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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

 by Bill Troy, ASQ CEO



In 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville, a French political writer, wrote his classic work,Democracy in America. His observations about America were a fascinating window into the times and issues of the day. Part of the power of his observations was his detached perspective. He could stay above the intense political currents, prejudices, and passions of the times and report on what he saw and heard. His writings still resonate today and tell us about the American character and culture.

I am a little bit like Mr. De Tocqueville, abroad in a foreign land, albeit not as articulate, learned, or astute. In this case, the land is the quality community. As a newcomer to the quality field, I don’t have an insider’s grasp of the culture, language, or heritage, but I have a great admiration for your passion for quality.

While being a visitor can be frustrating and confusing, I hope you will see it also gives me the advantage of a certain amount of objectivity. The quality community has many different constituencies, each with its own perspective. There is broad agreement on some things and sharp disagreements about others.

One of the things I bring to this post is my respect for what you know and what you do. I came from a military background where you quickly learn that standards and certifications are serious business. Being in a field such as yours, where we also value learning, standards and certifications, feels noble and right to me, and I bring the advantage of a certain detachment from one particular quality perspective, which I hope will serve the community and ASQ well.

One of my early observations is that I believe there are two very distinct views about the future of quality we need to at least acknowledge, if not actually reconcile.

Evolutionary change: I would describe one view as the ascribing to evolutionary change. The quality movement has been immensely important and successful in many fields and will continue to grow and evolve, but will do so in recognizable and well-defined ways. We will move down traditional paths but reach new destinations and make new inroads into fields that are underserved today. We will keep doing what we do well and find ways to do it even better.

Revolutionary change: I would call the second view as seeing revolutionary change in the future of quality. Some of the ways we brought value to our businesses, industries, and communities will have to fundamentally change. We will have to bring value to the C-suite as much as to the production line. We must have tools that will facilitate a meaningful contribution at ever more senior levels to make the impact our customers and colleagues want. Knowledge, which we value so highly and have worked so hard to gather, organize, and refine, must be shared much more freely in the age of new media. Even what we describe as quality may be subsumed by different umbrella terms such as “organizational excellence or “risk management.”

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