Quality Management Systems are designed to deliver clarity and accuracy… whether that design is around ISO 9000 and a focus on improvement management through non-conformance reporting and corrective action; or Six Sigma that measures results against customer satisfaction; or Total Quality Management with a goal of zero defects.
But for success that design must be built on data sources that are impeccable. It must be built on sources where there is only one version of the truth and where offline sub-systems and reporting are not encouraged.
Learning From Veteran’s Affairs & Accusations of Cooked Books
In recent days, investigative reporters and whistle blowers are uncovering that one of the United States’ largest care providing organizations, the Veterans Health Administration, has potentially failed to ensure metrics reported for performance are accurate.
If the outcome was simply a lack of accuracy, then reactions might be more muted. But current indications are that misreporting of data has led to serious consequences, including the deaths of some veterans. Should the results of the pending investigations prove true then serious penalties will apply to the individuals involved.
At first review, there appears to be far too many behaviors that went wrong in the affected areas of the organization. Formal investigations, according to news reports, may show:
- those responsible for documenting critical metrics chose to inaccurately record that data;
- there were levels of leadership that directly encouraged such inaccurate reporting
- stories of intimidation, frustration and apathy
- inadequate resources to meet demands
Investigators are seeking to discover if there was willful ignorance of those imbalances by leadership, as demonstrated by their desire to make the metrics fit their needs rather using the metrics to reveal the and respond to the truth.
Learning From General Motors
Sadly, this is not the first major instance in 2014 of a process failure in a large organization that led to the loss of life. We recently witnessed the parade of witnesses called to Washington to testify in hearings related to the failure of the ignition systems in some GM vehicles.
Individuals and groups testifying had systems with data and metrics designed to provide warnings or alerts of pending problems and it is still unclear to the average observer what really went wrong. All we do know is consumers were injured or lost lives due to performance of the mechanism in question.
The outcomes of these events are painful. As they multiply, our confidence in the basic service, products and activities of daily life are eroded and we even begin to doubt the performance and commitment of many who do not participate in deceptive practices.
Here we sit in the shadow of two high profile failures that occurred in organizations of size, with substantial financial resources, led by experienced and knowledgeable individuals.
Is the pain from these most recent failures enough to encourage us to action?
I think the answer this time is ‘yes’, I think that we will not be easily distracted with the next scandal. I think our action should be a widespread commitment to quality in all aspects of the economy.
Quality management and assessment is mission critical for your business too. What steps are you taking to assure your customers you are compliant and trustworthy?