Each year, the second Thursday of November day is set aside to reflect on the way quality management can contribute to our work and our lives. Led by the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI) in the United Kingdom, World Quality Day provides a forum to reflect on how we implement more effective processes and systems that positively impact KPIs and business results — and celebrate outcomes and new insights.
This year’s theme is “Quality: A Question of Trust”.
We usually think of quality as an operations function. The quality system (whether we have quality management software implemented or not) helps us keep track of the health and effectiveness of our manufacturing, production, or service processes. Often, we do this to obtain ISO 9001:2015 certification, or achieve outcomes that are essential to how the public perceives us, like reducing scrap, rework, and customer complaints.
But the quality system encompasses all the ways we organize our business — ensuring that people, processes, software, and machines are aligned to meet strategic and operational goals. For example, QMS validation (which is a critical for quality management in the pharmaceutical industry), helps ensure that production equipment is continuously qualified to meet performance standards, and trust is not broken. Intelex partner Glemser Technologies explains in more detail in The Definitive Guide to Validating Your QMS in the Cloud. This extends to managing supplier relationships — building trust to cultivate rich partnerships in the business ecosystem out of agreements to work together.
This also extends to building and cultivating trust-based relationships with our colleagues, partners, and customers…
Reducing variation is a theme in quality management. It’s also traditionally been a theme in education: students are required to adhere to standards for competency and pass exams to demonstrate those competencies: then we let them out. But the factory model of education is outdated, because the problems we are confronted with today are far too complex to be satisfied by uniform proficiency in the same basic skill sets. That’s why honoring and leveraging variation is, in my opinion, where the greatest strength can be derived in educational environments right now.
But you might say… hold on! If I go to school to get a degree in civil engineering so I can build bridges, a measure of the quality of my education is that I actually can build those bridges. I’d say no, you’re not going to be able to build bridges until you work alongside other people who already know how to build bridges, and you let yourself be infused by that tacit knowledge as well. The purpose of acquiring explicit knowledge through schooling is to be able to have the productive, effective conversations with experts that are essential for successful, hands-on problem solving in the real world. Education and credentialing are two different things.
“It is time for administrators in education to stop making the same mistakes that managers in industry were making before they discovered the meaning of quality… The current educational system is designed to ignore variation, and indeed to amplify the negative effects of variation, so that a significant number of students cannot possibly succeed in the system.”
Dew goes on to express that variation in our inputs is one of the things we seek to minimize and/or control in quality management. However, we can’t (and wouldn’t really WANT to) do this in education! People come into programs with all sorts of different educational levels, backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and histories. In fact, we kind of LIKE variation in our inputs… we have programs and initiatives to make sure we get some!
It’s called DIVERSITY — and it helps us solve problems using a wealth of knowledge (both explicit and tacit) and a tapestry of insight!
At the same time, we want to make sure that students are prepared for their intended career paths. As a result, we seek to control variation in our outputs or learning outcomes. Students should achieve and demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in their coursework, and we often give them grades to serve as an indicator of that proficiency. But are these outputs really meaningful? It is my belief that the effectiveness of an education can only be assessed years later, after the student has had the opportunity to learn and grow into greater maturity, and apply their new skills and knowledge to meaningful pursuits. We need to provide students with the opportunity to leverage the variation that they bring, individually, to the learning environment… and then help them preferentially focus on developing their talents and passions. But that approach is completely anathema to reducing variation in our outputs in a school environment.
A high quality education is like adopting a new lifestyle with healthier habits… only the habits are not physical, but intellectual and critical. Our new habits of mind help us integrate new information while effectively sorting through misinformation and disinformation, and approach puzzles with a greater resourcefulness so our ability to contribute to solutions is strengthened.
John Dew acknowledges that the current educational model is fundamentally flawed, but the clear solutions are out of reach: “we can’t afford to provide individual instruction to every student [or make the batches smaller]… we are, therefore, locked into the batch process for education.” It’s not cost effective or profitable. We can’t do it.
So for now, we’re consigned to small, incremental “improvements” to honor, rather than condemn, variation. I’ll share how I try to do that tomorrow, as I describe Ingredient #3.
How many times a day do you type in your password? Is it a good password? Is it a password that’s helping you focus the attention of your unconscious on the stuff you want to attract into your business or your life?
A password is essentially a mantra – a “word or sound repeated to aid concentration” – according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Typically, it’s just a word or string of characters repeated so that we can access the computing resources we need. People often pick passwords or pass phrases that are already memorable – your dog’s name, your kid’s birthday, a secret inside joke – but since the password is already technically a mantra, I think it can be much better used to create something memorable for your future, or to take advantage of an upcoming opportunity! And if you’re required to change your password so frequently at work (like me, every 90 days) this technique helps you remember your password more easily too.
ISO 9000 p. 3.1.5 (formerly ISO 8402:1994) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” In industry, we usually think of a product or a process as the entity, and then we work on improving the product’s quality or improving the effectiveness or efficiency of the process. So why don’t we turn it inside out and think of ourselves as the entity?
That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish by proposing the notion of quality consciousness, which asks the question: “What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon your ability to satisfy the stated and implied needs of yourself, your communities, and the organizations where you contribute your talent?”
The three aspects of quality consciousness are AWARENESS of what quality means in a particular context, ALIGNMENT of you and your talents with the problem to be solved and the environment in which the problem and its solution are embedded, and the ability to focus your ATTENTION on the problem or situation that needs to be improved.
Choosing a password-as-mantra can help you focus your unconscious mind on the things you want to achieve in the near term. Why? Because after a while, you don’t even think about entering your password… it’s just part of you… and that’s when your unconscious is actively working with it.
This semester, I’m sitting in on a Positive Psychology course offered by the JMU Department of Psychology. A lot of friends and colleagues have asked me why I’m taking a class in psychology when my research and teaching interests are, in contrast, related to quality and process improvement. But in my opinion, there’s no way you can be ultimately quality-minded, optimally productive, or blissfully innovative unless your psyche is relaxed, engaged, stimulated, and happy – and that’s what positive psychology is all about.
My favorite definition of quality originally comes from ISO 8402:1994 – “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” As quality professionals, we tend to focus on four types of entities: products, processes, organizations and teams. Although there have been some efforts to focus on the individual as an entity, in particular through the efforts of ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership (HDL) division, it hasn’t really caught on that the totality of characteristics of YOU will bear upon your ability to help create other entities that satisfy the stated and implied needs of a variety of stakeholders!
Your health and well being is a critical component of the chain, if not THE most important part! Think about you at your professional and emotional best, and imagine yourself on a team with other people who are working at the same level. Then, envision creating organizations where a spirit of quality will flourish. It’s a pretty powerful, innovative, inspired picture!
But then — think about how drastically the picture changes when you come to work distracted, emotionally drained, or unmotivated – in addition to just feeling down, you’ll drain the members of your workgroup or anyone else you interact with because of your own struggle to get through the day.
A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless.
… the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role… they can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people’s lives can be most worth living.
The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).
At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.
This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions – making normal people stronger and more productive, and making high human potential actual.
At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.
People and experiences are embedded in a social context. Thus, a positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into effect.