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Handling electronic avalanches

In response to "Avoiding an Avalanche" (May 2013, pp. 22-27): While the author makes a strong case for discarding manual document control systems, I think a description of electronic solutions, or their desired characteristics, would have complemented the article nicely.  

Some electronic solutions offer little or no improvement over manual systems. Storing office documents on a server, for example, is no big improvement regardless of folder organization. Sharepoint implementations can easily get buried in the avalanche mentioned unless specific procedural steps are implemented to avoid this.  

As the author points out, increasing quality usually requires increasing documentation. But with traditional document management systems (manual or electronic), the increasing complexity of documentation becomes unmanageable. The difficulty in finding documents and learning how they interrelate grows much faster than the number of documents themselves. This leads many to keep minimal documentation, which is a recipe for minimal quality.

A search function in electronic systems is great, but it still has limited value because even if it helps with finding documents, it rarely simplifies how documents interrelate.

Electronic document management only has a hope of beating the complexity avalanche by enabling the creation of a small-world network of documents. A small-world network is one in which every document is connected to every other document by a small number of clicks (preferably, two to four). Building the network has to be done procedurally to work. It can and should be specified right in the document creation procedure. Contextual links and category-navigation panels are the most useful tools in reducing documentation complexity, and these tools are incredibly easy to build in some systems, like wikis.

So for an electronic solution to be a real improvement over manual document management, the most important feature is that the software allows creation of an effective small-world network of documents. This feature transforms document management and data management into true knowledge management.

Pancho Castano
Cypress, TX


Social buzz

What readers are saying on social media:

On Twitter:

@ JenniferLeny: ISO 9001:2015 is coming! How can your organization utilize ISO 9001 to lift business performance to new heights? http://goo.gl/NVtLJA

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On Facebook:

Joshua Young in response to Expert Answers article, "Correction vs. Corrective Action," (August 2013, p. 8): Corrective action operates at a higher level of Bloom’s order of thinking skills. It applies more consensus building, empirical research methods and systemic improvement. Correction is more direct, involving an individual situation. In organizations, we need both. Performing as a group, at high thresholds, is the end goal. Yet, deviations from the standard must also be addressed through correction if they are isolated and uniquely identifiable.


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Online Extras


New Take on the Tried-and-True

In this month’s Author Audio, listen to John Casey, the author of this month’s cover story, "5S Shakeup," talk more about the benefits that can be realized when you reorder the steps of 5S: standardize, systematize, sort, shine and set in order.

Back to Basics in Spanish

Read the Spanish version of this month’s Back to Basics column, "Tell Me About It, " in which author Nicole M. Radziwill writes that by adding another step — export — to the plan-do-study-act cycle, you can spark innovation.


Quick Poll Results

Each month at www.qualityprogress.com, visitors can take an informal survey. Here are the numbers from last month’s Quick Poll:

What is the largest challenge in implementing quality at your organization?

  • Understanding and meeting customer requirements.  42.8%
  • Driving continuous improvement.  34.2%
  • Adding value to processes.  11.4%
  • Measuring process performance. 11.4%

Visit www.qualityprogress.com for the latest question:

What stage is your organization in when it comes to implementing environmental sustainability initiatives?

  • ISO 14001-certified and have environmental management system (EMS).
  • Not ISO 14001-certified, but have EMS in place.
  • EMS implementation has been discussed, but don’t practice many sustainability initiatives.
  • Don’t practice any sustainability initiatives and have no plans to.

Quality News Today

Recent headlines from ASQ’s global news service

(All URLs case sensitive)

‘Pink Slime’ Returns to School Lunches
Thousands of schools across the United States rushed last year to stop feeding their students meat that contained the ammonia-treated beef, known by industry as lean finely textured beef. But data show schools in four more states have since put aside concerns and resumed buying the controversial product.

NASA Tests Limits of 3-D Printing With Rocket Engine
The largest 3-D printed rocket engine component ever tested was used during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. Innovations such as additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, foster new and more cost-effective capabilities in the U.S. space industry.

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