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Quality and Risk Colliding

Before the turn of the millennium, it was possible to access a reasonably clear definition of quality and risk in management standards or legislation or a standard dictionary. Even today, the person on the high street is able to use these terms comfortably when communicating, though generally lacking the precision desired by management professionals. Leaving other considerations aside, we do not ask for less quality or more risk and we do not talk about the risk of winning the lottery.

So why is ISO introducing a framework of fundamental management concepts that will upset this applecart? The new concept of risk allows it to be both negative and positive with no standard convention to differentiate between the two. Those who support the new definition have no credible or convincing argument for this major conceptual change. Has the situation arisen because the risk profession woke up to the fact that they were only addressing the loss part of the management of uncertainty that we have always understood as risk and long embedded in our legislation and psyche? Did they realise, quite rightly, that the uncertainty of gain (often referred to as prospect) was just as or even more important to management – but rather than renaming their profession ‘prospect and risk’ or just ‘uncertainty management’ they decided to make the little ‘r’ into big ‘R’ and expand their territory of influence.

Meanwhile, the quality guys were trying to make little ‘q’ into big ‘Q’ and expand their sphere of influence. However, the risk professionals, using ISO 31000 as their main propaganda vehicle, were able to exert their influence within ISO to get the new risk definition included as a fundamental concept within the Annex SL framework requiring standards such as ISO9001 (quality) and ISO14001 (environment), etc to define risk as capable of being negative and positive. Let us hope that the needs of organisations and common sense may eventually prevail!

Featured in Insight (March 2016)