Standards in the Quality Management Course at the University of Guelph
A Q&A with Anne Wilcock, Donovan Cox, Lindsay Holland and Sean Field
Standards have long been an integral part of the marketing program at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Over time, the focus has broadened from product and performance standards to include quality management systems standards. Professor and students agree about the importance and relevance of standards in their work.
Donovan Cox, Lindsay Holland, Sean Field and Anne Wilcock discuss how standards are used in the quality management course at the University of Guelph.
How did standards come to be part of the marketing curriculum at the University of Guelph?
I don’t think there’s anyone in the marketing program who could tell you exactly how or why this happened. I can tell you that back in the late 1970s, about four faculty members got together to talk about the possibility of putting together a quality assurance course to serve the needs of applied science students with specific interests in textiles and clothing, foods, and housing. My background is in textile science and I happened to be representing the textile major. At the time, much of the course focus was on statistical quality control.
In 1980, I left academia to work in industry so I really don’t know how the course changed during the next few years. Upon my return, I was asked to take responsibility for the quality assurance course, and that’s when I realized that the course had to include a standards module. As I began to delve into the standards literature and learn about various standards organizations, I learned about and was admitted to ASTM’s Faculty Intern Program. As I recall, I spent a week in Philadelphia learning about standards and standards development, and then another week in Denver attending an ASTM committee meeting. It was a wonderful experience, and I remember talking about it in class for several years.
There no longer are undergraduate majors in textiles and clothing, foods, and housing at the University of Guelph. The program has evolved into a more generic program in marketing and consumer studies. While the program was evolving, so was the course. It has shifted from quality assurance, emphasizing practices designed to assure that quality is built into products and services to quality management that covers topics such as involvement of employees, focus on customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement. The standards component of the course is probably more prominent today than it was 20 years ago because, of course, it is no longer only product standards that students must be aware of, but also management systems standards.
Why are standards relevant to business students?
When people think about standards, they traditionally think about dimensional (weights and measures) or performance standards (like the building or electrical code). These are the standards that are probably top-of-mind for engineering students. When the University of Guelph offered majors in sector-specific product areas, courses such as testing and sensory evaluation were taught; standard test methods were used to ensure that the results had a specific level of statistical confidence.
While these are obviously very important examples of different types of standards, what we emphasize now in our quality management course is quality systems standards, i.e., the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 family of standards. The reason for this emphasis is that we believe that it is very important that students understand how the various parts of a business work together so that a quality product or service can be produced. The ISO 9000 standards illustrate that point very well. They also drive home the importance of continuous improvement. Students are still exposed to product and performance standards, but the emphasis is certainly on the quality management systems standards.
What is the course all about?
The quality management course describes the evolving history of quality, emphasizing the philosophies of Deming, Juran and Crosby. The course surveys the main themes that are faced by an organization as it produces its products and services: leadership, human resource management, process management, performance measurement, and continuous improvement, and it exposes students to quality award models as benchmarks for recognizing, building, and sustaining total quality organizations.
From our perspective, the course offers students a framework to enhance their upcoming integration into the “real” world. We contacted a few students who have taken the course and have been employed for a few years in various types of jobs to see what they had to say. According to Derek Brodie, 2002 quality management graduate:
Quality management has had a tremendous impact on my professional career in the financial services as the course provided me with an appreciation of the need to have standards. While the concept is relatively simple in its lowest form, its importance is understated as it creates an awareness of all aspects of business that quality touches. The need for standardization provides the opportunity to consistently examine and improve processes, information, and ultimately customer service. My ability to create a favorable reputation has been dependent not only on consistently meeting standards that I have created but exceeding them.
How is the course taught?
To teach quality management and standards effectively, our course integrates theory with a real-world project to enhance students’ upcoming entry into the “real” world. Students are provided with a course structure that supports both theoretical and experiential learning. The course design walks the students through the basic phases of David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle model.1 According to this model, quality experiential learning requires four different learning abilities: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
Concrete experience occurs when students are actively engaged in helping one another. The quality management course currently requires eight group assignments that encourage student interaction and immerses them in decision making by consensus. Reflective observation occurs when a student later considers, discusses and elaborates on the group assignment experience. This encourages students to integrate their concrete experience with relevant theories and concepts presented in traditional lectures. The in-class discussion and on-line conferencing provide students with the opportunity for reflective observation. Abstract conceptualization involves integrating theories and concepts into an overall learning process geared toward a practical application. This theoretical alignment process occurs as students are required to create and submit a proposal for a major real-world consulting project. Active experimentation occurs when students put to use the knowledge gained from the three previous steps as they complete their project. Part of this project requires students to communicate their findings to the course instructor as well as to the business that agreed to host the project.
How have product and performance standards formed the basis for quality standards in business in general, and how are they taught in the classroom?
There is no doubt that product and performance standards are the building blocks of any good product/ service design. However, correct designs must be translated into final products that are wanted by consumers. Producing a well-designed product and getting it to the market requires knowledge of quality tools and practices. Because that market is getting larger and more international every day, and the competition becoming increasingly fierce every day, knowing how to build quality into products and services is something about which students studying commerce ought to be very familiar.
