Q: A name like the American Society for Quality can be perceived as quite general. From a manufacturing perspective, what does ASQ strive for? What are the organization’s goals?
A: Quality is a complex topic with powerful tools. Quality can be used at the enterprise level to manage the enterprise, and quality can be used for specific needs of the organization. It can be used to increase revenue, decrease cost, improve satisfaction and speed to market, eliminate waste, and improve morale. ASQ strives to help organizations understand the value of quality and then equip people with the concepts, techniques, and tools to realize the improvements and goals they set.
Q: In working with a company, like Cummins for example, how does the process initially get started? Do companies contact you, or do you reach out to them?
A: ASQ is a 60 year old organization with 100,000 members. Most large organizations like Cummins have ASQ members on their professional staffs. Larger involvement of ASQ with a company can come from within, or from our efforts to reach out. Often the offerings of ASQ fit perfectly in the strategic plans of organizations, and we can help them accelerate their schedules and get results sooner.
Q: Again, quality is a rather expansive term, what exactly do you focus on when working with manufacturers? Products? Processes? Training? Is there a generic starting point?
A: We start where the company wants benefits. Every organization differs in needs and abilities. Some organizations are just discovering modern quality, others are mature sophisticated practitioners. Some companies just want to fix a problem; others want to move their entire company to a higher level of performance. There’s no common starting point, and there’s no finish line. Organizations are complex, the world is complex and constantly changing. What represents world-class performance in 2000 is antiquated by 2007. Quality is that systematic pursuit of excellence, year after year.
Q: We’re all familiar with some of the common problems currently facing manufacturers, whether it’s rising energy costs, off-shore competition or escalating health care premiums. What are some of the problems you’ve seen that might get overlooked? How were they addressed?
A: The list of problems organizations face is long: a shrinking workforce, collapsing product life cycles, a geometric rate of change, and rising customer expectations among some.
How are these addressed? Through the sleepless nights of dedicated and smart managers and executives. Through ingenuity, genius, determination, and unfailing dogged pursuit of quality. We should understand by now that there are no silver-bullet solutions. There are a lot of issues vying for the attention of business leaders in the 21st century, most notably a focus towards clear vision, sound strategy, enterprise level quality excellence, and a commitment to the customer. The challenge is to increase the rate of adoption of known solutions. That’s where we, ASQ, come in. We’re able to match problems with solutions and create environments in which new solutions can be germinated.
Q: It seems that terms like lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Kaizen, etc. get thrown around a lot. Has the industry become de-sensitized to the possible impact stemming from their implementation?
A: In a word, yes many have been commoditized, homogenized, and grossly under utilized. Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen, all hit the market with “silver bullet” status. Then organizations started looking for short-cuts and "discount" approaches. I’ve already said, there are no silver bullets, and I’d add that the only short-cut I know is to avoid reinventing the wheel. Each of the tools listed are powerful tools that will help any organization perform better, but none taken in isolation, applied blindly, and beyond exhaustion will save a company.
Those who study the cost of poor quality say an average manufacturing company wastes 20 cents of every revenue dollar. From experience I would say they are understated. Waste is more than the scrap that gets sent to the landfill. Waste includes rework (the hidden factory within the factory), and putting poor product into the field and needing to service it. Waste is poor work that employees learn their management will accept to meet quarterly goals. Waste includes the ill will poor products create in the marketplace, and the revenue lost form disloyal customers. Waste is the cost of replacing the skills and experience of good employees who leave looking for companies that care. Waste is the ineffective and inefficient use of any resource, physical or human. Quality aims to reduce and eliminate those wastes.
Q: It seems many of these programs deal very intensely with operations. What about maintenance procedures? Can these same approaches be implemented on the maintenance side?
A: It’s been said, and no one has disproved it, that quality has universal application. All work comes down to people and process and those are the building blocks of quality.
What has to occur is for pioneers to leave the comfort of what they know to learn something new, something perhaps with strange new terms that are unfamiliar, in use in places I have little experience. Those pioneers then assist us with translations. A supplier’s customer is an OEM. A school’s customer is a student. A hospital’s customer is a patient. A nursing home customer is a resident. Different names, nearly identical roles. One by one the terms are translated and the tools get applied.
If quality has been used to reduce back pain, to improve test scores, to create “wow” service experiences, it can be used for maintenance procedures. And I’m sure it already is. A vice president for quality of a large US healthcare company said she knew they were making progress when the legal department came to her asking for help in applying quality management to their work.
Q: Improving operations often goes hand-in-hand with internal economic investments. What advice can you give when it comes to validating these costs, ensuring their worthiness and tracking the return?
A: Six Sigma got such a shot in the arm because it requires the documentation of savings, and joins the accounting community to the quality effort. A lot has been learned and it sits there waiting to be used again and again. Quality is free. It produces its own return. That’s its beauty better outcomes, lower costs, faster, more satisfied customers, and reduced consumption.
Challenge conventional accounting thinking. How long is a savings credited? A year? Two? Ten? What’s the lifetime value of a loyal customer? Add into the equation the reduced risk of lawsuits from faulty product in the field, or a large scale cataclysmic event. What’s a brand worth? How quickly will it perish?
Q: Looking forward, what do you see as the most significant factors impacting American manufacturing?
A: ASQ conducts a Future’s study every three years to help us anticipate the future of quality so this answer is easy, simple, and amazingly profound for those that embrace and respond to it. The forces shaping the future of quality we discovered in the latest study include (in rank order) globalization, innovation/creativity/change, outsourcing, consumer sophistication, value creation, and changes in quality management.
For more about the study, visit http://www.asq.org/strategy/pdf/asq_futures_study_2005_brochure.pdf