The marriage of “quality” & “complexity” – a global call.

A while back, I received an email from a person in India. He is a Six Sigma Black belt, and works for a financial services firm. While I was intrigued with the application of Six Sigma methods to the delivery of financial services, this person wanted to ask me about the quality-complexity connection.

In part, this person’s email read:

that this subject has greater promise in enhancing the quality management in the coming future as more and more companies are now looking out at developing Innovation Capability…. 1. Quality talks about reduced variability & greater discipline whereas complexity talks about managing in uncertain and variable times through variations or so called fluctuations at the border of chaos and order (Managing Order and Chaos at the same time to give rise to newer forms of Creativity / Innovation) which is very challenging. If there is a fusion possible with respect to Six Sigma (or) Lean and Complexity theory, we would have put forth the right rules for the Future Corporations. Maybe integration of DMAIC six sigma / Lean with the Complexity Principles could make it more robust and could provide the right approach to managing quality in future corporations.

What interests me in this corespondence is the recognition that variation – differences in our perception of a process’s outputs – is at the heart of both the TQM/Quality Improvement mindset, and the insights into complexity. In the complicated but fundamentally linear world of manufacturing or service delivery, we seek to define spcial causes of variation that make outputs deviate from our specification. In the non-linear complex world, we understand that we can not “bring a process into control.” Neither can we predict the future response to our inputs or changes with any high degree of certainty. But we can and we should look for those individual agents in the system who have found some unique way to do things, and who are getting superior results. Instead of seeking process control, and eliminating causes of variation, we need to define the “positive deviants” who have successfully innovated. Then we can work on replicating their superior results.

One key challenge for us, is to develop what Dee Hock, the founder of VISA cards, calls a “chaordic” mindset. We need to see that living systems simultaneously act in processes that are both linear and predictable, and non-linear and complex. Keeping that “both. . .and. . .” concept in our minds is not easy.

In the domain of the generally predictable, we can establish standard procedures and best practices.  We can measure outputs and variance from specification.  But in the domain of the complex, we can only understand causality in retrospect.  We can inquire and learn about what is happening, and explore promising options to achieve our objectives.  We can establish core values or operating principles, and assess our fidelity to these guides.  We can look back and see if the results we got, were helped or hindered by the principles that guided us then.  We look deeply, learn deeply, and modify our approach as our ever-changing environment suggests.

Will we see a day when improvement practitioners deploy methods that address the underlying “both complicated…and complex…” natures of our organizations?  Look deep, and you’ll find that some are doing it now.

Bruce Waltuck, M.A., Complexity, Chaos, and Creativity

This entry was posted in ASQ, Change, Complexity, Continuous Process Improvement, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The marriage of “quality” & “complexity” – a global call.

  1. Dennis Arter says:

    Your statement above, Instead of seeking process control, and eliminating causes of variation, we need to define the “positive deviants” who have successfully innovated. Then we can work on replicating their superior results. strikes me as exactly what biological evolution does. Thanks for tickling my brain this early in the morning.

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