The long list of quality management theories, quality tools and techniques make it difficult for quality leaders to select what is right for their organizations. Studies have found that there is absolutely no correlation between the number of tools used and the satisfaction with the financial results. The answer is to apply quality management tools in a way that links them strategically and gears them towards results.

There is a very long history of quality management theories. And today, there are so many choices of quality management theories, processes and tools that we’re in a crisis in quality. Of all of the quality processes and tools out there, which ones should we be using? Unfortunately, too many organizations determine the “right” quality process or tool based on “what’s the latest fad,” rather than what is right for them. They may identify these fads through articles, blogs, conference presentations, or other ways.

Eager for some magical cure to their challenges, quality leaders often rush to embrace these fads, and when they fail to deliver quick results, they drop them and move to the next one. It’s like a “fashionista” who pursues every new fashion trend, but with fashion, we’re looking for change. Is constant change what we really want for our organization?

Look at the latest throng of business books – different jackets – same contents. The ideas may be interesting, but it is important to consider how this new quality approach will impact what’s already in place, and more importantly, how it may link to the organization’s cultural norms and processes. It’s important to first ask, “Will it build on what’s already working well?

Just take a look at this long history of quality and organizational management theories and you’ll begin to realize how this has led to a crisis in quality.

A Very Long History

The systematic study of quality and organizational theory and “scientific” research into management had its greatest push after WWII, although it originated around 1900, but trends in the early 1800’s contributed to it.

Robert Owen, in the early 1800s, stressed the importance of the human element in production. Charles Babbage followed towards the mid-1800s with his research into operations and management science. In the early 1900s Frederick Taylor felt that the key to better productivity was greater efficiency, that is, to locate the “best” way of completing a task. “Best” meant requiring the least number of motions on the part of the employee and in the least amount of time.

Shortly after Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth took the study further and introduced process flow-charting. Henry Gantt, in 1917, developed graphic aids to management planning, co-ordination and control of production. His Gantt Chart was considered revolutionary at the time. Around the same time, Harrington Emerson developed his “Twelve Principles of Efficiency” which included a call for standardized operations and written standard practice instructions. Efficiency rewards and incentive plans were also a part of his principles. Shewhart developed Statistical Process Control in 1931.

Since WWII, quality and management theory accelerated with the introduction of many other tools and strategies including: Management by Objectives, Joint Performance Appraisals, Motivation-Hygiene concept, Parent/Adult/Child theory, Theory X & Y, I’m OK – You’re OK, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Situational Leadership, Conflict Management, Theory Z, Zero Based Budgeting, Decentralization, Assertiveness Training, Wellness, Quality Circles, TQM, Excellence, Restructuring, Activity Based Costing, Portfolio Management, Matrix Organizations, Just in Time, ISO 9000, Corporate Culture, Intrapreneuring, One Minute Management, Globalization, Visioning, Benchmarking, Quality Functional Deployment, Empowerment, Continuous Improvement, Learning Organization, Reengineering, Lean, Six Sigma, Project Management, etc. The list continues to grow.

It’s No Wonder We’re in a Quality Crisis

There are so many quality tools and techniques that it’s a challenge to identify which is the “right” one. The 21st century has brought with it additional quality processes and qualitytools, each one promising change, improvement and increased customer satisfaction levels. Many of these are carry overs from the 20th century. Others are just reinventions of the same thing that has been tried before. This includes: Project Management, Six Sigma, Lean, Innovation, Reengineering, Cost of Quality and so on.

Today, the total usage of these quality tools is high and growing. However, studies have found that there is absolutely no correlation between the number of quality tools used and the satisfaction with the financial results.

The Lean vs. Six Sigma vs. Innovation Dilemma

The quality in crisis today is compounded by the continuous arguments over which “current” quality processes and tools an organization should invest in. Should it be Lean, Six Sigma, Innovation, or all of them? Or should it be some combination of them? Many of these quality processes and tools seem to operate independently of each other and too often they work at cross-purposes. The greatest challenge for organizations is to figure out how to apply these tools in a way that links them strategically to their corporate goals and gears them towards positive results.

The Lean versus Six Sigma versus Innovation dilemma is an unfortunate debate. Just look at how many quality tools and processes have been introduced over the past 100 years, so why the debate on only these three?

The Avery Point Group, a global executive search and recruiting firm for Lean and Six Sigma talent, recently completed a study of almost 3,500 job postings and found that more organizations are seeking Lean versus Six Sigma talent. As well, only 41% of these organizations require candidates to possess Six Sigma knowledge.

This increasing de-emphasis on Six Sigma is not really a surprise. A 2007 study from the consulting firm QualPro showed that 53 of 58 large companies that use Six Sigma have trailed the S&P 500 since they implemented it. Many blame the lack of leadership and strategy to support the rigour of Six Sigma.

In our own experience we see that organizations that have rigoursly adopted Six Sigma have done so at the expense of Innovation. Classic examples are 3M and General Electric. These organizations were so stringently focused on Six Sigma that they failed to focus on Innovation. As a result, it negatively impacted their ability to bring new products and services to market, which eventually negatively impacted their bottom-line.

Innovation is creative and unstructured. Yes, it does follow a process but it is a long, not short, journey. It involves taking risks and seizing opportunities. In comparison, Six Sigma is highly structured and risk aversive. It focuses on the short-terms gains. As a result, Innovation is stifled by the in-depth analytical requirements of Six Sigma.

Lean focuses on process improvement. The front-end of Innovation is a very creative process. The back-end of Innovation is a process of analyzing, measuring, testing, researching, piloting, etc. Lean works well in this back-end process as it can help identify that the process is working well without comprising the creative and longer-term nature of Innovation.

How Do We Get Out of the Quality Crisis?

Dr. Edwards Deming said that for an organization to truly be successful, it must have profound knowledge. That is:

  1. How they think
  2. How they feel
  3. The system in which they work
  4. How they measure the product and service within the system in which they are created.

Deming believed that you don’t blame the people for the system in which they work; rather, look to management to create the culture in which quality will thrive. Creating such a culture means bringing about change; change in how we manage quality, and more importantly, change in how we manage our work within our organizations in order to create success for us, our departments, our customers and our organization as a whole.

Where does change initiate? Where does it begin? The answer is that change starts with vision and planning. It requires leadership to establish a sense of urgency, create a guiding coalition, develop a vision and strategy and communicate this change vision to others who are empowered to act to achieve it.

So, rather than put in place the latest quality “fad”, my advice to quality leaders is to start by creating a Strategic Quality Plan.

The Strategic Quality Planning process will help the Quality Leader and team to identify and review what quality processes and tools have been used in the past, why they are still being used or not being used and what may have led to their demise.

Through Strategic Quality Planning, quality leaders will be able to undertake benchmarking and develop a vision and strategy that is appropriate for the organization; one that considered the organization’s past experiences and present situation. And also aligns with the organization’s strategic goals and imperatives. Through the Strategic Quality Planning process, quality leaders will be required to consider how to create short-term wins, consolidate gains and produce positive change in ways that will help to institutionalize new quality approaches in the future.

I encourage you to adopt the Strategic Quality Planning process. You will gain the Profound Knowledge required to make the right quality decisions; based on sound reasons, not the latest fads. Carl Rogers said: “If not you, then who?” Don’t look to others. It is the responsibility of the quality leader and team to develop the Strategic Quality Plan that will help the organization understand the “right” quality processes and tools to use.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca