Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Future Forces Affecting Quality

In his May 2011 blog ASQ CEO Paul Borawski introduces the 2011 Future Forces study, and asks how these 8 forces might already be playing out where you work or live, and what the most pressing questions might be regarding these forces of change. ASQ conducts this research every three years, employing the Delphi forecasting method to arrive at approximations of the most likely by successive rounds of interviews with over 150 panelists across 40 countries.

I work for 3M - a large multinational diverse manufacturing company.  Abraham Lincoln is attributed to have said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." Like many successful enterprises we too conduct our own study of "mega trends". Additionally, I point the reader to The Conference Board's CEO Challenge.  Perhaps not surprisingly all three independent studies uncovered many of the same forces of change. However, awareness and knowledge of these trends alone does not necessarily guarantee future success; rather it is how we choose to respond to the possible combination of these forces that creates competitive advantage. The next step then, is to strategically plan against possible scenarios - some favorable, some not.

We had the distinct pleasure of inviting Mr. Paul Borawski to 3M's Global Quality Conference in April where the company's Quality Leaders discussed the impact of these forces of change on the quality community, and more importantly, to the enterprise. So, what are some of the trends I see emerging along the lines of these 8 forces of change?

Global Responsibility
Lean Six Sigma is a project-by-project process improvement methodology deployed to reduce waste and minimize defects by eliminating non value-added activities and building process capability and stability for improved flow and quality. Design for Six Sigma tools and methods are incorporated into New Product Realization processes as well as existing product change management processes to design and produce products that deliver optimized customer value while reducing environmental impact across the entire supply chain throughout the product's lifecycle. 3M's "Pollution Prevention Pays" program, launched in 1975, has prevented over 2.96 Billion lbs of pollution in 8,100 projects during their first year, generating over $1.37 Billion in savings. 3M executives, managers and supervisors constantly reinforce 3M's values and principles: every employee communication includes a discussion  of our values; on-line legal compliance, ethics and business conduct training is required of every employee - and participation is monitored and tracked. 3M's world-class integrity and brand reputation are definite competitive advantages in a global market. The challenge is to adhere, promote and live our values amid cultures and societies where graft and corruption is accepted.  Transparency in operations and decision making has a direct influence on shareholder value, employee engagement, community relations, and ultimately, economic growth. The World Bank estimates that over 10^9 US dollars annually are lost due to corruption, representing 5% of the world GDP.  A 2008 report issued in the European Physical Journal reported a direct correlation between the influence of corruption and the economic growth rate of over 120 countries.

Consumer Awareness
The advent of the internet, the emergence of social media such as facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.  and the growth of on-line consumer rating systems (e.g. Amazon, Trip Advisor, etc.) have given tremendous voice to consumers. It is increasingly more important that businesses develop new listening posts (e.g. CLO - Chief Listening Officer) to gather and respond to customer issues. The power is in the hands of the customer; they have become more savvy, sophisticated and resourceful. Today's customer defines the level of interaction and type of resolution he/she expects. Timely, effective resolution can turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal advocate. In today's inter-connected world, news of any quality/reliability misstep can spread faster than wild-fire on the internet, and cost businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue and - if not resolved promptly and effectively - untold damage to its reputation.

The search for new suppliers, cheap labor, and new markets is not new. The famed travels of Marco Polo and other explorers were commissioned specifically to find new trade routes and expand the influence of western civilizations. In today's environment of global markets, off-shore outsourcing, and regional self-supply it is critical that Quality take up the banner of enterprise risk management and business continuity. Seek simplicity where ever possible; pursue the harmonization of quality management and industry-specific standards.

Increasing Rate of Change
As the internet has shrunk the world in terms of communication and increased the export of knowledge, and in response to global competition that has necessitated compressed product development cycles and shortened product life cycles, Quality needs to ensure the reliability, integrity, and security of data. Cloud computing is one recent example of the omnipresence of the internet and the need to better protect organizational intellectual property.

Workforce of the Future and Aging Population
While I cannot fathom zero unemployment as suggested in the ASQ Future Forces study, we are definitely facing the prospect of "brain drain" in the US.  In the 2008 Karl Fisch video "Did You Know 3.0" the growing economies of India and China are said to produce more honor students every year than the US has students. Whereas many of these students used to come to the US to study and seek employment to design and build innovative processes and products, many of them today return to their homeland where opportunities are bountiful. The US apparently has a shortage of skilled labor as well. In a recent presentation to the MN Council for Quality, a representative from the Manpower, Inc., staffing organization half- jokingly stated that they would bolt the door and hog-tie an individual with a welding certification walking into their offices looking for employment. As the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement age, given the shortage of skilled trades and knowledge workers, many businesses are adopting adjustable work arrangements in an attempt to retain existing employees and attract the younger generation. The US K-12 educational system needs a dramatic re-design; not minor tweaks and incremental improvement. It is said that the children of the Baby Boomers will not enjoy the same standard of living as their parents. Couples employed in the retail and service economies require two wage earners just to support their family.  Manufacturing creates wealth. We need to encourage individual expression and experimentation towards renewing America's entrepreneurial spirit.

21st Century Quality
Conformance to Requirements is no longer adequate to ensure competitiveness and success. (Has it ever been adequate?) In today's savvy consumer market, Quality is being re-defined as "Total Customer Experience".  More than ever, quality is indeed everyone's responsibility. Of course, if quality is everyone's responsibility then no One is responsible. The primary role of the Quality Leader in today's enterprise is to manage the white spaces in the organization (Rummler-Brache) to improve employee engagement and collaboration. The ASQ Statistics Division has long promoted Statistical Thinking. It is now on its continuing mission to educate and promote statistical engineering, which recognizes the importance of blending IT, HR, Finance, and other organizational functions in any continuous improvement journey.

As stated earlier, customers are more savvy and resourceful. Innovation is about finding new ways to combine existing technologies, products, processes, services. Example: wheels and telescoping handles on suitcases. The successful enterprise of the future will find new (better, faster, cheaper, novel) ways of capturing and translating the Voice of the Customer towards delivering a differentiated competitive advantage.

In conclusion, I choose to be optimistic about the growing role and relevance of Quality in any endeavor - business, healthcare, education, retail services, government, banking, etc. The challenge is ours. I choose not to play the victim, feeling sorry for myself and my trade, or to place blame. In the words of John G. Miller (author of QBQ!) I choose to accept and own personal accountability. Join me in the journey won't you?

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