Quality Management
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Physics and Quality

Working in quality management offers a sure-fire method to learn what resistance to change is all about.

by A. Blanton Godfrey

If we stop to think about it, quality and physics have many things in common: inertia, entropy, critical mass, resistance, energy conservation, even Boyle's Law. We continually deal with many of these difficult concepts in our day-to-day work.

Inertia. Anyone who has tried to start a quality initiative in an organization    understands inertia well. In Joseph M. Juran's words, "To get a large ship moving in the right direction, you need quite a few tugboats."

In the past few years, we have seen many different "tugboats." These include quality councils to focus efforts and designate needed resources, special training sessions, quality days and seminars; newsletters and special in-house publications; quality parades, celebrations and picnics; new reward and recognition schemes; gifts, memorabilia, books and calendars; and various other creative efforts. Critics ask whether organizations need these for the long term, but they definitely serve a purpose in getting things going. Without large amounts of energy expended to push the ship in a new direction, it continues lumbering on in the same way -- or just sits in port, going nowhere.

Every action has a reaction. This physical principle is obvious to all who have worked in quality. No matter how sound the plan, no matter how clearly shared the goals may seem, no matter what persuasive talents we have and how logically we have made the case, resistance meets us at every step. Working in quality management offers a sure-fire method to learn what resistance to change is all about.

Entropy. This is one of the clearest connections, and I previously devoted an entire column to it. Unless energy is continuously added to a system, it will deteriorate. Everything moves toward chaos as fast as possible, and that definitely includes all quality systems.

Critical mass. In every successful quality effort, people can tell you exactly when they hit critical mass, exactly when they switch from continuously convincing skeptics to achieving significant results with self-sustaining reactions. When that happens, things sometimes explode. People go off in all directions launching teams, benchmarking best practices, reinventing processes, reorganizing around customer interfaces, using quality indicators with the same seriousness as financial measurements. Each successful result launches more new projects. The rate of change accelerates, occasionally appearing totally out of control.

Boyle's Law. Sometimes when we begin to create a measurement system, Boyle's Law is the most important concept we must face. Every time we fix one problem, another pops up. It seems impossible to increase temperature, reduce pressure and decrease volume at the same time. When design reviews go well, product launch cycle times go up. As field failures reduce, in-house rework soars. When we improve response times to customer inquiries, we increase inaccurate responses. Delivery times improve, but delivery errors become the new problem. Measurements are like trying to squeeze a balloon: If the pressure isn't evenly placed around the entire sphere, new problems just pop up somewhere else.

Energy conservation. We cannot create new energy. Much new energy may be required to overcome the organization's inertia, but there is no magic source for it. The energy in an organization remains constant. The only way to create the energy for the tugboats to move the ship in the right direction is to take energy from something else. This is what many organizations find so difficult to do. They have no problem starting new activities; they just have great difficulty stopping anything.

Water flows downhill. We all understand that water takes the path of least resistance as it flows downhill. People behave the same way. Years ago, I asked one of my colleagues at Bell Labs the objective of his software development project.

"To make it easier for designers to do the job right than do it wrong," he quickly stated. He was developing new software for reliability prediction, and he understood that people would readily accept it if it proved easier to use than the manual methods it was designed to replace. He had spent months studying the design process so that he could incorporate the new software seamlessly into the existing CAD systems.

Too frequently, we forget to study why something will be easy or hard. We fail to take time to design our implementation strategy so that it is the path of least resistance. Force field analysis should be in all of our toolboxes, and we should never launch a new quality effort without knowing the whereabouts of resistances and barriers.


About the author

A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. at 11 River Road, Wilton, CT 06897.

© 1997 Juran Institute. For permission to reprint, contact Godfrey at fax (203) 834-9891 or e-mail agodfrey@quality digest.com.



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