What’s the Best Quality System?

In the September 2008 issue of Quality Progress, a group of collaborators and I published “Starting from Scratch” to help people figure out how to approach the often-nebulous problem of how to launch a new quality system. Making sense out of the acronym soup of quality systems can be daunting, even though you have to wade through much more than acronyms: ISO 9000, AS9100, Baldrige, Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, systems thinking, complexity theory, and so forth.

Ron Marafioti commented online and said that when he was reading our article he “became livid in realizing that an article on quality systems written with one author from Wisconsin-Stout failed to draw the distinction of tools vs. philosophy; in other words, short vs. long term. What this article did do for me is highlight the short term view that Baldrige (a philosophy) takes time and therefore is not attractive in a short-term economy, while the focus in this economy is busy in fighting fires and looking for opportunities to capitalize on short vs. long-term gains.”

I was surprised to hear this, because I’m pretty conscious of both the distinction between quality philosophies and tools, and I know very well that “there is no instant pudding.” So I re-read what we wrote, and sure enough, we didn’t call out something in the article that was made very explicit in our notes preparing for the article – oops! That is:

  • Philosophies provide a basis for your organization’s core values and quality policy (e.g. Baldrige, TQM, Deming’s 14 points)
  • Methodologies provide skeletons for problem solving, and are often aligned with quality goals such as reducing waste or variation (e.g. DMAIC, LSSQTT)
  • Tools support those methodologies and help you identify the additional detail you need to carry out data-driven problem solving (e.g. QFD for linking customer requirements to technical specifications; VSM for breaking down how parts of a process contribute to the value it ultimately delivers)

The mission of the “Quality Systems Development Roadmap” that we positioned in the article (and that’s hosted in its entirety at https://qualityandinnovation.wordpress.com/qs726) was to help people figure out the difference between philosophies, methodologies and tools. Ideally, an organization becomes familiar with the value system espoused by one or more of the philosophies. Then, it consciously selects the methodologies and tools that support specific quality goals – and this can differ from process to process. By making the concept of starting a quality system actionable, we wanted to illustrate the interrelationships between the philosophies, methodologies, and tools on a more practical level.

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