What makes a Quality System work? What makes a Quality System fall short or even fail? Our speaker this month, Kirk
Peterson will address some of these questions in his presentation
on September 23rd. I’d like to take the opportunity to share some
perspectives I have regarding such questions.
As a quality professional, I have observed systems work,
systems thrive, and systems fall flat on their systemic faces…In
these observations, I have noted certain key elements that appear
fairly consistent within the various responses.
In an effort to be brief, it appears to me, that the primary
mode of success or failure is directly related to the mindset and
attitudes of the folks expected to implement and work within the
Quality System. For systems that have not done so well, how often
have we heard the ‘change theme whine’ of: “…We’ve always
done it that way”?
When such a ‘change theme whine’ is pervasive throughout
the organization, good quality, and good change emerging from
good quality will be severely hindered.
Conversely, in those organizations where Quality Systems have engendered success, there is a broad sense of unity and
purpose across the company. There additionally appears to be a
cultural embrace for optimal improvements through change and
Indeed, I have seen companies chase after Six Sigma or ISO
9001 for the sole purpose of being able to market the concept…yet
missing the whole bottom line point of what the spirit of such
practices are designed to create.
At the end of the day, isn’t any Quality System simply a tool
to plan, measure, analyze, react and deploy change for the specific
purpose of continuous improvement across all levels? Isn’t such a
thing the final reason we might go through the trouble of
implementing a Quality System of whatever the flavor of the
My myth buster in this article is simply my personal
observation that if any Quality System results in great success, or
great failure, it is because it was designed in a way that engaged
(or failed to engage) the practitioners to grasp the idea that change
is good and continuous improvement is better.
Thus, for any Quality System to work, the first task is to get a
buy-in from the folks expected to practice the “art”. Let them help
design the system, let them define the needs, let them weigh in,
and let them own the system. The more any Quality System is
built on the ideas of the individuals of a culture, the more an overall
cultural buy-in will occur, and likely, the more profound and
measurable the continuous improvement elements will become. If
done correctly, the quality system will feed-back upon itself and
amplify as one success begets another…and so on…so goes a
simplistic observation of a successful quality system.
Obviously, at the other end is when there’s a quality system
attempted where there’s a cultural resistance to change…the
probability for failure is high unless the cultural element is
considered and actively dealt with as part of the quality
deployment process…Thus, in summary it would seem that it’s the
attitude of the folks, not the specific nature of the quality system
that determines the relative success of a quality system.
The following article has circulated on the internet for some
time. I thought it might help drive some points home regarding the “we’ve always done it that way” whine modality.
The facts within the article have not been confirmed, nor, are
there any obvious references apparent; however it paints an
amusing picture worthy of consequence.
The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between rails) is 4
feet 8.5 inches. That is an exceptionally odd number. Why was
that gauge used?
Because that's the way they built them in England, and the
U.S. Railroads were built by English expatriates.
Why did the English build them that way? Because the first
rail lines were built by the same people who built pre-railroad
tramways, and that's the gauge they used.
Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because people who
built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for
building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
So why did the wagons have that particular odd spacing?
Well if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels
would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England,
because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance
roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for
their legions. The roads have been used ever since.
And the ruts in the roads? The ruts in the roads, which
everyone had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels,
were first formed by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were
made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter
of wheel spacing.
The U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches derives
from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.
Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next
time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass
came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial
Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate
the back end of two warhorses. Thus, we have the answer to the
Now the twist to the story…… When we see a space shuttle
sitting on its launching pad, there are two booster rockets attached
to the side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or
The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The
engineers who designed the SRB's might have preferred to make
them a little bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped
by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from
the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The
tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad
track is about as wide as two war horse's behinds.
So, the major design feature of what arguably the world's
most advanced transportation system was determined over two
thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass!!!