Standards need to be given a breath of life if they are to be of interest to students, so that is exactly what we try to do. The students read the basics on standards in their textbook and listen to factual lectures on the topic. This year they also participated in case discussions on the relative merits of implementation of competing standards in an agricultural business. In addition, two high profile guest lecturers shared their experiences in working with standards in well-known international businesses.
How have quality standards taught in the classroom evolved?
When the course was first introduced, the only standards that were discussed were the product and performance standards. There was nothing on quality systems standards because the course predated their introduction. Now, the specific categories of standards are discussed to make students aware of their existence, use and value. Students need this exposure if they are to work as productive members of interdisciplinary teams with technical personnel who regularly use standards in developing products and delivering services. These students are not engineers, and intimate knowledge of product and performance standards is not seen to be essential. It would probably be useful for students to understand the standards development process, and a case study that chronicles the standards development process would be a valuable teaching tool, if it existed.
What role has the Canadian Standards Association had in teaching quality standards in the classroom? What role could they play?
The Canadian Standards Association has been very supportive of this course and our program at the University of Guelph. CSA has always been very willing to provide speakers, who have spoken on topics such as the Canadian standards system, management systems standards, the importance of consumer representation, and the like. The Association has cooperated with students who have been interested in doing applied projects on standards.
In addition, the Canadian Standards Association has encouraged our students outside the classroom. The John Kean Scholarship, established by CSA in 1999 to honor their retiring president and CEO, offers both a scholarship and a semester of employment to a deserving student who is interested in standards or business management systems. The fortunate recipient is encouraged to set his/her objectives, and the employment experience is designed around those objectives. Students have worked in a wide range of areas, from external affairs to regulatory affairs to human resources. These students always return to school with an expanded appreciation of standards and a high regard for the CSA.
To demonstrate its commitment to education, CSA has recently initiated a “Standards in Education” program. As part of this program, I think it would be extremely valuable if a member of CSA joined our on-line conferencing when it related to the topic of standards. I also think producing a case study that focuses on the standards development process would give us teaching material that would offer students a better understanding of the complexity of standards development. Forming a youth council that would be consulted on issues relevant to the students’ age group would give our students “hands on” experience in the short term and could benefit the standards system in the longer term by cultivating volunteers to assist with the standards writing process.
Can you comment on the usefulness of the textbook for this course?
I have used several different textbooks over the years. I adopted The Management and Control of Quality by Evans and Lindsay when it first came out around 1990, and I have used it ever since. This book offers an overview of everything that is needed by a commerce student who is studying quality management; it is well-written, easy to follow, and has many practical applications to bring the concepts to life. The text is placed on reserve in the library during the semester, and activity reports from previous semesters indicate that it is heavily used.
After the course, the text serves as a useful reference. As stated by Paul Medeiros, who took the course in 2003 and is currently Manager of Consulting Services for the Guelph Food Technology Centre:
The book is very useful. In fact, when I need a reference tool, I refer to it before referring to Juran’s Quality Handbook. The textbook is well laid out, and it is easy to find the topic you’re looking for. The information is presented clearly and simply (but not too simply), and the many examples help me to understand the concepts. I find the quality profiles also useful. The text itself works as a bit of a how-to manual, which makes it very useful to quality practitioners.
What aspects of the quality management course have business students found most useful in the workforce?
Again, this question is probably best answered by a student who has been through the course and is now gainfully employed. Ryan Munn, a 2003 graduate, says:
As a sales professional, there are many aspects of my training in the quality management field that are beneficial on a day-to-day basis. Understanding how quality standards impact a global manufacturing and distribution environment allows me to evaluate the competitive environment and objectively compare my products and services to any competitors. I am also able to evaluate customers’ business systems and suggest ways in which I may be able to assist in their quality improvement objectives. The knowledge that internal quality improvement is also a strong marketing tool has assisted tremendously in differentiating myself in an industry that is becoming increasingly commoditized and cost-conscious. However, the largest impact that total quality management has had on my career is to make clear to me how important continuous improvement is in my own business systems. As a result of this, I am constantly evaluating and improving processes and tasks that I perform regularly, from business prospecting to serving long-time customers. TQM has allowed me to regularly discover new and more efficient ways of interacting with my internal support network, better ways of structuring my time and tasks, and ultimately constantly improve upon customer satisfaction. In short, my understanding of quality management has turned me from a salesman into a professional and subsequently increased my success in this field tremendously.
How do we expect the quality management course to evolve in the future?
“Because we’re covering so many of the important tools and concepts a QA manager needs to know in order to be successful, it is not possible to devote enough time to each area in only one semester. I would like to see it covered over two to three semesters, with more attention (and maybe more practice with the tools) paid to each element covered,” says Medeiros.
Realistically, the expectation is that the evolution of this course will parallel consumer demand for products and services on a global scale. There will likely be more discussion of topics such as harmonization of standards. Perhaps international trade and the increasing importance of emerging economies will mean that topics will expand to include such issues as social responsibility and integrated systems standards.
As a final thought, we believe this course is one that ought to interest students in many areas. Regardless of what discipline students are studying, quality and standards are topics that are universally relevant. //
1 Petkus, Ed Jr., A theoretical and practical framework for service learning in marketing: Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, Journal of Marketing Education, 22(1), April 2000, 64-70.