Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Doing it Right or Doing it Wrong?

Doing it Right

Recently I was reading the recent (August 2013) edition of ASQ’s Quality Progress and came across an opinion article by Bob Kennedy who jumped into the fray between W. Edwards Deming and Philip Crosby and said that in his opinion that Crosby’s first essential, Do it Right the First Time (DIRFT) was wrong on every level.  The foundation of his argument was that Deming proscribed against slogans and therefore Crosby and DIRFT was wrong.

 I have to say that Crosby was NOT wrong, and that DIRFT was NOT wrong.  I am not sure that Deming’s concerns about sloganism was meant to include concepts like DIRFT, but if they were, then in all due respect, in this circumstance, I would have to side with Crosby.  Even a pioneering genius like Deming could not always be correct all the time. 
When is comes to concepts like DIRFT, Crosby was spot on, and Deming should have acknowledged it.

First off, let me put some context around my opinion.  I understand Deming’s point of view.  There are some slogans that I think are unhelpful.  “There is no such thing as an Accident” .  “Accidents poison to our organization”.  “Time is money – time loss kills growth and progress”.  These are not slogans, they are less than idle threats that lead people to hide slips and simple mistakes.  There is little place for threats in the workplace.
But DIRFT is not a threat, and indeed makes sense.  Given the alternative I would hope that a neurosurgeon makes triplely sure he does it right the first time.  And by the same token, the same goes for the airplane pilot.  Even the woodworker says, “Measure twice and cut once”. 

DIRFT is in fact a reiteration of a concept that Deming was so proud to adopt, even if he did not state it, “PLAN DO CHECK ACT”.  (For the origins of PDCA see Deming did not create PDCA.  [ http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2012/06/deming-did-not-create-pdca.html ] .

What DIRFT was intended to mean was before you do something, make sure that you have organized your thoughts before you put a plan into action.  It is the essential corollary to PDCA.  Think before you do

In the medical laboratory we have tons of examples where things don’t work that way.  Tests get implemented without proper validation.  Tests are done and reported before checking the Quality Control results.  Reports are sent to the wrong person before confirming who was truly was the intended receiver.  These happen all the time and in every instance they result in external failures with potential false reports, misleading information, loss of confidentiality and huge cost of poor quality.  And most of them were pointless and preventable. 

A few seconds or at most minutes of thought and planning could prevent most of these problems, and save the laboratory from embarrassment or potential liability, and save the patients from inconvenience or harm.

Perhaps in Deming’s time, folks were very aware and sensitive to threats in the form of slogans.  Labor protections, either under the umbrella union protection or workplace legislation either did not exist, or were in their infancy.

That is not the world in which we live today.  Today we live with 40 character headlines and 140 character tweets, and thirty second commercials.  We live in a slogan society, and we by-and-large put them into a more current context.  We may see slogans as jargon and trite or sophomoric, but we don’t see them as threats.

Personally I see DIRFT as rather aspirational.  I fatigue of avoidable errors, or repeated mistakes.  I embrace the notion that doing things RIGHT is better than doing things WRONG, and believe that many errors result from automaton-like behaviour.  I absolutely support “Plan before you do; Prevent the avoidable error”  and even more importantly, “Learn from mistakes; support continual improvement”.

So to Bob Kennedy I think with respect it is OK to relax on the absolute adherence to Deming’s word.  It is time to embrace context and circumstance, and to acknowledge that it is also possible to acknowledge that both Deming and Crosby were giant contributors to our current concepts of Quality. 

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