The U.S. Constitution is a Quality System
In 2008, I defined a quality system as:
…your organization’s blueprint: it identifies your business model and processes, provides details about how your people will work together to get things done, and establishes specifications for performance — so you can tell if you’re on track… or not.https://qualityandinnovation.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/quality-system/
By this definition, the U.S. Constitution is a quality system — just like ISO 9001, or any system developed using the Baldrige Criteria, or a system for strategy execution based on Hoshin planning and other lean principles. The Constitution defines the blueprint for how power will be distributed (among the three branches of government, and between the country and the states), provides details about how the branches will work together and what principles they will abide by, and establishes clear standards for performance right up front:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.https://constitutionus.com/
(The preamble is the Constitution’s quality policy.)
But even though I’ve been working with (and researching) quality systems since the late 90s, I didn’t see the connection until yesterday, when I read some excerpts from the Don McGahn case. McGahn, who was subpoenaed by the House of Representatives to testify in the Trump impeachment hearings, was instructed by the White House to disobey the order. He asked a court to decide whether or not he should be made to appear. Federal District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a 120-page response, called on the characteristics of the Constitution that make it a quality system to make the determination:
…when a committee of Congress seeks testimony and records by issuing a valid subpoena in the context of a duly authorized investigation, it has the Constitution’s blessing, and ultimately, it is acting not in its own interest, but for the benefit of the People of the United States. If there is fraud or abuse or waste or corruption in the federal government, it is the constitutional duty of Congress to find the facts and, as necessary, take corrective action.Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives vs. Donald F. McGahn II – Civ. No. 19-cv-2379 (KBJ) – Filed 11/25/2019
This pattern should be really familiar to anyone who’s worked with ISO 9001 or similar quality systems! After your company’s processes and procedures are put in place, and your performance standards are defined (for products as well as processes), you implement a monitoring system to catch any nonconformance that might arise. Then, after root cause analysis, you implement a corrective action to improve the impacted process.
In the U.S., those nonconformances are fraud or abuse or waste or corruption or even injustice that one person (or entity) experiences at the hands of another. You can take up the issue with the courts, which will (in many cases) interpret the laws, implement countermeasures, and potentially lead to larger-scale corrective actions, like new laws.
How can you tell if the quality system defined by the Constitution is working? Evaluate it against the performance standards. Is justice taking place? Is there domestic tranquility, adequate defense, and general welfare? If not, then the structure of the quality system (e.g. the Amendments) should change to better enable the desired outcomes.
Although the system is imperfect, it does — by design — support continuous improvement that incorporates the Voice of the Customer (VoC). This is done through Congressional representation, carefully selected juries of peers, and NGOs that research and advance specific interests.
So the next time you’re wondering whether your ISO 9001 system adds value, ask yourself… does the U.S. Constitution add value? I think you’ll conclude that both can provide a necessary foundation.
The link between quality and structures in the U.S. government was also noted by Tim J. Clark in this 2008 article from the Indianapolis Star, entitled “People working together can make a more perfect union.” He notes that ‘The aim of the American system of government is to enable “We the People” to work together to make progress – not toward a “perfect” union, which would be impossible – but rather toward a “more perfect” union’ and explains how this aligns with Deming’s philosophy.
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