Quality Day
ISO 9000:2K
Optical Guide
Fastener Act
Optical Data



Quality Day
at the Guasparis'

Quality begins in the home.

by John Guaspari

You want me to pull the kids out of school for what?"

 I could tell that my wife didn't like my idea because she had used the tone she uses when I say something that is, to employ the pet phrase she employs in such instances, "really stupid."

 "For Guaspari Family Quality Day," I replied. "We take a day to talk about how critical quality is to achieving our familial goals and objectives. It's all written up in this brochure."

 I handed a copy to my wife. She held it as though it were a five-month-old eggplant that had just emerged from the bottom of the crisper.

 "You printed a brochure about how we can become a quality control family?" she asked. Her tone hadn't changed.

 "No," I said, smiling affectionately. I was charmed by her sweetly naïve perspective, which equated Quality--big "Q"--with the much narrower and largely out-of-fashion discipline of quality control. "There'll be plenty of time to get into meaty content on Quality Day," I continued. "The brochure is intended merely to announce the meeting and build enthusiasm for it." I held up my copy of the brochure. "Looks pretty good, don't you think?"

 She shook her head slowly and rolled her eyes. I took this for a "no," which was OK. It's not at all unusual for even high-ranking people to be skeptics about Quality. My wife was a key stakeholder who would need special attention, and I made a mental note to provide it.

 Well, I don't mind saying that when the big day finally arrived, I was kind of nervous. I didn't have to be at the hotel meeting room to set up until 7 a.m., but I woke up at 5. I showered, shaved, got dressed and went over my mental checklist about a hundred times. I tried to read the paper but couldn't concentrate. It was still only 6:30, but I decided to head over to the hotel.

 I went back into our bedroom and gently nudged my wife awake.

 "Gail?" I whispered.

 "Hmmmfff," she replied.

 "It's 6:30. You asked me to wake you when I left."

 "Where are you going?" she asked, still more or less asleep.

 "To the meeting room. It's Quality Day. I need to check things out, set up. You know, last-minute stuff."

 Her eyes opened a bit. "What time are we supposed to get there?" she asked.

 "The meeting starts at 9 o'clock. There's coffee and networking at 8:30."

 Her eyes fluttered more fully open. Her face took on a quizzical look. "Tell me again why we had to do this in a hotel meeting room when there's plenty of room in the house?"

 "That's true," I explained, "but this is an important day. It can't be routine. The power of Quality is unique. So what we say, how we say it, where we say it--all the cues have to reinforce that message. The key message that we want to signal is that, above all, this day is different."

 "I think you've got that base pretty well covered," she said, rolling over onto her side.

 I cautioned her not to fall asleep again. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," she replied, burying her head under a pillow.

 I arrived at the hotel meeting room at five minutes before seven. By 7:15 the room was set up: overhead projector and flip charts in place; registration table ready, with name tags, brochures and agendas on display; tables and chairs set up "classroom style."

 At 8:20, right on schedule, the coffee service arrived. Five minutes later, the door to the meeting room cracked open again. It was my wife and kids.

 "Come in! Come in!" I motioned them toward the registration table. "Pick up your materials and then help yourself to some coffee and something to eat."

 My wife had that eggplant look again. "Why do we have to wear name tags? I mean, it's us."

 I chuckled so that the kids wouldn't pick up on any annoyance in my tone. "Don't you remember, dear, how we talked about this day being 'different'?"

 "Oh… Yeah, right," she replied, with something less than utter enthusiasm. She looked at the back of the name tag. "I can't put this on," she protested. "I'm wearing a silk blouse, and I'm not gonna shove a pin through it."

 "That's why," I said, taking the name tag from her hand and showing her its reverse side, "it has both a pin and a clip!"

 She looked at the tag more carefully, and then resignedly clipped it to the collar of her blouse.

 "No detail is too trivial to be overlooked on Quality Day!" I said triumphantly. "Isn't that right--" I leaned forward and, in exaggerated fashion, read her name--"Gail!"

 "Tell me about it," my wife responded.

 "Daddy! Michael says only dorks wear name badges!" said my 9-year-old daughter.

