Tag Archives: standards

Make Strategic Alignment Actionable with Baldrige

It can be difficult to focus on strategy when your organization has to comply with standards and regulations. Tracking and auditing can be tedious! If you’re a medical device manufacturer, you may need to maintain ISO 13485 compliance to participate in the supply chain. At the same time, you’ve got to meet all the requirements of 21 CFR 820. You’ve also got to remember other regulations that govern production and postmarket. (To read more about the challenges, check out Wienholt’s 2016 post.) There’s a lot to keep track of!

But strategy is important. Alignment is even more important! And in my opinion, the easiest way to improve alignment and get “Big Q” quality is to use the Baldrige Excellence Framework. It was developed by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, and is administered by NIST.

In Is Good, Good Enough for You? Taking the Next Step After ISO 9001:2015, former Baldrige Program Executive Director Harry Hertz outlines similarities and differences between ISO 9001:2015 and Baldrige. After examining complements, Harry shows how Baldrige helps organizations grow beyond the conformance mindset:

I have not shared all the commonalities of or differences between ISO 9001:2015 and the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Instead, I have tried to show the organizational possibilities of building on conformity assessment to establish a holistic approach for achieving excellence in every dimension of organizational performance today, with a look to the strategic imperatives and opportunities for the future. Baldrige helps an organization take this journey with a focus on process (55% of the scoring rubric) and results (45% of the rubric), recognizing that great processes are only valuable if they yield the complete set of results that lead to organizational sustainability… I encourage organizations that have not gone beyond conformity to take the next step in securing your future.

Read More Here! –>

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.

Is Social Responsibility (SR) Mainstream or on the Fringe?

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

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks about the relevance of social responsibility:

“Is the world growing more responsive to the needs of being socially responsible (SR)?  Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe?  Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe? I think it’s a combination of both. The concept of social responsibility (aka corporate social responsibility) is not new – in fact, it’s been part of the fabric of the continuously improved Baldrige Criteria since the early 2000’s. With the 2010 publication of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, the concept has been formally segmented into 7 “core subjects” which include organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. In addition, there are 7 “core principles” which include accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for law, respect for international norms of behavior, and respect for human rights. Undoubtedly, many organizations embrace these core principles as part of their fundamental ethically-driven value systems.

So people have been doing it, companies have been doing it, but the formalization of social responsibility is what’s new – and still, in many ways, on the fringe.

From the research perspective, there is still much to be explored – we have just set foot on the fringe. I wrote an article (scheduled for the October 2012 issue of the Quality Management Journal) that explored emerging themes in quality management research. One of the things I discovered,  by doing a citation network analysis and exploratory text mining, is that there is much work to be done in exploring how social responsibility can be applied as a quality management practice. Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming article:

…rigorous research into either what to do or how to do it following Ahire et al. (1995) is absent. Ascigil (2010) explored social responsibility in Turkish firms for the QMJ, but no broader examinations are yet available. Because the concept map indicates that QMJ research has effectively integrated strategy development and culture concerns into its examination of quality impacts of business results, hubs within the QMJ may provide an effective starting point (e.g. Grandzol & Gershon 1997, Kujala & Lillrank 2004, Handfield et al. 1998, or Cameron & Sine 1999).

Regarding Paul’s second question, I believe that it is quite common to conflate social responsibility with philanthropy, and that as a community we should seek to really understand the difference – and apply it in our organizations. To accomplish this, we need to ASK WHY we are doing what we do MUCH more aggressively, and make these motivations (and the directions for the flow of our profits!) much more transparent to our customers and stakeholders. Only then, in my opinion, will we make the lofty ideals of social responsibility and ISO 26000 more real in our organizations and communities.

If you’re looking for more information about social responsibility or ISO 26000, the March 2011 issue of ISO Focus+ is a must-read.

Solving the Bird Strike Problem

goosePublic awareness of the danger of bird strikes to aircraft has greatly increased since the January 15 incident in which Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger expertly guided the crippled US Airways Airbus to safety in the Hudson River. On Friday, April 3rd, USA Today published a debate on airline passenger safety due to bird strikes. The newspaper presented the case that even though large bird populations are rising, and thus the risk of catastrophic collisions is also increasing, the federal government is responding by trying to hide the data. In late March, the FAA proposed blocking access to its bird strike database managed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on the basis that public access to the terribly complex records would “stifle reporting”. The opposing view, published by USA Today as excerpts from the FAA’s proposed rules, basically established the position that “voluntary reporting is good enough”.
But according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB, 1999), less than 20% of bird strikes are reported annually. How do we raise the profile of reporting, and encourage pilots and aviation workers to comply?

