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Joe Humm


Building Comprehensive Quality Capabilities

The strategy and innovation model

Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - 15:58

While contemplating the teachings of Edwards Deming, who is widely known for being vocal on the topics of quality and statistical analysis, I thought I’d delve into a few areas where he was a little less known, but just as passionate and to a certain extent influential: leadership and innovation.

My choice in tackling this topic was motivated in part by the fact that coupling leadership and innovation together to drive business growth for positive outcomes has seen a bit of a revival during the past few years. As such, I thought it would make sense to dive into some of my own thoughts on these two areas based on my studies of some pretty remarkable scholars.

Let’s start with Deming, who was famous for saying, “Driving your business based on your profit and loss is like driving your car by looking through the rearview mirror.” In other words, in order to grow your business, you must innovate quality products that solve a customer’s problem, and provide an exceptional customer experience. None of which is related to your profit and loss, because it’s nothing more than a great barometer of your past decisions.

Deming was also well known for saying that “quality starts in the boardroom,” and that “quality is everyone’s responsibility.”

One might be tempted to say that these are nice philosophies, quotes, or platitudes that make everyone feel good, but they can’t exist in today’s business world. And to a certain extent, you’d be right if organizations solely used the traditional business model, which focuses on the following:

Traditional model

1. Manager and experts design a system.
2. Manager and experts pull in “resources” (e.g., people, technology, materials) to generate an outcome.
3. Manager and experts define a process for resources to flow through to generate a quality outcome.
4. Manager and experts observe outcome, adjust resources and system, and repeat steps 1–4.

Figure 1: The Traditional Business model. Click here for larger image.

Such a model works very well in certain contexts. For example, in a complex manufacturing environment, ensuring that everyone who is part of the system is in tune with their roles, responsibilities, deliverables, and the desired output is important. Daily “chaos” and “invention” is certainly not a model that would create optimal outputs and optimize margins for an environment that requires repeatable, scalable, and measurable processes. So, if this is the case, how can an organization develop a culture of creativity that not only taps into the knowledge capital and capabilities of all its people, but also gets them engaged in such a way that they care about quality, outcomes, and customer experience?

Therein lies the key challenge for any business manager. Deming used to call them “quality circles,” a techniques that pulled various people from around the business together to discuss how the business could be improved, which in turn would get everyone engaged in the process. When they “broke” the circle, all were on the same page with what could, should, and needed to be done. They also understood their roles in the process, why it was important, and they also had a clear “democratic” say in its execution and relevance.

Much of Deming’s philosophies were ahead of their time. There has been much research done to back this notion of quality circles, which ties into sociological concepts such as appreciative inquiry; design-based thinking; ethnographic interviewing; and observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loops. All of which have been proven concepts that can deliver superior results.

Strategy and innovation model

Figure 2: The Strategy and innovation model. Click here for larger image.

At Sparta Systems, we’ve used these techniques and philosophies to develop our own innovative products, and to generate business cases that help organizations and their employees co-create a vision for their quality system infrastructures, an infrastructure that can be used to pull organizations together to envision six-month, one-year, five-year, and even 20-year plans.

At the core of all of this, whether it’s Deming’s quality circles or integrating the aforementioned modern concepts, is a group of people, their exchange of ideas, their vision for a collective better future, and their willingness to push their common agenda forward. All of which typically shows up very positively in a profit-and-loss statement, particularly under the sort of leadership that allows for  appropriate shifting between the traditional and the strategy and innovation models.

All of these ideas will be explored in the webinar,A Methodology for Building a Comprehensive Quality Capabilities Strategy,” scheduled for Tues., Feb. 2, 2015, at 11 a.m. Pacific and 2 p.m. Eastern. Join host Dirk Dusharme and me to hear these ideas, share your perspectives, and add to the collective conversation.


About The Author

Joe Humm’s picture

Joe Humm

Joe Humm is vice president for global sales operations at Sparta Systems. He has a wealth of experience in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry; in enterprise solution value messaging and sales processes; and in big data, analytics, and software as a service (SaaS). Humm has created a repeatable and scalable software implementation methodology, and he developed Avaya University, an enterprise learning outsourcing solution. Humm holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.