40 Years of Quality Digest

From scrappy underdog to premier destination for all things quality

Quality Circle Institute, circa a long time ago. Note the spiffy rides.

Scott Paton

November 24, 2021

It seems like yesterday that I walked into 1425 Vista Way in Red Bluff, California, to begin what I thought was a part-time data-entry job that was supposed to last just a few weeks. Instead, I ended up working for Quality Digest for 21 years; made lifelong friends; became a journalist, writer, editor, publisher, standards and certification expert; and have been fortunate to travel the world.

I had a front-row seat during one of the most transformative periods in the evolution of quality. Along the way, I got to meet and interview W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Philip Crosby, Armand Feigenbaum, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, and many, many other thinkers and business leaders.

I was just 20 years old when I started at what would later become Quality Digest, and I needed a job to help pay for college. At that time called Quality Circle Digest, it had been around for three years but had just a few hundred subscribers and was used mainly to promote its parent company’s (Quality Circle Institute) consulting and training business.

Circular circumstance

Quality Circle Institute (QCI) was founded by Donald L. Dewar to promote the Japanese employee-involvement concept known as quality circles. Don had traveled to Japan while working for Lockheed and brought the concept back to the United States with great success. QCI trained tens of thousands of facilitators and team leaders, and sold millions of books. Quality circles helped to popularize concepts such as brainstorming, Pareto analysis, cause-and-effect (fishbone) diagrams, flowcharting, histograms, and other basic SPC concepts.

The quality circle concept was radical for its time: Let workers use tools to solve problems in their work areas. With a little training, a lot of management support, and a relatively small investment, companies began to see a more committed, involved workforce and improvements to the bottom line.

These improvements, while mostly small in scale and scope, demonstrated to organizations that employee-led, focused improvement projects could yield organizationwide results.

I believe the quality circle movement paved the way for easier acceptance of more far-reaching concepts like total quality management, management system standards, Six Sigma, and lean. It let the genie out of the bottle: Workers and managers alike appreciated that quality and improvement go far beyond the traditional quality control function that was a siloed afterthought in many organizations.


Kaoru Ishikawa at the board

This was a concept that Don supported in his own organization as well, and it went beyond weekly team meetings. He was the most supportive, most positive-thinking boss I’ve ever had. Don was notoriously frugal but always ready to buy in to a data-driven decision. He truly believed in the power of positivity and the power of people. 

Don also founded the International Association of Quality Circles, which later became the Association for Quality and Participation. The AQP eventually merged with ASQ. Although he was recognized by ASQ for his achievements, I don’t believe he has received the recognition he truly deserves as one of the quality greats alongside Deming, Juran, Crosby, Shewhart, and Ishikawa. Don was far too humble to become a quality guru.

Don and his children became like family to me. I am delighted that Jeff Dewar has so proudly and successfully carried on his father’s legacy, and so skillfully navigated the changing digital publishing waters.

That 20-year-old kid who walked through the door in 1984 wanted to be a writer, and Don Dewar gave him that chance. After I finished my temporary job, Don let me stay on to help write news stories and articles, and sometimes pack books and sweep the floor. There were initially just two of us working on putting out each monthly issue. Quality Circle Digest was the size of Reader’s Digest. We had a few columnists—QCI consultants—and some regular contributors.

I was eventually hired full-time, promoted to assistant editor, and spent a lot of time learning how to be a writer, journalist, copyeditor, proofreader, line editor, graphic artist, and how to put out a monthly magazine on a very frayed shoestring.

Hitting our stride

Eventually, I was promoted to editor in chief and was able to hire another editor and then a graphic artist, and then another editor.... Our small team willed Quality Circle Digest into a legitimate publication, reaching more than 10,000 subscribers. It wasn’t easy; we worked so many nights and weekends. It wasn’t uncommon to work 16-hour days and two weeks in a row with no days off. We wouldn’t have survived without the tireless work of many QDers over the years, but special thanks go to Dirk Dusharme, April Johnson, Taran March, and Laurel Thoennes.

We realized that we needed more than just subscriber revenue to survive, so we changed our name to Quality Digest, transformed from a digest-sized magazine to a standard magazine size, went full color, and began to sell advertising. As our circulation increased, so did our costs. With a little help from a magazine-circulation marketing expert, we realized that it was more affordable to give subscriptions away (known as controlled circulation) than to sell them. We would earn income solely from advertising. This was quite a paradigm shift and one that Don fully supported when presented with the data.

We faced intense competition from Quality magazine and ASQ’s Quality Progress. It seemed we were the perpetual underdog. Each of us had a focus: Quality focused on inspection and testing, Quality Progress on the more traditional quality control people, and Quality Digest focused on the human side of quality.


The human side of quality, circa 1995

Then something happened that changed our fortunes overnight: ISO 9000.

When the ISO 9000 standard series took off, so did Quality Digest. We covered the management system standard like no other publication. The proliferation of other management system standards such as ISO 14001, QS-9000 (now IATF 16949), and others only helped us grow our circulation and our ad revenue.

There were other popular programs we covered too, including total quality management and Six Sigma. Full disclosure here: I never really appreciated how popular Six Sigma would become or how long-lasting it would be.

Quality Digest eventually became the largest controlled-circulation magazine in our industry with more than 85,000 subscribers.

