Thursday, September 18, 2014

Even SDOs have customers.

It has been a while since I have felt the need to vent in this space, but the events of today lead to exasperation and venting here in public/private seems like a good way of dealing with it.  

I will tell you that I have spent nearly my whole career in and around standards development, some at the very local level, some provincial, and some national, and a lot international.  In the beginning, I think my major motivating driver was ego, that I was in a space where I could “impose” my ideas on a larger professional group.  After a short while this wears off, and the driver gets replaced by being motivated to have your profession steered by sound principles that come in large part from understanding customer needs.  By listening to what other laboratorians tell me, I am told that I am competent at translating those needs into requirements that work well in standards at all levels.  

For example, when working with laboratories in developing countries it was pretty obvious that the best way to introduce quality management principles was to break a sophisticated document like ISO 15189 (medical laboratories – requirements for quality and competence) into bite size pieces and introduce them on chunk at a time, along with mentorship assistance until they have worked through a series of implementation and gap analyses until they are ready for international accreditation. 

That is now a very common and popular model for success.

I have had my successes and I have had my failures, perhaps the largest being my inability to get the measurement of uncertainty removed as a requirement from biology based laboratories.  From what I can see, after 20 years of experimenting with uncertainty, few laboratories get it, and the consequence is that they throw some numbers into a formula and get a number which they then ignore, as quite rightly they should.  

I will say that from the laboratorians that I talk with, and increasingly the number of accreditation bodies that have to work with the standard, I see that the tide is slowly turning, and in time I will be vindicated.  Sooner or later, the customer is always right.

But today was not about MU, it was about a clearly and shining arrogance displayed when some standards developers are intent on pointing out how smart they are and how dumb are the people that are going to be required to use the documents they are creating.  

One person actually relayed a story about how he went to talk with a significant user and asked why he was concerned about a new standard version being created and was told that the new version was not going to work well with his peers.  He felt the new version deviated substantially from the existing version.  

As he recounted his story his response was along the lines of “this fellow is a nice guy and I consider him a friend, but in this case he was dead wrong and his opinion was garbage.”  Good way of listening to the document users.  

Then he went on to say that the document that was being created was complicated by including definitions of terms when they could be equally found in another document.  The solution was simple.  Take them out of the new document and require users to buy two documents, one with the standard, and another with the definitions.  “When you buy a book, if you don’t understand the words then you go out a buy a dictionary.”  Good attitude towards addressing customer needs.  

What was interesting that this group also thought it was be a good idea to go through a document validation process before making a decision on next steps.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, document validation means going to a group of users and asking them if they understand the document and discover if their understanding is consistent and compatible with what the crafters intend.  It actually is a good idea, but can be a lengthy and complex process, and requires an open mind and the ability to accept criticism.  It is the Check step of PDCA.  

With what I heard today I think we have all the makings of a new PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, and Argue that the customer is a jerk and just doesn’t appreciate how much smarter we are than they.

Deming would be livid.

So am I.

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