About This Blog

A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

ASQ Quality Certifications - False Impressions and Valid Approaches

I am writing this as a staunch supporter of ASQ Certifications for Quality practitioners.  In the 18 years since I first committed to completing an ASQ Certification exam, I can attest that this investment has been thoroughly rewarding and satisfying.  The returns from a modest investment in cost, and a manageable time commitment that did not interfere with my day-job, have exceeded the price ten-fold, both within my day-job and as supplemental rewards as an instructor and author.
I think that all ASQ Certifications have merit and should be pursued and attempted, as a person's experience, aptitude, and capabilities permit.  If too much is spent training for just one certification (particularly a lower level credential), that is counter-productive and should be avoided.  One initiative I would like to undertake in the future is to prepare a unified reference for elements which are common across multiple Bodies of Knowledge, to enable an individual who is proficient in one area (i.e. CQE) to leverage that expertise toward credentials where the BoK overlaps (i.e. CSSGB, CSSBB).

The most important benefit of a diverse portfolio is the versatility and flexibility that come from having multiple qualifications.  In the absence of a crystal ball or oracle to accurately predict the future, the next remedy is to properly prepare for such circumstances.  Given the need for qualified people in advanced quality and technical fields, there is no wrong certification as everything can be applied and leveraged.
However I have also observed considerable confusion and misrepresentation concerning the training and certification for Quality certifications offered within and outside of ASQ.  I was fortunate to start my career during what I call the "TQM-era", when Quality was treated as a unified and confederated profession of aggregated skills and capabilities. 
My concern around this confusion is that providers, both within and outside of ASQ, are now starting to charge a significant financial sum ($ thousands !!!) to provide training for what are essentially open-book exams.  While people are free to spend their money as they wish, optimal financial returns will come from following this sequence and prioritization:
- Actual work experience in the Quality domain (technically a prerequisite for certification)
- Self-study from recommended resources (often the source books of the Body of Knowledge)
- Subscription to and participation in the appropriate ASQ Member Unit (example below include):
  • Software Division for CSQE,
  • Audit Division for CQA,
  • Reliability Division for CRE,
  • Biomedical Division for CBA,
  • Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Division for CHA,
  • Lean Enterprise Division for Lean Certifications,
  • Quality Management Division for CMQ/OE
 - Review of sample questions from a suitable question bank
- Tutorial or refresher sessions from peers and mentors with specific experience in the exam.  This should be organized by the Education or Certification Chair of your ASQ Member Unit (either a section or division)
- Core training from ASQ (webinars or live sessions); either from the ASQ Member Unit or ASQ Learning (ASQ HQ programs)
- Supplemental training from accredited post-secondary institutions
I recommend this as an alternative to the breadth and plethora of random providers who appear out of nowhere to suddenly declare themselves as universal experts.  My recommendation is to exercise caution and conduct due diligence on such organizations.  Behind the slick web pages and glossy advertising campaigns, you may find that the so-called "international experts" of 2016 are actually recent graduates or were in jobs or roles unrelated to their "expertise".  As a caution, a professional track record of at least 3 years should be adequate to validate the legitimacy of the business or consulting company and its practitioners, and permit a proper vetting of its testimonials and credentials.
One source of confusion came from the Six Sigma continuum, which adopted the lexicon of martial arts.  I have family members who are accomplished in the martial arts, and progression through the various belts was achieved based on demonstrated and judged proficiency across specific categories including forms, board breaks, weapons, sparring, and overall demeanor.  The novice belts reflect a lower level of accomplishment and complexity than higher belts.
In contrast, because there is no universal Six Sigma threshold, there are variations between proficiency levels.  An individual who obtains their Six Sigma Green Belt through ASQ is required to be proficient in many advanced statistical and experimental practices.  In contrast, a Master Black Belt from an unaccredited provider (a.k.a. diploma mill or airport hotel seminar) can receive certification without even knowing the basics of Statistical Process Control (for example when they attempt to track an attribute with an X-bar and R control chart). 
A similar source of confusion emerges with the Lean Certifications, which distinguish between Bronze, Silver, and Gold.  This has two interpretations:
- In competition, Gold is awards to the first place finisher, and Silver and Bronze are the subsequent prizes for second and third place.  This reference implies a superiority and infers that Silver and Bronze are deficient and tainted, when compared to the "Gold-standard"
- With respect to service levels, the terms of Bronze, Silver, and Gold refer to levels of care and commitment, with Gold being the premium.  In such cases, a cost-conscious consumer may opt for the Bronze option to avoid overspending on a "Gold-plated" alternative.  An example might be in sending a package by courier, where Bronze offers 2 business days, Silver is 1 business day, and Gold is same-day delivery.  If the price difference between Bronze and Gold exceeds the value derived from the benefit, the Bronze is the more prudent option.
To add to this confusion, some consulting groups are using additional terminology like Master or Sensei.  Master has significance (equivalence to the Germanic "Meister") in which a highly learned and competent tradesman or craftsman can oversee and mentor a Journeyman practitioner.  However since this also applies to professional and administrative applications, the trade analogy is not fully applicable.
So how can we overcome false impressions?  ASQ, as part of its current evaluation scorecard for Fellow Member candidates, has distinguished and ranked its certifications, and assigned an appropriate score.  I share this objectively without prejudice or opinion.

Based on the ASQ Society Committee evaluation criteria for ASQ Fellows (when determining the top 0.1% of ASQ members in a given year), those individuals with a Master Black Belt are rated with the highest score.  This is reflective of not only the subject complexity, but the managerial and executive requirements for this Program-level role.

This also provides a mapping for the more obscure references (i.e. Six Sigma "Belts", Lean "Medals").
 Practitioner Level (Technician, Inspector, Green Belt, Lean Bronze)
This is targeted for the individual practitioner, and is not simple.  The scope of these credentials is intended to provide core knowledge.  The "entry-level" ASQ certifications in this category do not require recertification units to be submitted to ASQ every 3 years to retain certification.

Professional Level (Auditor, Professional, Lean Silver)
Professional considerations extend beyond personal expertise to support the evaluation and determination of suitability for products and systems. as well as the management of others, both within and outside of your control, to fulfill a particular objective or purpose.  Due to the professional nature and requirement for direct industry involvement, ASQ certifications in this category are required to be recertified every 3 years.

Program or Enterprise Level (Engineer, Manager, Black Belt, Lean Gold)
These certifications incorporate managerial and administrative items, along with team-building and development initiatives.  ASQ certifications in this category are required to be recertified every three years or else they will lapse and be invalid. 

I think that all ASQ Certifications have merit and should be pursued.  Instead of burning money on costly training by an unaccredited outside provider, work within ASQ and its infinite breadth of resources to build a personal library and Quality resource portfolio.  Perhaps the Practitioner-Level ASQ Certifications can be used as stepping stones to prepare for the more advanced credentials.  Share resources with colleagues and provide assistance and support where able.

An educated profession with legitimate and competent practitioners serves all of our mutual interests, and isolates those who falsely claim expertise.  The best remedy is professionalism, spanning from the novice individual Quality practitioner to the elaborate and experienced Quality program executive.