Mario Pagliaro's Newsletter 15 September, 1998:

(Quality) Managers: Ever heard of Robert Maynard Pirsig?

Robert Pirsig's revolutionary ideas on Quality can (also) help you in building a better quality management system. But they can do far more.

photo of Robert M Pirsig taken in 1995According to the European Organization for Quality, "only what's measurable can be managed". Quality, however, no matter how easily and widely grasped, is not easy to measure: How to introduce a quality index? What are the units of this...quantity? In other words, is quality quantifiable?

Since people over all the world are dealing with quality management, it would descend from EOQ's principle given above, that indeed quality is an entirely measurable entity. Accordingly, engineers at the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO, Geneva) were forced to give a definition of quality ("the totality of characteristics of an entity to bear on its ability to satisfy stated and implicit needs") which seems a bit too narrow and certainly difficult to be understood.

Reginald Schaughnessy himself -- the chairman of ISO's technical committee which drew the ISO 9000 standard series -- was forced to admit that, "apart from quality, creativity and technology are two further needs for industry to develop and grow. ISO 9000 is the foundation, the rest is up to you".

The question may appear complicated or too philosophical. For addressing it in a outstanding, revolutionary manner, you all might wish to read again Robert Pirsig's bestseller, "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" (1974). 

photo of Robert (Bob) Pirsig taken around the times when wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceHowever, Mr Pirsig's less known and more recent (1992) novel, "Lila" may have succedeed in suggesting a new logical division of quality in its static and dynamic aspects which may be seen as the theoretical foundation not only for industrial quality management, but also for a novel metaphysics of extreme importance to the daily life of man, including that of managers and scientists. 

Read for instance what the newly-appointed EOQ president's has to say: "For the EOQ to fulfill its own vision and mission, it will need to reinvent itself...The foundations of standardization, control and assurance must be extended significantly to embrace...intangibles. Intangibles such as the quality of leadership, having committed employees, and being customer driven are more important than tangibles when it comes to successful organizations".

Now, if you consider metaphysics too far from the bottom-line or from the daily life, it would seem that Mr Sťan Conlan's - after years spent in industry in Africa and later on in leading Excellence Ireland, is apparently suggesting that metaphysics is more important than physics to the succesful organizations!

Not only that, we also should enlarge "significantly" our understanding of quality and thus our actions based upon this new level of understanfing. "Sharing responsibility, sharing benefits" is an excellent theme when it comes to quality management and for the week dedicated to the theme yearly in Europe since 1994. 

After all, the fact that sharing responsibility leads to sharing of benefits is an idea that teachers start teaching their kids in the classroom also in Sicily, an island worldwide known not exactly for its achievements in quality management - let's say.

Maybe, the time has come to take the quality issue out of the quality managers hands, and make of the understanding of quality in a broader, more general sense a key for a personal, richer approach to life itself and also to management or to the practice of science (if you are interested in management and in science).

That would probably give also the quality manager better attitudes to follow the continuous changes in the quality arena (new ISO 9000 standards, environmental and social standards, novel EFQM's Excellece Model and so on). 

In the end we would get rid of a new category of experts (quality managers) to be left only with managers of higher quality. Managers with an education also in quality management who would be capable to take decisions and empower their people in order to have in their usines also a final, well assured quality of the products delivered to their customers.

Assured quality of products and services assured is static quality, Pirsig might suggest. Have it integrated in a dynamic firm committed to a more elusive, intangible and beautiful form of quality is the daily problem of management: dynamic quality - for the managers as well for all of us (also down here in Sicily). A form of Quality whose definition should not even be attempted.

Themes for 1999 European Quality Week, or is it too late, already? 

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