Quality & Business Improvement

All I want for Christmas

From Thanksgiving to mid December, there's one over-riding obsession weighing down the mind of most Quality people's partners and that's what on earth to buy them for Christmas. Quality professionals in the UK tend to have it rough at Christmas: there's a long holiday when all sorts of things could be going wrong at work. Of course, they're on call, and ready to dash off to save the world at a minutes' notice: but family life and quality superhero stuff don't mix all that well. The family doesn't tend to co-operate with improvement initiatives (especially the in-laws!) and watching television can be torture when it's portraying good will to all men and peace to the earth. And the presents don't help: socks, chocolates, a pen, yet more software, cuff-links.

And so - partly as a hint to my own partner, partly as a nostalgic tribute to an ideal world - here are the presents that a quality professional would really like.

It's politically incorrect, it's the sort of toy I never had, yet it's totally fine for quality teaching, it's a six sigma catapult. If you want to teach design of experiments or Taguchi methods, here is the ideal aid. There are five factors which can be varied over three levels to determine the best combination of tilt, spring direction, draw back distance, ball position and ball type for overcoming the enemy - oh, sorry, I got carried away there, but just imagine the fun of learning how to use it!

Or, for the ultimate status symbol, what about a collapsible Deming bowl? Shewhart used an ordinary kitchen bowl, and you could use this for fruit between teaching assignments, but think of the feeling of folding the bowl down between your clothes as you head off for another excursion into introducing quality initiatives. The only warning I would give is to make sure that the beads are kept in a safe place, there's no worse feeling than walking along a long stone corridor, your trousers leaking coloured beads at unpredictable intervals.

Yes, I suppose I ought to get sensible. Books. Every quality professional wants nothing better than a good book and every quality professional's heart sinks on seeing a book-shaped parcel, because the contents are bound to be worthy and extremely boring. (Or else the sort of book which the giver would really like to read first!) But there are exceptions. As a rule of thumb, I'd say practically anything by Donald Wheeler, but if pressed, I'd go for a tiny little book, which can be read in, say, half an hour, though readers are still chuckling up to five weeks later, when they think about it. It's "SPC at the Esquire Club". The scenario - which is true, by the way - is about the Philadelphia Area Council of Excellence, who organised a tour of Japan in 1985. It involved a lot of visits to manufacturing companies and, naturally, examination of the Quality circles there. Some of the group members eventually decided to take some time off (they thought!) and headed for a nightclub. The group members looked appreciatively at the young waitresses and looked again, thinking they were hallucinating. Rabbit ears, yes, neat bow tie, yes, fishnet stockings, yes, Quality circle logo - what on earth ...?!? And so, this charming book, half in English, half in Japanese, details the statistical process control initiatives at this nightclub and, believe me, you will never see an Ishikawa diagram in the same light again!

There's a strong case for saying that quality control really took off in the Second World War, when it was more vital than ever to make sure that things were right first time. It's also far too easy to credit the modern inventors of quality initiatives, like Pareto, Ishikawa or even Shewhart, without considering that perhaps, some time, someone else faced - and cracked - that particular problem. Anyway, Juran went off to the People's Republic of China in 1982 and, apart from having a really good time, at last started an initiative he'd been considering for years: a history of managing for quality, written by teams of experts from different countries and then collated into this fantastically readable and interesting book. I must admit, I got this book three years ago, and although it's thick and heavy, it has pride of place on my quality bookshelf and never has a chance to get dusty, because it gets picked up perhaps every couple of months or so, when I want to feel motivated. Some of the chapters are predictable: on the construction of ancient Greek temples, the quality of clocks and the interface between Guilds and cathedral building. Others are just a surprise and a joy: Czech beer and sugar production, early India, Scandinavian shipbuilding. It's all neatly tied up with a summary from Juran himself after concluding chapters about quality in the United Kingdom, the United States and also quality in Japan. But don't try to read it all at once, the aim is to read a bit, eat a mince pie, read a bit more, drink a nice cup of tea, do something else ... it's the ultimate quality bedside table relaxing book.

I guess it is possible to put on a video and quietly subvert the family into the quality mindset. There's one video which could do that and keep them fascinated at the same time: "Mission Critical". It's all about how NASA built a new Mission Control, which is all very interesting, but the way they did it - faster, better, cheaper - is the key part, especially as it was all done by attacking NASA's conventional thinking and its usual approaches to project management.

What I'm trying to convey is that it's possible to give presents which are useful, but which are fun, too. In a wider sense, maybe what I want to say is that quality professionals are fun human beings, too, whatever the manufacturing people may think. In evidence, I give you Baldrige, who was rodeo riding well into his 70s. Or Deming, who played timpani and drums in a band when at University and who later composed a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" (same words, different music). My mission as a quality person is to enjoy life and, please, please, I really do hope that the presents I get this year will reflect this.

Possible suppliers (prices are approximate):

1) The CAT-100 6 sigma catapult ($350) Lightning Calculator, PO Box 611, Troy, Michigan 48099-0611. Tel: (248) 641 7030.

2) The Deming bowl ($590) DOES Institute Inc, 519 Deacon Boulevard, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27105 Tel: (336) 723 3637.

3) SPC at the Esquire Club - Donald Wheeler ($10) Statistical Press Controls Inc, 5908 Toole Drive, Suite C, Knoxville, Tennessee 37919 Tel: (865) 584 5005

4) A History of Managing for Quality: the evolution, trends and future directions of managing for quality - J M Juran (editor in chief) (purchased in UK for £32) ASQC Quality Press, 611 East Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203 Tel: 800 248 1946

5) Mission Critical: getting results by attacking conventional thinking ($695, rental $195) Training ABC, 950 Taylor Station Road, Suite J, Gahanna, OH 43230 Tel: (888) 281 8038.

© Fell Services Ltd., 2004

Jenny's photo

Quality Home
Previous Work


Bluffer's Guide to SPC

Singapore Airlines

Skunk Works

Risk Management


All I want for Christmas