Tag Archives: ISO 9000

How the Baldrige Process Can Enrich Any Management System

Another wave of reviewing applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) is complete, and I am exhausted — and completely fulfilled and enriched!

That’s the way this process works. As a National Examiner, you will be frustrated, you may cry, and you may think your team of examiners will never come to consensus on the right words to say to the applicant! But because there is a structured process and a discipline, it always happens, and everyone learns.

I’ve been working with the Baldrige Excellence Framework (BEF) for almost 20 years. In the beginning, I used it as a template. Need to develop a Workforce Management Plan that’s solid, and integrates well with leadership, governance, and operations? There’s a framework for that (Criterion 5). Need to beef up your strategic planning process so you do the right thing and get it done right? There’s a framework for that (Criterion 2).

Need to develop Standard Work in any area of your organization, and don’t know where to start (or, want to make sure you covered all the bases)? There’s a framework for that.

Every year, 300 National Examiners are competitively selected from industry experts and senior leaders who care about performance and improvement, and want to share their expertise with others. The stakes are high… after all, this is the only award of its kind sponsored by the highest levels of government!

Once you become a National Examiner (my first year was 2009), you get to look at the Criteria Questions through a completely different lens. You start to see the rich layers of its structure. You begin to appreciate that this guidebook was carefully and iteratively crafted over three decades, drawing from the experiences of executives and senior leaders across a wide swath of industries, faced with both common and unique challenges.

The benefits to companies that are assessed for the award are clear and actionable, but helping others helps examiners, too. Yes, we put in a lot of volunteer hours on evenings and weekends (56 total, for me, this year) — but I got to go deep with one more organization. I got to see how they think of themselves, how they designed their organization to meet their strategic goals, how they act on that design. Our team of examiners got to discuss the strengths we noticed individually, the gaps that concerned us, and we worked together to come to consensus on the most useful and actionable recommendations for the applicant so they can advance to the next stage of quality maturity.

One of the things I learned this year was how well Baldrige complements other frameworks like ISO 9001 and lean. You may have a solid process in place for managing operations, leading continuous improvement events, and sustaining the improvements. You may have a robust strategic planning process, with clear connections between overall objectives and individual actions.

What Baldrige can add to this, even if you’re already a high performance organization, is:

  • tighten the gaps
  • call out places where standard work should be defined
  • identify new breakthrough opportunities for improvement
  • help everyone in your workforce see and understand the connections between people, processes, and technologies

The whitespace — those connections and seams — are where the greatest opportunities for improvement and innovation are hiding. The Criteria Questions in the Baldrige Excellence Framework (BEF) can help you illuminate them.

What is Innovation? Towards a Universal Definition

In 2013 the ASQ Innovation Think Tank defined innovation as "Quality for Tomorrow"

In 2013 the ASQ Innovation Think Tank defined innovation as “Quality for Tomorrow”

What is innovation? It’s become such an overused management buzzword over the past couple decades that, when I told my very esteemed executive woman friend that I was planning to write a book on innovation, she groaned. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Everybody does that.”

Just today, Fast Company published an article asserting that we really need a commonly accepted definition for innovation to “weed out the truly innovative from the rest”. Its author, Stephen Uban, goes on to explain that the solution to this dilemma is the (apparently new) Innovation Standard that has been developed by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA).

Is innovation a new product line? Does it represent an improved process for efficiency? Is it a great idea?

The answer, simply, is yes.

Stephen Uban in Fast Company, 8/1/2014

I went to the PDMA web site and found that you can purchase this standard, along with all the models necessary to build your “innovation management system”, for $749. I’m not a fan of high-priced “standards” in general, especially when they don’t have an established track record, but many of the elements are extremely well captured by traditional quality management systems (e.g. reducing waste, understanding current capabilities, improving against benchmarks).

We’ve been through this before.

I agree with Uban’s quote, above, but I also strongly believe that we can all get on the same page regarding what innovation is all about without obfuscating things further.

In 2008, I proposed that we should just extend the ISO 9000 (3.1.5) definition of quality to define innovation as the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy future stated and implied needs.”

