Evolving Quality Management: From Ad Hoc to Chaordic

How's your Quality Management - Ad hoc analytical or chaordic

How can you help your business evolve its mindset to achieve the most instinctive, frictionless and effective levels of quality management in everything it does? In other words, how can you become a more chaordic organisation?

What is a chaordic organisation?

The concept of the chaordic organisation was coined by Dee Hock, one-time CEO of Visa.
It is a vision of a company that has achieved the perfect balance of chaotic, creative energy and business order. It’s a system of organisation that is both cooperative and competitive, efficient and innovative, centralised and decentralised. 

Why not just use Google Drive for your medical device QMS?

How do you become chaordic?

One model of organisational evolution that might help a business move from a conventional business structure to a high-performing chaordic company, is the theory of ‘rightshifting’.

What is rightshifting?

According to this theory, there are four mindsets that organisations must ‘shift’ through to achieve basic and then advanced levels of commercial effectiveness. These are ad hoc, analytic, synergistic and chaordic.

To begin with, it is argued, business management is necessarily chaotic and ad hoc, but must rapidly attain more structure (through a focus on process, regulation and the like) if it’s going to deliver long-term growth. However, at the most advanced levels of effectiveness, there is a kind of seamless, self-organising team management at play that seems to transcend the narrow prescriptiveness of an organisation focused on procedure and ‘compliance’. 

In these advanced states of effectiveness, teams are in perfect alignment, processes are well understood, instinctively applied and subject to continuous improvement; meanwhile products are developed and managed in a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing value and quality, without the burden of disruptive beaurocracy. And that’s the ‘chaordic’ dream.

The theorist Bob Marshall argues that the transition between each phase is a moment of severe but necessary disruption for a company, as ‘ways of doing things’ have to be dramatically reimagined and reinvented. He also argues that most companies are stuck in the early stages of this journey.

The four mindsets of rightshifting

Hows your Quality Management_ Ad hoc, analytical or chaordicRightshifting can be useful way to think about how quality is managed in an organisation and what tools might be deployed to help you move beyond compliance as a distant dream or a mere box-ticking exercise.

Towards a chaordic organisation: the four stages of quality management

Ad hoc

When a business starts out, the approach to implementing quality and adhering to processes is ad hoc. This mindset fits with the creative genius of the startup because it embraces unpredictability. As we invent new things and find new answers to old problems we are necessarily ad hoc in the processes we use to navigate them.


Now, as a business grows and a successful product suite is developed, it is more and more necessary to impose order on the chaos. We need to achieve consistent levels of quality in output in order to become sustainably and commercially successful. Processes are documented, introduced and adherence to them is policed. As a result, there is a noticeable improvement in quality and consistency in the products that are being produced.


This is a move beyond the mechanistic application of quality. The organisation begins to realise the value of a holistic approach, as tasks and roles are acknowledged as interdependent. Evidence-based decision making begins to take precedence, customer needs are fed back routinely into ideation as well as design and management processes. More knowledge sharing and inter-team training is in place across the business. Teams begin to be self organising and there is a deliberate consideration of the organisation as a ‘system’ rather than a collection of functions or silos.


The word suggests a hybrid of ‘chaos’ and ‘order’, but it really defines the self-organising, organic nature of the team’s quality management during this stage. In this phase of development, the organisation operates as ‘one’. Quality is achieved through an instinctive understanding of requirements and deep-seated knowledge of the evidence base for every decision. 

The organisation is so confident in its own powers that it is actually defining and pioneering best practice within its sector. Marshall argues that it so efficient and seamless the business ‘operates balanced at the knife-edge of maximum effectiveness’, with decision making and procedures so finely calibrated that optimal results can be achieved with minimal effort. Organisations like this are lean, highly creative and making products of extraordinary quality.

How to rightshift successfully

We would argue that the way in which these ‘rightshifts’ can be best navigated is through the adoption of the most flexible, digital quality management tools.

Early efforts to organise and document processes and procedures through Excel sheets or Google Drive may be a first attempt at ridding your business of an ad hoc approach to quality management. But it’s never going to be a robust or long term plan.

At the same time, investing in a heavy weight, QMS system designed for large scale corporations to oversee quality may be a walnut to crack a nut. In any event, such a solution may always be too prescriptive and unwieldy take you through an agile journey from ‘ad hoc’ to ‘analytic’ and ‘chaordic’ company management.

What's the difference between a QMS, eQMS and an eDMS?

Choose a gBMS

Instead, using a, Graphical Business Management System as a way of first documenting processes and then embedding quality management best practices throughout your organisation could be a truly scalable solution to this problem. We have shown elsewhere how a gBMS can become embedded into an organisation and assist with the evolution of your quality management mindset.

The right gBMS will offer solutions for process mapping, project management, deep collaboration and more; all within a single digital framework that can match the needs of your business at different stages of its evolution in a robust and agile way.

The gBMS can operate as a visualisation of your entire business structure and all its dependencies, available as an intranet for your employees to access, learn from and contribute to. It can be the tool with which the basic processes of your operations are documented - and the tool with which your teams can begin self organising in incredibly sophisticated way.

In our dealings with clients we have seen a gBMS acting as a central repository of quality information for an entire organisation and becoming a focus for process optimisation activity at all levels of a company.

Smoother and more successful rightshifting?

The rightshifting model argues the moments of transition between the different phases of development are necessarily disruptive and can cause businesses to fail altogether. We would argue that the transforming effects of these transitions could be less commercially disruptive by introducing the quality management tools that can deliver them early on.

With a gBMS each stage of quality management can naturally lead from one to another - adding functionality and building capabilities as required to support smoother and more organic shifts of mindset.

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Blog post updated on 31/05/2023

Tags: Product Management

Joe Byrne

Written by Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is the CEO of Cognidox. With a career spanning medical device start-ups and fortune 500 companies, Joe has over 25 years of experience in the medical device and high-tech product development industries. With extensive experience in scaling businesses, process improvement, quality, medical devices and product development, Joe is a regular contributor to the Cognidox DMS Insights blog where he shares expertise on scaling and streamlining the entire product development cycle, empowering enterprises to achieve governance, compliance, and rigour.

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