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   First Word                by Scott Paton

Quality Camps


I recently participated in a group that met to discuss quality's changing role in business. Subjects included the future of metrology, ISO 9000's impact on the quality profession, and software evolution and its effect on quality. The participants consisted primarily of marketing managers from metrology companies.

Most of us agreed that quality as a separate department was disappearing and becoming instead an integrated function in the manufacturing process. Most dismissed ISO 9000 and its derivatives such as QS-9000 as passing fads. The Baldrige Award wasn't spared their condemnation, either.

While I successfully avoided being drawn into an argument regarding ISO 9000's fad status, I did remind the group that more than 25,000 sites have registered to ISO 9000 in North America, and more than 100,000 have registered worldwide. I also reminded them that it's now impossible to sell production parts to Chrysler, Ford or General Motors without being at least QS-9000-compliant.

The group's bias serves to illustrate the different quality "camps" that currently compete for organizational dollars: metrology, certification/compliance and managerial objectives such as the Baldrige Award and TQM.

I hesitate to use the word "compete," but for a discipline that prides itself on championing quality as an all-encompassing discipline, a lot of competition goes on among the various factions. Many metrology companies bemoan the rise of ISO 9000 and belittle or dismiss as fads efforts such as TQM or the Baldrige Award. In addition, many TQM disciples dismiss ISO 9000 and its derivatives as irrelevant. A further example is the American Society for Quality's decision to drop the word "control" from the organization's name because its members believe the term reflects an outdated command-and-control organizational structure.

Read through some of the quality-related e-mail listservs, and you'll discover ongoing arguments over W. Edwards Deming's current stature, wranglings over the ASQ's focus, disagreements over ISO 9000's relevance, conspiracy theories about QS-9000's "true" intent and on and on.

While I normally view competition as healthy, I don't believe that the entrenched competition between quality's camps benefits the discipline. Significantly, few if any of the many quality-related theories, concepts, equipment and software are mutually exclusive. ISO 9000 registration doesn't affect metrology purchases, and neither does the Baldrige application process.

The division between quality methodologies is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the different magazines that cover the quality field. Quality focuses solely on quality in the manufacturing environment. Most of its editorial coverage concerns metrology, with a smattering of ISO 9000 thrown in. Quality Progress, the ASQ's official publication, focuses primarily on managerial concepts such as TQM and the Baldrige Award along with a healthy dose of statistical process control. Quality Digest covers all facets of quality: metrology, certification/compliance, managerial and more. It's a difficult balance complicated by the different camps' reluctance to accept one another's ideas.

We'd like to know your opinion about what constitutes quality and how well we cover it. Please write us at editor@qualitydigest.com. Your comments will help us set the tone for next year's editorial calendar.


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