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Dawn Bailey

Quality Insider

Big Q, Little Q, and Baldrige

The 2015 Criteria focus on change management, big data, and climate change

Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 16:08

During the 1980s, Joseph Juran, one of the Baldrige Program’s first overseers, coined the term “Big Q” to serve as a quality “umbrella”: “Little q” would encompass goods and those processes directly related to the manufacture of goods, while “Big Q” would encompass all of an organization’s products, goods, and services, as well as all of its processes.

In alignment with Juran’s notion of encompassing all of the organization with quality practices, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence today take a systems perspective. In other words, the Criteria provide a guide to managing all the components of an organization as a unified whole—Big Q. (In the Criteria’s early days, the focus was much more on the little q—i.e.,  focused on process and quality tools.)

A recent IndustryWeek article that quotes ASQ’s Laurel Nelson-Rowe traces the evolution of quality from compliance, to control, to a broader definition that includes the customers’ perspectives on quality. “ASQ research promotes the idea that deeper integration with the customer is a driver of improved quality,” writes the IndustryWeek author Jill Jusko. “And by deeper engagement, the quality association means throughout the life cycle of the product or service.”

Again, the Baldrige Criteria are in alignment, weaving customers and their satisfaction, dissatisfaction, engagement, and voice into all organizational operations. The Criteria also call out the core value, “customer-focused excellence,” as a behavior embedded in all high-performing organizations. The Criteria even include both a current and future focus on customers: “understanding today’s customer desires and anticipating future customer desires and marketplace potential.”

Today’s Baldrige approach to quality is relevant to all workforce members who are interested in continuous improvement, but in particular to leaders. Without senior leadership’s commitment to quality, an organization can easily lose its overall focus.

In his last interview with IndustryWeek in 1994, W. Edwards Deming shared his insights on quality, focusing on management’s role: “Quality is the responsibility of the top people,” he said. “Its origin is in the boardroom.... Management today does not know what its job is. In other words, [managers] don’t understand their responsibilities. They don’t know the potential of their positions.”

This thinking is in line with the Baldrige Criteria, which contain the core value “visionary leadership.” One focus of the upcoming 2015–2016 Criteria (now available) is on “validated leadership and performance practices.” Senior leaders should set a vision for the organization, create a customer focus, demonstrate clear and visible organizational values and ethics, and set high expectations for the workforce.

Of course, in addition to customers and leadership, the Big Q of quality continues to evolve.

Every few years, ASQ conducts a Future of Quality study; the last one was in in 2011. The study identified and prioritized eight forces of change. Then Baldrige Director Harry Hertz wrote about those concepts in a 2011 column, “The Future of Organizational Quality,” adding three overarching factors that he felt affected quality: complexity, agility, and ethics/social responsibility.

A more recent 2013 column, “For Everything There Is a Season, and a Time for Every Purpose,” also by Hertz, looked at the Conference Board’s Quality Outlooks from 1994 and 2009. The reports listed critical issues for quality, including commitment by senior leadership, systems thinking, partnering, and continuous improvement. Challenges to quality included customer and employee satisfaction, accountability for results, and performance management.

As the Baldrige Program prepares to release the next version of the Baldrige Criteria, some additional key themes have evolved based on feedback, literature, and the competitive and strategic pressures on organizations today. The three new themes woven into the next Criteria are: change management, big data, and climate change.

The quality evolution continues, and the Baldrige Criteria seek to continue the Big Q, staying on the leading edge of validated practices.

First published Dec. 4, 2014, on Blogrige.

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About The Author

Dawn Bailey’s picture

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience (18 years at the Baldrige Program) working on publications and education teams. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.