Quality Management for Grown Ups


I participate in a few quality management discussion forums on-line (I know, please don’t mock). These forums give quite an insight into the way that the discipline of quality management is developing. Or I could say the way it isn’t. There are frequent discussions that are initiated by questions along the lines of “How do we make quality important again?” or “How do we raise the profile of quality?”. The discussions then take their course, fuelled by the contributions of people who consider themselves “quality professionals”. Sometimes even me. The plain fact, however, is that value is not something that can be pushed or bestowed by the provider, but something that is deemed by the recipients. Sadly, these debates seldom benefit from the sobering real world calibration that contributions from people without a vested interest in the quality profession would bring. Tell the truth I am not sure if it would even make much difference.

Even though I may be a paid and badged-up quality professional, I have to confess that I have never worried too much about what the profession in general thinks about itself or about me. My customers are too important to me to get wrapped up in any of that. When push comes to shove, I have no illusions about where my bread is buttered. In my work I am fortunate enough to have very broad exposure to the inner thoughts and challenges of some pretty impressive companies. I know full well that those that operate towards the higher end of the food chain have no need for trite cliches or lectures about putting the customer first, the 8 principles of quality management or whatever. They are well past all of that. That begs the question, what do they want from “quality professionals” (if anything)?

Whilst it is hard to generalise what the majority of my customers want (I do different things for them) what I can say is that they want the service to be smart, commercially aware and, above all, grown up. I realised a long time ago that if I was one of those “quality professionals” that could only spit the dirty word “profit” through gritted teeth, as though it was something to be ashamed of, that I’d not get much work. Generally customers want either solutions to their existing problems, gateways to opportunities or assistance in refining their approach to, and management of, risk. They do not want a lecture about “quality” or “the customer” from somebody who has appointed themselves an expert in how to run their business. That, I would suggest, is NOT quality management for grown ups, but quality management for kids.

So, in summary, what does the profession need? Well I think two things for starters;

1. A greater understanding of basic economics, and an acceptance that this is vitally important and PART OF quality management;

2. A greater weighting within the accepted “core tools” of quality to the identification and management of risk

This is where I am going anyway. The wider profession can follow if it chooses.

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4 Responses to Quality Management for Grown Ups

  1. Rob says:

    Deming said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”

    “How do we make quality important again?” or “How do we raise the profile of quality?” are not the “right” questions if you want to do much on a practical level with the answer(s). These types of question take you into The Metaphysics of Quality territory. Ultimately they are of academic or philosophical interest only. Attempting any sort of useful implementation is difficult. If you want to read more about The Metaphysics of Quality, check out my post:

    http://www.learnsigma.co.uk/2011/07/zen-and-the-art-of-motor-cycle-maintenance-the-metaphysics-of-quality/

  2. Shaun says:

    It does my head in, Rob, it really does. MDs and CEOS do not see the value in the expertise of “quality professionals” and yet it’s the CEOs that have the problem. You are indeed fortunate to have a proper job and a grasp of what is conceptually and commonly known as “reality”

  3. Travis says:

    Shaun, you can see how much value top management place on “Quality Professionals” very rarely do you see one sitting on the board, or as an Executive. At most, they are Managers reporting to a Director who doesn’t see the value of the professional.

  4. Shaun says:

    That’s true, Travis, but, as you know, I am of the belief that respect and a sense of value has to be earned. That means if if the current strategy isn’t working, maybe it is time to try something else. Too may “quality professionals” just seem to think they deserve some sort of unconditional respect (just because of “quality”) and when they don’t get it, they blame the people who aren’t giving it, rather than to consider whether the answer just may lie closer to home. Senior teams are interested in profit and opportunity and we have to accept that the song tells us that it is money that makes the world go around, not quality. The two need to be aligned BY BOTH SIDES

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