Quality Soup: Too Many Quality Improvement Acronyms

Note: This post is NOT about soup. If you’re searching for really good soup to eat, you will not find it here.

This post is, in contrast, about something that @ASQ tweeted earlier today: “QP Perspectives Column: Is the quality profession undermining ISO 9000?

In this February 2012 column, author Bob Kennedy examines reflected on a heated discussion at a gathering of senior-level quality practitioners regarding the merit of various tools, methodologies and themes in the context of the quality body of knowledge – what I refer to as “quality soup”. These paragraphs sum up the dilemma captured at that meeting:

Next came the bombshell from a very senior quality consultant: “No one is interested in ISO 9000 anymore; they all want lean.” In hindsight, I think he was speaking from a consultant’s perspective. In other words, there’s no money to be made peddling ISO 9000, but there is with lean and LSS.

I was appalled at this blatant undermining of a fundamental bedrock of quality that is employed by more than 1 million organizations representing nearly every country in the world. The ISO 9000 series is Quality 101, and as quality practitioners, we should never forget it.

If we don’t believe this and promote it, we undermine the impact and importance of ISO 9000. We must ask ourselves, “Am I interested in ISO 9000 anymore?”

When I see articles like this, and other articles or books that question whether a tool or technique is just a passing fad (e.g. there’s a whole history of them presented in Cole’s 1999 book) my visceral reaction is always the same. How can so many quality professionals not see that each of these “things we do” satisfies a well-defined and very distinct purpose? (I quickly and compassionately recall that it only took me 6 years to figure this out, 4 of which were spent in a PhD program focusing on quality systems – so don’t feel bad if I just pointed a finger at you, because I’d actually be pointing it at past-me as well, and I’m still in the process of figuring all of this stuff out.)

In a successful and high-performing organization, I would expect to see SEVERAL of these philosophies, methodologies and techniques applied. For example:

  • The Baldrige Criteria provide a general framework to align an organization’s strategy with its operations in a way that promotes continuous improvement, organizational learning, and social responsibility. (In addition to the Criteria booklet itself, Latham & Vinyard’s users guide is also pretty comprehensive and accessible in case you want to learn more.)
  • ISO 9000 provides eight categories of quality standards to make sure we’re setting up the framework for a process-driven quality management system. (Cianfrani, Tsiakals & West are my two heroes of this system, because it wasn’t until I read their book that I realized what ISO 9001:2000, specifically, was all about.)
  • Thus you could very easily have ISO 9000 compliant processes and operations in an organization whose strategy, structure, and results orientation are guided by the Baldrige Criteria.
  • Six Sigma helps us reduce defects in any of those processes that we may or may not be managing via an ISO 9000 compliant system. (It also provides us with a couple of nifty methodologies, DMAIC and DMADV, that can help us structure improvement projects that might focus on improving another parameter that describes system performance OR design processes that tend not to yield defectives.)
  • The Six Sigma “movement” also provides a management philosophy that centers around the tools and technologies of Six Sigma, but really emphasizes the need for data-driven decision making that stimulates robust conclusions and recommendations.
  • Lean helps us continuously improve processes to obtain greater margins of value. It won’t help you reduce defects like Six Sigma will (unless your waste WAS those defects, or you’re consciously mashing the two up and applying Lean Six Sigma). It won’t help you explore alternative designs or policies like Design of Experiments, part of the Six Sigma DMAIC “Improve” phase, might do. It won’t help you identify which processes are active in your organization, or the interactions and interdependencies between those processes, like an ISO 9000 system will (certified or not).
  • ISO 9000 only guarantees that you know your processes, and you’re reliably doing what you say you’re supposed to be doing. It doesn’t help you do the right thing – you could be doing lots of wrong things VERY reliably and consistently, while keeping perfect records, and still be honorably ISO certified. The Baldrige process is much better for designing the right processes to support your overall strategy.
  • Baldrige, ISO 9000, and lean will not help you do structured problem-solving of the kind that’s needed for continuous improvement to occur. PDSA, and possibly Six Sigma methodologies, will help you accomplish this.

Are you starting to see how they all fit together?

So yeah, let’s GET LEAN and stop wasting our energy on the debate about whether one approach is better than another, or whether one should be put out to pasture. We don’t dry our clothes in the microwave, and we don’t typically take baths in our kitchen sink, but it is very easy to apply one quality philosophy, methodology or set of practices and expect a result that is much better generated by another.

Bob Kennedy comes to the same conclusion at the end of his column, one which I fully support:

All quality approaches have a place in our society. Their place is in the supportive environment of an ISO 9000-based QMS, regardless of whether it’s accredited. Otherwise, these approaches will operate in a vacuum and fail to deliver the improvements they promise.

3 replies »

  1. One possible reason for the phenomenon of Quality and QMS getting sidelines is that Quality Systems have still remained ‘hygienic’ necessity, but not elevated to the essential component of the organization’s purpose of existence [ a.k.a.Theory of Business by Peter Drucker].

    ISO 9000 has already addressed this aspect by bringing in alignment of the Objectives of QMS with those of the organization as a whole.

    This should also help in aligning the measurements performed under QMS and the corresponding analytically ‘review’ to the organization’s top management strategic review ethos.

    This the next level challenge Quality professional s have to address.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s