles, enabling them to have satisfying work that will yield a more productive environment. Along the way they can take advantage of ASQ’s certification opportunities (which number seventeen different options as of this writing) such as technician, engineer, manager, auditor or Six Sigma.
Evolution of industry will require adaptation of known quality principles and technologies to new products such as EVs in the auto industry and cell therapy in pharma. Quality 4.0 will also provide opportunities for growth such as the use of sensors and machine learning to enable more timely prediction of and/or response to machine problems, and AI may help quality professionals focus more on opportunities versus problems. Technology will help improve many aspects of quality management, just as virtual audits have allowed auditors to leverage client cloud-based eQMS systems as well as improve productivity by reducing the time and cost of travel.
For those professionals who like working with standards there are always potential opportunities related to new management system or technical standards issued by the International Organization for Standardization and other standards bodies. Some that might be more relevant now are: ISO 27001 for information security management (which the risks created by today’s highly digitally interconnected world makes very important); ISO 50001 for energy management (which should be of interest to those concerned about their organization’s potential impact on sustainability); and ISO 22301 for business continuity management (the need for which the pandemic made apparent). Work is also being done on standards for the circular economy, another way to improve environmental sustainability.
Whether one has an interest in working with instrumentation, information or people, and as either an individual contributor or a leader, the quality profession has a multitude of opportunities, and evolution of those roles into others. Many of the positions also offer opportunities to move into other roles outside quality, such as operations management (which allows a more direct impact on manufacturing quality) or internal GRC auditor (which provides a higher-level view of risk and governance).
Like many other support functions, quality personnel not only manage several critical processes such as calibration and corrective action, but they play a technology transfer role that imbeds quality philosophies and methods into core functions such as supplier management, production management, and customer feedback. Whether one wants to be a technologist, facilitator or leader, the opportunities for contribution and growth are immense.