Systems Thinking to Manage Quality

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Organization and management consultants keep abreast of quality management systems theories to employ where needed to help their clients operate efficiently and maintain a high standard of quality of service and/or product. The catch is that, although techniques and technology are critical to this effort, they do not in themselves effect the necessary changes. Those changes must be executed by a coordinated management effort. Fragmented management, which reveals itself in silos, excessive specialization, and other isolated operations within a company. contributes to the failure of processes and technology to work their miracles.

The effort needed to work better, oftentimes with less, depends upon organizational learning, opines Daniel Kim, writing for The Systems Thinker. He notes that, regarding quality control, the USA “will never catch up with the Japanese because they have a permanent head start on us. In other words, we can’t expect to win the quality race by simply imitating the Japanese; we must innovate and improve upon Total Quality Control.”

Organization learning, Kim says, “must advance on both the operation and conceptual level.” It “means improving behaviors or ways of doing things.” In order to effect such improvement, management and labor must work as a team, as a whole with aligned objectives and mutual respect for each person’s contribution. In doing so, the team performs as an organized system, gathering data, analyzing challenges, and resolving problems. That system performs best when guided–not confined–by a process that identifies benchmarks for success and assigns tasks and deadlines in logical progression.

In any business, especially one with more than two employees, multiple systems will run simultaneously and multiple people will be involved within more than one system each. “Organizations … are interconnected and have interrelated and interdependent parts that make up the whole,” states CPS HR Consulting in their white paper titled “Using Systems Thinking to Achieve Results in Organizational Development.” In an increasingly complex environment, people find themselves needing to increase their capabilities to understand, communicate, and address that complexity to make effective decisions and organize their work for best performance and results. That can get confusing, which invites managers and bureaucrats to devise processes to manage processes, which gets even more confusing and aggravating.

The trick is to set priorities and establish realistic expectations. Not every project can be the first priority with each person on the team. If a team member is expected to attend to several tasks first thing in the morning because each is “priority one,” then prepare for disappointment. If several team members are working on multiple projects and are expected to attend to their tasks on each one first thing in the morning, prepare for disaster and disgruntled employees. The result won’t be good quality and execution certainly won’t be efficient.

Contrary to bureaucratic instinct, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method usually works best to guide the systems and those who must execute the tasks that comprise those systems. Successful business operation requires the development and execution of processes to ensure consistent results; however, no one ever said that those processes should be overly complicated or stultifying.

The Heggen Group specializes in assisting organizations to manage and align their systems for the management of operations and the performance of tasks through commonsense, feasible processes. Experience matters.