Monday, March 06, 2006

From quality documentation and IT systems to leveraging the usage of information and knowledge for the purpose of managing business performance

Very often in quality approaches, quality professionals have placed stress on documentation (or particularly on quality documentation). Often they have referred to requirements of ISO 9000 standards or quality award criteria. However, the real requirements for documentation come only from business needs, not from standards which are only guiding documents or general models for operations. Instead of quality documentation, one should consider the documentation needed by good business management as a whole. Practices for documentation for managing an organization have developed from passive and separate documents to dynamic and flexible systems for leveraging usage of information and knowledge in collaborative group work. Old solutions (which however are still used in many organizations) include:
  • Loose and fragmented paper documents
  • Copied or printed manuals, procedure documents, record reports, and certificates
  • Fragmented documents in information technology (IT) systems
  • Semi-structured IT systems or intranets with variable share of Office and HTML documents
Organization needs to share information and knowledge among its managers, employees, and people of stakeholders. In order to manage situation, organizations have invested in IT solutions. However the development and use of the IT solutions has been problematic in practice. During the past years many IT applications have made the jobs of people more complex and difficult, rather than simplifying their work. In many cases the data sources, systems, and applications are located throughout the organization. Corporate-wide systems are complex and designed for a specific purpose and function, so the IT department is required to deploy many different and often unrelated applications and modules to fill the information and processing needs of the entire organization. Incredible amount of training time is needed for an employee to learn how to effectively use such a complex suite of applications and all of the processes and steps involved to complete their assigned responsibilities. The corporate intranets were originally designed and implemented to meet the needs for shared information across the organization. Correspondingly Internet and extranet solutions were developed for external purposes. Using the corporate intranet, employees are able to access corporate information using web browser to find forms, open applications to perform their jobs, and review a customer's project status, and for many other activities. The corporate intranet solution provides navigation to different enterprise systems and documents. Corporate intranets are responsible for hosting a multitude of applications and exponentially growing number of documents to be available for employees. As intranet sites grew larger, a new set of problems created related chaotic situations with information access, knowledge-sharing, and security. Key problems of corporate intranets relate to the following issues:
  • Employees need to make more informed and consistent decisions.
  • Employees are asked to complete more activities online.
  • Intranet sites contain thousands of pages and continue to grow.
  • Intranet pages must be continually updated.
  • Employees must access information from multiple sources.
  • Navigation through your organization's intranet becomes difficult.
There are doubts about real benefits of the existing business Internet and extranet solutions. Anyway, all these IT solutions have been used very poorly for the purposes of quality management and quality assurance.

Effective use of modern disruptive information technology gives completely new possibilities especially strengthening applications in the area of tacit knowledge that, in fact, covers the most important and biggest part of business knowledge. These new solutions include:
  • Portals and portlettes
  • Collaborative learning / group work and social networking infratructures
Portal is a modern solution for knowledge-content businesses and seen as a solution to chaotic information situation in organizations. E.g. corporate portal expert Heidi Collins "Portals: Escape from Intranet Hell?" Portal is a single, Web-based interface into the world of heterogeneous and incompatible information and knowledge sources distributed across the telecommunication network. For quality management a portal may offer "A cutting-edge gateway to quality-related business reality for enhancing quality awareness, improved use of expertise, performance management and interested party confidence." This approach may be called as "eQuality Portal". Portal provides automatic services for quality management to the members of an organization as well as to its partners. Portals use Internet technology, but basically a portal is very different from simple Internet or intranet pages of organizations. Portal has general features that are beneficial for all kinds of knowledge-based activities including:
  • A consistent view of the relevant business community
  • Information organizing and searching capabilities
  • Direct access to knowledge and resources
  • Direct links to relative data and knowledge experts
  • Individual identity and personalized access to content
Negative point is that portals are rather expensive and therefore suitable primarily for big organizations. Modern Web-operated social networking applications based on simple and cheap solutions of disruptive innovations have a wide variety of quality management related uses such as personal management, collaborative learning, carrying out cooperative projects, and supporting cooperation in networked business environments. Their main strengths include customizable group systems that allow many groups to work simultaneously on sharing individual knowledge and to create new mutual knowledge. This may be done with appropriate new tools for projects, calendar, tasks, forums, conferencing, information / knowledge links, chat, reviews, voting, files, instant messages, resource profiles, etc. Designed to ease problems solving with group based working, the solutions make it possible to work in groups, inside and outside the organization. This gives advantages to organizations which have a lot of work groups that have to be in contact with each other around the globe. E.g. a virtual network of quality managers of a corporation or a larger business community may be created on this basis.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

“You get what you measure” or not?

