Where no Blog has gone Before: Star Trek’s Quality Management System, Part 1
I am by no means a “Trekkie.” I don’t go to conventions, nor do I have all the episodes memorized and cataloged. I don’t even try and weigh in on Picard versus Kirk (although I do have some valid points in that debate – another time). What I do know is that no matter how much I try, I cannot seem to ignore the Quality Management side to my life, and while watching an episode of Star Trek the other day, I got to thinking about what type of QMS the USS Enterprise had during their prodigious “trek” through the stars.
We transport (awkwardly) to a general period within the 23rd century (24th for you next generation youngins’). Traveling through space at warp speed is a tricky business. Taking the physics out of it, there are plenty of considerations for running an operation in the deep reaches of space. Logistics, weaponry, medical, and engineering – all are state of the art. But what about their Quality Management System? Was there a Chief Quality Officer aboard the Enterprise? He didn’t get much screen time, if so:
Ensign Quality: “Captain, the Corrective Action is engaged”
Kirk: “I need more analysis, Ensign.”
Ensign Quality: “I can’t give you any more; I’m giving her all she’s got!”
Maybe there’s a reason QMS was not prominently featured – but it’s fun to pretend. So what components of the Quality Management System would be most critical to Kirk and the crew?
Document Control: If Star Trek was anything, they were a true stickler for procedure and protocol. Every time I tuned in, they were talking about protocols and proper procedures. Procedures held the crew together in their utopian world. Violating these protocols could mean disaster for the crew, as we typically saw each week, when Kirk (or Picard or those other guys) would throw out the rule book.
Document Control is the repository in any organization for maintaining control. By having well-defined processes centrally located within a database, organizations can ensure that the most recent documents are the most relevant, and no one is working off of older copies. Document Control also must have workflow for change requests, in order to effectively implement changes to these procedures.
Nonconformance Management: Let’s face it – for an uber-advanced space-faring group, the Enterprise crew seemed to always have mechanical problems or adverse events happening all the time. And it was happening each week (curious)! More often than not, the engineering crew seemed to live inside a deviation record – everything appeared to be a workaround, or a quick and simple solution. Most often problems were identified, analyzed and a solution found. Did they have a well-defined process, or were they just shooting from the hip?
In your organization, hopefully you are not facing nonconformances involving reactor cores or dilithium crystals. More often than not, nonconformances come in product defects, and the importance of identifying them and taking action to correct them is critical to maintaining operations. Having a well-defined Nonconformance process is important to any Quality Management System, and linking those defects to taking Corrective Action is paramount to streamlining the Quality Process.
Corrective Action: Star Trek never really touched much on the Corrective Action process. They would always focus on the problem and the immediate actions taken to correct the problem, but you rarely saw them spend the time doing extensive Corrective Action. Let’s face it – that doesn’t make for good TV. Action plans, review boards and meetings to discuss process improvement aren’t as action-packed as watching “Ensign Johnson” getting vaporized by some unknown alien threat. But I would like to think that the advanced methods that are used to get them to warp speed and transporter technology would also be applied to Corrective Action. Maybe they would be using the computer to run corrective action simulations to figure out the best way to mitigate future disasters and revise protocols to make sure they keep people, including Ensign Johnson, safe.
In your organization, the Corrective Action Process doesn’t end when the threat is mitigated. Corrective Action is an important process of any Quality Management System. It relies on taking the steps necessary to identify root causes, take proper Corrective Action, and ensure that those actions are mitigating the risk of recurrence. Good Corrective Actions not only fix systemic problems, they foster continuous improvement and effect change within the organization.
That’s all for this episode – stay tuned for Part 2 in our Quality Management System Star Trek, where we continue to pick apart the Starfleet regulations for Quality and Compliance. We will get into more concepts of Quality Management, including Training, Risk and Reporting in our next installment.