Can Quality Standards Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Government Operations?

Conventional wisdom says that government is not efficient and not effective – but, we are still unsure what works and what is broken in government, where to find some common sense, and where to start to fix it. So, with that in mind, I'm glad I had the chance to speak with Richard E. Mallory this month about his recently published book, Quality Standards for Highly Effective Government, Second Edition. I asked him a series of questions, and I'm including those along with Richard's very interesting answers here.

What are Quality Standards?
They are professional standards developed and endorsed by the American Society for Quality Government Division as international best practice standards for government. There are three standards that collectively apply to every area of government operations, and provide a framework for excellence. There is a standard for process management, system management (including project management), and for aligned leadership objectives. One or more of these standards align with the responsibility of every supervisor, manager, and executive in every government agency. Each provides a measurable standard, with uniform and objective criteria, that evaluate the design and application of best practice operational practices. The systematic use of quality standards provides the first-ever opportunity for an organizational scorecard, that measures the extent of quality practice in government. 

Why are these standards necessary for highly effective government?
The development of high-performing learning organizations depends on defining and testing a best practice operational structure that is specific to every one of its branches, divisions, and operating units. This can’t easily be done with existing frameworks, which depend on top-down application of uniform organizational practices, such as ISO 9001 or Baldrige. The application of Quality Standards is from the bottom to the top, and requires every supervisor and manager to develop a process map or a system map that defines the critical steps or milestones of value creation within that program area. It applies a cycle of learning that is based on a defined approach and deployment, combined with periodic evaluation and update or improvement. The development of indicators and measures of success cements the practices of learning and improvement. The application of system management at the executive level ensures organizational alignment.

Can’t we do the same thing with organization-wide deployment of Lean Six Sigma? 
No. The problem with most traditional Lean Six Sigma and DMAIC improvement efforts is that they are not sustainable over the long term, and require a continual “push” from leadership. Because their success requires each practitioner to dedicate current effort for longer-term gain, busy organizations often curtail these best practices to resolve short-term crises. If executive recognition ever wavers, or if leadership changes, the commitment to best practice operation also disappears. The use of Quality Standards changes this dynamic, by allowing executives to create a report on the existence and use of quality practices in their organization, so that executives are at last able to “see” where individual managers are maintaining best practice, and where efforts are lapsing. It will also allow organizations to create external reviews, and audit organizations to report on the continuing commitment to quality practices within every government organization. This reporting ensures that Lean and DMAIC practices are established, maintained, and sustained. No longer will the practice of quality be "invisible."

How do we know they work?
Quality Standards have been endorsed by the Government Division of the American Society for Quality as an international best practice standard for Government. A recent white paper of the National Academy of Public Administration on Strengthening Organizational Performance in Government has also endorsed the standards. The Process Management Standard is a part of the Process Management Handbook for the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and numerous government jurisdictions have found them to be a tool for organizational capacity reviews, both to evaluate current efforts and to offer further suggestions on the means and methods of improvement.

How can we get started?
This book provides the logic and approach behind the standards, and introduces each with its evaluation criteria, and the scoring plan. It is important and foundational, for those who will be using the standards, for those reviewing them, and for leadership who want to understand the benefits and the logic being followed. Each organization using the standards should plan to provide introductory training for all its managers and supervisors, to help them in identifying the key processes and systems that drive organizational results, and to help them define best operational practices for each. The effort should then transition to periodic review of each defined process and system, both to ensure the integrity of the approach, and to evaluate the next steps to its improvement.

What are the changes in the second edition book?
The second edition includes the newest revision to the system management standard, which applies to the work of executive managers, program office managers, and project managers. It completes the organizational framework by challenging those managers to define milestones of value creation relative to the work of their office, with the causes of success in each milestone. In addition, it allows the development of operational metrics and indicators. It is through the integrated definition of key processes and systems that an entire agile framework can be completed. The second edition looks ahead to the role of leadership in developing excellent performance through application of the Aligned Leadership Objectives Standard. 

Do any readers currently work in the public sector? What do you think of Richard's thoughts?  Have you adopted these quality standards in your organization?