Balancing Expertise

Quality professionals are often defined by our technical knowledge, and with that can come a genuine and intense love and interest in the work. In the pharmaceutical/med-device work, I work in this is defined by both a knowledge of the science and of the regulations (and that stuff inbetween – regulatory science).

The challenge here is that we start defining ourselves by our role as we progress as representing the highest level of expertise in this technical expertise, which means senior Quality (as in the department) jobs are defined in terms of in service to our function – patient safety and product quality (safety, efficacy, and quality). This can then lead to seeing people as the “means” to that end. This inevitably leads to prioritizing that outcome over people.

Do not get me wrong, results matter, and I am a firm proponent of product quality and patient safety. But this approach is reductionist and does not serve to drive fear out of the organization. How can people be safe if they are considered a means to produce value? We need to shift so that we realize we can only get to quality by focusing on our people.

Quality Profession Needs to Stand for Quality in Public Practices

The Quality profession either stays true to its’ principles and ideals, or it is useless. We either support transparency and driving out fear or we don’t. Then we become the shallow, and dangerous crutch of demagogues and tyrants. One of the reasons Six Sigma has immense problems it still has not successfully grappled stems from how it is centered on the tyranny of Jack Welch.

The ASQ’s Government Division has taken a great step recently by endorsing the adoption of ISO/TS 54001:2019 “Quality management systems — Particular requirements for the application of ISO 9001:2015 for electoral organizations at all levels of government”.

We should be demanding elections built on the foundations of good quality. This should be part of electoral reform requirements at the Federal level. We need to oppose attempts to restrict voting. We need to drive fear out of our electoral system.

The United States is a signatory of international standards of policing. And yet no state follows those standards. Federal law needs to respect our treaty obligations and impose these standards, and we need to hold states and localities accountable.

As a quality professional I spend the day figuring out how to truthfully measure results. Yet an entire party has gleefully adopted lies and disinformation. I strive to democratize leadership, to build a culture of psychological safety. And yet all around us we see demagoguery.

Our workplace cultures are influenced greatly by external factors. We cannot hope to drive lies and fraud out of our systems, to create cultures of safety, to build excellence when all around us is a disregard for those standards. For this reason the quality profession must be political. It must standard for truth, for fair standards applied equitably. For driving out fear.

Jargon and business terms

Does your office have a jargon problem?

The answer is inevitably yes.

In the quality profession we need to be careful to differentiate between jargon, slang, and technical terminology. Avoid the faddish and those terms that require socialization to learn and we’re usually doing okay.

The article from HBR above gives some good advice for striving to communicate as widely as possible. A good thing to think about as we get ready to start a new week.

Now is a good time to be active in a professional organization

Many of us are wondering just how we are going to get through the next few months of self-isolation. I’d like to recommend getting active in a professional organization.

Amazingly enough this can be a good time to strengthen your network, further your career or maybe even build some friendships. Professional organizations can enhance your personal and professional development and provide endless networking opportunities. Look around your community—there are bound to be a plethora of organizations (from small local start-ups to national chapters) for you to join.

A professional association can your professional home. It is the place where people in the same field will come to know you, support you, and nurture your growth and development. Especially now for those of us who are self-isolating, our professional associations can mitigate the potential isolation and loneliness of our work. There’s nothing quite like sharing in the excitement of learning about new understandings and techniques with others who share the challenges and the joys of the profession. There’s nothing quite as supportive as a group of people who have “been there and done that”. There is nothing quite like sharing your own experiences and hard-won lessons.

Like I said above, there are a lot of professional associations out there. I belong to a plethora of industry (PDA, RAPS), subject area (ACMP, PPA) and domain (ASQ). Right now my heart is certainly fully committed to the ASQ and the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum, but you do you and find the organizations that work for you. But if you need help navigating the ASQ, or are looking for opportunities to get involved, let me know.

So what can you be doing right now to leverage a professional organization? Especially right now? I think there are four major areas to look at:

Colleagueship: Associations are the primary way that people do face-time networking with people who share our professional interests. Most organizations are offering a lot of online options to make it possible to network with people all over the world. Get your face out there and build those connections. And when we can all get together again, keep at it.

