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Information Systems Management

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James A. Ward
Published online: 30 May 2007.

To cite this article: James A. Ward (1994) CONTINUOUS PROCESS IMPROVEMENT, Information Systems Management, 11:2,
74-76, DOI: 10.1080/10580539408964640

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James A. Ward
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Even in corporations that have made great strides in implementing total quality management, IS
departments have not always kept pace. This column, the first in a series to address issues of
quality management in the IS department, discusses how the principles of TQM can be modified
and successfully applied to information systems.

O N T I N U O U S IMPROVE- Use Problem-Solving Methods and Continuous process improvement

went of processes is one of the Measures t o Achieve Continuous involves documenting, analyzing, and
essential elements of TQM. A Improvement. Define your processes, measuring all activities performed by
minimum set of stable and then systematically apply analysis and the organization. Errors are analyzed
repeatable processes is required probIem solving to improve processes. for their root causes and aggressive
before systems development, mainte- Never be satisfied with the process. If action is taken t o eliminate these
nance, and operation can be kffective- it ain't broke, fix it. Continuously causes so that errors do not recur.
ly measured, controlled, and apply and repeat these steps. Steps that are unnecessary or do not
improved. However, most IS organiza- add value are eliminated. Processes
tions do not even have defined sys- Use Teams a n d Teamwork. Teams are standardized and simplified to
tems development processes. maximize problem-solving power, limit variability. The focus is always
support, and commitment or buy in. on the process, not on the product or
CENTRAL MESSAGES OF Teams need t o be formed around on t h e individual performing t h e
QUALITY your work processes, including: process. Employees are educated and
Wc can define four basic concepts of empowered so that all personnel fully
0 F u n c t i o n a l t e a m s . T h e s e teams
the quality movement and illustrate understand and are committed to the
address everything the department
how they can be applied to IS. organization's processes.
O C r o s s - f u n c t i o n a l t e a m s . These break
An I n t e n s e Focus o n C u s t o m e r s down barriers between depart- WHICH PROCESSES D.0 YOU
a n d T h e i r Satisfaction. The first ments. PURSUE?
conccpt of quality is to identify, mea- 0 S y s t e m t e a m s . These span vendors, Before continuous process improve-
sure, and design into the product or company personnel, and customers. ment can be implemented, the IS
servicc attributes that the customer organization must establish some
cares about. C u s t o n ~ e rsatisfaction Manage a Process That Encourages basic processes for doing information
must be continuously monitored and systems work. TQM is a system of
Quality. Management must lead the
measured. Make sure that everybody prevention. It focuses on eliminating
quality process, creating a climate that
knows your IS customers, both exter-
allows ideas and information to flow defects and on doing the job right the
nal and internal, and can see the ulti-
freely without fear of criticism. You first time and every time. Processes
mate custo~nerusing your products
should be using participative methods must be stable, repeatable, visible,
and scrvices.
to maximize input, ideas, commit- and measurable. You can't control
ment, and buy in. Management must what you can't measure. The standard
JAMES A. WARD is an independent management insist that everyone understands quali- must be zero defects.
constrltant specializing in systems development pro- ty and has a personal responsibility for However, most IS organizations
ject nlanagement and implemenfationo{TQM in
inlormation sysfoms. He resides in Mays Landing quality, and it recognizes and rewards lack even a minimum set of processes.
N]and can be rcached at (609)383-1744. quality work. Motorola, which is further along on

S P R I N G 1 0 8 4

this journey than most organizations, USE OF ADVANCED TOOLS AND Big Six usually require that a customer
found that the systems development TECHNIQUES purchase considerable training with
process must be nudged from an indi- These methodologies include struc- their SDLC and may also require that
vidual art f o r m t o a measurable tured techniques, prototyping, joint their consultants manage (and some-
process before it can be rigorously application development (JAD), and times staff) a pilot project using the
controlled. Unlike most manufactur- object-oriented development, among SDLC--all of this work at substantial
ing operations, the same system is other techniques. These techniques additional cost. Other IS vendors offer
never developed twice. However, 1s alter the way the basic processes are similar SDLC products and services.
can and should use the same set of applied but do not change the funds- 1 know of no comprehensive SDLC
processes to develop and maintain all mental nature of the processes them- that can be purchased off the shelf for
systems. selves. The same is true of im~lemen- a reasonable price. If there are such
The m i n i m u m set of tation of purchased software. offerings in the IS marketplace, I
processes that must be defined and The next step is automation of the would appreciate knowing about them
implemented in an IS organization Processes using computer-aided soft- and mention their availabilityin a
are: ware engineering (CASE) technology. futurecolumn.
Here, significant quality and ~ r o d u c - In-house development of an SDLC
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Systems life tivity gains can be made, but only in a is not recommended for rea-
(SDLC)methodology. The SDLC stable environment.
contains the tasks to be performed sons. It takes considerable time and
and the outputs to be ~roducedin effort, usually from your best people,