 "Shut up, Joanna!" my 13-year-old son explained.

 "He has a point," my wife interjected from over by the coffee service.

 "Heh, heh," I chuckled, this time being less successful in disguising my annoyance. "I tell you what, Mike. Do your old man a favor. Humor him. Wear it for me."

 "I guess so," he said, with even less enthusiasm than his mother.

 Joanna pointed to the banner that had been taped to the front wall of the room.

 "Look, Daddy," she said. "They spelled our name wrong on that sign!"

 It took just a moment before it hit me. "No, they didn't, honey," I said, delighted that she was getting in the spirit of things by being attentive to Quality problems. "The sign says 'Guaspari Family QUALITY DAY!' But instead of a 'G' in 'Guaspari' I had them make the sign with what's called a 'sigma.' That's a Greek letter that has special meaning in Quality. It was explained in the prework, remember?"

 At this, Mike pounced. "Yeah, puke brain," he sneered, "it was in the prework."

 "Now, Mike," I began, "Quality isn't about blaming and name calling. It's about process. I was in the process of explaining to your sister that sigma is a Greek letter." I turned to Joanna and tried to use a tone that would connect with a third-grader. "Greece is a country way, way far away in the middle of a big sea! They speak a different language from us that uses a whole different set of letters!" I squatted down like the psychologists tell you to do so that kids won't feel intimidated. "Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

 "Kind of."

 I smiled. "It's OK if you don't understand it all right now," I said. "Quality isn't about being perfect. It's about getting better!"

 "Oh, good," she said, relieved. "Because, if you're going to use the Greek alphabet, it would make more sense for our name to start with a 'gamma' than with a 'sigma,' wouldn't it?"

 My wife couldn't contain herself. "Do you understand," she asked slowly and, I dare say, more than a bit patronizingly, "what she's trying to tell you?"

 "Uh, yes, I do," I stumbled.

 "Why Greek?" Mike jumped in. "Shouldn't it be in Italian? I thought Guaspari was an Italian name."

 "The Greek letter sigma doesn't mean we're Greek," I tried to explain.

 "It means 'standard deviation,' " Jo said to Mike. "It was in the prework."

 "Suck-up!" Mike responded.

 "Actually," said my wife, too eagerly fueling the fire, "it ought to be half in Italian, a quarter in Russian, and a quarter in Polish. I mean, that's what the kids are."

 "You're missing the point." I objected.

 "Oh, no," said my wife, smiling and shaking her head. "It ain't me that's missing the point, bub." She looked at her watch. "Come on," she told the kids as she made her way to the seating area. "Let's get this puppy on the road."

 Although it was still only 8:45 and the networking session still had another 15 minutes to go, I made the executive decision to diverge from the published agenda, thereby modeling the flexibility that is one of the true hallmarks of Quality.

 "OK," I began, reclaiming control of the meeting as I worked my way up to the podium at the front of the room. "Welcome to the First Annual Guaspari Family Quality Day!"

 "Yeah, Daddy!" shouted Joanna, clapping enthusiastically.

 "Suck-up!" said Mike, elbowing his sister's chair.

 "First annual? " mouthed Gail in what would best be described as stunned silence.

 I called upon my solid facilitation skills to ensure we got off to a good, energized start. "OK!" I said enthusiastically. I paused for effect, then made a sweeping gesture with my arms. "Look around you. Look at where we are. Look at the things on the walls. Look at the packet of materials you got when you registered this morning. Think about all that." I let the silence sit for a moment. "What does all this say to you? What adjectives come to mind?"

 I picked up a marker and stepped over to a flip chart. "Come on," I said encouragingly, "don't be afraid. There are no 'wrong' answers."

 Finally, Joanna chimed in.

 "Fun!" she exclaimed.

 "Suck-up!" Mike whispered ferociously.

 "I'm sorry, Mike. I didn't get that," I lied. "Could you say it again?"

 "Um, like, uh… weird?" he offered.

 It was important that I not signal disapproval. "OK, 'weird' it is. Good! What else?"

