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Senior executives, quality professionals differ on pursuit of quality: ASQ survey


October 27, 2014
By Elizabeth Burns

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Oct. 27, 2014 – Clearly stated vision and values, and unequivocal leadership, are key components to a successful culture of quality that can help organizations drive results, according to new research from ASQ and Forbes Insights.

But only about 60 per cent of all respondents say management unequivocally supports their organization’s quality vision and values, of which about 60 per cent say are clearly stated.
    
The research — “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise” — explores organizations’ support of quality and the key components of a successful culture of quality. This study offers — from organizations like Samsung, FedEx and Tata — actionable insight into how a quality-driven culture can accelerate business performance.

The research draws on the responses of 1,010 senior executives and 1,281 quality professionals worldwide from a multitude of industries. The survey was conducted online in April. More than nine per cent of respondents are from Canada.

“In order to be effective, a culture of quality must permeate an entire organization,” said ASQ chair Stephen Hacker. “This research provides first-hand and real-world examples from industry leaders of how to strengthen and sustain a high-impact quality culture — which can have dramatic and positive effects on an organization’s bottom line.”

Rebecca Yeung, managing director of service experience leadership at FedEx, said the launch of their Quality Driven Management program has had a dramatic effect on their business.

“Since the launch of our Quality Driven Management program in 2008, many of our business units have significantly improved their on-time service level while reducing error,” she said. “At the same time, we have been able to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings.”
    
According to the research, 59 per cent of all respondents say their organizations exhibit a culture of quality. But the pursuit of quality differs greatly between the senior executives and the quality professionals polled: 20 per cent of senior executives rate their quality culture as world class — or among the best in the world — while only five per cent of quality professionals rate the programs similarly.

Elizabeth Burns of E. Burns Consulting in Guelph, Ont., sees this as an issue of definition. Quality as defined by senior executives will be different from quality as defined by the quality professionals listening to customers question products or services that don’t meet their expectations.

In fact, 58.5 per cent of the quality professionals surveyed rate their organization’s pursuit of quality as average or below average.

The disparity between senior leaders and quality professionals’ view of their organization’s pursuit of quality is likely due to “filtered, big-picture material that has been ‘prettied up’ for management,” according to Elizabeth Keim, a managing partner at Integrated Quality Resources, and project advisor.
    
“I think the deeper you dive into an organization’s chart, the closer those people are to the detail of what is happening,” according to Dan Afseth, software development leader at Intuit and project advisor. “If you’re close to the challenge, you see the precise changes still needing to be made, whereas from the top you see great progress.”

Alexander Berger, president of A. Berger Precision, a manufacturer of precision-machined parts located in Brampton, Ont., sees this issue from a different angle. As a lower tier automotive supplier, he finds that quality is expected, but is no longer a differentiator for his company.  

“In fact, quality is often used by many manufacturing organizations to avoid the blame game when something goes wrong,” he said. “Everyone in the supply chain is desperately trying to prove through their quality records that a nonconformance from the customer is not their fault.”

Berger agrees there is a disparity between the views of senior leaders and quality professionals. His belief is that the true definition of quality is “first time quality,” which refers to the percentage of parts that go through a process without being treated as nonconformance. This is greater than ensuring customer satisfaction.

He believes employees — including quality professionals — have become focused on avoiding customer complaints rather than first time quality.
    
A critical factor in creating and sustaining a successful culture of quality is the role of the customer. According to the research, 90 per cent of all respondents say customer needs are the key drivers of their quality programs; however, only 24 per cent say their organization is effective in identifying customer needs.

To best gauge satisfaction, 60 per cent of organizations use customer input to evaluate performance against quality metrics, according to the report. Furthermore, 76 per cent of respondents say customer input is either effective or highly effective.
     
“Quality is defined by the customer, and while meeting the needs of external customers is our organization’s primary goal, getting there requires executing a series of handoffs between internal suppliers and customers,” said Ken Shead, vice-president of integrated quality at Boeing Defense, Space and Security. “We’re encouraging people to engage in a dialogue — a constant dialogue — to get a clear understanding of each downstream customer’s needs.”
     
A. Berger Precision has attempted to overcome these internal and external handoffs by including the customer in the development of Failure Modes and Effects Analysis, or FMEA, during the development stage of new products. This practice has enabled the organization to better align with customers’ needs.
    
Respondents to the survey point to a range of challenges that exist in adapting quality programs to meet the needs of an international workforce. When asked what challenges their organization faces in adapting quality programs to meet the needs of an international workforce, 35 per cent cite the lack of uniform quality standards, while 34 per cent say it’s the use of technology to ensure quality. Thirty-two per cent cite the lack of specialized training.
    
Berger notes that there also exists an inconsistency in the consumer’s demand for quality product — they might purchase organic food at home and then eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet where most of the food is imported from large commercial farms.

Cultural differences also play a role — and challenge — when adapting quality programs worldwide. To help overcome these challenges, 53 per cent of all respondents say their organization plans to increase investment in quality programs over the next 18 months — with 17 per cent describing the increase as substantial.

To download the free “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise” report, visit cultureofquality.org.

Elizabeth Burns is an American Society for Quality Fellow and a Certified Quality Engineer.