What Success Have You Had in Moving Quality Beyond Product?

My Response to the ASQ Influential Voices Topic of the Month

Please note:

“I was recruited as an inaugural member of the ASQ Influential Voices program in 2010. And while I receive a variety of quality resources as honorarium from ASQ in exchange for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.”

Learn more about Quality and ASQ at: http://asq.org

The Short answer to the Question of the Blog Post title: Some. 

Some – in that as someone focused most of the time on impacting the human variable (in a Process) via providing them with the awareness, knowledge and skills needed, via Training, Learning, and/or Knowledge Management Systems “content” for use before “The Moment of Need and/or During the Moment of Need” – I have had to move upstream from the Product, into the Processes that produced it. And sometimes we had to swim further upstream than that immediate Process-set.

More on that later.

From a Post from Paul Borawski – CEO of ASQ

From time to time things cross my desk that I want to share. Perhaps you’re aware of an organization called The Conference Board in the United States. Its reach is global and high in the C-Suite. Every year The Conference Board polls CEOs to identify their top-of-mind challenges. This report obviously makes good reading if you want to know what CEOs care about. More importantly to the quality community is the analysis of the findings by the Conference Board Quality Council, and advice on how quality executives and the quality community can respond in value-added ways.

If you’re looking for ways to move quality up the corporate agenda – being responsive to the challenges of the CEO is an excellent start. The Conference Board Quality Council was kind enough to provide access to “Answering The Conference Board CEO Challenge © 2012” (PDF, 334 KB). The authors are notable – Mike Adams (retired Allegheny Energy) , Charles Brandon, Ph.D. (U.S. Department of Defense), Alka Jarvis (Cisco Systems Inc.), and Rebecca Yueng (FedEx.) I recommend the read.

I’ll let you read the report to know more about what CEOs are thinking about, but here’s the hit parade – innovation, human capital, global political/economic risk, government regulation, global expansion, cost optimization, customer relationships, sustainability, corporate brand and reputation, and investor relations. And the Quality Council report provides great insights on how the quality community is responding and what it can do better.

And therein lies the seed for my question of the day. The opening paragraph of the Quality Council’s perspective is, “For some organizations, ‘quality’ remains a set of tools and techniques associated almost exclusively with quality control. For others, quality has evolved into a critical partner, closely linked with business model development and the enterprise-wide execution of long-term strategy to achieve results.”

I have seen this dichotomy often. For some executives, their understanding of quality is exclusive to product. For others, it’s the improved performance of the enterprise, which includes the product/service. Obviously I side with the later. What success have you had in moving quality beyond product? Share your stories, please.

Paul’s Blog Post is – here.

Big Q/ Little Q

Some might quibble with this – but:

  • Little Q (or should that be “q”?) represents Quality methods and tools and techniques.
  • Big Q represents Quality Philosophies and a big-Systems-View of EVERYTHING under the sun (so to speak) that affects quality of Products and Processes – as measured by the Stakeholders.

At least that was my take-away from this distinction – Big Q/little Q – from back in the early 1980s when I was at Motorola. I have not kept up in any changes or got caught up in the nuances that surely accompany any discussion of this. I am not current in the semantics of that dialogue.

But the semantics are indeed important.

I just don’t wish to engage in any debate about those nuances at this time.

There Are Miles Yet To Go

To reach an end-state, future-state, ideal-state of both Big Q & Little Q – where the foci is on both Products and their Processes – we need to understand the folks who set the measures and standards for both.

That’s not simple; it is often rather complex.

Depending on who you are as a Stakeholder (including but in addition to Customers and Customer’s Customers…and their Customers) you focus on QUALITY may rightly differ.

As a Government-type Stakeholder you might be more interested in The Process and not The Products – say, in terms of child labor laws compliance. Those folks probably are not focused on the products being produced (or services rendered) by the Performers – they just don’t want children used as those Performers.

Other Government-type Stakeholders  do care about the Product (or Service) and don’t care about The Processes used to produce them or the age of the Performers in the processes.

And there are Stakeholders who care about the downstream Products/Services and the upstream Processes.

You need a model specific to your situation for those Stakeholders. That will take some work. Here is something – a model – to get you started.

Another Version for Illustrative Purposes

And if Social Responsibility reigns supreme – or close to the top-of-mind for your Enterprise leadership – then perhaps this example for illustrative purposes is more appropriate.

Yes – Customers lead but do not dominate “final decisions” about what and how to do anything – and Suppliers lag.

Change as appropriate to your situation – “Adopt what you can and Adapt the rest.”

And here is an article (1995) to further your jump start.

The Customer Is King – Not! – 15 page PDF – the original version of the article published in the Journal for Quality and Participation in March 1995 – address Balancing Conflicting Stakeholder Requirements, and suggests that the Customer is Not the King of Stakeholders (despite the unfortunate slogans from the Quality movement despite Deming’s admonitions about slogans).

For those with access – here is the published article version – via ASQ: http://asq.org/qic/display-item/index.html?item=16777

And here next, is a chart, a matrix, of what you might need to create for YOUR CONTEXT – to “make visible” all of the Requirements – and to balance out any conflicts in those Requirements.

In some Contexts – conflicting Stakeholder Requirements are inevitable. And so the need to balance them – decide definitively who wins and who doesn’t – to avoid the spinning wheels syndrome – that increases both unnecessary cycle time and costs of a Process producing Products.

See the article to make further sense of the Matrix above.

The concept with the Stakeholder Requirements Matrix – and the approach – is “to make these Requirements more visible” – and therefore more actionable. And to avoid some reacting to Requirements that are superseded by higher level Stakeholders.

All Requirements are not equal.

Sometimes We Preach and Reach Too Far

Sometimes – IMO – we get so carried away that we let our approaches our guiding philosophies to get too carried away – in the eyes of others.

Sometimes we speak and act as if we believe that EVERY SINGLE Process – and therefore EVERY Process Step – needs to be operating at Six Sigma levels.

But Boeing operates some of their Processes at 9 Sigma.

And I would guess that they operate others at less than 6 Sigma.

For me it always comes down to the ROI – where the “R” equates to either The Risks to be Avoided and/or The Rewards to be Achieved – often two sides to the same coin (so to speak).

We – IMO – need to Preach and Reach based on ROI. Always.

We need to act as if all the Shareholder Equity – was our very own – and we “were in the biz” for the same reasons as our real Shareholders – some of whom are in it only for the Money – and others only for Societal Good – and others for some balance – or other reasons. It’s THEIR Equity.

And we should always be Good Stewards of our Shareholders’ Equity – or we should seek happiness elsewhere.

My Own Big Picture View of Quality ~ Performance

I come at the world of Quality/quality via a Human Performance perspective – all Enterprise, Process, and Human Performance is a human endeavor. And my extended version of the Ishikawa Diagram follows:

Side 1 of 2

Side 2 of 2

For those unfamiliar with the Ishikawa Diagram…here is a version, circa early 1980s …

The utility of the Ishikawa Diagram was (in my words) to systematically tease out the variables of a Process to understand the potential causes for “problems”/find leverage points for “improvements” – and that includes looking beyond each variable in isolation, and taking a “systems view” of the whole, and/or component sub-systems, and/or unique variables in isolation.

There Are Many Approaches to Big Q and to Little Q

In my opinion.

Many concepts, models, methods, tools and techniques.

Many are very similar in all but the labels fastened to them. The problems is that we use similar language for different things and different language for the same things – depending on where we come from.

Some of us come at this from: IE or OD or TQM or ISD or (name your perspectives here – I am sure that you too can come up with a “laundry list”).

I have mine and you have yours.

Variety – the spice of life.

Unless of course you need to reduce that variation to some appropriate level of Sigma.

As we all look into opportunities for Big Q and/or Little Q – let’s keep in mind our promise to the Stakeholders, including our Customers, our Shareholders, and to Society at Large…and the words of Robert Frost…as we continue on our Quality Journey…which to me suggest to not get too distracted by any one Product/Service and it’s Processes – or our “approach” – but to look beyond a tree, or the forest, to the biggest picture we can formulate – in our contexts.

As you (if you) read the “Answering The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2012” document (link above in Paul’s Post) keep in mind – but think beyond – the question immediately posed in that document:

Is today’s C-suite taking full advantage of its organization’s quality executives and function as a way to answer its most pressing challenges?

For I find the question as myopic and too-narrow – as those I find in the “Learning Space” where I also roam – that might have asked the same question of the CLO – Chief Learning Officer.

As if THEY represented the silver bullet.

Pleazzzze! Stop.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost


When we ask ourselves such narrow questions – with the desired answer not-so-buried in the question itself – we and our horses will be “off on the wrong feet” to start with.

It will take a village. Not just one specialty, one discipline.


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One comment on “What Success Have You Had in Moving Quality Beyond Product?

  1. Pingback: June Roundup–Taking Quality Beyond Product - A View From the Q

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