This is perfectly aligned with the 2013 report from the ASQ Innovation Think Tank that establishes innovation as “quality for tomorrow”, and also with Max McKeown‘s definition of innovation as “a new idea made useful (by whatever means)” — which includes the creative practice of combining and recombining ideas and information to yield new value.

Quality of Art & Design in the Digital Age

doug-mirror(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In a December article in Wired, John Maeda talks about how the art community’s sensibilities were recently challenged by a decision made by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to include videogames in a new category of art there. Although the examples were acquired on the basis that they demonstrate good interaction design, some art critics claim that videogames are not art – that they do not, as per Jonathon Jones, represent an “act of personal imagination.”

Whereas design is focused on solutions, art (according to Maeda) is focused more on creating questions – “the deep probing of purpose and meaning that sometimes takes us backward and sideways to reveal which way ‘forward’ actually is.So should artifacts like video games be accepted into an art collection? The answer, according to Maeda, comes down to how the institution defines quality:

When I was invited to a MoMA Board meeting a couple of years ago to field questions about the future of art with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, we were asked about how MoMA should make acquisitions in the digital age. Schmidt answered, Graduate-style, with just one word: “quality.”

And that answer has stuck with me even today, because he was absolutely right – quality trumps all, whatever the medium and tools are: paints or pixels, canvas or console.

The problem is that what “quality” represents in the digital age hasn’t been identified much further than heuristic-metrics like company IPOs and the market share of well-designed technology products. It’s even more difficult to describe quality when it comes to something as non-quantitative – and almost entirely qualitative – as art and design.

Last month, I shared what I’ve discovered over the past 7 years, as I’ve aimed to answer the question What is Quality? By applying the ISO 9000/Mitra perspective that I described, the MoMA dilemma (and others like it) may be easier to resolve. My approach centers around the ISO 9000 definition that quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bears upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.”

These stated and implied needs translate into quality attributes.

For art, the object of art is the entity. If that art is functional or interactive, then there are stated needs that relate to its ability to function within a given context or towards a given purpose. These may relate to quality attributes like conformance, reliability, or durability. (If the piece is not functional or interactive, then there are quite possibly no stated needs to meet). However, there will always be implied needs which relate to the meaning and purpose of the art; does the object help achieve the goals of art in general, or of the individual interacting with or observing the art?

Similarly, since art is in many ways a personal experience, does the object help the individual by inspiring, connecting, engaging, encouraging, illuminating, clarifying, catalyzing, transforming, encouraging, or revealing aspects of the self and/or the environment? Does the object stimulate an emotional experience? (Any of these aspects might indicate that the object of art is meeting quality attributes that are related to implied needs.)

A subset of Mitra’s model is relevant to examining the quality of art and design. Note that to assess the quality of an example of art, such as a videogame, we might focus more on the objective quality and the consequences of quality, because the antecedents will be more useful if we are attempting to improve quality over time:

Antecedents of Quality (conditions that must be in place to quality to be achieved): contextual factors (e.g. whether the environment/culture – or enough people within it – are ready to recognize the piece as art), quality improvement process (what mechanisms are in place to continually improve the ability of the artist/team to deliver high quality work, e.g. practice or evaluating other artwork), and capabilities (whether the artist has the skill to create and share the art).

Objective/Product Quality: This asks “how well does the entity meet the stated and implied needs?” Does it meet all of them, or just some of them, and to what degree or extent?

Consequences of Quality: This is the combined effect of the quality perception process (whether the piece meets each individual’s standards for value) and the broader impacts that the piece has on individuals and/or society in general. Quality perception is, necessarily, an individual process – whereas broader impacts involves factors such as how many people did this piece impact, and to what extent.

So, are videogames art? First, we have to check to make sure they meet their stated needs – and since they were produced and successfully distributed by companies to people who played and enjoyed those games, we can assume that the stated needs were met. So, what are the implied needs of videogames as art? This depends, like many things, on how you select and define those stated needs. Ultimately, you want to take into account the emotional and transformative impact of the piece on one person, and then across individual and demographic designations to see the impact of the piece within and between social groups.

