Is the world predictable? Can we manage economic risks by using standards and indicators? Hardly any bank that got into the red in the aftermath of the US real estate crisis, was there without a differentiated quality management system. The book by Dr. Bettina Warzecha shows how quality management can not only reduce the quality of services and products of all kinds. With the help of quality management the way is open to a variety of possibilities to burn organizational knowledge, to waste employee competences, to drive away customers, to notch up financial losses, and to block the ability of management to make decisions in the long run. The author, who also taught this subject at the University of Göttingen, Germany, takes the reader on a journey to the epistemological roots of human thinking and pondering, which are probably not ignored as thoroughly and completely in any other subject area than in quality management.
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Quality management (QM) is the name of one of the most important procedures with which organizations are supposed to be led and managed. In companies, administrations, schools and universities, hospitals and charity organizations – all are looking for possible “standards” that are discussed and approved in working group meetings and committees.
Many of those involved in QM follow the conviction that with its help the quality of products and services can be “continuously improved”. QM seems to be closely related to the approved measures and testing techniques with which high quality goods of all kinds are proven. Who would not be a friend of the improvement of the quality in management?
However, this overlooks the fact that QM does not have much in common with the measurements of product quality – and even less with improvement in a general sense. The word “quality” is supposed to counter possible obstacles, as the fathers of QM affirm generously. As is well known, good bait catches fine fish.
What is quality and what is the subject of quality management (QM)?
The general word “quality”
The “quality” in quality management (QM)
The procedures in quality management (QM)
The myth of “process orientation”
The process problem I: Processes and structures are two sides of the same coin
The process problem II: Process/divisional organization against functional organization – a sham battle
The process problem III: More and more interfaces
The process problem IV: The loss of holism
4.1. “Processing” means differentiating more and more in QM
4.2. The problematic nature of differentiation
4.3. What exactly happens during differentiation " in other words, the fragmentation of the whole in its parts?
4.4. The unavoidable consequences of steadily increasing dissection: Mistakes and manipulation possibilities rise abruptly
4.5. About the deeper causes of error emergence in the processes of differentiation and dissection
The myth of “zero-defect” quality
The cycle of continuous improvement
The zero-defect problem I: The Black Belt as nitpicker
The zero-defect problem II: Trapped in the past
Modern quality management (QM) and its consequences
How QM demotivates employees
1.1. The role of employees in QM
1.2. Unavoidable, general employee problems
1.3. Concentration on the thumbscrews: the central employee problem in QM
1.4. Ridiculing and blackmailing of employees in QM
1.5. The sorcerer’s apprentices: How employee problems in QM produce more and more business problems
How QM leads to the loss of knowledge in a company
2.1. The measurement problem I: Measurement means relativization
2.2. The measurement problem II: Not everything that is countable counts and not everything that counts is countable (Albert Einstein)
2.3. The measurement problem III: The fallacy of quality measurements
2.4. Loss of knowledge through the one-dimensional treatment of complexity
2.5. Loss of knowledge through clinging to false estimations
2.6. Loss of knowledge through the faith in controllability
How QM worsens the quality of products and services
3.1. Declining quality as a result of measurement, process and zero-defect problems
3.2. Declining quality due to measurements
: Care services
3.3. Declining quality due to defective measurements
: Student evaluations
3.4. Declining quality of the products through “continuous improvement” of the processes
: Services in telecommunication companies
3.5. Declining quality due to the exploiting of limits
3.6. Declining quality due to further manipulation in the run-up to measurements
3.7. Declining quality due to fixed zero-defect requirements
: Medical supplies
3.8. Declining quality due to wrong priorities
: The product “risk management”
3.9. Declining quality due to the redefinition of traditional terms
: The product “sustainable investment”
3.10. Declining quality due to certification processes and internal and external audits
3.11. Increasingly declining quality due to benchmarking, ratings, and rankings
: Education and Pisa study
: Rating of the final examination results
: University rankings
How quality management reduces value and profit and causes an explosion in costs
4.1. Quality turns into figure skeletons – harbingers of conceptual and financial losses
4.2. How QM thinks it saves money
4.3. “Analyses” of costs and benefits in QM
4.4. Costs that are ignored in the cost-benefit analyses of QM
4.5. The dreamed of cost savings – and the reality
4.6. Examples of cost issues
: Comparison of domestic and foreign production with the figures “average personnel costs”, “personnel costs per produced unit”, “personnel costs of the sales price”, etc
: Comparison of administrations with the figure “total work time per case”
: Conversion of a research institution in a profit centre company – figure “contribution margin per profit centre”
: Comparison of doctor’s surgeries with the figure “personnel expense ratio”
Comparison of the general understanding in the common sense of quality to the specific interpretation in QM
A small selection of the differentiation steps in a process
A small selection of control and improvement possibilities
Day and night, by M.C. Escher
Direction of processes in functional organization
Direction of processes in process/divisional organization
Direction of processes in matrix organization
The simple elephant
The differentiated quality elephant
The cycle of continuous improvement – improvement and given knowledge are compatible
The cycle of continuous improvement – improvement and given knowledge are incompatible
The cycle of continuous improvement in highly differentiated processes – improvement and given knowledge – are interdependent
Quality generally stands for the good, for what everybody desires, for the unquestionable, for sense and reason. Quality appears like a value by itself, which does not need to be justified further.
