Six Sigma
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Last Word
Joseph A. DeFeo

Quality's Migratory Path: The New Frontier

Look who's embracing quality now!

Once considered a manufacturing discipline, quality improvement now affects every aspect of life and continues to expand its scope. Quality programs are migrating across diverse types of organizations, involving the full range of employees and crossing international borders, infiltrating some unlikely locations. Consider the kinds of organizations that have won Baldrige awards: They include professional and scientific organizations, school systems and universities, agricultural organizations, transportation companies, government agencies, and the military, to name only a few.

 As quality continues to migrate, quality professionals are broadening their involvement. They are becoming multi-faceted consultants, technicians, trainers, safety officers, designers, customer liaisons and salespeople while also involving themselves in purchasing, design, engineering and public relations.

 It isn't the quality officer who's leading the quality effort, however. In many orga-nizations today, the prime movers are the financial officers and specialized positions such as vice president of Six Sigma or vice president of quality. This primarily happens in organizations where the quality officer views his or her role as an authority in a highly specialized aspect of quality.

 Moreover, quality is becoming a function of every job title in every organization. One reason for this is that the speed of technological growth is exceeding the capability of transactional processes in all forms of customer services, and organizations are struggling to keep pace with increased customer demands. Mistakes cost more, even when the overall percentage of mistakes remains the same.

 As the importance of employee quality performance grows, there is a greater emphasis on employee satisfaction. Indeed, orga-nizations are beginning to apply the same fervor to creating employee satisfaction as to creating customer satisfaction. Training for employee skills development is also continuing to grow.

 A more demanding public policy has been a major factor in quality's migration. Recognizing that preventable medical errors kill more Americans each year than do highway accidents, a National Academy of Sciences panel has recommended that Congress require all health care workers to report serious mistakes. Likewise, to deal with increasing air traffic the Federal Aviation Administration is undertaking a number of measures, including new software that choreographs flights rather than tracking them.

 Quality will continue to improve at every level in the supply chain as various participants cooperate to make improvements. Volkswagen in Brazil now requires suppliers to install and test parts on the assembly line. Varity Perkins, a diesel engine maker, provides suppliers with daily measurements of their performance. Honda of America asks its suppliers to provide detailed breakdowns of their costs so it can compare them with those of other suppliers and suggest improvements. Johnson Controls helps its key suppliers improve their productivity by assigning individual employees to serve as champions to each of its suppliers.

 Downstream improvements are also being made as businesses develop customer partnering programs to improve packaging, shipping and even product development.

 Quality is migrating through cross-industry learning programs in fields as diverse as health care, law and education. Industry-university links, individually and via groups, are beginning to make important contributions as well.

 Finally, quality is migrating internationally. Third World countries are making quantum leaps. North America will continue to make the greatest gains in quality; it will be followed first by Asia, then Mexico and then Europe, where only industries in global markets, like telecommunications, are currently quality pioneers.

 In every organization that focuses on quality, Six Sigma and beyond will become the standard. The organizations that have made the most improvements from quality in the past will gain the most value from

Six Sigma. Engineering-driven companies and businesses in competitive industries will continue to lead the movement, but financial companies are beginning to look into Six Sigma as well. Insurance companies are lagging. The health care industry has historically been slow to adopt quality standards.

 A major stimulus for quality's migration is the increased attention organizations' CEOs are giving the discipline. This increased attention, in turn, comes from quality's expanding importance as a component of the business plan. As Joseph M. Juran has written, "The most decisive element in the success or failure of improvement initiatives is the extent to which the CEO provides personal leadership."


About the author

 Joseph A. DeFeo is president and chief executive officer of Juran Institute, a global consulting and training organization headquartered in Wilton, Connecticut. For more information, call (800) 338-7726, visit www.juran.com , or e-mail DeFeo at jdefeo@qualitydigest.com

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