Tag Archives: learning

Value Propositions for Quality 4.0

In previous articles, we introduced Quality 4.0, the pursuit of performance excellence as an integral part of an organization’s digital transformation. It’s one aspect of Industry 4.0 transformation towards intelligent automation: smart, hyperconnected(*) agents deployed in environments where humans and machines cooperate and leverage data to achieve shared goals.

Automation is a spectrum: an operator can specify a process that a computer or intelligent agent executes, the computer can make decisions for an operator to approve or adjust, or the computer can make and execute all decisions. Similarly, machine intelligence is a spectrum: an algorithm can provide advice, take action with approvals or adjustments, or take action on its own. We have to decide what value is generated when we introduce various degrees of intelligence and automation in our organizations.

How can Quality 4.0 help your organization? How can you improve the performance of your people, projects, products, and entire organizations by implementing technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, and blockchain?

A value proposition is a statement that explains what benefits a product or activity will deliver. Quality 4.0 initiatives have these kinds of value propositions:

  1. Augment (or improve upon) human intelligence
  2. Increase the speed and quality of decision-making
  3. Improve transparency, traceability, and auditability
  4. Anticipate changes, reveal biases, and adapt to new circumstances and knowledge
  5. Evolve relationships and organizational boundaries to reveal opportunities for continuous improvement and new business models
  6. Learn how to learn; cultivate self-awareness and other-awareness as a skill

Quality 4.0 initiatives add intelligence to monitoring and managing operations – for example, predictive maintenance can help you anticipate equipment failures and proactively reduce downtime. They can help you assess supply chain risk on an ongoing basis, or help you decide whether to take corrective action. They can also improve help you improve cybersecurity: documenting and benchmarking processes can provide a basis for detecting anomalies, and understanding expected performance can help you detect potential attacks.


(*) Hyperconnected = (nearly) always on, (nearly) always accessible.

Quality in Education Part 2: There is Power in Variation

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

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

[This is the second part in a three-part series that starts with Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed]

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.

The issue has been discussed already within the quality community, at least a little bit. Vol. 2 Issue 1 of ASQ’s Quality Approaches in Higher Education journal starts out with a guest commentary by John Dew, a senior administrator from Troy University in Alabama:

“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.

Innovation, Lakota Style

doug-feb1(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

Right now, I’m reading Archie Fire Lame Deer‘s personal history in Gift of Power. I lived in Rapid City for a short time in the late 1990’s, and I’m particularly attracted to the Lakota culture, and the Black Hills and Badlands that are so integral to it. Archie, who died in 2001, became a Lakota spiritual leader after a wild and checkered early life as a hellraiser and Hollywood stuntman. He says:

When a young man learning to be a pejuta wichasa [one type of medicine man] asks my advice, I tell him “Be humble. Accept failure. This is part of being a medicine man. Be aware of the negative and positive in everything. Don’t trust in your own little power, but try to unite many powers into one. And have patience. When you pick one herb among a clump of its own kind, don’t be hasty. Feel. Listen. Then pick the herb that responds to you and gives you a good feeling. If you don’t have the sixth sense to communicate with that one herb, stop right there. Stop trying to be a healer. Become a car salesman or a lawyer.”

To me, this reads like an ancient guidebook for being an innovator:

  • Be humble. Accept failure. You don’t know all the answers. You don’t need to.
  • Be aware of the negative and positive in everything. There is no black and white… your job is to recognize as many of the shades of the spectrum in between… without judgment. And to help others see those possibilities too.
  • Don’t trust in your own power. True innovation, that connects ideas with a context of use where value can be realized, is the product of an interconnected network of people, their thoughts, and their ideas – and the network might even stretch back into history.
  • Try to unite many powers into one. Combine and recombine ideas. Bring the powers together in new ways.
  • Have patience. Everyone knows how great ideas and solutions emerge when you’re in the shower, or relaxing, or doing something other than pushing forward really hard.
  • Feel. Listen. To things people say, and things they don’t say. Data is important, but so is intuition. (Don’t believe me? Just check out some of the academic research on intuition in management, or Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.)
  • Pick the herb that responds to you and gives you a good feeling. Today’s modern herbs are thoughts, tools, technologies, concepts, and disciplines. Find the tools that you resonate with… the ones that make sense to you, the ones that give you a good feeling. Spend time learning what appeals to you.
  • If you don’t have the sixth sense to communicate with a modern herb, stop right there. Do something else. Moving on is not a failure, but a powerful recognition that you’re on a path to connect with the tools and technologies and ideas that YOU are most powerfully connected with… that you can do something truly magical with.

The more I read this book, the more I can see that the path of the medicine man is one of lifelong learning, one that’s centered around learning how to add value to one’s community — and helping others connect with themselves so that they can accomplish the same.