Unfortunately, nonetheless, what is often the case with the “good”: not everyone is fascinated by it. For some people what the neighbour regards as quality is a dread. Just take a walk through a new housing area and have a look at a Scandinavian style house that has been built on the basis of 3-litre, energy-saving dwelling, right next to a futuristic designer house with all sorts of luxuries. Both home-owners will be intrigued by the quality they have managed to afford. And still, apart from this similarity, they do not seem to have much in common.
Quality is always both. It is something relative and subjective, which changes with the individual perspective. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that people can well distinguish between good and bad, between right and wrong. Unquestionable, “objective” quality criteria for technical products are, for instance, functionality, durability, environment friendliness, user and restoration friendliness. Food is generally of good quality if it has all necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins, and is not contaminated.
The ambiguity of the word quality can be traced back to a paradox, which will be examined further by taking a closer look at two quality criteria of clothing: fashionable and warming. However, in order to define these two characteristics, we have to bear in mind the basic rules of definition: the word to be defined cannot be part of the explanation. Thus, the quality criteria “fashionable” and “warming” have to be described without using these same words.
What is “fashion”? The definition in German Brockhaus states: “A style of an epoch that changes quickly with changing preferences of a culture, civilization or lifestyle. Fashion is produced on a short-term basis, is not predictable and arbitrary.”1 But what is a “preference”, “culture”, or “civilization”? Moreover, the definition of these words makes their relationship to other words necessary, which again need to be explained. The attempt to define what is “fashionable” thus does not end at all. The assignment of the quality criterion “fashionable” to a piece of clothing depends on numerous criteria (upon which two competing designers could never agree). The description of the criterion “fashionable” leads us to infinity, into a so-called “infinite regress”. It is possible to say something about this criterion, but it is still impossible to capture it with certainty.
The problem of any definition of “quality” is therefore the fact that a single quality criterion can only be defined with its surroundings – namely the whole. The danger of getting lost in this whole (in an infinite regress) is then just as big as the danger of ending up with circular argumentation (in a vicious circle).
Nonetheless, the paradox of the meaning of quality has never been a reason for giving up the search for real quality in times prior to quality management. In relation to traditional discourses in philosophy, it was said that quality is the real good and right. Even though this is not captured or described well by language, quality would be realized in the experience of the senses and the use. Real quality includes values that are independent of culture and time, values that concern all people.
The requirements of “quality” which are generally presupposed without question are not even met in part by QM. Usually there is silence with respect to any concrete definition. In QM insider circles nowadays – if a definition cannot be completely avoided – they refer at best to a definition after which quality is present if the requirements proposed beforehand are met in a production process. According to this interpretation, quality criteria are proposed and demanded by the decision makers in an organization. The management demands the requirements – and if these are met, this is quality. Table 1 contrasts the general understanding (common sense) of quality to the one in QM.
