'Quality management or management quality?' : an adaptive model of organization as the basis of organizational learning and quality provision
This document tells the story of the development of an approach to the management of quality management. Not the more usual "conformance to specification" version of product quality, but that of service quality. In telling this story two main sources have been used, cybernetic theory, and management practice. In telling the story is presented in a linear manner, which is intended to make it easier to follow. That is it begins with a problem, moves to a suggested solution and ends with an application and reflections thereon. Although the project presented here did begin with the problem of service quality management and end with the successful implementation of a management tool, the development of the model that drives the solution was circular. Not unlike the serpent eating its own tail the process of model building was iterative, informed by the results of earlier research and consulting interventions. Because of its circuitous route the research draws on a broad range of theoretical sources, some more obviously or directly relevant than others, but all of which served to enrich the understanding and applicability of the final model. Because the theoretical model moves from cybernetical first principles the practical application it informs does not exhaust its potential. The constraints of the research questions, and the needs of the client, used as the basis for the case study, delilnited the extent to which it was possible to comment formally on its content. Although it has been possible to justifiably answer the questions set, almost by necessity some of the more esoteric elements of the theoretical model remain unproven in the strict sense. However, these elements provided invaluable illustrative insights and have hinted at a rich vein of future research, particularly in the field of computer simulation and the unification of science. The exploration of this potential is, however, beyond the boundary of this project. The main practical outcome of the project is a rigorous approach for the integrated management of quality and organizational effectiveness in the professional service sector. Such an approach has been problematical in the past and led to the situation where service quality was considered to be no different from production quality, evident in the "product and/or service" style of language adopted in the ISO literature. As I argue here (and (with Beckford) elsewhere) this approach is not tenable due to the fundamental differences in the manner of design, consumption and quality assurance between the two. And it is this that has tended to lead to the mechanistic approach to service quality lnanagelnent, e.g., the use of standard "scripts" to be followed during service events (e.g., "Have a nice day... ") . Once this understanding of service quality management was established it was necessary to construct an organizational model to contain it. The basic model chosen was Beer's Viable System Model. However several adaptations were made which allow for a more general, as opposed to strictly neurological, interpretation and to facilitate a more intuitive fit with the technological platform on which it was to be implemented. Following this it was a relatively simple exercise to construct a database tool for the capture and manipulation of data to support organizational activities. As the basis of the project was the development/derivation, through theory, of a practical solution to a 'live' business problem the burden of 'proof' lies in the application of the solution and reflection upon its utility. For this reason a case study is used to demonstrate the model which (and although it went through many formal and informal iterations) was 'signed off' by the client. In addition, the general model was accepted by both a professional body (as an appropriate tool for practice management) and a national standards body (as the basis for their auditor training). With this final practical validation the story draws to a close. The practical problem of service quality management has been set within a demonstrably rigorous theoretical framework. The framework has provided the basis for, and informed the design of, a management tool. And the tool has been validated in practice.