If You Don’t Have These Big Q Enablers You are in Trouble

Jay Mankad's picture

Big Q and little q are terms discussed by Dr. Juran and is key in fully understanding the significance of quality, and how to achieve World Class premier and sustainable Quality.


Definition of Big Q,   little q:  Big Q is defined as managing the quality in all business processes, products and services, and small q is defined as mainly product quality with a much narrow scope. Sometimes, businesses may call Big Q with other terms like TQM, Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma Quality etc, but in true sense, they all mean “Business Process Improvement”.

Big Q application with Business Process Improvement (BPI)

Big Q is strategic, its mission must align to support business goals, and is a macro-level process, while little q is a micro-level product quality element. Would you rather have a narrow tunnel vision/incremental product quality improvement, or broad based business improvement that lifts the entire business to a new height?

During the maturing process, many businesses pay the most attention to small q – product quality…Of course, product quality is important and helps achieve short term customer satisfaction, but can we attain and sustain lasting and TOTAL Quality or predictable reliability without improving business processes? 

Also many businesses miss the whole concept of improving front-end business processes and in administrative areas along with shop floor operation. Front-end business process could initiate from defining customer requirements, integrating customer requirement into design (QFD -Quality Function Deployment), and then flow down of requirements into the supply chain and finally appropriate operational execution. If the Front-end business process is fragmented or does not exist, the manufacturing and quality folks, at the tail end of the process, cannot build or inspect quality into product.  

Quality professionals have a very important role in facilitating and supporting the executives in their efforts to create a work environment and culture conducive to big Q and Continuous Improvement.  

 Big Q enablers: Leadership, Vision, Strategic Planning, Customer focus, Operational excellence, infrastructure and Talent play significant roles.  The role of senior leaders is crucial to success. The process succeeds when the senior most leaders take a personal interest and demand Business Process Improvement as a requirement.

The identification of transformation need is a first step, followed by mobilizing commitment and understanding and organizational culture. Paradigm shift may be necessary at various levels of management. Middle managers need to be on board as well, because they influence the largest work force directly. The biggest challenge in deploying a big Q process is resistance to change. Break the status quo. When you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards, as your competition may not be standing still. Enlist a team of positive thinkers who have the shared needs, right mind set, and understanding of big Q principles.

Process: Deming PDCA circle  – Plan, Do, Check, and Act for Business Process Improvement.

Plan: Identify shared Need, Vision, Strategy, Shift Paradigm, Knowledge, Development & Deployment Plan…

Do: Team Synergy, Infrastructure, Training, Communication, Proliferate support, Execute….

Check: Measure Effectiveness, Control Plan, Introspect (audit), Adjust, Enhance…

Act: Institutionalize Document, Replicate, Raise Bar, Closed loop feed-back mechanism…



Imbalanced PDCA

1. Excessive planning (all talk) and little action are not acceptable.

2. And  3.  Institutionalization (changing system) without planning is not acceptable. 

3. Keep auditing (checking) without planning, improving or system changes are not acceptable.   

Aim for a balanced PDCA process


Once Business Process exhibits improvement, institutionalize the changes.

How many executives and even Quality professionals realize the difference of big Q vs. little q, and its impact on business? Take this unanimous survey to help understand better what organizations are doing about quality. Sustainable product quality (little q improvement) cannot be achieved without improving Business Process Quality, the big Q.

Jay Mankad is the Director of Quality at Lycoming Engines, an operating division of Avco Corporation, and Chair of Textron Quality & CI Council  The views expressed here are from Jay Mankad and do not reflect Lycoming Engines.

  You can connect with Jay on LinkedIn.

Please take a short survey on organizations' use and understanding of Big Q, little q.


Anonymous's picture
Very interesting blog. Thank you, Jay for starting the discussion. Vice President/Director of Quality should report to CEO. In other words, CEO should have personal interest in ensuring highest possible quality of products and services and yes, the leaders must look at the broad quality goals (big Q). I would like to go further and state that the Governing Board (or shareholders) should be concerned about business process improvement and quality (big Q). Question is: what is the role of consumers and general public? In healthcare services, there is increased emphasis on public accountability. The belief is that public reporting of quality data from hospitals and physicians (e.g. readmissions within short time, percentage on recommended treatments, error rates, etc.) along with price data will allow consumers (patients) to make choices based on value (quality/price). In other industries, e.g. automobile purchases, consumers do not generally know the intricate mechanics of the automobile but can read consumer reports and compare prices to make purchasing decisions. Healthcare quality and price reporting has not reached that stage yet. However, that is the national trend. In summary, quality (the big Q) should not be a concern of the quality manager alone but of the top person in the company, governing board and ultimately the society. Vipul Mankad, M.D. President and CEO, Qualitas Healthcare Solutions Inc.
Anonymous's picture
This artical is very detailed thourough. I am in cutomer service and quality is discussed all teh time. It is helpful to maintain focus on big picture.
Anonymous's picture
This article is very informative and useful in a various settings. An example, outside of "business", is applied research labs. Research goals at the little q level are relevant for achieving iterative R&D improvements in topical areas. However, the direction of various projects, their operational success, relevance in light of advancing science and technology, and impact of budgetary variabilities can all be impacted by Big Q factors. Further, customer service is not necessarily just for the traditional view (extramural, i.e., the business' customer) but also internal divisions that offer services to other divisions should be cognizant of little q metrics, and may often be affected by Big Q decisions. Thanks for a great article.
Jay Mankad's picture
As Dr. Mankad pointed out, the same “big Q and little q” principles apply in healthcare also. The governing board, shareholders or even on a macro level, society is responsible to hold the organizations accountable for enhancing big Q or Business Process Improvement. The governing board appears to be attentive to ROI (Return on Investment), and that is all the more reason that the governing board should be assuring that the total Business Process Improves. The Big Q improvement will bring the highest ROI. But unfortunately, many governing boards or CEOs do not set priority for Business Process Improvement, and also do not pay attention to little q (product quality), until the major quality crisis or recall occurs. The automotive recalls are great examples of such behavior and work culture. It is great to hear from a physician that, we as a society, have begun to look at big Q picture -quality (value/price), which will improve Quality of Life for all of us..And that will be the Nirvana in Healthcare…..Thanks for your comment.
Jay Mankad's picture
The anonymous friend has very interesting points..In my opinion, the big picture/vision and strategy must be the focal point while doing iterative research advancement. The quality of iterative research/advancement can only succeed if research process is well defined – big Q. The research process Quality must be leading to accomplish the big vision. In addition, the history has proven that when we had/have a shared need for innovation, humans have always succeeded. Perhaps such shared need will cure cancer or derive alternate energy source and so on..
Anonymous's picture
I used to work for a large casting company that viewed Quality as a department that gets in the way of production. In our daily status meetings, production leaders and part chasers would put the quality department on trail by stating; "Quality has prevented us from shipping our quota for yet another day". Despite my efforts to educate leadership on the role of Quality, in my opinion to be the "referee" of the whole process, they continued to push volume over Quality. Then one sunny blue sky day, a major customer of ours, canceled their orders with us. Others soon followed; they were simply dissatisfied with leaderships lack of involement in the process.We finally got leadership in place that understood the value in Quality, but our loyal customers were lost to competition.So I would say from experience, it takes more than certifications hanging in the lobby to keep customers, it take a visible attitude towards customers needs to keep them coming back. Pete