Saturday, April 23, 2011

Quality Tools and Education

In his April 5, 2011 blog post Quality Tools and Education, ASQ Executive Director Paul Borawski asks "How do we raise the voice of quality to capture the imagination of education leaders and support them in getting started? How can we encourage educators to join us in raising the global voice of quality?"

As I reflect on my 30 years of manufacturing quality, my training as an ISO-9001 Lead Auditor and more recently as a Baldrige Examiner, I keep coming back to Dr. W. Edward Deming's System of Profound Knowledge, ISO’s eight Quality Management principles, and the statistical thinking philosophy.

As a review:
Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge consists of four parts:
  • Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services; 
  •  Knowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements; 
  • Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known;
  • Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature.
Statistical Thinking is a philosophy of learning and action based on the following fundamental principles:
  •  All work occurs in a system of interconnected processes,
  • Variation exists in all processes, and
  •  Understanding and reducing variation are keys to success.

The ISO 9000 series of standards align with eight key principles of quality management.  These principles facilitate the achievement of quality objectives and form the foundation for effective quality management. Per ISO-9001, "A quality management principle is a comprehensive and fundamental rule / belief, for leading and operating an organization, aimed at continually improving performance over the long term by focusing on customers while addressing the needs of all other stake holders".  The 8 Quality Management principles of ISO are:
  1. Customer-Focused Organization
  2. Leadership
  3. Involvement of People
  4. Process Approach
  5. System Approach to Management
  6. Continual Improvement
  7. Factual Approach to Decision Making and
  8. Mutually Beneficial Supplier Relationships.
Any discussion of improving America’s educational system has to take a systems approach, beginning with an understanding of customer requirements. Customers’ desired outcomes are then translated into a new educational model involving students, parents and all other stakeholders leading to a more robust system that delivers optimum value. So who are the customers of the educational system? Let us not confuse customers with suppliers, partners, gatekeepers, regulatory and government agencies, and other stakeholders.  Students, and parents of the students, are not customers – though the family unit plays a decidedly critical role in the education of the child.  Managing systemic variables such as nutrition, sleep, health, shelter and other human basic needs are all important elements to improving the educational system. Society at large benefits from a well-educated populace, yes, but employers and post-graduate Universities are the ultimate customer. Conversion of raw materials and other inputs into products and services that customers want and buy create wealth.  Innovation and creativity are the engines of economic growth. The USA is an aging population; as more and more Baby Boomers near retirement age there is a dire shortage of highly educated, skilled workers to fill the void. Furthermore, the US is experiencing a brain drain of new postgraduates as students from China, India and other developing nations - who typically remained in this country to apply their learning - are now choosing instead to return to their home countries where greater growth opportunities abound.  

Business process redesign is required to save and revitalize the American educational system, starting with the K-12 system to better prepare our children for college or trade schools. We need to encourage experimentation and discovery in the classroom to motivate curiosity and inspire lifelong learning. Evidence-based outcomes should be shared and replicated across school districts. How do we raise the voice of quality to capture the imagination of education leaders and support them in getting started? I would begin by asking our brethren in the quality community to volunteer on their local school board committees and PTA organizations to share your continuous improvement expertise in solving some chronic pain points. Start small and build on your successes. It should be noted that Baldrige Award recipients in the education sector use the Criteria to achieve superior results in the areas of:
  • student learning outcomes
  • student- and stakeholder-focused outcomes
  • budgetary, financial, and market outcomes
  • faculty and staff outcomes
  • organizational effectiveness outcomes
  • leadership and social responsibility outcomes
America’s future lies in our children’s capability and capacity to learn, adapt and thrive. Best wishes in your continuous improvement journey.


  1. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definately be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.

    iso 9000

  2. Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.