Education: We’re in a rapidly changing field. It can take years for good research to make it into print. Now is a great time to catch up and then stay up to date and knowledgeable about new trends in the field. Take an online course. Ask questions.

Information: Association journals, bulletins and newsletters, websites and mailing lists are often the first place that new developments in the field are published. Many associations use their media to alert their members to more than research. Articles and news items also inform us about changes in governmental policies, new trends and other issues that impact the field.

Career Development: Engage in education offerings. Now is a good time to work on that certification. Eventually there will be opportunities again to attend conferences and present a poster or workshop, but right now heavily use the forums and other tools to get that experience of sharing your work and develop your credentials. Further, associations often have listings of job opportunities that are only available to members.

Above all, Stay Inspired and Stay Motivated.  Love what you do! It is important to be proactive about things you discover on the journey. Get out there, post, ask questions, answer questions, read and then share what you are reading.

In the routine of remote working you are building, now is a great time to make a habit of blocking off a little time in your calendar to go online and contribute. For fellow ASQ members I hope to see you at my.ASQ.

What is this quality profession all about?

A theme of this year for me has been focusing more and more on the difference between the product integrity focused approach to quality that folks in my profession normally focus in on and a more excellence focused approach. The two are not in opposition, but I can’t help feeling that the product integrity exclusiveness of many pharmaceutical quality professionals is holding us back.

This is especially on my mind coming back from ASQ WCQI and thinking about just how few of my pharma colleagues identify with that organization There are a whole host of reasons (including the fact that many people don’t associate with ANY professional association) but I can’t help but contemplate how do we make the excellence side of quality more relevant to not just pharmaceuticals but to wider questions of just what is quality anyway?

I’ve discussed the need to realize that we have different types of domain knowledges, but just what is this domain we call quality and is it truly its own discipline?

Disciplines can be modeled as a system comprising an “activity scope” that is enabled by a “knowledge base” but conditioned by a “guidance framework”.

From Rousseau, et al “A Typology for the Systems Field”
  • The 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. You can see this in the various flavors of continuous improvement or better yet, the presence of a sustainability push within the society.
  • The knowledge base is the data, theories and methodologies that drive the discipline
  • The activity scope describes the range of activities in a disciple, including the professional practice.

We’re probably truly multi-disciplinarian, in that the we draw from multiple other disciplines, a short list includes: Engineering, Computing, Control Theory, Mathematics, Information Theory, Operations research, system theory, Management sciences, a whole range of social sciences and more than I can think.

What does this mean?

I am more thinking aloud than anything at this point, but I think it’s important to work on developing the QBOK along a guidance framework, knowledge base and activity scope methodology. Then as we develop sub-body of knowledges we drill down from there, either in a very knowledge base way (such as the CMQ/OE) or in an activity scope (like the CPGP). I often feel that the way we develop these are more hit-and-miss and could do with some coherence – the biomedical auditor and hazop auditor are great examples of wanting to meet a very narrow need and thus being very very specific to a small set of the knowledge base.

I guess I’m striving towards applying theory to our practice a little more deliberately.

Some of the technical forums (Human Development and Leadership comes to mind) seem especially designed to pull information from one or two different originating disciplines and adapt it to the knowledge base. I think this process would be added by a coherent understanding of our guidance framework and just what the activity scope we are trying to address as discipline.

In short I am just thinking that a little more coherence, strategy and transparency would aid us as a profession. As I heard in many a conversation last week, we should probably as an organization be better at what we preach.

Sources

  • Bourke, J (2014). On Process Excellence vs. Operational Excellence vs. Business Excellence. BEX Institute.
  • Rousseau, D., Wilby, J., Billingham, J., & Blachfellner, S. (2016). A Typology for the Systems Field. Systema 4(1), 15-47
  • Wageeh, N. A. (2016). The Role of Organizational Agility in Enhancing Organizational Excellence: A Study on Telecommunications Sector in Egypt. International Journal of Business and Management, 11(4), 121