The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that “all systems tend towards disorder.”
It’s interesting to me to think about actions (corrective or preventive) in the context of a management system in terms of energy and potential chaos. The reasoning for this is that without energy introduced into the system, there is a predictable outcome, which is a net loss to the system and inevitable tendency to disorder, possibly chaos. This helps me frame why paying lip-service to a management system is potentially worse than not having a management system in place at all. For some businesses, not having a management system at all (certified or not) can or will kill their ability to win contracts, operate in some markets, and ultimately identify opportunity, never mind have continuous improvement within their grasp.
Companies with management systems and those that manage actions well have an advantage over those that do not. These companies can use key metrics around actions like time to close out actions of particular types and priority – they can even use the traits of actions in the context of a management system as a leading indicator. With the right approach and system in place, they can build organizational knowledge and preserve corporate memory, they can collaborate at distance on individual action plans, and they can efficiently share best practice. This is synonymous with injecting energy to the system and slowing or arresting the natural tendency of the Second Law. They are typically more proactive because they have intelligence regarding what actions have proven effective elsewhere in their operations. The “elsewhere” could be an adjacent department or an operation on the other side of the world.
Consequences of Chaos
The consequences of management system chaos range from wasted effort, misappropriation of resources, and lack of visibility to the total collapse of a management system (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/539c/da359c60d6ccd0a2c665d8a16bcc1b9731be.pdf Page 484). Of note in this study from 2008 is the following statement: “…the cost of corrections could at best be estimated based on risk analysis, and there were no formal methods of measuring the cost of the people in the organization developing and improving structures and methods (preventive action) as this was either integrated with normal work or done without measuring the costs.”
This is just one failing diagnosed and is an example of poor quality management, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to consider the consequences of similar symptoms in the EHS management system context. There is plenty at stake when it comes to the potential for actions and the data therein not being fully leveraged. An event somewhere in the organization being addressed in a water-tight incident management workflow with stellar root-cause-analysis resulting in corrective action or actions has potential for preventive action application elsewhere immediately upon verification of effectiveness. Ultimately, a known issue has a blueprint for improvement that could and should be broadcast and shared without delay. More energy for the system as it were.
Action plans provide energy to the management system that keeps them from descending into chaos. Think of the controls and attributes such as responsibility, timeliness, authority, approvals, cost, etc. Action plans in quality management systems are often complex in their frameworks. Think of the 8-D process, derived from Ford Motors’ Team Oriented Problem Solving (TOPS) in the 1980s (http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/eight-disciplines-8d/). Automotive manufacturers and the universe of suppliers to Automotive typically configure (in software solutions) their Action Plans to emulate the steps in the entire problem-solving methodology stages. That’s eight dimensions of problem solving in a single action plan. They don’t have to do this but it warms my heart when I see it because every step and every data point provides potential value to the organization and maybe one day to all industry. That’s a good thing.
Actions and tasks in the context of action plans are not the only input of energy in the context of a management system, but they are technically the primary source (and record) of getting work done or work being done and if it isn’t, then it should. Otherwise, it can and should be considered an impediment. This critically important element and process within a management system touches so many other key processes, and has such value, that not doing it right can be devastating to a business.
For those who do get it right, there’s even more benefit in store. The upside to action plans done right is extracting actionable insights from the tasks or work completed and verified for effectiveness or ‘done right with the expected outcome’ and the context of the data captured along the way. It used to be, when technology was first employed for management systems, that the health of a system was a measure in a reduction in action plan delinquency and a successful deployment was considered in terms of the amount of data residing in the repository. This should probably be considered the most basic advantage of using software. There’s nothing wrong with expecting an action plan delinquency report delivered automatically at the speed of light with a high data quality threshold, by the way but that should be the genesis of improvement.
While data-in remains a key imperative, the manner in which data is captured has evolved, especially with multi-platform solutions, smart devices with cameras and voice to text; the true marker of a high-performance management system is its ability to provide actionable insight.
The ultimate payoff occurs when an organization learns and can predict issues, respond to them quickly (or in advance), and anticipate new issues before they emerge.
Think of actions as energy – always. Actions provide energy. Stewardship of a robust problem-solving process embedded in the management system can prevent your organization from descending into disorder – or becoming chaotic.
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