It continues to be a good 2020 for our friends, the risk managers. While they still haven’t earned initial caps status when I refer to them, I am continuing the trend from the last couple of weeks’ blogs and averting my poison-pixel gaze, and towards another one of my favorite targets, albeit one that I don’t pick on too often. I’m talking about another set of friends, the quality managers (who have been granted initial cap status previously, but no more). Why are quality managers deserving of GTIM Nation scrutiny? Well, it all starts with their pronouncements.
Recall my oft-repeated axiom of management, that of Quality, Availability, Affordability: pick any two. Anybody with any significant amount of management under their belts will recognize this as being absolutely true, and really not worth debating, like the assertion that pro wrestling in the United States is far more staged theater than competitive sporting event. Ah, but not our friends, the quality managers. I have yet to meet one that isn’t convinced that the tactics, procedures, and management approaches germane to quality management should absolutely be embraced and executed, the sooner the better, cost is irrelevant, by every organization and project team in existence, and to fail to do so is akin to chargeable management malpractice. This attitude becomes all the more remarkable when one considers how the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) develops standards on various management science topics. When PMI® asked me to participate in the ANSI Standard that they were then developing for Earned Value Management Systems, this participation included a trip to Pennsylvania to attend various workshops to help train authors to properly contribute to an ANSI Standard. Aside from the tutorials involving copyright infringement and general writing style, an actual representative from ANSI hosted a workshop on content. I’ll never forget one of this fellow’s guidance recommendations: we were told to write in such a way that no one who could be considered an “expert” in the field we were writing about could disagree with the verbiage we were providing.
It was at that point that I began to doubt that the eventual product would actually advance the practice of Earned Value Management. Why? Because in order to get the document to a point where no one would disagree with it, it would have to be content-reduced to such an anodyne state that nothing even coming close to insightful would pass the no-expert-disagreement test. It’s as if no one even considered that this race to the lowest common denominator would naturally steer content in the opposite direction of genuine quality. With such parameters in place, creativity (ProjectManagement.com’s theme for February), ironically enough, didn’t have a place in the document-creation cycle. This isn’t the way to generate quality anything. Quite the opposite, it virtually guarantees that any management science-themed standard attaining the ANSI approval imprimatur would be extremely weak sauce, promising to not offend any palate exposed to it. So, I asked myself, if this approach extended to ANSI documents about quality management itself, would they be as insubstantial? Well, I checked it out, and they did not disappoint.
The document I’m referring to is entitled “Quality Management Principles,” by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), located in Geneva, Switzerland.[i] This is, by any professional standard, a poor-quality document. It’s essentially 20 pages of a priori assertions, sentences phrased in the weak passive voice, and sometimes a priori assertions phrased in the weak passive voice. I do not know if ISO operates under the same “no expert should disagree” theme that ANSI appears to follow, but I do know from my days as an advertising agency apprentice what a “posinon” is. Short for “positive, inferential non-statement,” a posinon is a rather irksome aspect of many an advertising campaign. “Coke is it!” is a classic example.[ii] They don’t really assert anything that can be evaluated as True or False – they just sort of sound good, or insightful. Examples of posinons in the text of “Quality Management Principles” include:
- “To manage an organization effectively and efficiently, it is important to involve all people at all levels and to respect them as individuals.”[iii]
- “Enable self-evaluation of performance against personal objectives.”[iv]
- “Manage risks that can affect outputs of the processes and overall outcomes of the quality management system.”[v]
Let’s take a look at these one by one, shall we?
- This is clearly absurd. Does one really need to “engage” the HVAC technicians, and “respect them as individuals,” for, say, an investment brokerage firm on Wall Street to be managed “effectively and efficiently?”
- If my personal objective is to get rich young and retire early, how does “enable(ing) (my) self-evaluation” help the organization advance its quality objectives?
- Okay, I didn’t want to go here, and stated as such at the beginning of the blog; but it really is impossible to “manage risks that can affect outputs,” since almost anything can literally affect outputs, including such unmanageable things as the weather, chances of key operating personnel contracting influenza, and availability of goods or services from vendors trying to deal with the weather and key personnel contracting influenza.
Also, just out of curiosity, can any of these assertions be tested empirically? I mean, if an organization is successful, could it point to having “involve(d) all people at all levels and …respect(ed) them as individuals?” And, if the same organization performed poorly on a project, what evidence could be brought to show that they had failed to do such “involving?”
I could go on (and often do), but you see my point. Such posinon-premised a priori nonsense has no place in any management science codex, much less Project Management. So, my creative suggestion for improving the quality of Project Management would be to reject the quality management guys’ “guidance” until such a time that they return to real, testable premises as the basis for their arguments and conclusions.
Or they could simply claim “quality management is it!”
[i] Retrieved from https://www.iso.org/files/live/sites/isoorg/files/store/en/PUB100080.pdf on 8 February 2020, 21:16 MST.
[ii] Retrieved from https://www.coca-colacompany.com/news/history-of-coca-cola-advertising-slogans on February 10, 2020, 18:59 MST.
[iii] Retrieved from https://www.iso.org/files/live/sites/isoorg/files/store/en/PUB100080.pdf on 8 February 2020, 21:16 MST.
[iv] Ibid, pp. 7
[v] Ibid, pp. 9.