Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Government/Quality Puzzle: A Response, Part 1

One of the roles of the ASQ Influential Voices is to encourage and expand discourse and Paul’s topic this month is a good to expand on the topic of Quality in Government.  Ironically, I responded to a screed on a LinkedIn topic regarding an organization whose role is to encourage participation in Quality and Improvement in the Federal Government—Federal Improvement Team (FIT).  The chair of that activity, Scott Bonney, is a long time member of ASQ, a Department of Navy and Army Master Black Belt and a long time friend. I will try to get him to guest blog to talk about his journey. 
Back to the screed.  It was a typical emotional response stating that the Federal Government was wasteful and we should just blow it up and start all over again.  I got a little of this emotional response from Paul’s blog and this portion of the “response” will try to bring some objectivity via Senge’s Five Disciplines (Mental Models) and one of Covey’s 7 Habits, “seek to understand before being understood.”
Dr Deming, in the foreword to Mary Walton’s book, Deming Management at Work, stated, “A system must be managed. The bigger the system, the more difficult it is to manage for optimization.”  To me, most Americans, with lack of understanding of the system (Federal Government) will always respond emotionally when wronged by the system and, as Paul states, the system is becoming more and more a part of our lives. So I naturally understand where people come from. 
But what people also don’t understand is that the Department of Defense has been closely involved in quality and the development of Quality’s Body of Knowledge since the society’s inception.  Mary Walton published her book in 1990 and one of the chapters was set aside to talk about the good things happening at the Marine Corps depot at Cherry Point, North Carolina.  The revitalized concept of Training With Industry was a 1940’s Federal Government program.  ANSI-ASQ Z1.4 sampling standard used to be MIL-STD 105. To say that quality and government is an oxymoron (lack of use of quality) is in my minded short sighted.
 In my shipyard there is a strong culture of “little q” going all the way back to Revolutionary War.  Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the oldest government shipyard in the country. The mechanics that work on the warships understand quality because if they fail the sailors that man that ship and its sailors may not come back. The quality assurance department supports that ethos. All the naval shipyards have large quality organizations because they do all aspects of quality, both “little q” and “Big Q.”  The Navy's corporate quality manual is based on ISO-9000.
Paul mentioned the 2010 report regarding the performance of Performance Improvement Officers (PIO). What was not mentioned was that the Department of Defense was on the forefront of this program,  and were one of the first executive branch agencies to deploy a PIO.  At the same time, at least for the Department of Navy, the Navy Secretary was a former executive business leader who deployed performance improvement.  He successfully did that in Navy, in 2007 before the designation of PIOs.
Unfortunately, when we talk about government we usually have a particular area in mind when we make blanket statements about its performance.  There is some validity in the gist of the statements but often comments are so far-fetched that in some cases discourse is hampered. I am glad Paul is requesting examples of good things that have happened and there are many.  What I would also like to explore is how to overcome some basic failings in our culture that ASQ can and should address that are manifested by an impression that government does not respect or “do” quality.
Part 2 coming soon!
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