Category Archives: Socio-Technical Systems

Blockchain and Quality

Quality is all about satisfying stated and implied needs –now, or in the future. When we envision and design high-quality products and services for the future, that’s innovation. One of the most hyped innovations of 2017 was blockchain, which has the potential to transform business models and the way quality is managed. The purpose of this article is to explain this relationship in a simple way.

Blockchain is the innovative technology supporting the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Bitcoin gained tremendous traction in 2017, starting at just over $1,000 in January and reaching nearly $20,000 by the end of the year.  It increased in value so much over this time that it’s been compared to the Dutch tulip market bubble of the 1630s.  After tulips were imported into Holland from Turkey, an alteration to the solid colors of the tulips caused the appearance of “flames” on the petals. This made people believe that the tulip bulbs held extreme value, and so many people traded their land and their savings to invest in what they felt was a “sure thing” – to lose everything not long after, when the market corrected itself.

Bitcoin (USD) prices, 1/1/17-12/13/17. Generated using https://www.coindesk.com/price/.

Bitcoin (USD) prices, 1/1/17-12/13/17. Generated using https://www.coindesk.com/price/.

The blockchain technology that supports Bitcoin is, at its core, a database. It’s a special kind of database, but no more magical, really – and easier to contextualize if you think about innovations in database technology over the past two decades.

Databases can be roughly classified into these categories:

  • Relational databases (Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Sybase): When you can organize your data in terms of tables, fields, and relationships between those entities, a relational database is often appropriate. For example, your customer data might be kept in the “people” table with fields like address, state, or gender. Each record in the people table might have a type – employee, partner, or customer. Although records can be changed, it’s easy to accidentally input bad data, and it’s also easy to accidentally generate duplicate records. Scaling a relational database can also be rather tricky.
  • Non-relational (NoSQL) databases (MongoDB, Cassandra, Redis): If most of your data comes in large blobs and you don’t want to split it up into fields and tables, these databases are useful. MongoDB is great for collections of documents, such as web pages, log data, or tweets. Cassandra works well for analytics applications. Sensor data and other data types that change frequently or need to be held in active memory (for example, in key-value stores) are handled well by databases like Redis. NoSQL databases are easier to scale than relational databases.
  • Other databases and data stores with special properties: Some databases are so unique they don’t feel or act like databases. Solr, for example, is traditionally used when you have to provide search functionality over a store of documents. Hadoop is a distributed file system, so it functions somewhat like a database even though it’s not one. Graph databases are designed for data stores where the relationships are the most important aspect, so they are gaining popularity for social networks. Large, institutional science projects often store their data in special binary files that have distinct formats, can be queried like databases, and in many ways act like databases – but they are not technically databases.

 

What Distinguishes Blockchain-based Databases from Ordinary Databases?

First, the blockchain is designed to handle transactions – it’s a digital ledger. So it’s not surprising that its first “successful” use cases are in the realm of cryptocurrency, where people engage in transactions with one another to exchange something of value.

Next, this database is immutable, meaning you can’t go back and change earlier records. Every time a new transaction occurs, a cryptographically sealed “snapshot” is taken of the entire database. When I first heard this, I was worried: so that means if we accidentally enter something incorrect into the database, it can never be changed, right? And its presence is memorialized forever? The answer to this question is: sort of. Thanks to “smart contracts”, we shouldn’t ever be in the situation where bad data gets entered into our blockchain-based system, because incoming data will be checked (by multiple agents) against the smart contract — and only allowed to join the blockchain database if it meets all the quality requirements specified by the contract. It’s like a fancy way to implement validation rules – with the added benefit of being totally traceable. Imagine how nice it would be to trace all the steps in the process that brought the fresh fruit into your kitchen – or any other product you use — just because all transactions in the production process were logged into a “supply blockchain.”

A blockchain database is also decentralized and distributed — you don’t just “buy a blockchain database” and install it at your company. Databases can be centralized, decentralized, or distributed. Most business databases in the past were centralized: there was one instance installed, and a database administrator (or team of them) ensured the performance and security of the database while everyone in the organization created and used applications that interacted with the data. Today, these databases are more commonly distributed: there’s not just one instance, but several – there is no central storage, but there may be storage on many computers, or over a network of connected computers (or “in the cloud”). 

