Conflict of Expectations

A few weeks back, I was at dinner with Larry English and some people from a large consulting firm. It was a social occasion and as the food and informality took hold, the discussion turned to the pillars of the Total Information Quality Management methodology and ethical/moral concerns.

Mr English draws heavily on Deming and the TQM gurus in his view of quality – quality is defined as meeting or execeeding customer expectations and the most important person in the ‘production line’ is the customer. The challenge to this was what would one do if your customer wanted something illegal or immoral to meet their expectation or if, in order to meet or exceed their expectation, you had to do something illegal or immoral.

My response to this argument was to point out that the expectation of society as to the acceptable standards of conduct are expressed in law, both statute and judicial. Just because a product or service meets or exceeds the expectations of a targetted customer it does not mean that it can be produced if the laws of society would preclude it. A good example of this is the location tracking tools that were being deployed by a Dublin security company. The prompt action of Digital Rights Ireland in alerting the Data Protection Commissioner resulted in the expectation of society of privacy (albeit curtailed somewhat for children) was asserted and the product had to be withdrawn.

Where individuals or organisations choose to offer services that are illegal or immoral, and where those services are their business, then it can be argued that their obligation to their customer is the same as a business operating within the law. If a drug dealer (for example) provides low quality product then they will not survive long. Either in business or life.

The choice is whether to operate within the law or not, not whether you need to produce a quality product that meets or exceeds your customer expectations. If you choose to operate within the law, then the legal process will operate (albeit at times slowly) to assert the expectation of Society as a customer. If you choose to act outside the law, producing or selling a product that is illegal, then your obligation to your chosen customer remains the same.