Going Beyond Quality Makes No Sense – There is No Border to Move Beyond

This month, Paul Borawski selected the topic of going beyond the traditional quality function for discussion by ASQ’s Influential Voices.

I don’t pay much attention to the traditional role for quality. Dr. Deming’s ideas, for well over half a century, have emphasized the importance of improving the entire management system and the entire enterprise. That systems view is the way I think and act.

When a quality office exists that office has a role to play within the system. So, the quality department might be responsible for things like helping keeping track of internal process measures (control charts etc.), responding to whatever some executive decides to focus on (they don’t like the rate of warranty expenses, or bugs in the software, or something), etc.

I have no problem with a quality department providing expertise on process management, helping people use quality tools, providing guidance on modern management methods etc. But limiting a quality department to whatever is considered traditional quality (maybe reducing defects, quality assurance, and the like) is an idea that is over half a century out of date, in my opinion. I was part of a quality office at the Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office. The role of such offices is to support and increase the speed of adoption of better management practices to improve results.


There is no “box” that should limit a quality department’s scope. Often that office has to be at the forefront of creating a systems view in the organization and breaking down the “stovepipe” ideas that may still exist. An outdated stovepipe view might marginalize the quality department, but it also destroys effective performance for many processes. To the extent a quality department is still boxed in by decades old organizational thinking that is something they should have been addressing over the last few decades. The strategy for the quality department to address it is the same as building your personal circle of influence. They need to create a system view of management and then play their role which is not limited to some set of traditional quality roles.

Those involved in quality, lean thinking, six sigma… need to be focused on growing the capability of the enterprise (which is the subtitle of my new book). This focus in not some new thing to do in 2012. This is what has been the proper focus for decades. I can’t really imagine thinking of quality in some isolated box. I can’t imagine any lean or six sigma effort, that isn’t an embarrassment, that is constrained to fit some traditional idea on what quality should be limited to.

I have discussed what quality professionals should be doing on this blog for years. There are no traditional limits that I see: Increasing the Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationMoving Beyond Product QualityLong Term Thinking with Respect for PeopleGood Process Improvement PracticesBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

2 thoughts on “Going Beyond Quality Makes No Sense – There is No Border to Move Beyond

  1. I agree, once you put boundaries on quality you have lost the battle against your competition. The closer employees get to the finish line the less effort they give. By trying to continiously improve your employees stay engaged and your success continues to multiply.

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  2. From discussion on LinkedIn

    David Lang “In an organization we are all responsible for quality, how can there be a quality department?”

    my response:

    Michel Baudin explains some reasons in the post he links to above [Why We Need a Quality Department].

    The main reason in my experience is to “provid[e] expertise on process management, helping people use quality tools, providing guidance on modern management methods etc.” which is a bit different than what Michel lays out. What makes sense will depend on the organization and the existing management system.

    What you and Michel both emphasize I agree with, that everyone should be using management improvement tools and thinking in their work. That is where most “quality” efforts take place. A “management improvement” organization should aid these practices. The work is not shifted to this organization but rather this organization provides some expertise and sometimes assistance.

    Over time much of this work could be embedded in the organization and the size of the “management improvement” organization could be reduced. In my experience, unfortunately most organizations have a great need for additional help (there isn’t enough training and experience using “management improvement” thinking) to let things be self operating. There is a need for help.

    There are also often challenges in the organization as short term pressures, targets, silos etc. (that should be systemically fixed, but haven’t been yet) that have to be addressed. It is possible to have the leadership in the organization do this consistently, and that would be best. But often organizations management system have not progressed to that level yet and they can provide organizational power to the “management improvement” organization to address failures in the management system. Sure this is a sign the management system needs to improve, but the reality is that this is often the case so instead of just ignoring it an internal management improvement organization can help fight these bad tendencies while the management system and leadership team develop better practices.

    Some related links

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