ASQ Influential Voices Contribution: Quality in a Rapidly Changing World

In his September blog post titled “Fast Quality?” Paul Borawski, CEO of ASQ, writes about today’s rapidly changing world and wonders what the quality profession must do to keep pace with this change. Paul cited an example of how the average life of a consumer electronics product is now six months. What does this mean for the quality profession? Should the quality profession change in this ever-changing world?

Change is the only constant. Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c.535 BC – 475 BC) is credited with this universal doctrine which tells us nothing endures but change. Isaac Asimov, prolific author and humorist, states “The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” If change is inevitable, how must we deal with it?

Quick, simple, and agile. Nothing should be so etched in stone that it cannot be changed. Think about the long-term implications of today’s decisions. What will happen if conditions change? Is your solution one that will stand the test of time or will you eventually have to go back to the drawing board? Can better, more long-lasting decisions be made? Quality professionals should consider the big picture and long-term implication of their decisions.

Bend, don’t break! When faced with pressures to change, quality professionals must find ways to keep up with the change while remaining true to their principles. I recall a major product launch where a “rush to market” approach taken by top management caused an entire team of quality professionals to compromise their principles. Several very important quality-related tollgates in the product development process were skipped. These quality professionals were forced to bend to the point of breaking. And break they did; they compromised their principles. When the product reached the customer for assembly in the field, various components did not fit together.

Haste makes waste. In the example above, hurrying and hastily-made decisions caused the company to spend millions of dollars for product redesign and retrofit. The pressures to hurry can sometimes be great. Quality professionals need to be agile and willing to bend when faced with these pressures to change; important principles, however, should not be compromised. Quality professionals need to stress that “hurry-up can wait” and “slow can sometimes be fast.” We see examples of this every day where we don’t have time to do it right the first time but we always find the time to do it again.

It’s all relative. I left one industry for a job in a completely different industry a few years back and the hiring manager warned me about the fast-paced nature of his industry. Nothing could be further from the truth from my perspective. In the make-to-order industry I came from we dealt with thousands and thousands of pieces in various stages of production. You could literally stand in one spot in any of our facilities and watch production flow all around you. In this new, one-off production environment, however, you can watch a job sit on a machine for hours or on the shop floor, sometimes for days, waiting to be processed further. This is hardly a fast paced environment from my perspective and far from the fast pace environment in Paul Borawski’s consumer electronic product example.

No comments: