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Simple Principles in Quality

April 16, 2008

Most enterprises don’t manage IT cohesively. Instead, IT is seen as the vague end result of a collection of software packages, laptops, cables, telecom services, servers, and network devices. This piecemeal approach means that the total outcome of IT is never put under the microscope.

Taking ownership for the user experience is where service management begins. Under service management rules, everybody who affects the customer experience is on the same team. If the ERP system is unavailable to the shipper on the loading dock, it doesn’t matter if it’s a database problem, a disk problem, or a network problem. This is an interruption of service that affects the shipper’s ability to do his or her job. As far as IT is concerned, it’s everybody’s problem.

This focus is not unique to ITSM. In fact, the principles in ITIL and other frameworks are derived from the same quality methods that transformed industry in the second half of the 20th Century. The same quality process that ensures that the moon roof on a Toyota or Ford doesn’t leak can also be used to ensure that a user’s e-mail doesn’t crash when downloading a large document from a Web site.

Quality methods of this type are characterized by the following:

  • The use of feedback loops to create ongoing improvement towards measurable goals.

  • The pursuit of quality not as an arbitrary technical goal, but as an entity experienced by the customer.

  • Teaming to break down silos and functional barriers and create a unified approach.

One of the classic hallmarks of quality methods is the Shewhart circle, illustrated below. Named after its inventor, the American statistician Walter Shewhart, this simple model has become the paradigm for continuous quality improvement.

Figure 1: Quality standards are detailed and complex, but they are based on a simple model for continuously improving quality.

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