Is Quality the 2.0 word for quantity ?

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Before starting anything in any context, knowing what one want to achieve is essential. Some say that the answer is obvisous : sell. The famous “Nothing happens until something is sold” by Thomas Waston is still unconsciously embebbed in many things we do and we have to admit that being the best at anything is useless if the company doesn’t sell anything. But there comes the second pitfall : selling is nothing if the organization is unable to deliver what’s been promised. We often hear that being “sales oriented” is the only way to success. That’s true provided the organization doesn’t put all its eneergy on sales operations and there are production and servirces team that keep the sales people promise.

In an industrial system, when strict norms and the use of machines  garantee a given level of quality (or make people think so), people have to focus on quantity. And, since optimizing the use of resources if a common concern, everything ends in productivity measurement, what is quite logical. Would organizations overlook this, they would the criticized for that.

In a system where production is more about intangibles, productivity is more complex. Everybody agrees that it matters, that the formula is still the same…but measuring its components is everyday more confusing and complex, what makes is a very touchy field.  The purpose is still to deliver what’s asked without waste. The resource factor being very hard to adjust for activities that are defined by their instantaneousness, the whole pressure is put on quantity and “always more” just to be sure nothing is wasted.

That’s when things get complicated.

I won’t elaborate on why “always more” may not be the right answer anymore. Things change quickly and things that’s been thrown away may come back as fast as they left. But, “before”, when a good was produced, we were nearly sure that it matched what was ordered ( the point that what’s been ordered may not match the need is another issue…). So, by doing more, organizations were sure they were able to fulfil as many orders as possible and that was good.

Today we know that the time spent into meetings, the number of files that are processed or the number of email sent are not a good way to measure production. Did the time that’s been spent produced something that the customer can value ? In one word, more than quantity, the challenge is to assess if what’s done can be valued by its recipient. Quality is not embedded in the system anymore, it’s now everyone’s responsibility, at each individual level, from employees to top managers. Plus, it’s more relevant to the concept of internal customer in which we can find the colleagues people have to collaborate with in a non-billable way.

In short, “doing more” does not mean anything in terms of value until the recipient actually values it. Overlooking that would be like celebrating a 50% increase in production while 75% is defective.

So the work on quality and its measurement should be as important for anyone that the one on quality ? And even come before.

A few months ago I made a comparison betweenenterprise 2.0 and quality principles that made me realize both were very complementary, not to say similar. Enterprise 2.0 seems to perfectly match the needs for ongoing improvement in a context of mass customization. You’ll also find on this blog an ongoing series about Deming’s principles in our current context.

I recently wrote that : Enterprise 2.0 is a set of tools and practices aiming at increasing the scope of the human and informational capital that’s accessible and usable in order to execute everyday’s processes and workflows and deliver the expected work in the assigned time limit.

Ross Dawson says it in a very concise way :

Since we admit that “social” and networking logics can address both quantitative and qualitative issues in a better way than old models that are not relevant in many new contexts, this open many doors to position enterprise 2.0 projects and build methodologies that relates to subjects companies already know and are aware of.