Quality Management


Adaptive Quality Management

First I would like to say thank you for having time, now, to look at quality. Quality is about saving time and money tomorrow and forever; but at the expense of time today and I appreciate how pressing today is.

The directives of Adaptive Quality Management are;

The balance between disciplines and freedoms is a delicate one and going too far in either direction can lead to problems in quality, efficiency and the pleasure in work that we all hope for.

Adaptive Quality Management

A Common Language

In the Adaptive Quality Management System (written documents called) standards form a common language in which certain routine activities of the organisation can be;

Standards define sets of terms that must or should be met. Standards can control the way a routine is done or control the condition of some object through a checking or test routine performed upon it.

The people who are responsible for performing the routine activities of a standard are called the performers of the standard. The person who is responsible for appointing performers and improving the routines contained in the standard, is called the supervisor of the standard.

Adaptive Quality Management is not intended to regulate every task by a standard nor turn every task into a routine, nor to turn your organisation into a routine organisation rather than an innovative and adaptive one.

W E Deming says "We must use standards as the liberator, that relegates the problems, that have already been solved to the field of routine, and leaves the creative faculties free, for the problems that are still unsolved".

Guided by Effectiveness

Adaptive Quality Management has many applications and it will, with your participation, evolve to fit your organisation through people determining what is, or is not effective.

Reviews pick up on defective items that have managed to get past the standards. Again leading to changes in the standards and possibly new rules, to avoid repeating the defects. This is adaptation.


Standards can be used to embody, the requirements of ISO9000, legal requirements, and the organisations routine activities such as assembly, inspection and testing.

Standards can take you through the five levels of maturity of the Capability Maturity Model which has heavily influenced other quality standards.

Learning and Application

The use of a standard should not require more effort than it saves;

What Is Quality?

Dr David Garvin of Harvard Business School (in 1987) Defined quality from the client's point of view. He splits the client's perception of quality into eight dimensions;

Quality Isn't a Bolt On

Quality isn't a bolt on, it isn't the case that you do everything the way you did it before and then just do this extra bit to keep your boss, your customer or the government happy. Quality is part of the way we do things better. You must make quality work for you, not against you.


I developed and implemented the quality system to surpass our ISO9001:2000 requirement. We passed ISO on our first attempt in 2002 and continued to pass while I was at Nexus Alpha Ltd (NAL).

The quality system is composed of documents known as "standards" each of which provides audited guidance and rules in relation to a particular subject. I have written standards for;

I Directed and managed all quality until I left by which time I was spending a large amount of my time on the quality system primarily with the objective of making NAL scalable for the future.

Consistent quality within an organisation is only achieved through;

The quality system I have developed;

This quality system is composed of documents known as "standards" these provide "rules", "recommendations", "suggestions" and "permissions" in relation to a particular thing in the business and help guide and determine how things are done.

I can help you plant the first "seed" standards in your organisation. The beauty of this system is that a business can define as many or as few standards as it likes, it can be as simple or complex as necessary.

The following standards were developed in NAL and could be applicable to other businesses.

The Root Standards

The Root Standards

The root standards are fundamental to the drafting and control of standards themselves. They are;

Standard - Standards

This standard serves to regulate standards themselves. It determines their layout, syntax and structure.

Standard - Documents

This standard determines the layout and versioning of general documents.

Standard - Defect Prevention

This Standard directs the creation of a defect log and a diagnostics standard for a given entity. The defect log allows examination of the defect history and the diagnostics standard forms both a record of the different types of defect and a diagnostic manual for the entity.

The Business Standards

The Business Standards

The business standards are a collection of standards that might apply to any business. They are -

Standard - Business Case

This standard regulates the business cases for products and services throughout their life cycle.

Standard - Business Profile

This standard provides a template for profiling a company or business organisation and is used for such things as competitor analysis and self analysis.

Standard - Filing

This standard helps to integrate the businesses data into the filing system in a manner that makes it retrievable by all those that should have access to it. It considers the entirety of the company’s information resources from correspondence with clients to journals and junk mail.

Standard - Health & Safety

This standard covers the arrangements for dealing with injury, emergencies, and the arrangements for instructions, training and supervision necessary to ensure that safe systems are always adopted and adhered to.