While the general concept of quality is oriented to traditional values, the QM quality concept seems completely devoid of content. The extensive explanations and notes that often accompany this term support the impression that something is defined that in fact remains completely in the dark. The barely existing semantic content of the concise definition of quality does not become clearer with these notes, but rather once again it is relativized and appeased away. At the end we get a ghostly, lifeless emptiness ready at all times to be filled with absurdities and stupidities of any kind.
Quality in common sense
Quality in QM
Quality is the goodness or the value of a product.
Quality is the degree to which the earlier demanded requirements are met
, which can only be perceived with
Value here: profit that is created if the product/service meets requirements with acceptable expenses.
Value is decisively determined by the use.
Value is decisively determined by the profit.
Emphasized is the
(degree of usefulness, subjective value).
Emphasized is the
(market value, objective value).
Values determining the quality (use assignment) are rather independent of time and culture.
Requirements (standards) that produce quality can be determined independent of general value concepts and relatively arbitrarily:
A quality product should, e.g., be functional, durable and easy to operate and maintain.
“The first erroneous assumption is that quality means goodness, or luxury, ... we must define quality as ‘conformance to requirements’ if we are to manage it. If a Cadillac conforms to all the requirements of a Cadillac, then it is a quality car.” (Crosby 1980)
Table 1: Comparison of the general understanding in the common sense of quality to the specific interpretation in QM
While on the one hand in QM genuine quality can be reduced to any arbitrariness, there is also a “value” to be created. And this value can be measured, recounted unconditionally in large and in small amounts. The latest economic crisis is an indicator that such calculations at the expense of customers, employees and society – finally at the expense of businesses – can be done for some time. However, shortened quality logic is not only the trigger of the crisis. The firm anchoring of this logic in almost all areas of society – in quality managed schools and hospitals, in charity organizations and universities – is a good reason to move forward in this manner. In spite of quite obvious problems, questions for genuine quality and generally accepted values in products and services are considered as heresy of incorrigible idealists.
In QM, “quality” has little to do with a general goodness or generally recognized values. The point is rather to make processes and products so that they comply with pre-established objectives and criteria. Here, QM essentially follows the steps of classical corporate planning. However, the difference to conventional planning is the claim to absoluteness in QM. This refers not only to the planning issues (as far as possible everything), the planning time (immediately and at the same time) and the degree of resolution of the planning (highly differentiated), but also to the accuracy (and without error) and steerability of the results (processes should be controllable).
Will these goals of omnipotence ever be accomplished? Historical development shows that their pursuit has always ended tragically. In any organization the dimensions of an exuberant complexity display in their own way. Planning includes the design and order of a myriad of different steps and the coordination of these steps with each other. QM seeks to master complexity by an equally complex planning process: through the meticulous dissection of the organizational action in detectable items, through continuous controlled processes and through the tireless gathering of records. Hence, in QM we are always busy with recounting thoroughly how much time employees need for single tasks, how often customers complain, how many tasks students could solve in comparative tests, etc. Anyone who complains about such calculation procedures is taught by the quality managers that we can only improve later what can be measured before and afterwards.
When everything is finally collected and counted that seems suitable for this purpose, then another planning step is the handling of the investigated processes in new ways. In conventional planning, this step involves mainly the optimization of the given procedures. In QM one strives by far higher in this planning phase: controlled processes and zero-error qualities seem to be possible only due to the given abundance of collected data.
Taking into account the fact that QM is less about technical and rather more about social processes – namely processes of managing – such claims are astonishing. Each organization scientist knows that in social processes not too much can be dominated and often only the non-essential can be measured. Even if all the tangible processes in the form of countless differentiated documents – just like a real golden calf of multiplicity – can be combined to form a remarkable construct, this usually does not contain much truth. The smallest process parts that are there in the tombs of data cemeteries are less about truth but are instead the sad end of a QM division.
Torn contexts of meaning are the result of modern belief that complexity can be controlled by complexity. A real “improvement” through planning is much more than the mere finding of compliance with requirements. The zealous attempt to make improvements visible in measurements is something other than improvement itself. You can thus learn without measuring/testing all the new knowledge. Products can achieve a higher quality level by using better raw materials and by better processing, which is not accessible to the existing measuring instruments. Merely the reduction to the essentials opens countless opportunities for improvement of products and services.