Decentralized systems have many advantages – for example, nodes can join or leave the network at will. For example, you can create a web site or take it off the internet whenever you want, if you own and control it. In decentralized systems, there is no single point of control. If a business wants to implement blockchain but also wants to control all the nodes, that should be a big red flag. By its nature, blockchain is decentralized just like the internet itself.

Finally, blockchain is transparent. Any of the participants who own nodes can see all the transactions — so there should be fewer opportunities for fraud. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t opportunity for danger, though.

 

Why is Blockchain Potentially Useful for Quality Assurance?

In addition to enhancing provenance and traceability, one of the biggest envisioned applications of blockchain databases is to support machine to machine transactions. As intelligent agents grow in complexity and are trusted to handle more tasks, and as the Internet of Things (IoT) expands, there needs to be a high-quality record of how those objects and agents interact with other objects and agents – and with humans. Blockchain could also be used to support new business models like decentralized energy markets, where you can consume energy from the local power plant, but also potentially generate your own and contribute the excess energy to your local community for a fee. It could potentially transform middleware as well, which is software that allows different software systems to communicate with one another. (A long time ago, someone told me that it’s like “email for applications” – they can send messages to one another so they know how to react, for example, when a company receives an order and several systems need to be alerted that the order has arrived.)

In principle, transactions logged to a blockchain make it impossible to defraud participants in the process, and impossible to manipulate records after they are recorded. They are self-auditing and fully traceable. Blockchain won’t make quality assurance, tracking, or auditing EASY, but you should expect it to make the business landscape different – new business models will be possible, and it will be possible to entrust intelligent agents with more tasks.  

Blockchain can help us ensure that stated and implied needs are met, and do it in such a way that the integrity of our data is assured simply by its presence. But we’re not there yet. Developers still need to implement simple, demonstrable use cases to make it easier for managers and executives to map these technologies onto specific business needs. In addition, blockchain is slow compared to relational database systems, so this needs to be addressed as well before widespread adoption.

 

Read more in our December 2017 SQP article.

What is Quality 4.0?

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

My first post of the year addresses an idea that’s just starting to gain traction – one you’ll hear a lot more about from me in 2018: Quality 4.0.  It’s not a fad or trend, but a reminder that the business environment is changing, and that performance excellence in the future will depend on how well you adapt, change, and transform in response. Although we started building community around this concept at the ASQ Quality 4.0 Summit on Disruption, Innovation, and Change, held in November 2017 in Dallas, the truly revolutionary work is yet to come.

The term “Quality 4.0” comes from “Industry 4.0” – referring to the “fourth industrial revolution” – originally addressed at the Hannover (Germany) Fair in 2011. That meeting emphasized the increasing intelligence and interconnectedness in “smart” manufacturing systems and reflected on the newest technological innovations in historical context.

In the first industrial revolution (late 1700’s), steam and water power made it possible for production facilities to scale up and expanded the potential locations for production. By the late 1800’s, the discovery of electricity and development of associated infrastructure enabled the development of machines for mass production. In the US, the expansion of railways made it easier to obtain supplies and deliver finished goods. The availability of power also sparked a renaissance in computing, and digital computing emerged from its analog ancestor. The third industrial revolution came at the end of the 1960’s, with the invention of the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). This made it possible to automate processes like filling and reloading tanks of liquids, turning engines on and off, and controlling sequences of events based on changing environmental conditions.

Although the growth and expansion of the internet accelerated innovation in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, we are just now poised for another industrial revolution. What’s changing?

