Skip to Content

QUALITY TUESDAY: Quality Beyond the Product – Looking at How Quality Can Be Applied at a Strategic Level


The suggestion that some CEOs focus exclusively on product when thinking about quality is exhibited in the lack of support given to quality, both in terms of sufficient staffing and when quality leaders have to exert their responsibility and stop the release of a product.  At that moment of intensity, will the CEO support the quality decision, or as in so many cases, exert pressure to compromise under the guise of satisfying the customer?  This month ASQ asks the question, “How can quality be moved beyond product to become a critical partner, closely linked with business model development and the enterprise-wide execution of long-term strategy to achieve results?”

Quality leaders must first look to themselves.  Are they their own worst enemies?  Are they performing as strategic partners, or are they tacticians who focus on non-conformances, deviations, SOPs and audits?  What do they bring to the table as insightful predictions of the quality needs and demands of the future?  Years ago, I recall that the story was no different for human resource professionals who were not being taken seriously by senior management.   They had to begin by changing their own “place at the table” and making sure their contribution was value-added to the big picture.  They had to take themselves very seriously before others would.

Once at the table, how can a quality leader add value at a level the CEO will listen to and respond?  ASQ CEO Paul Borawski references the Conference Board Quality Council report suggesting that CEOs are focused on innovation, human capital, global political/economic risk, government regulation, global expansion, cost optimization, customer relationships, sustainability, corporate brand and reputation, and investor relations.  If we identify these ten areas as the Critical Success Factors for an organization and combine a Lean 5S approach to each area, could quality leaders use such a document to focus on the strategic “vital” few?  And, if shared with the CEO, would the impact be profound? Let’s take a look:

(click here for an enlarged view)

Let’s begin with the first S:  Sorting (Seiri).  Here the quality professional sorts out the critical few under each of the ten areas.  For example, what are the critical few quality issues related to innovation?  What will government regulation be focused on in the next 3 to 5 years?  Where do innovation and GMP regulations intersect?  How can quality practices support innovation, rather than inhibit it?

The second S:  Stabilizing or Straightening Out (Seiton).  What issues must be stabilized or straightened out in each area specifically related to quality before forward progress can occur?  If recall or failure to release product is affecting the brand and reputation, what can be done?  If global expansion is increasing regulatory demands, how will quality address it to ensure no interruption in product delivery?

The third S:  Sweeping or Shining (Seiso):  What are the best practices that must be swept into the organization? What level of quality would create a delighted customer relationship, not just expected or desired – but delighted?  What clean-up in processes and competencies must occur to reduce risk?

The fourth S:  Standardizing (Seiketsu):  What are the critical standards that must be maintained to ensure investor relations, or global expansion?  Are global acquisitions proving to be more of a quality headache than they are worth?  When does standardization across a global company make sense and when does it not?  Standardization can play an important role in every one of the ten areas.

The fifth S:  Sustaining the Practice (Shitsuke):  If quality is critical to everything we do, then how can it be sustained at a highest level possible?  What will it take?  Most importantly, what will it take of senior leadership to sustain the practice of quality?  Quality leaders must be able to articulate – and perhaps even confront – CEOs with the clear message that they are to be champions of quality for the organization.

We thought this approach, including providing the CEO or senior leader with a quality message across the ten areas that matter most to the them, might be a novel way of driving home what Benjamin Franklin said years ago, “Watch the little things:  a small leak will sink a great ship”  and what Steve Jobs said more recently, “Quality is more important than quantity.  One home run is much better than two doubles.”


I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.



Who We Are

An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

Our Twitter Feed