A Candid Letter from the Desk of Darcey: Quality is Everyone's Responsibility

I can’t take credit for the statement “Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility.” That quote belongs to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the field of Quality. I’m sure if  he were alive, Deming would be an avid reader of CQIU’s blog posts, but he would also remind me that “Quality is Not a Slogan!” (How do I know this? Well, he lists it himself as point #10 from 14 Points for Western Management which are included in his book Out of the Crisis). Deming would likely cringe at the modern use of his quote “Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility” as a management trope or catchphrase. But that doesn’t make the statement any less true or make it less important as a reminder to ourselves and to those with whom we work.

W. Edwards Deming - he’d love CQIU, right?

W. Edwards Deming - he’d love CQIU, right?

I tripped my way into the field of Quality, like most do who work in this area. In hindsight, I realized Quality was always my job regardless of the specific title I held. Quality was the unspoken first principle for all the work I’ve done or will ever do. (Granted, it took me a lot longer to realize Quality was deeply embedded in all of my daily processes!)

I’m originally trained as a biomedical engineer and my first job after graduation was in an academic research lab helping develop implantable medical devices for individuals with spinal cord injuries. My first Quality projects were around creating and implementing  standards for the materials we used in these devices, validating sterilization processes, and writing standard operating procedures. After receiving my MBA, I went on to run a medical device start-up. Although this experience included setting up a certified cleanroom, becoming International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliant, and signing up as Food and Drug Administration registered manufacturing facility, I still did not think of myself as working in Quality.

Eventually, I went back for my PhD in Health Services Research with no intention of focusing on health care quality. If you’d asked me then about my dissertation, I would have rambled on about risk adjustment and data quality when using large health care datasets – even though my dissertation advisor was Duncan Neuhauser (a health care quality legend) and I investigated data costs and data quality bias around hospital quality assessment (available as a book through Amazon). Towards the end of my doctoral research and after accepting a position at Heidelberg University (another story for another blog), I navigated German regulations to achieve accreditation of a new master’s degree program in International Public Health.

It wasn’t until after I’d finished my PhD and was in my early 40s that I recognized and embraced my “Quality Queen” sash and tiara. If I hadn’t, I might not have met Nishita and CQIU might not exist.

(Pause here for gasps!)

It’s not as though, through this time of self-deception, I didn’t know enough about the field of Quality to correctly identify my role. During much of this same time period, my husband worked as a Quality Manager with a chemical company and then as an independent consultant in Quality and Regulatory Affairs in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. He had the Quality title. I didn’t. Instead, I was an Engineer, Vice President, Director of Operations, Master of Science Program Coordinator, and Senior Scientist. Sometimes I was on the lowest rung of organizational hierarchy and sometimes I was very close to the top. In each of these roles, my job was to do the best job that I could do, to identify and learn from my mistakes, and to improve my performance and increase my contributions to the organization in which I belonged. At their core, these responsibilities make up the fundamental principles of CQI.  Just as my supervisor’s job was to enable me to do the best job that I could by providing resources, feedback, coaching, and the elimination of road blocks. Just as the top leadership’s job was to set the vision and serve as Quality role models, ensuring collective achievement of our mission while staying true to our core values. (Hey - I’m not saying we were all equally up to the task. Training helps.)

By the way, there’s another Quality slogan that I found while writing this blog – specifically when I went looking for the appropriate Deming-related hyperlinks to use. It’s “Quality doesn’t only begin with a letter Q. It must also be followed by U.” Now that’s a slogan CQIU can get behind!

Wishing you quality in work and life,


 P.S. For more on this topic, check out Robert Lloyd’s blog on “Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility,” found on the Institute for Health Care Improvement’s website.