  • Production & Availability of Information: More information is available because people and devices are producing it at greater rates than ever before. Falling costs of enabling technologies like sensors and actuators are catalyzing innovation in these areas.
  • Connectivity: In many cases, and from many locations, that information is instantly accessible over the internet. Improved network infrastructure is expanding the extent of connectivity, making it more widely available and more robust. (And unlike the 80’s and 90’s, there are far fewer communications protocols that are commonly encountered so it’s a lot easier to get one device to talk to another device on your network.)
  • Intelligent Processing: Affordable computing capabilities (and computing power!) are available to process that information so it can be incorporated into decision making. High-performance software libraries for advanced processing and visualization of data are easy to find, and easy to use. (In the past, we had to write our own… now we can use open-source solutions that are battle tested.
  • New Modes of Interaction: The way in which we can acquire and interact with information are also changing, in particular through new interfaces like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), which expand possibilities for training and navigating a hybrid physical-digital environment with greater ease.
  • New Modes of Production: 3D printing, nanotechnology, and gene editing (CRISPR) are poised to change the nature and means of production in several industries. Technologies for enhancing human performance (e.g. exoskeletons, brain-computer interfaces, and even autonomous vehicles) will also open up new mechanisms for innovation in production. (Roco & Bainbridge (2002) describe many of these, and their prescience is remarkable.) New technologies like blockchain have the potential to change the nature of production as well, by challenging ingrained perceptions of trust, control, consensus, and value.

If the first industrial revolution was characterized by steam-powered machines, the second was characterized by electricity and assembly lines. Innovations in computing and industrial automation defined the third industrial revolution.  The fourth industrial revolution is one of intelligence: smart, hyperconnected cyber-physical systems in environments where humans and machines cooperate to achieved shared goals, and use data to generate value.

These enabling technologies originate in the physical, digital, and biological domains, and include the following:

  • Information
    • Affordable Sensors and Actuators
    • Big Data infrastructure (e.g. MapReduce, Hadoop, NoSQL databases)
  • Connectivity
    • 5G Networks
    • IPv6 Addresses (which expand the number of devices that can be put online)
    • Internet of Things (IoT)
    • Cloud Computing
  • Processing
    • Predictive Analytics
    • Artificial Intelligence
    • Machine Learning (incl. Deep Learning)
    • Data Science
  • Interaction
    • Augmented Reality (AR)
    • Mixed Reality (MR)
    • Virtual Reality (VR)
    • Diminished Reality (DR)
  • Construction
    • 3D Printing
    • Additive Manufacturing
    • Smart Materials
    • Nanotechnology
    • Gene Editing
    • Automated (Software) Code Generation
    • Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
    • Blockchain

Today’s quality profession was born during the middle of the second industrial revolution, when methods were needed to ensure that assembly lines ran smoothly – that they produced artifacts to specifications, that the workers knew how to engage in the process, and that costs were controlled. As industrial production matured, those methods grew to encompass the design of processes which were built to produce to specifications. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, organizations in the US started to recognize the importance of human capabilities and active engagement in quality as essential, and TQM, Lean, and Six Sigma gained in popularity. 

How will these methods evolve in an adaptive, intelligent environment? The question is largely still open, and that’s the essence of Quality 4.0.

Roco, M. C., & Bainbridge, W. S. (2002). Converging technologies for improving human performance: Integrating from the nanoscale. Journal of nanoparticle research4(4), 281-295. (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.465.7221&rep=rep1&type=pdf)

How to Assess the Quality of a Chatbot

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to meet stated and implied needs.” (ISO 9001:2015, p.3.1.5) Quality assurance is the practice of assessing whether a particular product or service has the characteristics to meet needs, and through continuous improvement efforts, we use data to tell us whether or not we are adjusting those characteristics to more effectively meet the needs of our stakeholders.

But what if the entity is a chatbot?

In June 2017, we published a paper that explored that question. We mined the academic and industry literature to determine 1) what quality attributes have been used by others to determine chatbot quality, we 2) organized them according to the efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction (using guidance from the ISO 9241 definition of usability), and 3) we explored the utility of Saaty’s Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to help organizations select between one or more versions of chatbots based on quality considerations. (It’s sort of like A/B testing for chatbots.)

“There are many ways for practitioners to apply the material in this article:

  • The quality attributes in Table 1 can be used as a checklist for a chatbot implementation team to make sure they have addressed key issues.
  • Two or more conversational systems can be compared by selecting the most significant quality attributes.
  • Systems can be compared at two points in time to see if quality has improved, which may be particularly useful for adaptive systems that learn as they as exposed to additional participants and topics.”

What Protests and Revolutions Reveal About Innovation

The following book review will appear in an issue of the Quality Management Journal later this year:

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution.   2016.  Micah White.  Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing.  317 pages.