Standard - ISO 9001-2000 Fulfilment

This standard is used to ensure that the terms of ISO9001:2000 are being met, across the company. It has to be tailor made for the company concerned. It also contains the Quality Policy and Quality Objectives that ISO requires.

Standard - Project

This standard provides information regarding the planning and control of projects.

Standard - Purchasing

This standard controls purchasing and approval of suppliers within the business.

Standard - Requirements

This standard serves to regulate documented client requirements within the company.

Standard - Specification & Design

This standard lays down the terms for creating specification and design documents for products and services amongst other things.

Standard - Supply

This standard governs the sale and supply of products or services to customers.

The Story


The Travel Terminal software on which NAL started was an unreliable beast written by a collection of four of us including myself and Patrick in the space of a couple of months. I was not used to this kind of thing as my previous programming work was reliable. The following two years saw me re-writing the whole thing and so software quality was an issue for me as I discovered the good habits that make good ‘C’ code. I was on the look out for anything about software quality. I grabbed what I could on the subject of safety critical software.

I saw a copy of DO178 "Software Considerations in airborne systems and equipment certification" and this to some extent answered the question as to how aircraft software was written but using such an approach would be far to slow for us.

On 9th June 97 there was a free software quality presentation as part of SCATE a European initiative and it was at this that I heard about the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and its use in the development of the space shuttle software. I went straight out to buy the book "The Capability Maturity Model (Guidelines for Improving the Software Process)". It was too complex for us to apply directly but served as an inspiration to me. It is a very thorough and comprehensive system which can be taken beyond its original intended use.

I got the opportunity to seriously start work on quality in November 1999. ISO9001:2000 attempts to be all things to all men. It has merged some of the original ISO900X standards to form ISO9001:2000 which although it deals with some important issues the relevance of each part of it depends on the business you are in and there is a great deal that is simply not covered at all.

A quality system for NAL needed to exceed the requirements of ISO9001:2000, focus on the particular quality issues of NAL and take us up through the five levels of maturity defined by the CMM. I wanted a strong practical focus, a minimum of paperwork and a good introductory path.

I was inspired by a specification published by Motorola for the VME bus (a bus for use with the 680XX range of microprocessors). In it very clear language was used to define rules for developers wishing to develop hardware to connect to the VME bus.

Most of the quality systems discussed in books talked about defining processes. Yet there was considerable evidence to suggest that rules embodied in standards were a better basis for forming a quality control system. Any process could be standardised through a written standard which defined it, while any standard could not so easily be defined in terms of a process. There is a British Standards Institute not a British Process Institute. An internal standards based quality control system is a flexible system of rules that can provide disciplines and freedoms as necessary within an institution. I started work using this approach in June 2001.

Naturally I began with the standard for standards and the system grew from there. The first pilot of standards was the “network cabling standard” that resulted in tidy and orderly under floor network cabling in May 2001. The quality system has gone on to include standards for, business cases, projects, requirements, health and safety, specifications, filing, interviewing, purchasing, and supply. (There are many more specifically related to the work of NAL.)

NAL was awarded ISO9001:2000 on 6th March 2002 as a result of a tender requiring it ISO, I had six weeks to get us through, this was the usual just in time approach which I do not like. NAL has passed the assessment in each subsequent year. However many of the standards were not adhered to, to the extent that they should have been and the inspectors seemed lenient to say the least. In my view ISO9001:2000 has become more of a political standard than a practical one. In October 2003 I introduced an assessment system to ensure standards were being followed or changed as appropriate.

During the following year I pushed to get NAL to follow some kind of standardised business process and to share information across the business in a standard way. In February 2005 Individualised quality manuals were presented to supervising staff and I then handed off the quality system to an employee.

Many parts of the system are in use including the Health and Safety standards, however it seems that there is still no work being done based on any business cases, instead less formal approaches are preferred which in my view precludes NAL from benefiting from the wider markets.

Documentation for the resulting quality system is owned by me and used by NAL. I am developing this quality system further and am interested in other businesses interested in using it.

Recommended Reading