performing systems development with a high risk that a usable document
and maintenance work. The SDLC will not be the result. Organizations
should be applied and followed on that do not have extensive experience
all projects, not left up to the dis- ontinuous process in using an SDLC successhlly are not
cretion of the project staff. improvement never stops, 6ut likely to be able to develop one. At any
0 Project management methodology. it is never self-sustaining. rate, this effort is extremely time-con-
This methodology must be applied suming. Further-more, while undergo-
consistently to all systems develop- The Process must con- ing the time and expense of in-house
ment work, enabling consistent and stantly nurtured through development, the organization remains
effective visibility, measurability, management inuolUementand without a usable SDLC.
and control of all work performed. As an alternative, a purchased
O Q u a l i t y a s s v r o n c e a n d t e s t i n g emplo~eeempowermenl. SDLC can be put to use immediately.
methodology. This should include a Even given the expense, it will be well
system of walkthroughs, inspec- ~~~~~~~~~~tof the systems devel- worth the investment. Over time, a
tions, and technical reviews. Quality opment and maintenance activities is good methodology can be modified to
should be ensured at all steps with- essential if processes are to be effec- meet an organization's unique desires
in the systems development life tively controlled a n d i m p r o v e d , and needs. In other words, adopt a
cycle. This methodology enables processes must be stable and good SDLC, become adept in its use,
feedback and control of the process. before they can be measured. for- and adapt it over time to your envi-
and CASE tech- ronment.
These processes establish the basis for
continuous improvement. In addition, "o1ogy are measurements
the must establish will become more sophisticated. (A Formal Project Management
dards of performance for every task future column will discuss measure- A good ~rojectmanagement method-
contained in the systems develop- in ology is much easier to obtain; some
ment life cycle and the project man- SDLCs include one. Let me emphati-
agement methodology. Without stan- SOURCES OF BASIC cally state that project management is
dards, the quality assurance effort PROCESSES not software, but there are automated
becomes subjective and arbitrary, Very few IS organizations have formal project control products available that
which can quickly undermine any SDLC methodologies in place. This is may include a basic project manage-
TQM effort. true in part because these methodolo- merit methodology. Numerous books
These recommended processes gies are expensive 2nd hard to come available on t h e subject provide a
become the basis for further improve- by. T h e most prominent source of starting point. Excellent project man-
ment initiatives. Methodologies and SDLCs are consulting branches of the agement methodologies, including all
advanced techniques can only be used Big Six accounting firms. However, the forms and procedures, plus sufficient
consistently and effectively where sta- price tag on these methodologies is training, can be purchased for under
ble processes exist. usually in excess of $50,000. A11 of the $10,000.

S P R I N G 1 0 0 4

T h e s a m e is essentially t r u e of begin continuous process improve- are t h e very s a m e benefits t h a t a n

quality assurance and testing method- m e n t . U n d o u b t e d l y , plans m u s t organization achieves from business
ologies. Many complete SDLCs con- include considerable employee train- process reengineering. These include
tain these elements. Books and semi- ing. Employees also n e e d t o b e work simplification, reduced cycle
nars are also readily available. trained in TQM tools and techniques time, fewer defects, and lower error
so t h a t t h e y c a n l a u n c h effective rates, which ultimately lead t o sub-
QElTlNQ STARTED improvement efforts. This training stantial cost reduction, higher quality,
W h e n i m p l e m e n t i n g T Q M , it is has a real advantage in that tools and
and increased customer satisfaction.
important that the organization do a techniques used in continuous
In addition, one of the greatest bene-
self-assessment of its culture and envi- process improvement are identical to
many of those needed in business fits is t o employee morale through
r o n m e n t . C o n t i n u o u s process empowerment, c o m m i t m e n t t o t h e
improvement will not yield quality and process reengineering. T h e e n t i r e
organization can benefit by furthering organization, and free and open two-
productivity increases if the environ-
employee empowerment a n d t h e way communication. Both manage-
ment is not conducive to free and open
effective use of teams, both 01 which m e n t a n d staff m u s t actively work
co~nrnunicationand employees are not
a r e central t o c o n t i n u o u s process t o g e t h e r o n c o n t i n u o u s process
empowered or cliallenged t o make
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improvements. An outside person is improvement efforts. i~nprovement.

~isuallyneeded t o perform such a n Implementing T Q M is not easy.
Fully two-thirds of all T Q M efforts

assessment for the following reasons:
fail t o realize significant benefits. T h e
1. An organization's culture is invisible reasons are always the same-lack of
to internal management and staff.
n -house deuelopment of management understanding, commit-
2. Management lacks understanding of
an SDLC isn't recommended; m e n t , and involvement. T h e single
better ways to manage IS. No one
will implement tools and techniques greatest impediment t o T Q M is t h e
it takes considerable time t o p IS executive. W h e n this person
with which they are unfamiliar.
3. Management and staff may be sat- and effort, usually from your does not insist on standards, the effort
isfied with current levels of quality, best people, with a high risk will not succeed. Iiowever, once con-
especially where there is n o strong that a usable document will verted, the IS executive becomes the
competition. greatest force behind significant qual-
4. W i t h o u t guidance, management not be the result. ity improvements.
may fear losing current levels of . Continuous process improvement
q u a l i t y a n d p r o d u c t i v i t y in never stops, b u t it is never self-sus-
attempts to improve. BENEFITS OF CONTINUOUS taining. T h e process m u s t b e con-
O n c e a c o m m i t m e n t is m a d e t o PROCESS IMPROVEMENT stantly n u r t u r e d through manage-
'I'QM, plans m u s t b e developed t o T h e benefits from implementing con- m e n t involvement a n d employee
implement t h e processes needed t o tinuous process improvement in 1s empowerment. I

S P R I N G 1 0 0 4