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Can measuring quality sometimes actually devalue it?

Placing arbitrary labels and tolerances can demystify, but sometimes, mislead the intent, argues Ryan Renard CQP MCQI.

Author and speaker Simon Sinek eloquently said in an interview: "Love doesn’t happen overnight. We fall in love with someone when they show us, consistently, that they’re willing to put our needs ahead of their own. It is the small, seemingly insignificant actions that add up over time, until one day we wake up and say, ‘I love you’."


The connection between love and quality may seem absurd and abstract, but they both share core foundations – they do not happen overnight; they need to happen consistently; and they should be placed ahead of other concerns.


As human beings, we strive for, and perceive a need for, validation through evidence – some metrics to achieve, standards to meet, or targets to be broken. However, much of what we value happens through small and seemingly insignificant actions.


Success and the realisation of goals is a strange thing. They happen retrospectively and are often written historically. As such, they can be easily attributed to foresight and ground-breaking strategies, despite being primarily founded in context, circumstance and, ultimately, luck.

Does measuring reduce value?


This thought can lead us to believe that because a solution has worked in one place, it must logically work in another, forming a concrete rule to which all most follow.


Japanese quality has formed the basis of understanding and applying quality within business organisations for some decades, following the rise of the industry post-World War II, with most quality 'gurus', principles and terminologies originating from there.


Concepts such as Kaizen (structured continual improvement) and Total Quality Control (ownership and responsibility of quality throughout an organisation) originated during that time, from such as Kaoru Ishikawa, Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, in addition to key Western input from W. Edwards Deming and others.


As outlined in In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert H Waterham Jr, some of these concepts have struggled in their adoption and application by Western manufacturers, with some succeeding where others have not.

The reason love is such a prominent example is that, much like quality, it is a force to which we are all bound, that we all experience and actively seek out. Humanity aims to describe the indescribable through art, music and life itself – dedicated to defining that which is made up of disparate elements that we try to quantify, replicate and express. What is love for one is not love for another.

Truer still are the links between distinct types of quality and love. Though they both have an overall concept, we can sub-categorise them in context, creating something we are better able to understand. The way we love our partner is far different from the way we love a friend or family. Quality applied in business is also far different from that which we apply to ourselves, others, and life in general. Our desire to understand leads to a desire for control, which, in turn, requires us to find 'markers' by which to evaluate our progress and alignment – though measurements are not as innocuous as they may first seem.

Measuring something can, in fact, reduce its value. Placing arbitrary labels and tolerances can demystify and mislead the intent. We don't always gain more by quantifying and directly seeking to explain, though this does not sate our desire to do so. Our own limited knowledge and capability can constrain and reduce the meaning of what we enjoy. When was the last time you found a joke funnier after it was explained in detail to you?


Too many metrics?


Excessive data can lead to decision paralysis, either through too much data or unclear data; false conclusions, as we attempt to refine and, ironically, 'unbias' our data; or time loss with excessive data points. The latter is particularly true in our modern times, where metrics are mere 'clicks' and 'programs' away.

Metrics have their place. Critically, we do not need them in all aspects of our lives. In a world consumed by data points, we can become blinded by charts, corrupted by interpretation of statistics, and delete aspects outside of our experiences. We simply do not have the processing power to contain all of the information presented to us.


Since its conception, the brain has needed to create subconscious routines to enable us to function. When was the last time you thought about each individual muscle fibre in each muscle group that helped you to see and focus on this article?


The focus that metrics provide is both their strength and weakness; the more status and importance given to the metric, the more it will distort and limit anything not perceived to influence it, positively or negatively. To create appropriate metrics, we need to define where they will be valuable and why they are valuable, and then define what are the 'right' metrics to motivate appropriate actions and behaviours. Too many metrics and we lose focus.

How appropriate are the metrics within your business? Where should and shouldn't you use metrics in your own life? What is something so important and valuable to you that isn't measured? And, why should businesses be any different?


Article originated in quality.org


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