IMHO, I was personally inspired to learn more about computer programming before I turned 10 by playing lots and lots of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. I was an empowered fighter in a world of power pellets, ghosts, strawberries, and bananas, and so were lots of my friends. We connected with one another, and with the era in history that is the 1980’s, as we do today whenever someone reflects on those games or the arcades in which they were played. Because the games inspired in me an emotional experience, that today is tinged with nostalgia, I’d say that videogames are just as much art as the beautiful cars of the 1950’s that catalyzed the same feelings in people of that generation.

Kudos to MoMA for casting their net wider.

What do you all think? How can we effectively assess the quality of art and design?

Quality Soup: Too Many Quality Improvement Acronyms

Note: This post is NOT about soup.

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.

What is a Quality System?

A “Quality System” is 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.

It’s a living, breathing system that grows as you grow, and learns as you learn. In many organizations, the quality management system (QMS) is a collection of documents and software systems that can provide a “state of the union” for you at any time.

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

What is a Quality System?

According to the ASQ glossary online, a quality management system (QMS, alternatively referred to as simply a “quality system”) is a mechanism for managing and continuously improving core processes to “achieve maximum customer satisfaction at the lowest overall cost to the organization”. By synthesizing philosophies, standards, methodologies and tools, the QMS helps an organization achieve quality-related goals.

A quality system is a specific implementation of quality philosophies/concepts, standards, methodologies and tools, for the purpose of achieving quality-related goals. When implemented, a quality system will be unique to an organization even though its structure will be similar to quality systems in other organizations.

Components of a Quality System

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) prescribes a minimum standard for the elements of a QMS through ISO 9001:2000. (This part did not change in ISO 9001:2015). To build an ISO 9001 compliant QMS, you must: [1]

  • Identify and map processes (administrative, organizational, operational)
  • Determine how processes are interrelated (that is, identify and map cross-cutting activities that span organizational boundaries)
  • Plan for operations and control of these processes, recognizing that the conditions and specifications for control of each of the processes may be different from one another,
  • Plan for dynamically allocating resources to accommodate the demands of the operations and control of these processes,
  • Apply systems thinking and describe the environment that your interdependent processes are embedded within,
  • Identify mechanisms to measure, monitor, analyze and continuously improve the processes in the context of the organization and its environment
  • Establish an Action Plan for proactively deploying the QMS through the organization, and
  • Ensure that Records are kept that track compliance to the QMS and changes that are made to the QMS itself.

Where Do I Start?

The July 2003 issue of Quality Progress [2] included all of the following under the banner of “quality systems”:

  • ISO 9001
  • Ford Motor Co.’s quality operating system
  • Lean
  • Six Sigma
  • Lean and Six Sigma combined
  • systems thinking
  • complexity theory
  • the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria, and
  • combinations of methods and unique approaches.

But the full article didn’t answer the question of “Where do I start?”

So in 2008, some collaborators and I proposed a general approach to determine what quality systems should be used, if any, what methods to apply to which processes, and how to select appropriate quality tools.

[2019 Note: There are a lot of people asking for more guidance on how to start a quality system from scratch, when (and if) to buy software for various parts of it, how to assess ROI, and how to phase deployment for optimal success. I’ll address that this year… stay tuned.]


[1] Cianfrani, Tsiakals, & West (2001). ISO 9001: 2000 Implementation Guide. Milwaukee, WI: Quality Press. AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is an AWESOME BOOK!!! Totally explains all the aspects of ISO 9001:2000 that a manager might need to know to understand how it all fits together, and it's much lighter than my laptop. Caveat: In 2019, I now prefer Hoyle's ISO 9001:2015 Handbook.

[2] "Multiple Choice: What's the Best Quality System?" Quality Progress, July 2003, pp. 25-45.

[3] Radziwill, N. M., Olson, D., Vollmar, A., Lippert, T., Mattis, T., Van Dewark, K. and J.W. Sinn. (2008). Starting from Scratch. Quality Progress, September, p. 40-47.