This question was answered by Dekker & Buurma (2005) in a paper to the International Bird Strike Committee in Athens. After all, the catastrophic failure of aircraft due to bird strikes is an international problem that readily crosses international boundaries and cultures, so it should not be a surprise that this issue has been taken up by aviation analysts worldwide. They recommend that we need to do the following to reduce the risks to human populations from bird strikes to aircraft:

  • We need to establish effective standards for defining what a bird strike is,
  • We need to decouple the reporting procedure from the international governance structures (FAA-like agencies as well as insurance providers), so that pilots and airline employees do not have to fear recrimination for their reports, and
  • We need to promote behaviors that encourage awareness and reporting, such as targeted inspections, clear guidelines, ensuring that the reports actually reach the databases, acceptance of the paperwork required by reporting, relieving time pressure so that there is available opportunity for reporting, and remove the reasons why people are fearful to report.

More details are provided in Dekker & Buurma’s paper at http://www.int-birdstrike.org/Athens_Papers/IBSC27%20WPII-1.pdf:

Quality assurance. Ultimately, bird strikes are the currency with which the effectiveness of preventive measures is settled. This applies to all aspects of the bird strike problem: improved impact resistance of aircraft, wildlife policy of airfields (and their surrounding) and operational procedures of airliners…

For the simple reason that the civil aviation authorities do play a double role (condensation point for information and authority that supervises all other parties) the relations are contaminated and dominated by juridical arguments. This means that there is a tendency for national databases to be biased in such a way that liability is excluded. This in turn means that the existing databases do contribute only in a limited way to the scientific, educational and quality assurance goals. If mandatory reporting is to be successful it has to be organised in a different, non punitive way.

Enhanced reporting “could be realised by unlinking the national bird strike databases from the supervising authority… [and then] the emphasis will change from juridical to scientific and educational.

The solution seems simple – remove the punitive penalties for reporting, and possibly institute incentives for accurate reporting. This could create jobs and open opportunities for researchers to investigate the problems more openly. What do we have to lose?


NTSB (1999). National Transportation Safety Board. Safety Recommendations A-99-86 through –94.

Sociotechnology, Public Policy and the Global Economic Crisis

scalesToday’s Washington Post includes an article on “How We Can Restore Confidence” in our economy. Confidence, after all, is one of the energetic drivers of the economy – without it, spending grinds to a halt, and the delicate equilibrium of economic flow is jeopardized. The author, Charles T. Munger, reflects on the reasons for the meltdown:

Many contributors to our over-the-top boom, which led to the gross bust, are known. They include insufficient controls over morality and prudence in banks and investment banks; undesirable conduct among investment banks; greatly expanded financial leverage, aided by direct or implied use of government credit; and extreme excess, sometimes amounting to fraud, in the promotion of consumer credit. Unsound accounting was widespread.

How did we, as a society, collectively allow these things to happen? Because many people were motivated by the huge profit potentials associated with real estate speculation, new financial instruments, and expanded financial leverage. This motivation towards self-interest, according to sociotechnical researcher Brian Whitworth of Massey University in New Zealand, tends to destabilize society by breaking down institutions and other systems intended to promote social order.In “A Social Environment Model of Socio-Technical Performance” he explains why [with my annotations in brackets]:

“While traditional technology like word processing supports individual competence, socio-technical systems support some sort of community synergy and have defenses against anti-social defection” [that is, acting against the interests of the group in a detrimental way (e.g. violation of human dignity, theft, cheating)]. “The social environment model suggests that people in society recognize both [social good and self-interest], and [tend to]combine them by anchoring one and applying the other. Anchoring social good then applying self-interest explains the highly profitable market trade systems of the last century, where individuals seek profit under social good laws. However contented individuals could anchor individual good, and then seek community benefit [through their positive, pro-social, individual contributions; Whitworth suggests that systems like online troubleshooting boards exemplify this approach because individuals have no incentive other than “good citizenship” to help others]. The latter is proposed to underlie the surprising successes of socio-technical systems.

“Anchoring social good” is an intended outcome of public policy, which seeks to curb acts against society by instituting punishments. “Anchoring individual good” and seeking to apply one’s personal motivations for the greater good is a defining characteristic of successful socio-technical systems (like Amazon and eBay). The latter is aided by effective community policing where people take it upon themselves to enforce the rules of “good citizenship”.

