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Three Pillars of Quality

David Straker

 

This article first appeared Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute

 

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Basis for survival

The three pillars fit together to form the basis for survival of all businesses and organisations. The job of the quality professional is to understand, improve and assure the operation of the whole business system within which he or she works, as below.

Assurance: the quality of keeping promises

The modern concept of quality started on the manufacturing line, where quality professionals worked to ensure that products met given specifications. This is the domain of quality control and assurance, in which we are the clear masters of documented systems and audited processes. The quality of assurance is, at its most fundamental, about meeting stated or implied promises (for example, as defined in product specifications). This quality is about sameness and consistency.

Improvement: the quality of creating capability to keep promises

Improvement has gradually merged into quality, and with the dawning of the TQM era1, quality professionals became involved in the improvement of the broad business system. Improvement requires new levels of knowledge and skill, such as an understanding of the way to design processes and business systems. Products are designed by people with professional qualifications in the subject. The design of processes and broader organisational systems deserves equal discipline. Improvement is the quality of change. Initially about changing processes, it has evolved into changing organisational systems. It requires analysis, innovation, and serious interpersonal skills. If QA means keeping promises, then quality improvement involves building a system capable of doing so.

Understanding: the quality of making the right promises

The final domain that requires our attention is that of understanding. Understanding is both the philosopher’s stone and the critical challenge for quality in the new millennium, as Deming suggested in his emphasis of the need for ‘profound knowledge’. Quality of information, quality of understanding and quality of decisions are as critical as the quality of products and services that flow from them. We must not only understand machines and processes but people and complex systems. Only then can we make the right promises and ensure that we keep them. Understanding requires a constant quest for deeper knowledge and alternative meaning. It is not an end in itself, but it requires patience and passion to keep on digging and refining, as the knowledge gained today may not be of value until some time later. Learning is a lifetime’s occupation, so you might as well enjoy it. Understanding is the underpinning that enables both improvement and assurance. The domain of the quality professional is significant, and just as business systems are interlocked, so are these areas necessary to ensure we make wise promises and then keep them. If quality assurance and improvement are about keeping promises, then understanding is about ensuring that the right promises are made.

 

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