By Tom Taormina
The definition of quality in products and services has been evolving since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. So have the methodologies for ensuring a desired and predictable outcome to any process. We have created a profession around it that has advanced from quality control to quality assurance to Total Quality Management to our current forms of quality and excellence. With each iteration, the scope of the methodologies grew and became more complex.
As businesses, processes, products, and services became more intricate, the compelling need to minimize defects and errors grew. The quality profession evolved more and more sophisticated quality management systems to fill the perceived needs of their businesses.
Or did the profession of quality take on a life of its own and continually evolve our tools to create its own society? Did business owners ask us to develop more robust quality management tools, or did we sell them on how we could improve processes and increase quality if they would authorize us to implement the latest fad?
The answer is that we have over-engineered our profession and created behemoths of size and cost with the common goal of minimizing opportunities for defects to occur. Enlightened business leaders no longer see the cost/benefit they were expecting.
ISO 9001 certifications peaked in the mid-2000s and are now less than 30 percent of that number in the United States. We must envision how to breathe new life into ISO 9001-certified companies, with the quality management system (QMS) being replaced by a business management system (BMS). Building your new BMS may contribute to the global renaissance of ISO 9001 being the building blocks for extraordinarily successful companies.
Enlightened quality professionals have seen the handwriting on the wall. I recently read a disturbing article in Exemplar Global ’s The Auditor Online (originally published in Quality Digest) titled “The Decline in ISO 9001 Certification: Does Quality Matter Anymore?” by Julius DeSilva. It is a reality check on the future of ISO 9001.
Six Sigma is also on the decline. A powerful analysis titled “Whatever Happened to Six Sigma” appeared in Quartz. The reason is basic economics, i.e., cost vs. value. If you are among the thousands of “belts,” know that many savvy CFOs have been studying the return on investment and are no longer supporting the program.
The Six Sigma community is so self-invested that they are not looking at what is happening to companies like GE, which led the phenomena and are now in steep decline. You can fade into history like quality circles and Jack Welch, or you can expand your horizons and potential by shifting paradigms from the traditional tenets of quality management.
The pandemic and quality
We are seeing clear signs that the current quality management models are no longer serving many businesses. Meanwhile, as ASQ membership is in decline and many quality professionals are in denial, along comes a pandemic that drastically disrupts the global economy.
Business leaders are scrambling to devise methods to keep their companies open and operational. Some can keep their deliverables flowing through having their people work from home. Others employ social distancing; still others enforce strict safety guidelines to keep operations going at a scaled-down level.
The pandemic has dramatically expedited the declining need for quality professionals. If you are an internal quality person, you are likely looking over your shoulder wondering when the pink slip is coming or planning for early retirement.
The immediate lessons from the perfect storm of 2020 are that many of us are unaware of the potential risks that are looming within and beyond our control. Also, within the quality world, we are just now including risk into our lexicon, but we really do not have consensus of what risk is and what our role should be in removing it.
Rising from the ashes
The perfect storm of tragedies has also spawned a unique solution to us becoming the champions of the new normal. We are building the new model for how to pioneer the future of business recovery, growth, and excellence.
My organization, Apollo Business Solutions, is developing a breakthrough approach for quality professionals to become the new champions of business excellence and risk avoidance. This approach, Forensic Business Pathology, builds on the infrastructure of ISO 9001:2015 but adds the tenets of business excellence and risk avoidance.
This radical transformation in direction is the result of an understanding that our approaches to quality management have been fundamentally flawed since the first attempts at quality control were formulated. We have spent generations perfecting the tools of quality, but not relating them to the prime objectives of our organizations.
In the transition from quality management to business management, we will learn what is important to the overall success of the business. We will become the motivators for senior management to create a vision, mission, and value set that will become the inextricable foundation for whole-enterprise excellence.
From lessons learned in products liability and organizational negligence litigation, we will redefine risk and liability. You can learn the consequential definitions of risk and, rather than mitigating it, you will become a champion of risk avoidance.
Call to action
What is missing from our current quality management models will cause us to become even more irrelevant if we continue with our focus on quality tools rather than on overall business success.
Our new role is to lead organizational change from the macro level instead of attempting to sell the relevance of quality management. We have the tools to design business models free of foreseeable risk and committed to business excellence at all levels.
We are at a unique moment in history where you can lead evolutionary change in business management. Quality professionals with proven auditing skills are the candidates to be a pioneer instead of becoming an anachronism.
About the author
Tom Taormina, CMC, CMQ/OE, is a subject matter expert in the ISO 9000 series of standards. He has written 10 books on the beneficial use of the standards. He has worked with more than 700 companies and was one of the first quality control engineers at NASA’s Mission Control Center during Projects Gemini and Apollo. He is also an expert witness in products liability and organizational negligence.