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Denise Robitaille


They’re Everywhere, They’re Everywhere!

Documents and evidence, that is

Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 - 23:00

Many of us quality professionals have been teased by our families on more than one occasion for applying quality principles to everyday life. “I know you said you did your homework, but I’d like to see the evidence.” Admit it; many of you have been caught using quality speak around the house. Others have used planning or improvement initiatives to handle chores and projects.

The next time you get some ribbing for bringing your quality jargon home you might want to point out the following. The essence of two of the most beloved Christmas stories of the last 100 years rests squarely on documentation and evidence. One is an actual event; the other a wonderful movie.

Around the turn of the century a young girl in New York City asked her father about the existence of Santa Claus. She was troubled because some of her friends were saying that he wasn’t real at all. Her father suggested that she send her inquiry to the editor of the New York Sun, reminding her that if something was printed in the Sun it must be true. The editor replied with the now famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” The only evidence Virginia needed was this editorial—this document—published in one of the most widely-circulated publications of the day. The authority implicit in the newspaper’s reputation allowed no refutation. There is a Santa Claus.

The point here isn’t to advocate for the existence of the Jolly Old Elf. It’s that the little girl turned to reputable objective evidence for her answer. She sought out the source document recognized as the appropriate authority on the subject.

The editorial, by the way, is reputed to be the one most often reproduced in the English language.

The perennially popular movie Miracle on 34th Street owes its entire plot resolution to objective evidence. Kris Kringle is in court defending his sanity. At stake is the delivery of thousands of toys to good little boys and girls all over the world. Salvation arrives in the form of dozens of sacks filled with thousands of children’s letters addressed to Santa and delivered by the United States Post Office—a federally-funded government agency.

In the face of the mountain of evidence (that literally buries him), the judge (another governmental official) concludes that Kris Kringle must be Santa. The proof is insurmountable; the decision handed down by an unassailable authority—a judge. The story’s happy ending couldn’t have happened without those thousands of bits of objective evidence.

None of this invalidates the magic and wonder at the core of these heart-warming stories. But it gives us a chance to reflect on our perception of quality stuff as being glacially rigid.

Sometimes I get the sense that people resent documentation as something constraining, rather than something that enables. They seem concerned that having something down on paper means that they’ve lost the freedom to change things or to come up with better ideas. For them, documentation represents dehumanization.

In one of his fables, Leonardo da Vinci describes documents as the “guardians of men’s thoughts.” His tale is a celebration of our capacity to capture our thoughts and put them in a format that can be shared by others. Rather than being sterile and inert, documents are a manifestation of our humanity.

So is it any wonder that the practices surrounding the use of documents occasionally find their way into other aspects of our lives? Or into our favorite holiday stories?

Best of the holiday season to one and all,


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.