California has made a huge investment in technology resources for K-12 education. Most of this investment recently has been toward improvement in the use of technology for instructional purposes. The management aspects of technology are all too often addressed as an afterthought rather than a planned set of tasks to be accomplished along with technology acquisition and deployment. Many technology resources, like those through the Federal Communication Commission ‘E-Rate’ Program, have come without any added funding for support of any kind until just recently with E-Rate 2.0. But even the increased funding associated with the new E-Rate plan won't yield more funding for school districts--it'll just allow for more districts to subscribe to the program. Interestingly, district will be LOSING funding for resources because of the eradication of telephony support in the E-Rate plan.
So how can districts identify, manage, implement, and support the systems they need more effectively? Here's how:
Total Quality Management (TQM) approach
Strategic planning and communication
Identifying resource requirements
I'll address the first element, TQM, in this post and work on the others in upcoming posts.
Total Quality Management
Management science has evolved to provide excellent insights into what works and does not work. Managers who are tired of reacting to crises and letting the ‘process’ run the operation are looking to management science for answers. As with any task there are good ways, better ways, and best ways to handle the job. School district technology resources support organizations can benefit enormously from adopting some of the management practices which shaped and keep leading world businesses on top of their industry. Total Quality Management (TQM) is one of the foremost of those management practices which keep leading companies on top today.
Walter Shewart developed an innovative managerial approach which involved a Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle for industrial processes. The work of Shewart inspired W. Edwards Deming who took the concept and applied it to service, administration, management and government processes. Deming coined the term “Total Quality Management” which is a system of continuous improvement employing all employees and all activities. It is centered on customer or product needs. TQM has been used by Japan to become a world leader in delivering quality products.
TQM is an application of the scientific method with special consideration to the human aspects of people working as part of complex processes. It works, as first the Japanese and now U. S. companies have demonstrated. This method requires that you view the delivery of any product or service as a system and that you strive to first define, then work to improve that system with representatives from all facets of the process. Thus, a well-rounded view and approach to any obstacles in the way of improvements can be developed, implemented and monitored for effectiveness. It is derived from Shewart’s Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle. Plan the system, implement it, study the results and act to improve it. Deming adds special considerations for the humans involved in systems by removing barriers to improvements that can be entrenched in an organization or system.
This model views the delivery of a product or service as a ‘system’. A product or service system is that network of elements which work together to achieve common goals. The figure below depicts a generalized system. Attention to the inputs and methods which provide a product or service will result in a quality output. Inputs include the knowledge, skill, etc. of the workers involved, the quality of materials and support tools available, the expertise of vendors used, etc. An example is the system (procedures, tools, materials, labor) used for PC desktop support and would include the entire process used to resolve a call for help from an end user.
So here are the general steps of the TQM approach:
State the problem
Describe the current situation
Identify the root cause
Take corrective action
Standardize the results
Note that you must empower employees at all levels to change the system. This is important. For the employees to be able to take ‘possession’ of the product/service they must have some control of how it is to be delivered. This does not mean management abdicates all responsibility to the employees, but it does mean that employees will KNOW that all recommendations of their quality teams will be taken seriously. This approach requires that recommendations be responded to by management so all employees understand management’s position on what employees see as issues.
It is important to promote teamwork, leadership, and pride of ‘ownership’ in the product/service by all employees. Keep organization structures as flat as possible to give employees visibility to top management and keep efficiency high. Both of which will tend to keep costs down.
There are many steps needed to implement a quality management program for any organization. The first is to make continuous improvement of your services the aim for all. This means that we build quality improvement into our processes for development and delivery of our services. We need to regularly re-examine the systems for our services for possible improvements. Most of us accomplish this through clear mission statements, the communication of a well-articulated vision coupled with well-outlined goals so everyone can get on the same page. Next, use work teams to analyze your services for improvements. Check how you are doing but don't use fear and reprisal as a means for trying to improve.
Next, it's important that we stop awarding business on the basis of cost alone. I know this is easier said than done but it's critical in the long run that we let quality, not price, drive the awarding of our business (e.g. PC purchases, network equipment, etc.).
Everyone needs training and retraining to be effective at their jobs. New skills need to be developed and knowledge learned so as to be of maximum benefit to the work they do. As improvements come and the systems and processes change, all workers will need to get re-educated so they can function optimally. As leaders, we have to promote and reward those who actively seek self-improvement.
Another challenge is to remove the barriers that stand between workers and your managers. You can do this by tearing down communication walls, foster interrelationships among workers so everyone works closer and more reliably together. Less friction = more efficiency.
Also, we should remove quotas. Quotas impede quality by not leaving room for improvement and do not provide the flexibility needed by workers to improve service, (e.g. each technician has to average 10 repairs per day). Don't rely on quotas. Improvements in the process will result in improved service. Slogans are another thing to avoid. They can be offensive by presupposing that the work can be done better with existing processes, resources and managers, when it cannot be. Motivation for better, more efficient work will come with a better more efficient system to produce products and services.
Lastly, we need to honor each job. We must respect each worker. So give feedback on how your folks are doing their jobs and listen to any issues seen as impediments to improvement. Instill pride in workmanship.