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The concept of Quality 4.0 continues to evolve. This topic continues to gain interest but, to date, documentation of specific activities reflect less progress than would be expected. My informal observations of published white papers and interviews with colleagues support that quality is moving in the direction of Quality 4.0, but very slowly.

I am sharing my experience as an example of how fundamental elements of the quality body of knowledge can be applied to non-traditional situations. In early summer of 2022, the Quality 4.0 Technical Team, of which I am a member, recognized the lack of progress after nearly a year of monthly meetings. I volunteered to prepare both a position paper and a guidance document to outline some basic actions for a general implementation of Quality 4.0 activities.

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To explain the difference between a position paper and a guidance document, I correlated these two papers to the preparation of a corporate vision statement and a mission statement, which are addressed in detail in the quality body of knowledge and a foundation for an organization to develop a strategic plan. The entire team understood the difference and sequence of mission-vision, and everyone had experience in developing these critical documents. Applying this concept more broadly was a challenge. It didn’t take long for the team to make this correlation. The concept was familiar, but terminology different. I believe that this situation is an example of what is taking place in many businesses today. As digitization continues to evolve, situations in which the proven methodologies of quality, as they were established to support production processes, are being overlooked due to new terminology and applications in service-related activities.

To be successful, the wheel does not have to be reinvented. We just need to take the hard wooden wagon wheel, redesign with an inner tube and cover it with rubber for a softer ride. This continuous improvement of the fundamental processes will generate a successful Quality 4.0 transition.

My December Quality article contained a summary of the guidance document discussed here. The ASQ Quality 4.0 Team approved this guidance document, as did the ASQ Board of Directors. It has been adopted for their 2023 strategy. A Quality 4.0 team is being developed and they will be tasked with finalizing the strategy and developing action plans.

I am optimistic that the ASQ Quality 4.0 Team will take this out-of-the-box thinking approach to specific issues of digitization and apply proven process improvement tools. As each improvement activity is completed, the lessons learned should be compiled, developed, and archived for the community of quality professionals. No, the wheel does not need to be reinvented, but there are unlimited improvement opportunities.

These events are indicative of the hurdles the Quality 4.0 Team is facing in support of digitization. The Quality 4.0 Team consists of subject matter experts with a portfolio of quality-focused accomplishments. They are dedicated volunteers committed to the advancement of quality and its contribution to not only business, but also our personal lives. But these dedicated subject matter experts were so focused on accomplishing the team’s objective that they encountered the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” approach. They were concentrating on outcomes before establishing clear objectives. This situation occurs frequently in business. A skilled facilitator is needed to “tighten the reins” to keep the team focused on the first-things-first approach. The facilitator needs to assure that team members remain encouraged, not discouraged.

Developing the strategy is a challenge faced by many large organizations. The time frame was several months for this document to be reviewed by the board of directors. The length of time for the approval process is an issue embedded in many large corporations. There are valid reasons for a deliberate review process, but changes in industry are taking place now. Fast track plans for initiating revisions to the quality body of knowledge are needed immediately as Quality 4.0 is already in a catch-up stage. Many organizations are in various stages of digitization. Can organizations afford to follow this traditional approach to Quality 4.0 implementation? More importantly, can their customers wait for these process improvements to be implemented?

The current quality body of knowledge has the methodologies to meet the challenges of digitization and we, as quality professionals, do not need to wait for corporate guidance. The opportunities already exist in our everyday work. We can recognize how and where our existing skills can be applied by using some innovative thinking with digitization.