Deming Unrealized

W. Edwards Deming’s substantive influence upon management thinking and practice is evidenced by the number of organizations that have worked to implement his key points, the abundance of books and papers related to his ideas, and the impact of his ideas on the practice of business today.  While I’m not a fan of the term Quality Guru, it is hard to miss his impact.

Deming’s main concepts can be summarized as:

Visionary Leadership: The ability of management to establish, practice, and lead a long-term vision for the organization, driven by changing customer requirements, as opposed to an internal management control role.
Internal and External Cooperation: The propensity of the organization to engage in non-competitive activities internally among employees and externally with respect to suppliers.
Learning: The organizational capability to recognize and nurture the development of its skills, abilities, and knowledge base.
Process Management: The set of methodological and behavioral practices emphasizing the management of process, or means of actions, rather than results.
Continuous Improvement: The propensity of the organization to pursue incremental and innovative improvements to processes, products, and services.
Employee Involvement: The degree to which employees of an organization feel that the organization continually satisfies their needs.
Customer Satisfaction: The degree to which an organization’s customers continually perceive that their needs are being met by the organization’s products and services.
Summarizing the System of Profound Knowledge

Almost thirty years after the publication of The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education and we are still striving to realize these. They are still as aspirational and, for many organizations, out of reach today as they were in the eighties. We can argue that a lot of the concepts that swirl around Quality 4.0 is just trying out new technologies to see if we meet those objectives.

We can, and should, discuss the particulars of the System of Profound Knowledge. For me, it makes an excellent departure point for what we should be striving for. By looking to the past we can discover…

  • Strengths that define us
  • Weaknesses that frustrate us
  • Causes that energize us
  • Relationships that inspire us.

Subject Matter Experts Role in Knowledge Management – a Competency Approach

A Subject Matter Experts (SME) is a fascinating creature, both those within an organization and those considered a SME outside their organization – for example by a professional society.

A SME is engaged in knowledge management activities, what we want is for those activities to be a explicit and systematic management of the processes of creating, gathering, validating, categorizing, archiving, disseminating, leveraging, and using knowledge – whether for improving the organization and the individuals in it or the broader profession.

The thing is, this is another skill set for most SMEs. There will be SMEs out there who can do this from practice, but we need to be more deliberate in providing the skills. To provide the skills we must understand what we need to teach, which is where a competency model is valuable.

For the purpose of this post I’ll use the same three levels the ASQ Human Development and Leadership technical community uses for their competency framework:

  • Basic: Possesses general, conceptual knowledge or awareness of this concept OR a limited ability to perform this skill. Needs reference materials to complete tasks related to this concept.
  • Intermediate: Able to apply knowledge of this concept in work OR can perform this skill consistently with minimal guidance.
  • Advanced:  Provides expert advice and make sound judgments using knowledge of this concept OR provides consultation and leadership to others using this skill. Can foster greater understanding of this concept among colleagues and stakeholders.
CompetencyLevel to build towards
Knowledge of principles of knowledge management, for example conceptualizing, managing, preserving, and/or maintaining organizational knowledge.Advanced
Knowledge of methods and techniques for capturing and codifying knowledge, for example storytelling, data mining, cognitive mapping, decision trees, and/or knowledge taxonomies.Advanced
Knowledge of methods and techniques for disseminating and/or sharing knowledge across individuals, groups, and organizations.Advanced
Skill in designing and implementing knowledge management strategy.Intermediate
Skill in identifying the quality, authenticity, accuracy, impartiality, and/or relevance of information from various sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.Advanced
Skill in organizing and synthesizing information from multiple sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.Advanced
Skill in curating instructional content, tools, and resources, for example researching, evaluating, selecting, and/or assembling publicly available online courseware.Basic
Skill in identifying the type and amount of information needed to support the development of others in the topic.Advanced
Skill in developing, managing, facilitating, and/or supporting knowledge networks and communities of practiceAdvanced

We need to recognize that not every SME will get to this level, or have the time to consistently apply it. This is why it is important to have knowledge management experts to support, nurture and step in where needed to assist.

Microfeedback for Adjusting Behaviors

Previously I’ve talked about defining the values and behavior associated with quality culture. Once you’ve established these behaviors, a key way to make them happen is through microfeedback, a skill each quality professional, supervisor, and leader in your organization should be trained on.

We are all familiar with the traditional feedback loop: you receive feedback, reflect on it, make a plan, and then take action. This means feedback is given after a series of actions have taken place. Feedback addresses a few key observations for future improvements. In a situation when actions and sequences are quite complicated and interdependent, feedback can fail to provide useful insights to improve performance. Micro-feedback potentially can be leveraged to prevent critical mistakes and mitigate risks, which makes it a great way to build culture and drive performance.

Micro-feedback is a specific and just-in-time dose of information or insights that can reduce gaps between the desired behavioral goals and reality. Think of it as a microscope used to evaluate an individuals comprehension and behavior and prescribe micro-interventions to adjust performance and prevent mistakes.