You may wonder why I’m reviewing a book written by the creator of the Occupy movement for an audience of academics and practitioners who care about quality and continuous improvement in organizations, many of which are trying to not only sustain themselves but also (in many cases) to make a profit. The answer is simple: by understanding how modern social movements are catalyzed by decentralized (and often autonomous) interactive media, we will be better able to achieve some goals we are very familiar with. These include 1) capturing the rapidly changing “Voice of the Customer” and, in particular, gaining access to its silent or hidden aspects, 2) promoting deep engagement, not just in work but in the human spirit, and 3) gaining insights into how innovation can be catalyzed and sustained in a truly democratic organization.

This book is packed with meticulously researched cases, and deeply reflective analysis. As a result, is not an easy read, but experiencing its modern insights in terms of the historical context it presents is highly rewarding. Organized into three sections, it starts by describing the events leading up to the Occupy movement, the experience of being a part of it, and why the author feels Occupy fell short of its objectives. The second section covers several examples of protests, from ancient history to modern times, and extracts the most important strategic insight from each event. Next, a unified theory of revolution is presented that reconciles the unexpected, the emotional, and the systematic aspects of large-scale change.

The third section speaks directly to innovation. Some of the book’s most powerful messages, the principles of revolution, are presented in Chapter 14. “Understanding the principles behind revolution,” this chapter begins, “allows for unending tactical innovation that shifts the paradigms of activism, creates new forms of protest, and gives the people a sudden power over their rulers.” If we consider that we are often “ruled” by the status quo, then these principles provide insight into how we can break free: short sprints, breaking patterns, emphasizing spirit, presenting constraints, breaking scripts, transposing known tactics to new environmental contexts, and proposing ideas from the edge. The end result is a masterful work that describes how to hear, and mobilize, the collective will.

 

Reviewed by

Dr. Nicole M. Radziwill

 

Free Speech in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: from "Reclaim Democracy" at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/who-are-citizens-united/

IF YOUR TOASTER COULD TALK, IT WOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. Image Credit: from “Reclaim Democracy” at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/who-are-citizens-united/

By the end of 2016, Gartner estimates that over 6.4 BILLION “things” will be connected to one another in the nascent Internet of Things (IoT). As innovation yields new products, services, and capabilities that leverage this ecosystem, we will need new conceptual models to ensure quality and support continuous improvement in this environment.

I wasn’t thinking about quality or IoT this morning… but instead, was trying to understand why so many people on Twitter and Facebook are linking Justice Scalia’s recent death to Citizens United. (I’d heard of Citizens United, but quite frankly, thought it was a soccer team. Embarrassing, I know.) I was surprised to find out that instead, Citizens United is a conservative U.S. political organization best known for its role in the 2010 Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. FEC.

That case removed many restrictions on political spending. With the “super-rich donating more than ever before to individual campaigns plus the ‘enormous’ chasm in wealth has given the super-rich the power to steer the economic and political direction of the United States and undermine its democracy.” Interesting, sure… but what’s more interesting to me is that the Citizens United case, according to this source

  • Strengthened First Amendment protection for corporations, 
  • Affirmed that Money = Speech, and
  • Affirmed that Non-Persons have the right to free speech.

The article goes on to state that “if your underpants could talk, they would be protected by free speech.”

Not too long ago, a statement like this would just be silly. But today, with immersive IoT looming, this isn’t too far-fetched. 

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • What IS the “Voice of the Customer” in a world like this?

What if Your Job Was Focused on Play?

james-siegal

James Siegal (picture from his Twitter profile, @jsiegal at http://twitter.com/jsiegal)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to James Siegal, the President of KaBOOM! – a non-profit whose mission is lighthearted, but certainly not frivolous: to bring balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids! James is another new Business Innovation Factory (BIF) storyteller for 2015… and I wanted to find out how I could learn from his experiences to bring a sense of play into the work environment. (For me, that’s at a university, interacting with students on a daily basis.)

Over the past 20 years, KaBOOM! has built thousands of playgrounds, focusing on children growing up in poverty. By enlisting the help of over a million volunteers, James and his organization have mobilized communities using a model that starts with kids designing their dream playgrounds. It’s a form of crowdsourced placemaking.

