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 First Word by Scott M. Paton


by Scott Madison Paton

What do you need to know to do your job? Unless you've just entered the ranks of the employed, it's a safe bet that you're not using the same skills in your job today that you were five or 10 years ago. And it's equally likely that you won't be using today's skills five or 10 years from now.

As the quality world has evolved, so too has the job of the quality professional. For example, few people would have guessed 20 years ago that managers would have to become intimately familiar with an international quality standard known as ISO 9000. Who would have thought that the U.S. government would have developed a world-class quality award -- the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award? And what about computer-controlled manufacturing systems, electronic gaging systems and computer-based training systems?

Our cover story, "Essential Skills for Quality Managers -- Or, What I Wish I Knew Before I Took This Job," outlines what today's quality managers need to know to survive on the job. But what about tomorrow's quality managers? What will their jobs be like? Will they even have a job?

There are those who speculate that quality managers are headed for extinction. Quality, they say, will become such a natural part of the way that we do business that we won't need quality departments, let alone quality managers. While I doubt that quality managers are going to be disappearing anytime in the near future, the term may become obsolete. Who knows? Even the term "quality" may become passe. And in today's ever-more sensitive corporate climates, the term "manager" may become politically incorrect. Quality managers may be replaced with "goodness associates" (sounds friendly, doesn't it?), "product wellness partners" (it has that kind of cutting-edge health care sound) or "customer advocates" (it'll make our customers think we care about 'em).

As strange as the new titles may become or as inconceivable as the new tasks may be, certain fundamentals will always apply to the quality profession. For example, statistical process control theories probably aren't going to defy the laws of mathematics and suddenly become obsolete. And total quality management may change names a few more times in the next few years or even "disappear," but the principles at its core are too ingrained into the way the world does business to ever truly become obsolete.

It's amazing that the fundamental quality principles we all take for granted have been developed primarily during the past 100 years. It's doubtful that the public at large will ever fully appreciate the tremendous impact that AT&T Bell Laboratories or the U.S. Defense Department played in developing a number of these concepts.

What changes in quality will the end of the Cold War and the exponential growth in computers and telecommunications bring? I don't like to make predictions about the future -- particularly in print -- so I won't. However, I would like to invite our readers to share their predictions. Simply e-mail your thoughts on what the future of the quality profession will be to spaton@qualitydigest.com. I will try to share as many of your ideas with our readers as possible in the next few months.


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