Current and Future Challenges

The real challenge today is to ensure that managers continue to apply the basic principles of quality management and performance excellence. Unfortunately, a recent survey sponsored by ASQ found significant gaps between executives´ awareness of quality improvement processes and implementation, suggesting that many organizations either are not using these proven approaches or simply don´t realize that approaches they do use are rooted in the quality discipline (and may miss key opportunities to improve them). As former Xerox president David Kearns observed, quality is “ a race without a finish line”.

The global marketplace and domestic and international competition have made organizations around the world realize that their survival depends on high quality. Many countries, such as Korea and India, are mounting national efforts to increase quality awareness, including conferences, seminars, radio shows, school essay contests, and pamphlet distribution. Spain and Brazil are encouraging the publication of quality books in their native language to make them more accessible. Several quality-related professional groups united to form the Middle East Quality Association. In addition, the e-TQM college in the United Arab Emirates initiated a master’s degree in quality management, and continuing education classes and conferences in the region are full.

These trends will only increase the level of competition in the future. Approaches, such as Six Sigma, require increased levels of training and education for managers and front-line employees alike, as well as the development of technical staff. Thus, a key challenge is to allocate the necessary resources to maintain a focus on quality, particularly in times of economic downturns. However, businesses will require an economic at Texas Instruments observed that “ Quality will have to be everywhere, integrated into all aspects of a winning organization.” Companies such as Ford and Xerox recognized that the process is not easy; true quality requires persistence, discipline, and steadfast leadership committed to excellence.

In 2008, the American Society for Quality identified seven key forces that will influence the future of quality:

  1. Globalization: Globalization is driving global suppliers networks and the need to manage global quality platforms. Organizations are no longer bound by location and space. Likewise, entirely new consumer markets are being created- often by the Internet, which creates opportunity and concern. Globalization will influence trade policy and trading partners in new, unimagined ways.
  2. Social responsibility (SR): As organizations begin to realize that social responsibility is not only the moral thing to do, but that it’s also good for business, the world will continue to embrace SR philosophies and practices at an increasing rate. Consumers are demanding more knowledge of organizational practices, and corporate reputation will play a greater role in consumer buying choices. Organizations that seek to improve their practices will need to know the concepts, techniques, and tools of quality to deliver on their goals. Issues such as ethics, transparency, social behavior, and environment coincide with the broader considerations of SR and formulate what some have called a “ triple bottom line” impact that encompasses people, planet, and profits.
  3. New Dimensions of quality: A new collection of quality- related competencies will be required if quality is to maintain relevance in a quickly changing world. Organizations are looking for leadership in innovation- the ability to develop new ideas and manage change. This necessitates the commingling of quality and innovation. The emerging focus must work within the systems of organizations- not just be focused on products and services. Organizations must master change and these emerging capabilities, or give way to smaller, newer, and more agile competitors.
  4. Aging population: The world’s population is getting older, and with that trend come problems and solutions. According to a 2008 report from the United Nations on global population changes, the median age is projected to increase from 29 to 38 years between 2009 and 2050. The fastest growing segment of the population will be people 60 years or older. This aging population will push economies and organizations to respond to the resulting market needs. Aging workers will leave the workforce, and organizations will be charged with replacing those skills. This, in turn, may cause traditional retirement to be redefined as organizations seek to tap into the skills of those who have left the workforce.
  5. Health care: A by-product of the other forces on this list, globalization and the aging population have heightened the need and expectation for quality health care. Quality can play an important role in health care by taking waste out of the system so that more people can benefit. Policymakers must also address equity of access-inefficiencies in the system only exacerbate these problems. On the positive side, advancements in biotechnology and nanotechnology will result in cures for diseases and prolonged lives. This will require increased focus on quality in the waste-free development of these technologies. Quality can also help ensure operational efficiencies in health care delivery. 
  6. Environmental concerns: The world has come to understand that much of the environmental damage that has been done cannot be reversed, and that increasing consumption will put even more strain on finite resources. Quality provides the concepts, tools, techniques, and standards to foster change.
  7. 21st century technology: Technology’s impact is difficult to forecast and will most certainly surprise us in terms of how it affects current models we think we understand. Some believe technology will deliver solutions to address energy, food, and water shortage, and the need for clean air. Information technology and advances in genetics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology will change everyday life and drive our future state. A new, innovative definition of quality is required for this innovative age.

A number of implications arise out of these forces. As the business world becomes more complex, quality must be approached from a systems, rather than a process, perspective. Management systems are becoming more integrated; for example, quality, environmental, safety, and health must be viewed together. Quality has transitioned from control, to assurance, to management; the next era will focus heavily on quality of design. Quality will take on more of a strategic, rather than tactical function. These will challenge both managers and quality professionals.

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