Naïve quality assurance

This paper is a rant that challenges classical approaches to quality assurance.


See also at

The slide show on EA Metrics in Avancier Methods / Products and Techniques.

The “Human Factors in Hierarchical Organisations” page.

Product quality

Six Sigma (for example) is a systematic methodology for quality assurance

It uses information and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company's operational performance, practices and systems.

It proceeds by identifying and preventing 'defects' in manufacturing and service-related processes.


The aim is to anticipate and exceed expectations of all stakeholders, and accomplish effectiveness.

Three critical elements are:

·       The philosophy: to reduce variation in your business and take customer-focused, data-driven decisions.

·       Measurement: the talk is of looking for 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO) in manufacturing processes,

·       The methodology: five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) a data-driven quality strategy for improving processes.


What is wrong with this approach?

Nothing is wrong when used in the right place at the right time.

Production lines and mass manufacturing are one thing.

Knowledge work and professional service provision is another.


Many businesses do not deliver products whose quality can be assessed on the way to delivery.

How to assess the quality in work in progress by

·       a doctor – before you get better or die?

·       a lawyer – before the case is won or lost?

·       a management consultant – before the business transformation fails (which it probably will)?


One may of course ask customers to complete customer satisfaction surveys.

But it may take months or years before the final outcome of work done is known.

And even then, it may be difficult to measure its success or failure.

See the slide show on EA metrics in Avancier Methods / Products and Techniques.


The result is that service providers have turned to quality management approaches that assess process quality rather than product quality.

But satisfaction with the process counts for nothing if the final result is a failure.

Process quality

For organisations that perform substantial processes to deliver a service or product, there are process quality approaches

Perhaps the most well-known approaches those defined in the ISO 9000 and CMMI standards.

These standards have created a Quality Assessment industry

You can employ people to check you are following processes you claim to be following.

The assessment is often based on checking that documents and reports have been completed using pre-defined templates.


I have nothing against document templates

I recommend people develop templates and use them.

But the quality assurance of rich and complex human activity system is not easily measured

I have seen the quality assessment of a hugely complex specification being reduced to

·       Is it written using the right version of a document template?

·       Does the date in the footer match the date on the front page?


Much of the work we do takes place in a rich and complex human activity system.

People need to apply considerable intelligence and experience to the work at hand.

Be wary of naïve social entity thinking

Don’t assume the structure of the organization’s management hierarchy is the most important thing.

Don’t assume that measuring process quality will lead to product or service quality

Don’t underestimate the extent to which success depends on individual personalities and skills.

And don’t underestimating the effect that chance plays in the success of large projects.



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