Guest Post by Dianna Deeney (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
The current state of the quality profession is affected by shifting business infrastructures and changing definitions of brand quality.
Businesses need to react and change against external pressures like increased frequency of consumer communications, the availability of big data, expanding regulations and standards, and the expectations to innovate quickly. The quality profession is at risk of losing its effectiveness in the overall business operations if it does not proactively change with the business.
Businesses need to manage the vast amount of data available from consumers, which requires updates to systems and processes. Because of all the avenues of communication that generate this data, today’s voice of the customer is very strong. Purchases made are not just for the product, but for ongoing customer service and other intangibles, like a business’ commitment to social initiatives. Customers increasingly act with communication that directly affects a business’s value, more often in conjunction with other consumers instead of with the business itself. Further, there is an expectation that the business will respond to and make right the wrongs reported in any sphere. To remain competitive, businesses need to monitor and react to multiple channels of customer communication, including third-party ordering platforms and social media.
Businesses may want to rely on social sites as the main source of data about customers’ needs and risks. After all, there is a lot of data that is freely given by consumers, and businesses are monitoring it, anyway. At an IIA (Institute of Internal Auditors) conference, there was a panel discussion about the topic of risk management. When I asked the panelists where they got most of their data, they conferred and then responded, “Twitter”. This is a shift away from designing studies or other routine methods of collecting data for a specific purpose. When we design ways to collect data, we consider the population and proper sampling techniques, getting results specific to our questions. In contrast, watching social sites is reactionary, may not accurately represent a customer-base, and is not targeted toward information that we need. Only using social data may lead to businesses making inaccurate decisions about customers, their needs, and business risks. Businesses must be careful with big data and its analytics, and quality professionals need to be diligent about helping the business use the appropriate quality of data to make decisions.
In addition to a strong voice of the customer and using big data, there are external regulations and standards that are redefining quality for certain business sectors. Usability engineering is being made a prerequisite, not just a business decision. Early standards on user centered design focused on user interfaces with computers. Standards have since expanded to include more user interfaces. For example, ISO 13407 “Human-centered design processes for interactive systems” was written for computer-based interactive systems; it has since been withdrawn and replaced with the ISO 9241 series of standards that address a broader scope. Usability engineering is a requirement for medical devices: collateral standards under IEC 60601-1 “Medical Electrical Equipment – Part 1: General Requirements for Basic Safety and Essential Performance” are aligned with and reference IEC 62366-1 “Medical Devices – Part 1: Application of Usability Engineering to Medical Devices”. Regulations, like the MDR (Medical Device Regulations) in the European Union, define ways in which the business needs to watch the product after it’s in the field: to monitor competitive solutions, evaluate if their product is the best solution for the customer or not, and to justify the continued manufacture and sale of their products for the public good. Manufacturers now have more responsibility beyond deciding if their product is still being bought and to check that there aren’t many complaints.
The definition of brand quality for businesses is changing based on these increases in customer communication and regulations. However, pressure to maintain a high pace of innovation, as shown from the many books and articles about it and the continued publication of indexes (such as the Global Innovation Index) and awards (like PDMA’s Outstanding Corporate Innovator Award) remains. The need for change is also introduced with the need for improved supply chain management, made obvious during the Covid-19 pandemic. Company infrastructures need to change to address these issues, and the Quality Profession must react to keep up with these changes.
For the quality profession to keep pace with changing business infrastructures, quality professionals need to be engaged. Too often quality professionals are out-of-sight/out-of-mind. Quality professionals are shuffled into different departments and kept isolated within functional silos to do the work of that department. Working from home or offsite has worsened this problem. Quality management also do not always provide leadership in how the group is supposed to function in the organization: are they mentors and collaborators, providers of a continuous service to defined internal customers, or experts that provide a service when called upon? If it’s not made clear which quality department supplies what type of information or help, it strangles quality initiatives and ideas, because people don’t know what processes to change to meet the needs of a changing environment. Nor do they understand how to deal with new customer requirements.
The future of the quality profession is dwindling if the goal is to maintain the quality department status quo.
Manufacturing support is still needed and will be guided by Quality 4.0. For most other business activities there are no other global quality initiatives which can assist quality professionals working in these other areas. This creates a problem because quality management operations in these other areas may not act in a manner consistent with changing customer demands and instead, act to maintain the status quo. This is a mistake for the quality profession. Because of the strong voice of the customer, big data, increasing regulations, and innovation demands, businesses must react quickly. The quality profession will struggle to keep up with new and changing business objectives if it does not react to the changing business’ needs.