 "Officious!" said my wife with more gusto than was probably called for.

 "Interesting!" said Jo, as Mike pursed his lips and made smooching sounds.

 "That's the spirit! C'mon, Mike. What other words come to mind?"

 "Uh, like, uh… goofy?"

  "Heh, heh. OK. 'Goofy' it is, pal!"

 "Compulsive!" said my wife, warming to her task.

 "Neat!" offered Joanna, truly one of God's chosen.

 Mike was struggling to come up with another response. He shrugged, about to give up, when his mother passed him a note.

 "Good! Good!" I reinforced. "Quality is about teamwork! Tell us what your mother wrote for you, Mike!"

 "Uh, it says here,'anal retentive.'"

 "What's that, Daddy?" asked Jo.

 I had written "a-n-a" when it dawned on me what I was writing. I had to respond, as Quality calls for encouraging a high level of intellectual curiosity.

 " 'Anal retentive' is a, uh, technical Quality term," I vamped. "It's usually used to signal that it's time to move on the next order of business."

 Jo seemed satisfied with that answer. My wife did not.

 "But I have several more!" she cried, holding up a sheet of paper.

 "We've got a lot to cover, dear, and--"


 "--and there really won't be time to--"


 "--like I said, there won't be enough time to complete--"

 "Inappropriate! Out of it! Dorky!"

 Mike sat up straight and looked, happily stunned, at his mother. "All right, Mom!" he said, beaming as they exchanged high fives.

 "Me too, Mommy! Me too!" said Joanna, scrambling out of her chair to get in on the high-fiving.

 "OK, that's the kind of energy we want," I said, trying to put the best possible face on things.

 We pressed on with the agenda. I won't bore you with a lot of details other than to say that I only had to assert my authority once by pointing out to my son that the words "puke," "scum" and "scuzz" tend not to show up very often in effective family mission statements.

 I won't lie to you. For a while I was kind of discouraged. But things turned around when we began to apply Quality principles to a Key Family Process. We chose The Family Dinner as the process to explore because of its significant bonding potential, and we jointly arrived at a description of the "feeling state" we wanted at these dinners: "An atmosphere of openness and exchange… to foster discussion of important mattersº to offer, unconditionally, our interest and concerns for those matters deemed important by any one of us." Actually, I came up with that statement and the others agreed to it. ("Yeah, yeah, fine, whatever," is, I believe, how my wife put it.)

 "OK," I continued. "Now we know where we're going, but where are the potholes in the road? Where are the obstacles we have to get past?"

 "How about when doofus here comes to the table and all she wants to talk about is some stupid Barbie thing?"

 "Good, Mike," I said, writing "BARBIE-TALK" on the flip chart.

 "Like talking about Nintendo or something is way more interesting!"

 "OK, Jo! That's what we're after!" I wrote "NINTENDO-TALK" on the flip chart.

 "At least it's not all of this stuff about 'Avery this' or 'Courtney that' or other stupid girlie stuff!"

 I was scribing as fast as I could: "AVERY/COURTNEY/GIRLIE"

 "If I didn't talk about those things, I guess I'd have to talk about what you told me never to tell Mom and Dad!"

 "MOM/DAD/SECRETS" was now on the flip.

 "Shut up, puke butt!"


 "What things you weren't supposed to tell me or Dad?" I was glad to see my wife finally participating. Had she remained silent much longer I would have had to call on some of my advanced facilitation skills to draw her out.

 "Well, there was the time--"

 "Shut up, Joanna!"

 "Watch your tone, young man! I want to hear what she has to say right now."

 I had no choice but to intervene. "I'm sorry, Gail," I said, "but we're still brainstorming, and you're not supposed to criticize during brainstorming."

 "Oh, I'm not, am I? Well, there have been some things said here that I think are more important than others, and I think that's where our attention ought to go!"

 "That's fine," I said, nodding and walking toward my wife as a good facilitator should to signal that I had "heard" her. I turned toward the children and said, "What Mom is suggesting, kids, is that we move from brainstorming and do a Pareto analysis of the issues raised so far."

 "A what analysis?" asked Mike.

