"Hacking" Quality

Can quality be "hacked?"  Do Deming's 
tenets of quality still stand or  
is it time modify them?
Continuing my theme of the future of quality, the ability to see the future could come through some interesting lenses—hacking, for instance.


A clever solution to a tricky problem.

To hack is to modify or change something in an extraordinary way. (Urban Dictionary)

While a more traditional definition of hack may be along the lines of roughly cutting away at something, the younger generation’s perspective of hack, as defined above, describes how the term serves their lifestyle.

This contemporary meaning has value and purpose in the current business landscape where companies are seeking to break the mold of traditional practices and are looking at their processes against outcomes. Here, free-thinking is prevalent and leads to novel approaches for doing “stuff.”

So what does a hack deliver? It can deliver a process, idea, tool, product, service, or a combination of all of these. The hack process allows possibilities to be explored without the constraint of what is currently happening or what has occurred in the past.

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This may sound like blue sky sessions or white-space visioning, except that you are starting with a known set of components and deconstructing them before analyzing their benefits and reassembling them to form something familiar yet new and disruptive.

How could this concept be used for the quality movement? What if we took our mainstay principles and components and gave them to the young folk and asked them to hack them?
What would that look like? How could it influence the future?

Would quality even go back to together in a useful, ordered sequence, or is it too structured to be discombobulated?

I recently read a LinkedIn post that presented the top quotes of the quality gurus—Deming, Juran, Ishikawa, Crosby, Feigenbaum, Taguchi, and Shewhart. I looked at their individual components and wondered how you could reconstruct their principles to suit a world 20 years from now.

What would that world look like? Popular futurists see it as being something like this:
  • Computers more powerful than the human brain will be readily available.
  • Every device will be connected to every other device, providing trillions of data points for measurement.
  • Everyone on the planet will have access to every single piece of knowledge known.
  • No one will need to learn anything as it will be all online, on demand, and unstoppable.
  • The idea of countries and cultures will merge into a socially connected population. Everyone will have access to each other, and the language barrier will disappear.
  • The boundaries of virtual and reality will disappear as we augment the world into our own life/space/being.
  • The need for humans to make or serve anything or anyone will be replaced by artificial life.
  • Currency and its value will give way to a socially regulated system of trade, and blockchain comes into play.
  • The search for self and value in a global, connected community becomes all absorbing.

I realize that this may sound far out and not remotely realistic. Let me remind you of all the science fiction movies from the past 20 years that contain mainstream happenings or concepts that are within reach today. Sure, we don’t have a Death Star hiding behind the moon or ride hover boards to work. But we do have 3-D printers capable of printing tissues and organs. We now have the ability to teleport energy, and we have discovered the Higgs boson, claimed to be the creation stone of matter from energy.

Consider this against the tenets of Deming, being:
  • Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service.
  • Adopt the new philosophy. We can no longer live with commonly accepted levels of delays, mistakes, defective materials, and defective workmanship.
  • Cease dependency on mass inspection to achieve quality.
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone.
  • Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production, and service.
  • Institute training on the job for all, including management, to make better use of every employee.
  • Adopt and institute leadership aimed at helping people do a better job.
  • Drive out fear so that everybody may work effectively and more productively for the company.
  • Break down barriers between departments and staff areas.
  • Eliminate slogans and exhortations for the work force as they create adversarial relationships.
  • Eliminate arbitrary numerical targets for the workforce and management.
  • Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship. This includes the annual appraisal of performance and management by objective.
  • Encourage education. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
  • Clearly define top management’s permanent commitment to ever improving quality and productivity.

In the world I just described, how many of these statements are relevant as they currently stand? To be controversial, I believe none of them are.

However, what underlies these principles may still have meaning. For instance, when programming artificial agents to produce a product needed for our benefit, which of the above key principles should be included? If you have a machine capable of thinking at speeds greater than humans and computing problems with similar outcomes to us, surely the principle of “do it right the first time” would be critical. If this feels a lot like the movie “I, Robot,” you may be on to something.

So who then becomes the hacker? It involves many people and the roles are critical. If we consider how quality is currently guarded against rapid change, I would say the current keepers need to play the role of mentor. I’m not talking about problem solving or “marking the answers,” but asking relevant questions.

The generation beyond millennials should be hackers and encouraged to break down the tools, principles, and systems for use in their emergent lives. Millennials then need to infuse their courageous and determined nature into the hackers. While millennials are courageous and demanding, and break out of the conventions of Generation X and the baby boomers, they hold many characteristics of their great-grandparents—the Depression babies.

That leaves Generation Y. What purpose will they hold? As a member of Generation X, I believe our purpose is to facilitate the transition of knowledge, purpose, and power to future generations. We know how to “plan-do-check-act” as taught by our forebears. We are compliant with systems and ensure quality remains an output. We will be the angels or venture capitalists of the future, so we best get comfortable with what lies ahead.

Part of hacking quality requires us to walk the talk, and to that end I am starting the process in-house. We have a hack planned for our business, and we are inviting future generations in to see if there is value in professional credentialing. If so, how should it look. We have an intergenerational cast assembled and the outcomes of this experiment are keenly awaited by myself and others.

I look forward to sharing with you what we learn about ourselves and what our reconfigured state looks like. After all, our credentialing process is now 30 years old, and what have we done to reach the future? Time will tell.

I look forward to your views on hacking quality.

What do you think?  Can quality be hacked? Share your opinion below!

Peter Holtmann is the President & CEO of Exemplar Global Inc., the premium provider of personnel certification for the ISO community. Peter sees his role as an advocate of many communities who leads thoughts on how credentialing helps drive career pathways to international recognition.