Tag Archives: quality progress

There Is No Process Until It Is Observed

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

I realized today that there’s a little bit of a quantum effect in quality management:

There is no process until it is observed.

Here’s what I mean. In the August 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Lynne Hare writes about how simple flow charts can be useful diagnostic tools. Just ask multiple team members to describe or characterize a process they’re familiar with… and see if they come up with the same thing! He says:

“My opening gambit was to ask each of the six team members to separately draw a process flow diagram. How many of you think I got six different flow diagrams? In fact, I got seven: One person wasn’t sure, so she drew two.

Clearly, the flow diagram exercise underscored the fact there had been no common understanding of the process; therefore, there could be no process control, no variation reduction opportunity and no path to improvement.”

I’ve seen this first hand! Most recently, it happened in our Spring 2012 “Quality and Process Improvement in Action” class at JMU. One student team was trying to document the process used by a community agency to link small businesses with resource providers who could help them develop their products, services, and marketing. After interviewing each of three stakeholders, the team ended up with exactly three vastly different process flow diagrams!

They were confused and dismayed. “What can we possibly do now?!?! We’re stuck!”

Fortunately, we (their professors) had seen this sort of thing before. When all of the stakeholders have a different sense of the process, this provides a pretty strong clue that they have never contemplated the steps of the process before, and how those steps are interrelated. More significantly, they have never shared an understanding of the process. Even though they have all been doing work, playing their roles, and serving a purpose, they have not been working together as part of a process – even if it seemed like they were!

Because the process has not yet been consciously observed by the group of participants, there is no process!

And as Lynne Hare points out in his article, without a common understanding of the process there can be NO process control — NO opportunity to reduce variation — and NO way to improve. If you find yourself in this situation, make it a point to get those participants and stakeholders together and consciously observe the process.

Once you do this, you make it real, and end up with a basis for moving forward.

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.

Help Validate the QSDR & Win a $50 Quality Press Gift Certificate!

If you have at least 5 years broad experience in quality, please help us validate the “Quality Systems Development Roadmap” originally published in Quality Progress in 2008 (http://asq.org/quality-progress/2008/09/basic-quality/starting-from-scratch.html). This is part of an expert systems project developed by Doug Jin, a student at James Madison University, under the guidance of Nicole Radziwill, JMU faculty member and ASQ member leader.

The 5-page, 13-question survey will be available until January 15, 2011 or 1500 responses are received, whatever comes first, so contribute now at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/W2LYFYP!