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American Society for Quality Saginaw 1004
Busting the Myths


By Cary Black: Chairman of the Board


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 continuous improvement.

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 month is…


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.

We’ve Always Done It That Way!


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 original question.


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 SRB's.

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!!!