 "A structured way of identifying those 20 percent of the issues that are causing 80 percent of the problems," Joanna interjected.

 "Very good, Jo!" I reinforced.

 "How'd you know that?"

 "It was in the prework, Nintendo man!" she rejoined.


 "Nintendo man!"


 "Stop!" My wife apparently wanted the floor. "I don't want to talk about anything else until we talk about what you did not want your sister to tell your father and me."

 I needed to keep the meeting on track. "What your mother is suggesting now, kids, is that we assume that we've done the Pareto analysis and move right into a fishbone analysis--"

 "Sometimes called an Ishikawa analysis!"

 "That's right, Jo! We'll do a fishbone analysis of TABLE SECRETS. Mike, why don't you begin."

 "Yes, Mike. Why don't you share that with us?" Gail did not seem pleased.

 "Well, like, last week? When I went to the mall to collect money so our school band could make that trip to New York?"

 "Yes?" said Gail, menacingly.

 "Well, like, there really is no trip to New York? I just, like, instead, went up there to, um, like, you know--"

 "Hang out with his friends at the arcade!" crowed Joanna.

 "Shut up, butt for brains!"

 "You went up to the mall to play video games? After your father took you there for two hours the day before?"

 "But Dad didn't take me to the mall the day before," said Mike. "He said he'd take me later, after the game on TV was over. But the game went into extra innings."

 "You didn't take him to the mall?"

 "Well, no, actually. Not on that day. I had planned to, but the shortstop misplayed that ball in the ninth inning. So, technically speaking, it was Garciaparra's fault."

 "I rushed all the way home from my volunteer work that afternoon because of a baseball game?"

 "No, Mom," said Joanna. "Remember? You called and said you couldn't make it to volunteer work because I had a fever, so we went to the flower show instead, because I got free tickets."

 Now Gail was at a loss for words.

 "What free tickets?" I asked. "You told me you wanted to treat Mom and asked if you could please have $20 for tickets!"

 "Oh, great, bean butt. All this started because you lied to Dad."

 "I didn't lie!"

 "You did so!"

 "Did not!"

 "Did so!"

 The open, free-wheeling Quality discussion went on in this vein for several more minutes.

 "I'm sorry, but I've got to cut things off," I said, glumly shrugging and shaking my head. "I know you'd all like to keep on going, but if the meeting is about Quality, and you publish an adjournment time, you've got to stick to it. You know, zero defects and all that."

 I thanked them for their time and energy and formally adjourned the meeting.

 "So, Mr. Quality," asked my wife as she stood to put on her coat, "what do you think of Quality Day now?"

 "It could be better," I replied. "But then that's what Quality is about: continuous improvement. Trying things, learning things, then making things better."

 "Yeah? Well I've got a suggestion about how to make communications better. Next time, instead of calling it 'Quality Day,' I think you should call it 'Pick at Open, Festering Wounds Day!' I think that more accurately captures the spirit of the event."

 I thanked her for her input while, being the highly trained facilitator that I am, resisting the urge to point out that sarcasm tends not to be a helpful mode of expression at such times.

 A lesser man might have been discouraged. But I managed to skip right past that enervating state by reminding myself that Quality is, after all, not a destination but a journey. I did, however, make a mental note to think about moving the Baldrige site visit back a bit.


About the author

 John Guaspari is co-founder of Guaspari & Salz, Inc., a Concord, Massachusetts-based management consulting firm, and the author of I Know It When I See It. His newest book, The Value Effect: A Murder Mystery About the Compulsive Pursuit of "The Next Big Thing" will be published in July by Berrett-Koehler. He can be reached by e-mail at jguaspari@qualitydigest.com .

Today's Specials

Menu Level Above 

[Contents] [News] [WebLinks] [Columnists]

This Menu LeveL 

[Quality Day] [Acceptance] [ISO 9000:2K] [Optical Guide] [Baldrige] [Fastener Act] [Optical Data]

Menu  Level Below 


Copyright 2000 QCI International. All rights reserved.
Quality Digest can be reached by phone at (530) 893-4095. E-mail:
Click Here