Guest Post: Quality Management, Continuous Improvement, and Their Relation to the Golden Circle

Quality Management, Continuous Improvement, and Their Relation to the Golden Circle

Chris Moustakas President, Chief Executive Officer. Chris entered the enterprise software industry right after graduation. He helped design and build mission-critical applications in industries as varied as Insurance, Banking, Healthcare, and Utilities. Today, Chris is passionate about helping organizations of any size become more agile and improve their operations by adopting the Devonway platform approach to their digital needs. Visit Chris’s blog at

There’s an old joke in the software world that there are only two hard things about computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors. Performance-oriented organizations don’t have to worry much about cache invalidation and off-by-one errors (at least I hope not), but what we call things is fundamentally important. If you start throwing out terms like Kaizen Events and Hoshin Planning when you talk to people outside the Six Sigma team, for example, you’re guaranteed to lose them.

Similarly, how we refer to the frameworks we use to improve performance can send subtle but important signals to the rest of the organization. In his famous Ted talk, Simon Sinek argues that if you look at the world through the simple concentric layers of why-how-what (the Golden Circle), and push yourself as close as possible to the center circle, “why,” you position yourself to be more of a visionary than a doer. “What” we do to accomplish a goal is tactical, bland, and uninspiring. “How” we set ourselves up to accomplish that goal is strategic and implies direction. “Why” we do what we do is the million-dollar question, and where true inspiration originates.

Only you can answer the question of why you do what you do, of course. It’s why you get paid the big bucks, and if you don’t know the answer, stop everything you’re doing because priority number one should be figuring that little doozy out.

But when you get down to the nitty gritty of communicating specifics to stakeholders, it can be powerful to choose terminology that embodies “how” more than “what.” Quality Management is a “what” – it’s the name we give the system we use to manage a specific process. “What do we do? We manage quality.” Continuous Improvement is a “how” – it’s the cultural framework we adopt to ensure we’re set up for success. “How do we manage quality? By allowing ourselves to continuously improve.”

There’s overlap for sure. You can’t have an effective Continuous Improvement program, after all, without a set of Quality Management processes and tools. But Quality Management is by definition limited in scope, whereas Continuous Improvement is not. It’s not verbal gymnastics, it’s clarity and focus. Words do matter.

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