This leads me to ask: what’s the socio-technically inspired public policy equivalent that might help us rectify the global financial crisis? I don’t have any good answers, but I think this research provides an interesting backdrop to analyze the situation against.

Continuous Improvement Begins With Standards

apple-21Software is the executable representation of knowledge. [1] As a result, I find that software development provides a fruitful basis for exploring how problem solving is done by diverse team members in a cooperative (or even combative!) context.

Here is one example. In June 1997, Tom Gilb wrote an article for Crosstalk on “Requirements-Driven Management”. He noted that his purpose was intended to discuss, among other things, “some of the current major problems in systems engineering.” I stumbled upon this article again over the weekend, and it’s still as relevant now as it was a decade ago.

Standards are a prerequisite for systematic continuous improvement; the means to achieve an improvement process, not the ends, according to Glib. Furthermore, he remarks that Deming’s perspective on continuous improvement establishes, in part, that the reason we should adopt standards is to normalize our project to other projects . Once we do that, we’ve opened the doors to be able to use industry best practices, derived from other projects who also applied the standards – so that we can “clearly see the effect of any changes experimentally introduced into a process and not have to worry too much about other potential factors that impact the results.”

Learning, learning, learning. It’s all about continuous improvement through continuous learning, and in presenting this, Gilb is essentially promoting the same philosophy as Alistair Cockburn’s Cooperative Game Manifesto for Software Development. Both see the learning process as the key to successful software development. (So why do we not focus on this aspect of development more?) Glib addresses the issue of learning directly:

“The time has come to recognize that projects are so large, so complex, so unpredictable, and so state-of-the-art new that we have no practical alternative except to maximize our learning process during the project and as early as possible in the project life.

In this article, Gilb also presents “Evo” – short for “Evolutionary Project Management” – which has been used at IBM since 1970. It’s an implementation of Deming’s PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) approach, and the author likens it to Humphrey’s Personal Software Process (PSP).


[1] This definition is credited to Eric Sessoms, who I consider a true artisan of software development. See some of his work at libraryh3lp.com. He likes the elegance of simplicity in his software.

What are Standards?

Standards represent “accepted ways of doing things” and can be defined as sets or features of characteristics that describe products, processes, services or concepts. (National Research Council, 2005) Alternatively, standards can be described as “rules, regulations, and frameworks intended to enable individuals, groups, organizations, countries and nations to achieve goals.” (Spivak & Brenner, 2001) According to these authors, there are five types of standards: 1) physical or measurement standards; 2) standards for symbols, meanings and language; 3) standards for products and processes, including test validation, quality assurance, and operating procedures; 4) standards for systems (including management systems and regulatory systems); and 5) standards for health, safety, the environment and for ensuring other consumer interests. Standards may be compulsory (as in the case of legal and regulatory standards, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley requirements for financial reporting) or voluntarily adopted (as in the case of product interface standards such as USB for computer peripherals).

Because standards are a mechanism used by social groups to promote norms, and to facilitate the creation of artifacts that advance human capabilities, standards are technologies. (Recall that Random House defines technology as “The sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilizations.”)

What can standards do for you and your projects? The importance of standards can be explained in terms of the eight goals that standards can be used to achieve (Blind, 2004):

  • Compatibility – facilitating cooperation between people, processes, systems, or technologies
  • Communication – facilitates information flow between people, processes, systems or technologies
  • Conformance – provides a common basis to establish competency or define excellence
  • Continuous Improvement – helps organizations leverage the “lessons learned” that are imbued within the standards
  • Establish Order – promotes consistency, reliability and effective communications
  • Prescribe Behavior – enables organizations to reduce variability between people and systems
  • Promote Social Order – establishes a basis for legal and ethical behavior
  • Establish Shared Meaning – provides a context for communication, compatibility and conformance

A standard is “working” if it accomplishes one or more of these goals (depending, of course, on how relevant and pertinent the goals are to the project that is being pursued). For example, it’s probably not very important for two computer devices to “promote social order” if they need to communicate. But it’s definitely important for people.


Blind, K. (2003). The economics of standards. Kluwer Academic Press.
National Research Council. (1995). Standards, conformity assessment and trade. National Academy Press.
Spivak, L. & Brenner, F.C. (2001). Standardization essentials: principles and practice. Marcel Dekker.