Fast Quality via Dynamic Capabilities

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

In his November post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski comments on the rapid pace of change and asks to:

“…share with us some of the ways the practice of quality is changing to meet the needs of faster, faster, faster. “

Fortunately, there has been a ton of research on this over the past decade or so, on the topics of dynamic capabilities and environmental dynamism. The notion of environmental dynamism just means things are changing pretty fast out there, and we have to respond to it. So I’ll focus on what dynamic capabilities are, one way to get them, and some resources and references where you can find out more.

Dynamic capabilities are defined as the skills, attitudes, and capacities within an organization to adapt existing operations to new conditions in the (competitive) environment.  An organization that has developed its dynamic capabilities is agile and adaptive, and it knows how to quickly and effectively adjust its operations to meet the needs of the market. For an overview, you might want to read Eisenhardt & Martin’s (2000) article in the Strategic Management Journal, titled “Dynamic capabilities: what are they?” or check out Teece’s new (2011) book, “Dynamic Capabilities”.

The cornerstone for developing dynamic capabilities seems to be a culture of intentional learning with a dual focus on gaining tacit knowledge (learning by doing) as well as explicit knowledge (learning by reading, conceptualizing, categorizing information) – just like what was recommended by Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995). Using system dynamics modeling, however, Romme et al. (2010) figured out that “there is no linear relationship between tacit knowledge, deliberate learning and dynamic capability” so really understanding how to leverage your learning capabilities to become more agile needs a few more years of research, it seems.

What this means is – don’t just rush out and start a giant initiative involving deliberate learning in your organization. Although this research uncovered a relationship between a learning orientation and dynamic capabilities, the investigators also found that positive outcomes are very sensitive to the level of environmental dynamism and the initial conditions of the organization (ie. its culture).

However, we have several models for quality systems that honor deliberate learning as a core value, such as the Baldrige Criteria! To keep up with the changing pace of the external environment, the best course of action is to commit to a proven system for continuous improvement There are also resources like Senge’s classic (1995) book The Fifth Discipline that illuminate the characteristics of a learning organization. While researchers are exploring these links to help us understand how to meet the pace of change more effectively, tried and true systems for continuous improvement with learning as a key component can provide a useful foundation for dealing with these challenges.

Software Reuse Antipatterns

coderIn 2000, Scott Ambler wrote  an excellent article on the organizational aspects of software reuse. He talked specifically about patterns and antipatterns:

“A pattern is a common approach to solving a problem that is proven to
work in practice. Conversely, an antipattern is a common approach to solving a problem that leaves us worse off than when we started.”

Long (2001) built on Ambler’s work and made it more fun. (This is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and entertaining articles about software reuse in existence. You can get the full text from the ACM if you have an account there.) Long calls antipatterns obvious, but wrong, solutions to recurring problems and characterizes four organizational approaches that don’t support successful software reuse. See if your organization is one of these:

  • Abracadabra Model: A high-level manager is frustrated with a perceived lack of reuse and declares that “reuse will happen”. What Happens: Lots of talk, no action, silo development continues, managers start to panic, then the organization “de-evolves” into the next model.
  • High Noon Model: A high-level manager is REALLY frustrated with a perceived lack of reuse and declares that “reuse will happen”. What Happens: Finger pointing, as everybody has a lot of reasons (many of them very good, and very accurate) about why reuse can’t possibly work. The de-evolution continues.
  • Cost Cutter Model: A high-level manager is REALLY, REALLY frustrated with a perceived lack of reuse and declares that “reuse must happen to cut costs”. What Happens: Software people start to “force” reuse, immediate costs go up, upper management gets nervous, and more finger pointing happens (as everybody finds even more reasons now – including higher cost – for why reuse can’t possibly work.)
  • Used Car Fiasco Model: Software group says “OK, we’ll try reuse.” One group has software it thinks about group can use, so it is made available as-is and with no support. What Happens: There are lots of bugs to fix. Reusers have to fix them because the originators don’t have the time or resources to solve the new group’s problems. The reusers get frustrated and then write the code themselves.

Note that in all models, the expectations and behavior of the managers doesn’t change. In the fourth model, the behavior of the software developers changes. At no point do the expectations of the software developers change – their mission is to do what they need to do to get the software written.

Tomorrow I’ll write about why I think software reuse is difficult. The antipatterns above provide a good foundation for that discussion.


Ambler, S. (2000). Reuse Patterns and Antipatterns. Dr. Dobbs Journal, February 1, 2000.
Long, J. (2001). Software Reuse Antipatterns. ACM SIGSOFT, Software Engineering Notes, 26(3), 68-76.