Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quality that drives folks crazy

The other day I was part of a meeting reviewing a document intended to standardize Quality Standards.  The point was that was being put forward was that all Quality standards should use the same words and use them to mean the same thing.  That way regardless which quality standard you use you will immediately understand the document and be able to implement the requirement.  That makes sense.

But as the document continued, the devil in the details started to appear. 

Is the word “document” a verb or a noun, or can it be both?  Is “documented” an acceptable adjective?  The same applies to the word “record”.  And what about the words “goals”, “objectives”, “aim”, and “target”; are they the same of different? Is the term “goals and objectives” meaningful or redundant. 

The terms “continuous” and “continual” are raised as well.  Is the correct term “continuous improvement” or “continual improvement”?  Apparently the word “continuous” means “ongoing without interruption”, while “continual” means “ongoing but at regular intervals”.  Both of these terms need to be differentiated from “continued” because that term means “ongoing but after having stopped”.  And should we refer to “continuous education” or “continual education” or “continuing education”?  Apparently the term “continuing” can mean one or the other.   So perhaps the correct term for improvement is “continuing improvement”.  And where might “continuity” fit in?

In my own technical committee, we have struggled with a truly pointless convention.  When a “sample” is being collected from a patient (or is that a customer or a client) then we can that this is an action (procedure) in the “pre-examination phase”.  And if someone wants to refer to this as collecting a “specimen” as part of the pre-analytic phase” then they are wrong.    This is truly the stuff that some Qualitologists and Standardization people love, but which really drives most people crazy.
This is the stuff that gives quality a bad name as being deeply involved in minutiae rather on issues that are really important to organizations.  And I agree with that too. 

There are lots of drawbacks with this sort of discussion.  First and foremost, there must be hundreds of words that would need to be examined and discussed, and thousands of people who would be affected (should we call them “stakeholders” or “interested parties” or “affected parties”).  It would take years to work through with the likelihood of some sense of “consensus” or “agreement” or “general agreement” being very limited.  And even if we could come to some “common understanding” in English, would the subtleties translate into French or Spanish or Mandarin or Russian?  And third, it drives the "big-picture" advocates crazy, and even more importantly away from trying to improve Quality.

My solution to all this is to reduce the number of jargon words in what we try to convey.  And further to the point, reduce the number of words period.  Pictures are good.  More importantly, we should quit worrying about the trivial issues. 

Quality is about big principles of making sure people understand what they are supposed to do, thinking about a project before jumping in, checking what went right and learning from what went wrong.  Whether you used a red pen, or a blue pen, or white-out is a side issue. 

As this standards year soon comes full circle (World Standards Day is October 14th) we should resolve that next year our goal (objective) for Quality should be to keep it simple and effective.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Michael. Selecting meaningful words is a necessary evil if we wish to write something that everyone can understand, but it is easy to go overboard. In France there are several senior government committees to "police" the language and ensure foreign (i.e. English) words don't creep in. Their recommendations are frequently ignored by the French public who use whatever words they prefer.