Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

The Quality of Quality Professionals

Quality Professionals with integrity set the best examples for their organizations.

It has been said that when W. Edwards Deming was 18 months old, the very first words he said were not "mommy" or "daddy"; they were: "Management must set the example." Joseph M. Juran's first words were: "Management must walk the talk." Armand V. Feigenbaum's first words were "Quality starts at the top." Maybe I'm stretching it just a little; maybe they were only thinking these things and couldn't put them into words at 18 months. Nevertheless, this is the key message that all three of them have preached during the past 50 years.

 I agree with all of these great quality leaders, but I believe there's an-other group that has to set the example if organizations are to develop a quality culture. They need to set the example for the CEOs and the COOs. They are the people who define what quality is and what behavior drives a quality company. I'm talking about you, the quality professional. There's no other type of professional on earth that speaks with more of a forked tongue. Could you image having a controller without a degree in accounting? Or a vice president of development without a degree in engineering? The answer is a resounding no, yet the leader of the quality function seldom has a degree in quality or is even certified as a quality manager. Worst still are the many consultants who preach quality without formal degrees in quality, or at least ASQ quality manager certification or professional quality engineer government certification. Even our national quality award, The Malcolm Baldrige Award, is named after a person who had little or no involvement in the quality movement. How can we hope to instill a need for quality in our leaders when we don't set the example? Quality professionals need to be 10-sigma people if they want the rest of the functions to do quality work. It's time for us to stop saying, "Do what I say, not what I do."

 If the quality movement is going to be successful, the quality professional must be the best person that the organization has for that position. For example, I recently attended the European Organization for Quality conference in Budapest. About 50 percent of the papers were poorly written, and the presentations were equally poor. There were a couple of presentations I attended where I truly felt embarrassed for the presenters. They may have addressed quality subjects, but the presentations lacked quality. I have attended hundreds of quality committee meetings throughout the years, and they're all the same: Attendees usually haven't finished the majority of assignments but promise to finish them by the next meeting. The only exceptions are the organizations that have paid staff not solely made up of quality professionals; they seem to accomplish what they agreed to do. Even the most prestigious quality group, the International Academy of Quality, allows projects to slip year after year.

 So what is quality in a quality professional?

1. They have a formal quality education, which has been validated either by a degree or a certification. This applies to auditors, quality engineers, reliability engineers and quality managers. (You can't be the COO's controller just because you can add.)

2. They establish documented requirements for their efforts that are agreed to by their customers and they keep these commitments.

3. They maintain personal measurements related to the requirements and continuously reduce their errors.

4. When they commit to do something, they get it done on time and present it in an outstanding manner.

5. They understand the processes that they use, have them documented and measure their efficiency and effectiveness.

6. They hold periodic meetings with their customers to get feedback on their performance and to ensure that customer requirements have not changed.

7. They benchmark their error rates against those of other key people throughout the organization and maintain an error rate that is significantly better than the best.

8. Their output is noticeably better presented, more understandable and is statistically more factual than the other function's reports with probabilities related to each condition and/or recommendation.


 The quality professional has a long way to go to behave like a quality employee. We haven't set the example that we needed to set during the 20th century. It's time to start practicing what we preach. Set a goal to make no more than one error per week. (Remember to count the errors that you make in your personal life as well as the ones during your working hours.) When you reach that goal, set a new goal to make no more than one error per month, then one error per six months and finally, one error per year. You have then reached the 10-sigma level where you've become a role model.

About the author

 H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books.

 Harrington is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com .

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