Now, KaBOOM! is thinking about a vision that’s a little broader: driving social change at the city level. Doing this, they’ve found, requires answering one key question: How can you integrate play into the daily routine for kids and families? If play is a destination, there are “hassle factors” that must be overcome: safety, travel time, good lighting, and restroom facilities, for starters. So, in addition to building playgrounds, KaBOOM! is challenging cities to think about integrating play everywhere — on the sidewalk, at the bus stop, and beyond.

How can this same logic apply to organizations integrating play into their cultures? Although KaBOOM! focuses on kids, he had some more generalizable advice:

  • The desire for play has to be authentic, not forced. “We truly value kids, and we truly value families. Our policies and our culture strive to reflect that.” What does your organization value at its core? Seek to amplify the enjoyment of that.
  • We take our work really seriously,” he said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. You have to leave your ego at the door.” Can your organization engage in more playful collaboration?
  • We drive creativity out of kids as they grow older, he noted. “Kids expect to play everywhere,” and so even ordinary elements like sidewalks can turn into experiences. (This reminded me of how people decorate the Porta-Potties at Burning Man with lights and music… although I wouldn’t necessarily do the same thing to the restrooms at my university, it did make me think about how we might make ordinary places or situations more fun for our students.)

KaBOOM! is such a unique organization that I had to ask James: what’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever observed in your role as President? He says it’s something that hasn’t just happened once… but happens every time KaBOOM! organizes a new playground build. When people from diverse backgrounds come together with a strong shared mission, vision, and purpose, you foster intense community engagement that yields powerful, tangible results — and this is something that so many organizations strive to achieve.

If you haven’t made plans already to hear James and the other storytellers at BIF, there may be a few tickets left — but this event always sells out! Check the BIF registration page and share a memorable experience with the BIF community this year: http://www.businessinnovationfactory.com/summit/register

3 Steps to Creating an Innovative Performance Culture

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Want to leapfrog over your competitors by designing an extremely high-performance culture for your organization? If so, I have the secret formula.

It starts here: in his August post to ASQ’s View From the Q blog, guest blogger James Lawther asks:

What are your DOs and DON’Ts of creating a performance culture?

Citing Deming and Drucker, and noting how so many organizations rely on a “carrots and sticks” approach to performance management, he converges on the following recommendation: “The way to create a high performance culture is to seek out poor performance, embrace it and fix it, not punish it.” I think, though, that this is not a new approach… rather than improving upon poor performance, why don’t we seek out truly amazing performance and then just make more of it? These three steps will help you do it:

  • Eliminate power relationships. Power is poison! It creates and cultivates fear (which, according to Deming, we need to drive out). Unfortunately, our educational system and our economy are firmly steeped in power relationships… so we’re not accustomed to truly cooperative relationships. (In fact, being reliant on the income from our jobs shoehorns us into power relationships before we even begin working.) Holacracy is one approach that some organizations are trying out, but there are many possibilities for shifting from organizational structures that are designed around power and control, versus those that are designed to stimulate interest, creativity, and true collaboration.
  • Create systems to help everyone find (and share) their unique skills, talents, and gifts. This is the key to both engagement and high performance — and this isn’t a one-shot deal. These skills, talents, and gifts are extremely dependent on the organizational context, the external environment, and a person’s current interests… and all of these change over time!
  • Create systems to help people become stewards of their own performance. Accenture and Google have both recently given up performance reviews… and Deming has always warned about them! Unless we’re managing our own performance, and the process and outcomes are meaningful to us individually, we’ll just be dragged down by another power relationship.

Quality professionals are great at designing and setting up systems to achieve performance goals! Now, we have an innovation challenge: adopt the new philosophy, design quality systems that substitute community in place of power and control, and use our sophisticated and capable information systems to give people agency over their own performance.

“Creative teamwork utterly depends on true communication and is thus very seriously hindered by the presence of power relationships. The open-source community, effectively free of such power relationships, is teaching us by contrast how dreadfully much they cost in bugs, in lowered productivity, and in lost opportunities.” — E. S. Raymond in The Cathedral and the Bazaar

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