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AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO QUALITY SYSTEMS

by J. N. Abbott, Quality Manager 

Starting with a general principle, we could argue that everything can be interpreted or explained in various ways, which is up to either our creative intention or our imagination. And although we are capable of approaching a subject in many ways, finally we restrict ourselves, even censor ourselves and conclude to the approach that we consider compliant to our experiences (some would call it “logical”).

Specifically, a Quality System, according to the general view, is a system basically bureaucratic that collects information aiming to offer some improvements to the function of a business. This is an interesting approach, abstract enough and satisfactorily comprehensive by many if not the majority. However, this approach does not help understand, the way a Quality System works, the way it affects the processes and, mainly, how it affects the way those involved, understand the business itself, the function of the wider environment, the society and finally how it defines each one’s position in the wider group (regardless if this is the business or the society).

The idea is that we have to do with a machine that can also be characterized as an expert system, a system, that is, that is capable of learning. Indeed, the Quality System is a machine that is fed with information, it works it out, produces conclusions (it creates new information), delivers information. Let us see how this machine is structured: it is made of various "knots" that receive and transmit information (the knots operate both as transmitters and receivers) between each other. They are programmed, some, to collect information and forward it, others to receive and process information and others to make decisions. Of course there are knots that are capable of operating more than one tasks at a time: receive, process and/or create (ie decisions). All the knots are programmed to transmit information. And finally, other knots are charged with storing the information. The information is stored in a database, usually material (paper) but can also be electromagnetic.

Basically a Quality System automates or even industrializes the business (here we focus on businesses but the quality systems are applicable to practically every operational unit, individuals included). Actually, this fact is the reason for human reactions to a quality system, something that could well be considered a healthy effect: it is the subconscious or unconscious sense that the human role gets limited and the machine replaces us. This sense brings us in a defensive stance. And our reaction is quite reasonable on the grounds that moral issues arise, like, for example, the human freedom. Our consciousness would not allow us to be slaves of a machine. But, on the other hand, we find ourselves in front of a big hypocrisy after we have become slaves of the machines since long ago. Let’s think of our dependency from our mobiles and our laptops, the dependency from our cars. Let’s even think of the general industrialization of all the aspects of our life: food, news, medicine, leisure. And if we talk about the operation of a business, why do we accept the industrialized sales through internet marketing and reject the industrialization of the other processes? The possible reason is that an everyday routine that we concluded to, according to the way it suits us, an everyday routine that repeats incessantly with all its pros and cons, constantly confirms our empirical authority (that is basically a vanity). While at the same time, a machine, programmed as it is, functions automatically, depriving us from the satisfaction of self-confirmation. To put it plainly, the rejection of a Quality System from the side of its potential participants is due to the fact that 99% of these people operate empirically (which most of the times is translated “logically”) and not objectively, mechanically or automatically.

But is it true that a machine like a Quality System, provides freedom to the humans? The machine is programmed by humans to complete their tasks faster and more effectively, that would otherwise cost human time and would have doubtful results. This means that the machine offers big opportunities of independence and free time for humans. Obviously, a possible reply could be that the extended use of the machine has brought – and will further- bring in the future- poverty, unemployment, distress… Indeed, but this proves that the problem of human freedom is a problem of trustworthiness and morality of humans themselves and not of the machine. If a machine is programmed to serve us and not compete us there would be no such problems. The programmer, the human knots and all the participants to a Quality System will always have the possibility to say “No” to the limitless perspectives of the machine. The machine can make us more qualitative, more sustainable, more green, more objective. We can tune the machine so that we maintain a balance between our beloved empiricism and the hated objectivity: 50-50, 60-50 or the rates we like. Everything depends on us.

We have already mentioned the concept “information”, let us lay a couple of comments about it. “Information” is a general concept used in everyday communication, that more or less denotes some new feature, a new description about something, someone or a situation, or some new understanding to any of the three mentioned above (a thing, a person or a situation). We must take into account that the formula of information, according to the Information theory, Cybernetics and Semiotics is precisely defined and so does its value. For example, showing a chair and stating that “this is a chair” has practically zero information value because everybody knows that this object is a chair. But if, in turn, we show an orb-like, anti-gravity speaker and state that "this is a levitating speaker", this statement has big information value on the grounds that this is a very rare - and eccentric- accessory! Likewise, in a business or corporation and its Quality System, the registration of a possible risk as “fire” has a smaller information value than the risk “state of war in the wider geographical area”. The reason is that the examples we present first have bigger possibility to happen and people are more accustomed to them.

Furthermore, let’ s make a quick mention to the bi-pole of empiricism and objectivism. These are two different approaches to reality. Empiricism, is based on our experience that has the tendency to generalize in a inductive way: what is valid for a customer is possibly valid for the complete clientele (most often something negative!). On the contrary, the objective approach, starts from a total (and objective at the same time as it is based in numbers and statistics) and produces conclusions in a productive and safer manner. When we operate individually (even as members of a group ie an enterprise), we are most likely to operate in an empirical way. On the contrary, when we operate as a group (ie in the context of a Quality System) we are more likely to operate objectively. Which of the two is best? The answer is probably, “none”! Both ways are useful according to the situation. When we handle everyday matters and have contacts with people (clients, suppliers) maybe it is better to operate empirically while when we deal with organization or strategical issues it may be better to be objective.

So, what could we achieve with a Quality System? What we really achieve is to create new information, new ideas, corrective actions. This is quite important because we basically intervene drastically to our operation processes and fight against repetition, introversion and consequently a fatal stagnation. This way, we deploy escape routes from predicaments, new perspectives, fresh images, we improve competitiveness, the staff’s morale, and finally the endurance of the business. Let’s not forget the advice by the U.S. Navy SEALs: “if you get trapped, do not remain there. You will consume your ammunition and supplies while the enemy will get closer and closer and the end is 100% sure. Try to escape at any cost. This way, you have many possibilities of survival”. In conclusion, this machine, the Quality System, derives from us alone, like an alter ego, it allows us to tune it, it offers the necessary freedom, and it helps us not only to simply survive but to aim for success.

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