(a) Quality Defined
as People, Process and Product: QP3
Successful organizations are the result of many
things. Amongst others, these include participatory planning,
excellent leadership, highly committed staff, an appropriate
organizational pattern, sound human resources practices, clearly
defined and consistently lived organizational values, and
an almost obsessive preoccupation with customer satisfaction.
Each characteristic is necessary but, by themselves, insufficient
for quality excellence. And even then they are individually
or collectively present in an organization, they need to be
aligned with an overarching goal to provide a
high quality service or product to the target stakeholder(s).
Such an alignment provides the framework for quality assurance
(QA) measures to be implemented by specifically focusing on
three organizational dimensions: people, process and
product QP3. Quality of people is about the
behaviour of the people who make up an organization.
The critical quality question regarding peoples behaviour
is: "are people in the organization behaving ethically
given the organizations guiding values, mission statement,
stakeholders expectations, societal norms and mores,
and legislative requirements. Quality of process is about
the methods employed by an organization to convert
inputs into outputs which are inclusive of stakeholders. A
critical quality question regarding process is the extent
to which organizational processes embed values, such as continuous
improvement, transparency and accountability, learning, and
optimization of social and technical systems, and make them
operational for goal attainment. Quality product and/or service
is about the commodity (tangible or intangible)
offered by an organization. It is the extent to which an organization
surpasses stakeholders expectations.
People, process, and product make up an organization
system that, in excellent/high performance organizations,
remain open to environmental influence and constructively
incorporates this influence in its decision making and overall
performance. It is no mistake, therefore, that the QP3 "holy
trinity" is listed in a specific order, putting quality
of people first. Until and/or unless organizations
become fully automated or robotic, the people factor will
be paramount since margins of variability and error, in production
and service processes, are a direct consequence of human action.
And quality is about minimizing variability and error in processes
and product through optimization of the social and technical
subsystems within organizations. This is why QP3 becomes a
central model for QA. An organizations social subsystem
is about its people and the processes for their contribution,
development, and validation. A technical subsystem is about
the production process as well as the means for stakeholder
input into this. When we talk about organizations as open
systems made up of two major subsystems (social and technical),
we are recognizing that QA is also about a system. So what
does the "QP3" model (people, process, and product)
really mean within the context of a quality assurance (QA)
system? It means that excellence is something that is "90%
perspiration and 10% inspiration". One does not simply
"fumble freely into the future" to find oneself
having achieved "nirvana" or the "excellent
state". This comes only after an organization has consciously
and, at times, painfully put to practice specific values about
how it will achieve excellence through optimization of social
and technical subsystems. Such values inevitably include notions
of quality that pervade everything the organization does regarding
its people, processes and product. The underlying logic is
that quality is a defining characteristic of excellence but
not achievable unless the organizational infrastructure (subsystems)
i.e., people and processes have been nurtured and developed
so that their output is a quality product. This is why product
is last in the QP3 model. Without excellent people and processes,
there is no quality product!
(b) QP3 and SEAAR:
A Quality Assurance System
This discussion of the QP3 elements in high
performance/excellent organizations needs to go one level
deeper by asking: "what does excellence or quality mean?"
A corollary question is: "does excellence or quality
mean the same for every organization?" A close examination
of the above explanations of quality reveals a common thread
that weaves the quality fabric that drapes excellent/high
performance organizations. This thread is stakeholder
involvement that is at the heart of social and ethical
accounting, auditing, and reporting (SEAAR). In its most fundamental
sense, SEAAR is a performance measurement tool used by excellent
organizations to engage stakeholders to set out performance
evaluation criteria in the QP3 elements (people, processes,
product). SEAAR is the methodology setting out people centered
principles and process standards through which an organization
engages its stakeholders to determine product and service
excellence. Quality and excellence are, therefore, relative
concepts defined by those (stakeholders) who impact on and
are impacted by an organization. So quality cannot be pre-defined.
It needs to be the outcome of negotiated processes that engage
an organization and its stakeholders but anchored in the organizations
mission and guiding values.
If the criteria defining quality is similar
across organizations, this is only coincidental because the
critical success factor in a QA system is involvement of stakeholders
and negotiation between them and the organization. What will
not differ are the QP3 organizational elements since they
are the focus points for QA. Their quality content will differ
across organizations but not their form. Take for example
staff as an internal stakeholder group. Organization "X"
is made up of mainly women between the ages of 25 to 35. Many
of these women are professional and have opted to delay child-rearing
responsibilities until they have "established" their
careers. Seventy-five percent of the women have at least one
child under the age of five. There is clearly a need for organization
"X" to have a supportive policy regarding work and
family. This stakeholder group, therefore, may have this as
an expectation and will evaluate organization "Xs"
ethical performance based on whether or not there is a day-care
centre at the workplace or a similar type of arrangement.
This expectation is about the quality of people element in
the QP3 model. It highlights the fact that quality people
goes two ways the quality of leadership in its respect
and support for female employees and the quality of work of
female employees who, while they are at work, are freed from
the worries of child care. To not fall into gender stereotypes,
male employees at organization "X", especially if
they are single parents, may also use this expectation to
assess quality of people in the QP3 model.