Very strong topic today in all management doctrines is measurement. This is also emphasis in many quality management approaches. The old saying “you get what you measure” is used in many contexts all over the world, and it has had influence on reinforcing interests in measurements. E.g. Google finds as much as 17800 hits for this statement. Is this saying right? Do you get what you measure?

Measurements are important in all kinds of activities including managing organizations but their emphasis is very often wrong. You don’t necessarily get what you measure, and what you get through measurements is not necessarily good for organization or people being managed.

This topic is related to the knowledge theme that I considered in my previous blog. Measurements results represent explicit knowledge but business intentions and real business results are of tacit knowledge of business leaders and workers in the organization. No measurements can be objective but they are always affected by the intension and awareness of somebody – even in physics objectivity is impossible. What is being measured, by what kinds of means or methodology, what is obtained through measurements, and how the measurements results are understood – they all depend on somebody’s intention and awareness.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming said (e.g. in "The new economics") that information is not knowledge. Knowledge comes from theory. Without theory, there is no way to use the information that comes to us on the instant. He also emphasized that there is no true value of any characteristic, state, or observation. Therefore he called for creating profound knowledge for leadership. He also warned about people rewarding based on quantitative measurements. This was his well-known deadly disease #3 of leadership. According to his arguments “evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review nourish short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics. It leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some even depressed, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior. It is unfair, as it ascribes to the people in a group differences that may be caused totally by the system that they work in.”

More important than to create scrupulous and even harmful business measurement systems, is to get tacit knowledge of business leaders and workers effectively interact with each other for creating extensive profound knowledge within an organization. After that also measurements based explicit knowledge gives new views for managing an organization to sustainable success development.

The most well-known and recognized general model for management is the P (Plan) - D (Do) - C (Check) - A (Act) model according to Deming and Shewhart. This model is also an appreciated tool of quality management. Traditionally PDCA model has been applied principally in the context of explicit business information. The challenge, however, to business management is to combine explicit and tacit knowledge in making business decisions in businesses. According to the figure, managerial actions based on facts from operations are combined with the tacit knowledge of managers. "Ba" is a Japanese concept expressing a collaboratively living environment promoting change of knowledge and creating managerial profound knowledge or even wisdom.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Quality management system is principally a mental system

Quality management system is a concept that embodies the characteristics of good systematic overall management of an organization. That is e.g. intention of the definition in standard quality vocabulary, ISO 9000. This kind of management approach is strongly based on knowledge and information. However, factually traditional quality documentation, including quality manuals, procedure documents, quality records, and quality system certificates, has very little beneficial role for the real quality management (i.e. quality of management). In fact, they may even cause more harm than advantage. These documents represent explicit knowledge or information while quality management system is primarily and in large measure a mental system representing tacit (or implicit) knowledge and quality awareness within the organization. Researchers say that only one percent or still more less of the organizational knowledge is explicitly documented.

For example, texts of the well-known quality management standards (ISO 9000) and criteria of the quality awards (performance excellence models) represent only a very small part of the essence those documents as implemented in real practices in organizations. Major part of applications of standards or performance excellence models is something related to tacit knowledge. Additionally, in different organizations the tacit part of knowledge may be very different in its extent because different people may have very different understanding of the document texts. That is also reason why there are so many different opinions about those documents. Deep tacit knowledge gives us good bases also for understanding the standards and business excellence models as the very same substance but only seen in different perspectives.

One may consider two more detailed examples characterizing the nature of tacit knowledge in quality management: values (as mentioned e.g. by the performance excellence models) and quality policy (as expressed in the ISO 9000 standards).

Only human beings - never organizations - have values based on their appreciations. One may see those values in actions of people, not in any documents. Very often the concept "value" is not used at all in practice in organizations. Thus values are tacit knowledge issues. Organizations may have documented norms or value management. How one can see those in practice and their effects? Again, we are confronted with tacit matters.

Quality policy means what are the overall intention and direction of an organization related to quality. Again the genuine quality policy can be seen only in the actions of people, not in papers. Quality policy document issued and signed by top management of organization is only a tip of iceberg of the actual policy. It may, however, be a useful managerial tool. In fact, it is not necessary to use concept "quality policy" at all in practical business operations although there really may exist a consistent “quality policy” within an organization.