Originally posted on Blogrige by Dawn Marie Bailey

In the 1980s, Dr. Joseph Juran, one of the Baldrige Program’s first overseers, coined the term “Big Q” to serve as a quality “umbrella”: little q would encompass goods and those processes directly related to the manufacture of goods, while Big Q would encompass all of an organization’s products, goods, and services, as well as all of its processes.

In alignment with Juran’s notion of encompassing all of the organization with quality practices, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence today take a systems perspective; in other words, the Criteria provide a guide to managing all the components of an organization as a unified whole–Big Q. (In the early days of the Criteria, the focus was much more that of little q–focused on process and quality tools.)

A recent IndustryWeek article that quotes ASQ’s Laurel Nelson-Rowe traces the evolution of quality from compliance, to control, to a broader definition that includes the customers’ perspectives on quality. “ASQ research promotes the idea that deeper integration with the customer is a driver of improved quality,” writes the IndustryWeek author Jill Jusko. “And by deeper engagement, the quality association means throughout the life cycle of the product or service.”

Again, the Baldrige Criteria are in alignment, weaving customers and their satisfaction, dissatisfaction, engagement, and voice into all organizational operations. The Criteria also call out the core value “customer-focused excellence” as a behavior embedded in all high-performing organizations. The Criteria even include both a current and future focus on customers: “understanding today’s customer desires and anticipating future customer desires and marketplace potential.”

Today’s Baldrige approach to quality is relevant to all workforce members who are interested in continuous improvement but in particular to leaders; without senior leadership’s commitment to quality, an organization can easily lose its overall focus.

In his last interview with IndustryWeek in 1994, Dr. W. Edwards Deming shared his insights on quality, focusing on management’s role: “Quality is the responsibility of the top people. Its origin is in the boardroom. . . . Management today does not know what its job is. In other words, [managers] don’t understand their responsibilities. They don’t know the potential of their positions.”

This thinking is in line with the Baldrige Criteria, which contains the core value “visionary leadership”; one focus of the upcoming 2015-2016 Criteria (available December 2014) is on “validated leadership and performance practices.” Senior leaders should set a vision for the organization, create a customer focus, demonstrate clear and visible organizational values and ethics, and set high expectations for the workforce.

Of course, in addition to customers and leadership, the Big Q of quality continues to evolve.

Every few years, ASQ conducts a Future of Quality study; the last one being in 2011. The study identified and prioritized eight forces of change. Then Baldrige Director Dr. Harry Hertz wrote about those concepts in an Insights column “The Future of Organizational Quality,” adding three overarching factors that he felt impacted quality: complexity, agility, and ethics/social responsibility.

A more recent 2013 Insights column “For Everything There Is a Season, and a Time for Every Purpose,” also by Hertz, looked at the Conference Board’s Quality Outlooks from 1994 and 2009. The reports listed critical issues for quality, including commitment by senior leadership, systems thinking, partnering, and continuous improvement. Challenges to quality included customer and employee satisfaction, accountability for results, and performance management.

And now as the Baldrige Program prepares to release the next version of the Baldrige Criteria, some additional key themes have evolved based on feedback, the literature, and the competitive and strategic pressures on organizations today; the three themes woven into the next Criteria: (1) change management, (2) big data, and (3) climate change.

The quality evolution continues and the Baldrige Criteria seek to continue the Big Q, staying on the leading edge of validated practices.

What do you think are the critical issues and challenges for the Big Q?

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