Eventually, with Don’s blessing, I formed Paton Professional, which specializes in publishing quality and standards-related books. My wife, Heidi, ran Paton Professional and helped us grow into a recognized, reputable book publisher. When she was pregnant with twins, we decided it was time for me to step aside from Quality Digest and focus solely on Paton Professional. It was a difficult decision, but one that I knew was right for my family and for the magazine.

The digital leap

It was also about this time that Google began to take a serious toll on trade magazines. Advertisers shifted their marketing dollars to pay-per-click ads. Magazines and newspapers began to fold. Fortunately, the Quality Digest team had that Dewar frugal streak in its DNA. The staff was used to working on a shoestring. We were also used to taking risks. We launched the first website in the industry. We launched the first ISO 9001-registered company database. We launched the first knowledge portal (InsideStandards). They weren’t all successful, but they helped move us along the nascent digital highway.

Just a few years after I left Quality Digest, Don turned the business over to Jeff. He asked me to come back as a consultant. While Jeff is a highly savvy businessman and very technically astute, he didn’t have publishing experience. I worked with Jeff during a tumultuous year for publishing. We agreed after crunching the numbers that Quality Digest needed to cease publishing as a printed magazine. We would embrace the bold new digital future.

Jeff, Mike Richman, and Dirk Dusharme embraced the digital realm with a passion. Instead of a static, monthly publication, they were free to publish daily. Instead of just producing words and pictures, they could produce live video, do product demos, and go onsite to customers and events. Most important, they were free to really cover the entire quality and improvement spectrum: from inspection and testing equipment, to standards, to Six Sigma, to lean, and more.

Quality Digest readers could now more easily connect the dots on all these initiatives and keep up to date daily. Just as quality had moved from a siloed afterthought to an integrated way to run your business, Quality Digest had moved from covering bits and pieces of quality to a holistic destination for all things quality. Quality with a capital Q became simply quality, because it’s no longer separate, no longer siloed; it’s a state of being for any successful business.

I eventually went to work for Exemplar Global as its global certification manager for five years. It was quite a learning experience on how to build certification schemes and how not to run a business. After leaving Exemplar Global, I formed Certus Professional Certification, a personnel certification body that certifies management system auditors and training courses.

So, happy 40th Quality Digest! I am proud of what you were, what you have become, and l am looking forward to what comes next. This is a pivotal moment in world history and economic development. How will quality evolve along with artificial intelligence, private space-transport systems, and electric vehicles? How will climate change affect businesses, and what is quality’s role? Do old definitions of quality work in this new environment? Quality Digest will be there to help you discover answers to these questions and more.

The Quality Digest team has asked me to contribute regularly. I am happy to do so, and I welcome your feedback. Here’s to the next 40 years!

About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is the president and CEO of Certus Professional Certification  and the president of Paton Professional. He’s the former editor and publisher of Quality Digest, and now serves as editor at large.

 

 

Comments

40 Years of Quality Digest

I was teary eyed reading that Scott. I went to QCI and loved seeing the 'rides' and meeting Don, Elizabeth and Jeff. How did that come about? I had the pleasure of completing the QCI Facilitators Course in 1982 whilst HR, OH&S and Quality Improvement Manager at Tenneco Automotive Springs (nee National Springs) Sydney Australia. It was conducted by the first Australian Management Consultancy - WD Scott. We did something not done in Australia we were told - to train Quality Leaders and Members not only through the QCI Leaders Manual and Worked Examples and those Quizes but to apply such to a real production problem. Well, we did two - one of General Motors 'Beehive' spring and Toyota Corolla Rear 'Stabiliser Bars'.

When the two Teams of Leaders presented their analysis and solutions, the Management Consultants - Brent Coulson and the Director Hugh Whitmore. They said to us all, including the Board of Directors, that this was the first time (1982) they had seen since having the QCI International Distributorship for Australia from 1981 which Don Dewar had come to Australia and signed the agreement to then guide them through how to use all the amazing QCI International materials. The two presentations were made by the QC Leaders and the Board approved the changes and captured such and internally audited the procedures under their ISO 9001 QM System and its processes.

So, in 1984 I joined WD Scott and conducted Quality Circles Management, Team Leaders and Member project-based training throughout Australia for Telecom, BHP Steel, Komatsu, NRMA Insurance. WD Scott also won and distributed the complementary Juran Institute materials. We commenced McLean Management Consultants in 1988 and needed to secure the QCI Distributorship from then Coopers & Lybrand WD Scott. In late 1988, I went to see QCI International in Red Bluff Ca.

Don sat me down and showed me a 16mm film from the British Productivity Council called "Right First Time" and gave me the Quality Digest January 1989 with Allan Mogensen Interview by "Editor Scott M. Paton" no less - I still have it Scott. Don sat me down and smiled, to say, "that film (Paraphrased) has all the ingredients of quality and productivity we know to date and you will see and hear about John Krafcik's paper on Toyota and their Production System Policy under a term called 'Lean'. The Motorola Corporation have completed their Productivity wave and are looking to their US Registered Trademark Quality Program called Six Sigma to help redress their quality problems with a 'X 10 Quality Goal' and hold off the competition in Japanese Radios and European Mobile/Handheld Telephones."

I attended the AQP Conference in Montreal with Don and sat with him as we heard the General Motors VP Cadillac talk about the Toyota Executives who visited and reviewed the GM US$1.6 billion investment in Robotics and became the largest corporate write-off in US industrial history. We shared many meals and as you see Scott, Don, Elizabeth and the QCI-International Team and the 'Editor" are part of what helped me in my career and our management consultancy.