Quality professionals will continue to be sought after in manufacturing, as quality methods have been a proven technique of production success for nearly 100 years. However, Industry 4.0, or the Forth Industrial Revolution, poses challenges such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automations to manufacturing. Quality 4.0 initiatives have started to recognize these challenges and how they will change aspects of business operations. Quality management and the quality professional must be proactive in being of service to the business or risk becoming obsolete. An example of this is a job description for a quality management position in a Pennsylvania manufacturing business. Besides the typical requisites, they had two other requirements: the quality manager had to do work outside of their office and engage with the production floor and other departments, and they didn’t want to fight with Quality anymore. We can get an idea of what the company was experiencing if this was spelled out in the hiring requirement.
If the quality professional does not adapt, they’ll be left behind and not part of the decision-making process. Decisions will be made whether the quality professional is involved or not. The benefits of quality methods and techniques will not be used to help make business decisions that are based on data. Managers will rely on gut instinct and abbreviated metrics to make decisions. And the teamwork promoted by quality methods is stopped – the company could lose the benefits of cross-functional teams. If that happens the team and the business both suffer. There is a short-term gain in timeline by not doing quality activities early in any new project. But the long-term loss is painful, and the team is less capable of preventing or correcting issues that could have been addressed earlier with quality tools. Not being proactive with quality methods and techniques in other areas of the business makes the business lose money. It will become a prevalent responsibility of the quality professional to shoulder, to speak-up and proactively show leadership in this area.
Quality needs to move out and integrate into other areas of the organization to remain relevant and useful.
There are actions that quality leadership, management, groups, and individuals can take to promote the quality profession in other business areas. A proactive approach with a partnering attitude can make quality a forefront activity throughout the business and provide value.
Strong, over-arching quality leadership will be needed for Quality to maintain a presence and drive improvements and changes. Strong quality leadership is needed to forge new ideas, be the face of quality for the organization, and to help define what quality means to the brand. Over-arching quality leadership is needed to help other departments build systems to maintain and improve quality across the organization and to support the objectives of other departments. This leadership on a macro level can help guide decisions in the boardroom and within management.
Quality management needs to define what the quality department wants to be in an organization: as mentors, as providing a service, or as experts. These roles can be different for different areas, but they should be understood companywide to help facilitate the inevitable infrastructure changes. Quality management also needs to integrate with other management functions, to help ensure that their systems use quality techniques, and that people are properly trained in quality methods and terminology.
Quality management also needs to lead the quality groups in understanding their processes and outputs. Quality groups need to prepare to change their processes and how they work to react to new business needs, because businesses must change how they gather and analyze data. For quality professionals to change how they do things, everyone needs to understand which quality groups are serving whom and with what information. Otherwise, the business cannot be adaptable, precious information will be lost, and the business leaders will not be able to make the best decisions possible with data.
Successful quality professionals will add to the business’s profitability. They can do this in several ways.
- Hands-on application of quality with other groups is needed. Facilitate working meetings using quality tools. Volunteer to help a team organize data. Proactively look for opportunities to mentor others.
- Align quality activities with business objectives and keep up with the speed of change. Be prepared to change priorities and to change the way the business does things. Don’t be resistant to change. Instead, adopt it and help the business succeed by using your strengths as a quality professional.
- Adopt a mindset of being of service to the greater company. Learn how to help managers make decisions; study business systems and offer to help management systems improve.
- Champion the use of continuous improvement cycles and get management support for them. These cycles can help show the power of quality thinking and disseminate it into a company culture. They are quick wins where benefits are seen quickly, which helps promote further quality activities. They demonstrate teamwork, cross-functionally, which will promote cross-functional activities in other areas of the business. And these cycles help promote and facilitate quality thinking. Ensure the process is tracked, reported, and continued.
With strong leadership, a well-thought-out department structure with groups that are adaptable, and quality professionals working in a service-minded way, the Quality Profession can be poised to be an influential business partner and instrumental to the business’s success. Doing so will also make quality professionals marketable by building a portfolio of business wins, honing work with others to help them use quality tools to their advantage, and by becoming more sensitive to business systems and needs. It’s a recipe of success for the business itself, the quality profession, and the quality professional.
Dianna Deeney is president of Deeney Enterprises, LLC and founder of Quality during Design. She has worked in manufacturing for over 25 years, developing an engineering career from the manufacturing floor to manufacturing process engineering, product design, quality and reliability engineering, and quality management systems. Through her experience, she recognized a gap in understanding between people that design products and the quality techniques and input from quality professionals. She knows that bridging this gap could make a significant, positive difference in the outcome of the design and its design cycle. It can also save on total costs by solving design questions earlier.
Dianna founded Quality during Design with a mission of using the company as a communication tool, to bridge product managers and designers (entry-level to seasoned) to the world’s quality initiatives and quality-minded people. Her vision is a world of products that are easy to use, dependable, and safe – possible by strategically using Quality during Design for products others love, for less. Visit her at www.QualityDuringDesign.com.