Microfeedback, provided during the activity observed, is a fundamental aspect of the Gemba walk. These small tweaks can be adapted, and utilized to provide timely insights and easy-to-accomplish learning objectives, to drive deep clarity and stay motivated to modify their performance

Where and when the microfeedback happens is key:

1. Taskbased microfeedback focuses corrective or suggestive insights on the content of a task. To provide higher impact focus micro-feedback on the correct actions rather than incorrect performance. For example “Report this issue as an incident…”

2. Process-based micro-feedback focuses on the learning processes and works best to foster critical thinking in a complex environment. For example, “This issue can be further processed based on the decision tree strategies we talked about earlier.”

3. Self-regulation-based micro-feedback focuses on giving suggestive or directive insights helping individuals to better manage and regulate their own learning. For example, “Pause once you have completed the task and ask yourself a set of questions following the 5W2H formula.”

For microfeedback to be truly successful it needs to be in the context of a training program, where clear behavorial goals has been set. This training program should include a specific track for managers that allows them to provide microfeedback to close the gap between where the learner is and where the learner aims to be. This training will provide specific cues or reinforcement toward a well-understood task and focus on levels of task, process, or self-regulation.

During change management, provide positive micro-feedback on correct, rather than incorrect, performance. This can be very valuable as you think about sustainability of the change.

Leveraged sucessful, but well trained observers and peers, microfeedback will provide incremental and timely adjustments to drive behavior.

Being Small and Speciality Does not Exempt from the GMPs

Specialty Process Labs LLC is a specialty API manufacturer of natural desiccated thyroid. Which is, yes, what you might think it is. And as far I can tell, mostly ships direct to compounding pharmacies and patients. This month they got a warning letter.

The warning letter highlights:

  1. Failure to validate the process
  2. Failure to test to specification
  3. Failure to exercise sufficient controls over computerized systems

All three of these observations make me rather glad my loved-ones take levothyroxine and I am deeply aware of all the difficulties in that drug supply.

Focusing more on the computer system, it is an unsurprising list of bad access controls, change controls not controlled, and failure to validate excel spreadsheets.

The last observation really stood out to me:

Manufacturing master batch records held in electronic form on your company’s shared drive do not have restrictions on user access. Your quality unit personnel stated that there are no restrictions for any personnel with login credentials to access new and obsolete master records. Our investigator observed during the inspection multiple versions of batch records were utilized for API lot production.”

This is truly a failure in document access and record management. And it is one I see a lot of places. The core requirement here is really well stated in the PIC/S Data Integrity Guidance requirement 8.4 “Expectations for the generation, distribution and control of records.” Please read the whole section, but pay close attention to the following:

  • Documents should be stored in a manner which ensures appropriate version control.
  • Master documents should contain distinctive marking so to distinguish the master from a copy, e.g. use of coloured papers or inks so as to prevent inadvertent use.
  • Master documents (in electronic form) should be prevented from unauthorised or inadvertent changes.
  • Document issuance should be controlled by written procedures that include the following controls:
    • details of who issued the copies and when they were issued; clear means of differentiating approved copies of documents, e.g. by use of a secure stamp, or paper colour code not available in the working areas or another appropriate system;
    • ensuring that only the current approved version is available for use;
    • allocating a unique identifier to each blank document issued and recording the issue of each document in a register; – numbering every distributed copy (e.g.: copy 2 of 2) and sequential numbering of issued pages in bound books;
    • where the re-issue of additional copies of the blank template is necessary, a controlled process regarding re-issue should be followed with all distributed copies maintained and a justification and approval for the need of an extra copy recorded, e.g.: “the original template record was damaged”;
    • critical GMP/GDP blank forms (e.g.: worksheets, laboratory notebooks, batch records, control records) should be reconciled following use to ensure the accuracy and completeness of records; and
    • where copies of documents other than records, (e.g. procedures), are printed for reference only, reconciliation may not be required, providing the documents are time-stamped on generation, and their short-term validity marked on the document

There are incredibly clear guidelines for these activities that the agencies have provided. Just need to use them.

WCQI – Member Leader Day

I made it to Anaheim, I must admit I am pretty surprised, as I’ve backed out of a few other events this year for reasons of family and health, and while I did do the ISPE Aseptic Conference, being at a WCQI feels almost surreal, especially since this is a fairly small WCQI compared to pre-pandemic years.

I decided to attend the member leader workshops. I thought long and hard, as I have had a rough and rocky road as a member leader during the pandemic and I’ll need to think about what that looks like going forward. I made the decision to attend because I hope the experience will help drive action on my part. Also, in some transparency, I bought my plane ticket without realizing that I would otherwise have a free day, and Disney is not my jam.

I think member leaders have a difficult role. There is a lot of administrative work, on top of the need/desire to drive programming. The changes in ASQs financial structure has made that even harder, with the need to be more revenue-neutral driving a lot of decisions. So member leaders have to find the time to be organizers, raise funds, and make programming happen. All while keeping the day job. I always tend to think this is one of the reasons so many seem to be consultants, who can leverage the time as a way to build a reputation.

