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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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Large and small pillars

Not everyone in the profession does or should work at the business level, but everyone needs to work at the three levels of assurance, improvement and understanding. For example, even within a limited domain such as the quality of electronic resistors, there are needs to understand materials, improve processes and assure deliveries. An understanding of the broader context into which your work fits is also increasingly important.

Because quality covers all areas of the business, it is not reasonable for everyone in the profession to be expected to understand everything. As the domain grows, there is room for both generalists and specialists, as in the medical profession, where GPs are able to deal with common conditions and are also able to diagnose and refer unusual cases to specialists.

The work continues

This article is in some ways radical and some ways not. For some this will be heresy, yet in other organisations much of this will be going on already, even though the quality job may be defined in different terms. The primary objective here has been to highlight what already exists, to make implicit knowledge explicit, and to suggest a future. The work goes on. There is much to do and we are the only people who can do it. Below are three suggestions for our profession’s next steps.

Understand people

TQM catapulted many quality professionals into the company limelight, simultaneously failing to cushion the blow as they hit the hard ground of ‘limited success’. To be sure, management commitment was and is a key reason for failure, but we cannot throw the first stone: we have also failed to create and assure that commitment. A lack of understanding of people and psychology is probably our biggest weakness as a profession. We understand the problems of the organisation, yet we fail to communicate and persuade. A deeper understanding of psychology may be a small step for us, but it could lead to giant leaps for our companies.

Improve processes

Processes are not as well-understood as they should be. They are still often designed on the back of the proverbial fag-packet. The user-unfriendliness of documentation systems is legendary. Even in our best companies, process scores in business excellence applications tend not to be the highest. We must improve the design and management of all sorts of processes, including the complex management and support processes that do not easily succumb to procedural techniques used with manual manufacturing processes.

Assure the quality professional

For a profession in which there is little academic education, professional certification is woefully inadequate. Many professionals have no professional qualification and no professional affiliation. They may be wonderful at their jobs, but we just don’t know! Not exactly a quality situation. When employers recruit quality professionals and look at the ones they already employ, they should have confidence in what they are getting - they have every right to look to the national institute to provide that assurance.

Those professionals should be the most valuable people in every company, where their daily job is no less than ensuring that the whole company survives and thrives well into the new millennium.


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