It can thus be argued that SEAAR and QP3 are
the two sides of a QA coin. QP3 is the organizational performance
dimensions requiring mechanisms for quality assurance and
SEAAR is the methodological framework to measure performance,
in terms of margins of error and variability, in each of the
QP3 dimensions. In this respect, the SEAAR-QP3 combination
is a QA system that differs from conventional QA systems.
For example, each quality assurance cycle originates in stakeholder
dialogue, is measured through rigorous monitoring processes
and accounting systems, and culminates in stakeholder reporting.
Moreover, the performance report from each quality cycle is
objectively verified and its contents used to inform
strategic and operational decision making for the purpose
of improving the organizations performance. From this
perspective, the SEAAR-QP3 QA system is a process for transforming
organizations into open learning systems that effectively
manage the interdependence between they and their environments.
The management of internal and external environments to create
symbiotic relationships between excellent organizations and
their stakeholders is thus an objective of the SEAAR-QP3 QA
system. The following schematic captures the SEAAR-QP3
The above QA model shows the systemic nature
of quality in that it highlights the need for organizations
to develop integrated and comprehensive strategies for quality
assurance but to do so with their stakeholders. Stakeholder
engagement is the distinguishing feature of high performance/excellent
organizations because their relevance is assured by anchoring
people, processes, and product in stakeholder expectations.
The elegance of SEAAR in this QA system is that it cuts across
all aspects of QP3. At the front end of a quality assurance
cycle, SEAAR is the methodology for stakeholder engagement.
During a quality cycle, SEAAR is a monitoring, data capture
and analysis, and report generation tool. At the end of a
quality cycle, SEAAR is a communication and decision making
tool. An effective QA system is made up of these different
components so SEAAR is critical to QA.
One of the arguments made thus far has been
that in excellent organizations, the substance from which
to define quality fundamentally emanates from stakeholders
and this makes stakeholder engagement, as a QA element, critical.
But it still may not be clear whether or not the SEAAR-QP3
QA system is a "variable" or "standard"
or a "variable standard". In other words, does it
change, stay the same, or something in-between when it is
implemented in different organizations and/or within the same
organization over time? We know that nothing is static so
it seems safe to say that quality will be defined differently
over time especially if it is subject to stakeholder expectation.
Lets take our previous case of organization "X".
It is 5 years into the future and there has not been a significant
staff turnover. One major difference is that most of the female
staff now has all of their children in primary school so the
need for a day-care on site is not as great. Instead, flexible
work-times are valued in that they allow both the men and
women with small children to drop-off and pick-up children
or to respond to other family matters. The criteria staff
may use to evaluate organization "Xs" performance
may, therefore, change as time passes. So the question of
time is clear but what about different organizations
does QP3 have different definitions in different organizations?
Lets create a fact situation to problem
solve the above question. Three organizations (A, B, C) are
embarking on the quality assurance journey. All three use
the SEAAR-QP3 QA system and so engage their stakeholders.
Organization "A" is a pulp and paper primary resource
branch plant of a multinational corporation. Organization
"B" is a middle size computer technology firm. Organization
"C" is a community based voluntary organization
focusing on integrated rural development. All three organizations
have "staff" as a stakeholder group but the profile
of staff differs significantly across the organizations. Also,
because of the different sector focus, some stakeholders that
cut across the three organizations have different weightings
in terms of their influence on or impact by the respective
organizations. When we look at the range of stakeholder expectations
across the organizations, it is obvious that QP3 is a quality
standard that each organization applies in their own
context. What quality of process means in organization "A"
will most likely be different than organization "B"
or "C" but all three organizations will be interested
in ensuring that people, processes, and product are of the
highest quality. The content of each of the three "Ps"
will vary as we move across the organizations. This makes
quality content a variable so we have a variable
standard in the SEAAR-QP3 QA system. If we think about
our three organizations, it becomes evident that it is not
possible to adopt a "one size fits all" approach
to quality assurance. And this is something SEAAR guards against
by itself becoming criteria to assess quality of process for
stakeholder engagement to define the substance of QP3.
in Quality Assurance
The way in which organizations determine QP3
assessment criteria depends on what they negotiate with their
stakeholders and how effectively they manage inherent conflict
in stakeholders expectations. Lets use organization
"A" from above as a case study. This organization,
if it is to become a high performance organization, needs
to have a process, anchored in its stakeholders expectations,
to define the meaning of quality given its mission and guiding
values. There is a high probability that shareholders, as
one stakeholder groups, may not share criteria defining quality
with a human rights non-governmental organization advocating
for a sustainable environment. To manage conflicting stakeholders
expectations, organization "A" will need a quality
measurement tool that is people centered (quality of people),
based on an inclusive process (quality of process) but which
leads to a product that enables a "return" that
is appropriate given divergent stakeholders expectations.
Organization "A" will have to engage its different
and conflicting stakeholders (i.e., shareholders and the NGO)
to determine what quality means for each of them and then
negotiate with each acceptable performance standards. The
power of SEAAR is that it contains conflict by anchoring it
in organization "As" mission and guiding values
so that stakeholder expectations cannot be unrealistic
or unreasonable. In developing a QA system, mechanisms for
conflict management are critical. The SEAAR-QP3 model offers
such mechanisms because limits stakeholder engagement to defining
and evaluating organizational performance in terms of quality
of people, process and product.