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Pied Quality Deconstructing The Machine - GoLeanSixSigma.comUsed with permission. © ASQ, July 2015, The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 38, No.2.

In this 3-part blog series titled Pied Quality, Kurt Stuke (Quality Manager at Adecco) shakes up the traditional perspective on quality and inspires us to approach improvement in an exciting new way. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Pied Quality.

Pied Quality Part 3 of 3: Deconstructing The Machine

Turning may help the individual practitioner leverage variation but what about the field of Quality itself? Is the orientation of our field optimal for leveraging innovation?

Organization Charts

One bearing on our orientation is gained through a consideration of organization charts. We place a great deal of stock in the ability of a two-dimensional representation to convey meaningfully the lived reality of an organization. For example, we may seek guidance from an organization chart early within a DMAIC project. We believe that the chart can help us understand how the pieces of the organization fit together. Key stakeholders, champions, and potential resistance, we hold, may be identified through the chart.

Projects and many process improvement events (including Kaizens) may refer to organization charts in order to define ownership or expertise. One of the standard exhibits offered within a Quality Management Systems (QMS) audit is the organization chart. The auditor will ask for the chart for many reasons but one reason is to gain insight into an organization’s culture. In general, we tend to conclude that the organizational reality, the corresponding authority and power structures, and the organizational culture are “all in stipple.”

The auditor will ask for the chart for many reasons but one reason is to gain insight into an organization’s culture.

Ghosts In The Machine

The acceptance and use of organization charts is suggestive of one of our field’s philosophical orientations. In order to help us “think about a reality we can never fully know,” we have likened reality to a machine. Organizations are thought of as machines or, in the least, mechanistically. Organization charts are valuable, by extension, as the linear depiction of the chart reflects the linear reality of the organization. Influence, power, and authority are reducible to simple cause-and effects relationships. Like gears in a watch, the larger the gear (the higher you are in the organization), the more power you possess within the machine. Values and company culture are top-down phenomenon as well; they are manufactured by the big cogs and transferred to the smaller cogs.

Like gears in a watch, the larger the gear the higher you are in the organization, the more power you possess within the machine.

Quality, when framed by the reality as machine metaphor, is a matter of keeping the machine in an optimal state. Stability is prized. Variation, when possible, must be eliminated or reduced as it represents a threat to stability. Metaphor aside, there is an undisputed value in stability. In the least, the presence of stability enables the possibility of predictability, the guarantee of measurement, and the promise of control. But what role does innovation have within a metaphor centered on stability? The role of imagination is bounded by what must be when this metaphor in play. Innovation becomes a matter of finding new ways to preserve the status quo. But different roots will bear different fruits.

It must also be asked if the reality as machine root metaphor is adequate. One test of the metaphor may be formulated as a simple question: is our lived reality as neat and as tidy as the metaphor, or as the organization chart, suggests? In some instances, it seems that the metaphor is perfectly adequate but in other instances it seems woefully inadequate.

It is possible there are as many ways of making sense of the world as there are contexts. It is also possible that other root metaphors may afford a different place for variation within the practice of quality, and by so doing, may reshape the purpose of Quality itself.

What if innovation, and not stability, was central to how we collectively made sense of reality? What do you think? Tell us your thoughts below!

Kurt Stuke

Kurt Stuke is a quality manager for AdeccoUSA and a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. He holds a doctorate in leadership as well as master degrees in philosophy and theology.