Building a reputation as a subject matter expert is a fairly traditional path for many of us. At the heart of a professional organization is the question “How do you build real expertise instead of shallow?” and I think member leaders are one part of the answer to that question.

The future of professional societies strikes me as an interesting one. What is the mix of in-person and remote events? Do you try to do hybrids (my recommendation is no). How do you maintain focus. I was hoping to hear that today, but in general, I do not think I did.

The elephant in the room is that the last few years has seen a lot of change forced on the ASQ. Change often feels like it was done to the membership instead of driven by the membership. The ASQ has really struggled to put the tools and methodologies it advocates for into action. And then, on top of everything, there was the horrible nature of the pandemic, which has slowed down and fragmented change.

For example, the change in the membership model where everyone can join every technical community (divisions) is one that has not been really absorbed beyond the major hit to the budget (again something that feels imposed upon the society).

Perhaps I am some sort of radical and think the technical communities need to be decomposed and restructured, but I think this is a real core thing for my experience. Sometimes it feels like technical communities are fighting for the same volunteers and what any technical community focuses on has more to do with the volunteer base than any rhyme or reason to the QBok.

There was a lot of obvious frustration on the part of the technical community members about their role in the organization.

My.ASQ still remains a major point of contention. I tend to think this stems from a combination of technical design and structure. The design need to push technical communities had led to some real balkanization within the structure, which makes it difficult to find content. Add to the fact the tool is not very flexible in how it manages the content and we have a painful adoption three years later.

Technical communities really exist to drive content creation. But I sometimes feel they are more content silos. Content curation is a topic from and center in a lot of member leaders’ minds.

I’m always disappointed when quality professionals get together and there is no structure, no facilitation. When we don’t use the tools our profession is based on. An over-reliance on brainstorming and discussion I think really limits the value of these events as it feels like we are swirling around the same topics.

I attended the following three breakout sessions.

Young professionals

Less than 10% of the membership is under 35, with students being around 5%. I think the central question for all professional societies is how do we change this? Let’s be honest, I am not a spring chicken at 51 and I sometimes feel young at ASQ events.

I think it’s telling on the communication issue that the NexGen section on my.ASQ, touted during this talk, has 3 posts, the last in February.

Mentorship programs are a lot of work for the mentors involved (and the mentees). How do we incentive folks to do it? What does real mentorship look like?

The Power of Collaboration

The ASQ and ASQE split (one of those things done to members, not from members) certainly are central to the question of collaboration within the ASQ. At the heart of collaboration is the central question of content creation.

I feel the ASQ is suffering from a lack of a strong model here. The connections between the QBok and the member organizations (technical and geographical) are weak in many places. There is no real definition of activity scope, guidance framework, and knowledge base.

The central question for collaboration in the ASQ is how do we bring more content that is valuable to our members, which means we need to do a better job of identifying what members need.

WhatWhat is this?My thoughts on what this means for the ASQ?
Guidance FrameworkThe guidance framework typically involves multiple worldviews. The same subject matter can be studied from different worldviews, and the theories around a given subject can be interpreted differently from different worldview perspectives.The ASQ as a whole, the principles of the profession.
Knowledge BaseThe data, theories, and methodologies that drive the disciplineThis is the Qbok and the technical communities that serve specific methodologies and approaches (Lean, Statistics, HD&L, QMD, TWEF, Six Signa, etc)
Activity Scope The range of activities in a disciple, including the professional practice.These are the industry segment specific technical communities

There is a real tension right now in that the board of the ASQ and certainly headquarters, wants to see the technical communities generating more content, more IP. But many in the technical communities are feeling tense, and a little abused by the process.

I think a central question is how do we connect folks with questions to subject matter experts who can answer those questions. my.ASQ hasn’t really solved that issue. And something like Connex is really a marketplace to sell consulting services. This leads us to the third breakout session I attended.

Subject Matter Experts of Tomorrow

Building expertise is a particular focus of mine, and I think it is really important for the ASQ to think about what areas we need subject matter experts (SME) in, and how to leverage those SMEs.

I think we really grapple with just what topics are valuable to quality. Frankly, I think we haven’t reached the promise of the core, the foundational knowledge. We need to avoid thinking sexy “whats” are the key to a profession that focuses more on the hows and whys.

Want to call out the facilitators for using a tool to facilitate the session, while still brainstorming it made a difference.

The central question to answer the question about how we can connect knowledge experts with the skills necessary to be an effective SME?

The key is deliberative practice. As an organization, we need to have a deliberative practice pathway that builds skills in speaking, presentation, and develop area expertise. While we cannot directly give most people a job opportunity to do something, we can look for other opportunities to further e

Closing Thoughts

I have many questions, many thoughts, and no good answers. I waited until after the conference to make sure I had a chance to reflect.