In the pages that follow, various aspects of QM are considered in more detail. It will become clear in what way QM sacrifices quality, knowledge, motivation, ingenuity, material and financial resources and – last but not least – values and morals.
1 Note that the German word Mode “fashion” does not have a similarly broad meaning as the English translation. For our purpose, please ignore the other meanings of the word in English.
In QM, it is a common strategy to equate processes with change, movement, progress and speed, while structures are taken as a standstill and inflexibility. There is no doubt that quality movement orients itself on processes. In a quality management organization, dynamic processes are finally supposed to control the frozen structures. However, a closer look reveals that processes and structures are bound so tightly that their distinction is a very artificial endeavour.
Let us take a look at Image 1, one of the most famous pictures by the artist M.C. Escher. We believe to know at first sight what is in motion in this picture: flying birds. We arrive at this judgement due to earlier experience, with the help of which we categorize and interpret new information. We know what a bird looks like. And we know what it looks like when birds fly. When looking at Image 1, we thus compare the structures of the picture with a structure that has already been saved in our memories.
Let us now have a closer look at the picture. What kind of birds are these? Where are they flying? At what time of day does this flight take place? For the observer it is impossible to answer these questions. Is the picture about white birds flying through the night from left to right? Or are we dealing with black birds moving at daylight from right to left? No matter how long we look at the picture, we will not be able to determine the answers.
There is only one possibility of answering these questions with any certainty: We have to take the picture as in motion. Through motion it can be decided what is moving (white or black birds), how they are moving (from left to right or the other way around), and when this is happening (at night or in daytime). Structures can thus be perceived in movement. Through motion – meaning through processes – the structures, being the distinct and constant units, become apparent.
Image 1: Day and night, by M.C. Escher2
And conversely it is also true that only through unchangeable structures and through distinct units can movement and change (i.e. processes) be perceived. The perception of processes implies the simultaneous existence of constant things, such as structures. Without structure, we would not get an idea of movement or processes in Image 1.3
As has been so well visualized in the picture by Escher (Image 1), structure and process are two sides of the same coin. If in QM the process-oriented view is preferred to the structure-oriented view, then in fact, neither structures nor processes have lost any of their significance. Every process is the outcome of structures and again creates structures of its own in the end.4
If, for instance, a work group is formed as a quality circle with the goal of overhauling the production process completely, then its members often have a large creative leeway. The head of the team will express this in comments like the following: “Imagine you were starting from scratch. Forget the old procedures. In the coming days, you have all creative freedom. Think the unthinkable!” Who does not believe that when everything is set into motion that ultimately the processes dominate the frozen structures?
Nonetheless, every participant of such a circle knows how this new start finally ends in meeting rooms with their walls full of metaplan wallpaper and flip chart sheets. Even if the unthinkable is being thought, the power of the factual and already existing situation, the prevailing former structures will prevent radical changes. And also those changes proposed by such a quality circle will again evolve into tight structures in the process of implementation – that is, into requirements that have to be fulfilled.
The rhetorical emphasis of processes in QM obscures and ignores the sight on the structures that stand behind and before them. This ignorance is truly dangerous for an organization and can ultimately prevent every further progress. This was an extensive subject in the 1980s in Organization Theory, and it is considered here in chapter III.
Companies and administrations can be organized – namely structured – in different ways. The structure of an organization is readable from the so-called “organigram”. All processes, all action flows and events orient themselves towards these structural specifications. A traditional way of organizing is functional organization, sketched in Image 2 in a simplified manner.
The decision-making processes from top to bottom are here determined extensively through the hierarchical facts, while the horizontal decision-making processes, thus from left to right, have to be coordinated between the departments. In QM, this model is assumed to be hopelessly out of date. Solely those companies can clutch to this structure of functional organization that always produce the same products in the same procedure for the same supposed clients. This means those companies that lack real (dynamic!) challenges in their uniformity.
Therefore, functional organization is opposed by process/divisional organization (cf. Image 3). In this system, the authoritative decision-making processes proceed in a functional organization turned around by 90°.
Image 2: Direction of processes in functional organization
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