In every Quality Management Systems (QMS), either implicit or explicit, the Continuous Improvement process is included. The PDCA cycle contained in ISO 9001 and other QMS, is itself a continuous improvement process. Nevertheless, within the QMS environment even the PDCA proved to be not powerful enough to drive continuous improvement with the same effectiveness with which it achieved compliance with customers’ expectations. Therefore, organizations looked for a way to reinforces their continuous improvement process, sometimes by adding Operational Excellence within the Quality Assurance or another existing area. In other cases, by creating a new organizational structure but the strategic decision of achieving compliance in the smartest possible way, couldn’t be fulfilled neither with the same standard or methodology, nor with the same people. In most of the cases, organizations not only create a new structure but also look for consulting support and even outsource the complete process. Why is do difficult to strive for performance and consistency at the same time?
In Search of “Perfection”
Lean drives the continuous improvement process within an organization through the searching of perfection. There are many ways through which an organization can search perfection, but which is certain for all of them, it is that neither will ever achieve perfection itself. So why search for something that can’t be achieve? Because with an unattainable goal, the focus turns into the process itself. To strive for perfection might not grant perfection itself but will ensure “better” processes that with enough engagement can be “best” practices. This “gold” standards of doing things will be valid only for an organization with a given culture, located in a place and at a certain time. “Perfection” can’t be neither generalized nor be attained on permanent basis. What is the “better” process or even the “best” practice today might not be such a Way of Working (WOW) tomorrow. The whole point is to ensure a permanent strive for improvement in a not only continuous and but also creative way since there is no “Perfection” standard, at least so far. Nevertheless, organizations set “objectives” to outline the path towards perfection in both short and long term. At first glance, objectives can be a motivational source and even a way to set a clear vision of the future state. But they might not have the intended effect if instead of unleashing organization’s creative potential, they reinforce the “execution” approach, which is already predominant in the “mechanical” organization paradigm, and therefore the current Way of Working won’t be challenged in fact.
To Ensure to “Meeting” Expectations
Either through ISO or other standards, within a much or less regulated environment, organizations need to meet customer’s expectations. The first aim of ISO was in fact to set the bottom line for meeting “expectations” whatever they might be but instead the compliance with the QMS and regulations were turned into “objectives” just like the performance ones. In this way, the QMS and regulations left behind their function of being the “minimum” requirements and become goals defining the future state in the same way that organization’s performance goals. Since in this case, there are standards and regulations, there isn’t too much room for creativity, organizations adopt a more focus approach to work in compliance. Sometimes compliance with QMS and regulations includes not only the use of legal terminology but also the bureaucracy risk. To ensure compliance, organizations will use both inspections and audits, just like in legal systems with the same risks of losing effectiveness. Even though final quality controls have evolved into not only process quality assurance but also in product and process quality design through advanced quality planning, the accountability for process quality remains in many cases outside of the process itself in quality areas.
Driving Performance and Consistency on Daily Basis
Neurosciences have shown two very distinctive ways in which we use our brains. “Lateral” thinking is the way in which our brain becomes more creative, for example we apply this kind of thinking during brainstorming sessions. In contrast, “Vertical” thinking happens when we use our brain in a more focus way to perform for example a root cause analysis. We can’t apply at the same time “lateral” and “vertical” thinking, therefore the art to promote both lines of thinking will depend on both leadership and organizational culture. Usually vertical thinking is predominant in most organizations, as a side effect of the “mechanical” paradigm. Therefore, the QMS instead of being the bottom line, which would be the case with a more creative kind of thinking, have become the roof for performance. Many organizations also search for perfection through vertical thinking to meet performance objectives just as the do with compliance ones. On the other extreme we have “start-ups” leaving on creative environments used to lateral thinking who sometimes see vertical thinking almost as a threatened to their creativity. Always taking into consideration not only the organizational context but also its culture, an agile leadership will ensure the team is creative to find the best performance solution and consistent to apply it on daily basis through huddles or other sort of staff meeting to shorter management cycles.
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