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February 25, 2004

Quality management?

Tuesday was spent on a refresher course on Internal Auditing for Qaulity Management Systems. As such courses go, it wasn't bad, and I have been on several, having been Quality Auditing now for almost 15 years.

But I am always amused by the belief that these systems actually ensure that the product of such a system is anything more than consistent. If it was rubbish to start with, it will still be rubbish at the end of a QM Audit - it will just be consistently rubbish. Mind you, that is starting to change, but it was not ever thus.

Few people today realise that the original British Standard (BS 5750) grew out of the fact that the munitions supplied to the Royal Navy and the British Army in 1914 - 1919 was defective. The fuse mechanisms either operated prematurely, or failed to operate at all, or operated eratically. The shells themselves could be tricky, with armour piercing shells breaking up on impact instead of going through, or failing to burst if they did penetrate. That was one of the things that went badly wrong at Jutland - it was not that the British were such lousy gunners. It was that although they were scoring hit after hit (that's why Scheer turned his fleet away - they were being hammered by hits) the shells were either not detonating or breaking up on the German armour.

This was being repeated all over the world and particularly along the Somme and Flanders fronts.

The Civil Servants in charge of supply maintained that there was no problem - that it was the way they were being used that was to blame. It took Jellicoe and Beatty to get some asses kicked and to get things moving on fixing the problem. Typically direct, Beatty threatened to have the entire Department of War Supply wallahship conscripted to the front to use their defective munitions for themselves. But even so they couldn't get it fixed by the end of the war. Enter Quality Control!

The committee convened to solve the problem came up with the bare bones of the system which would eventually evolve into what we today call Quality Management, but it was first introduced and trialed in the munitions industry. As you might expect with anything devised by Civil Servants, it was a heavily bureaucratic process - everything relied on multiples of forms being completed to say that things were being done according to specification, procedure, and approved method. It was then inspected and random samples tested. Not surprisingly there were a high percentage of failures during testing, but nothing was done to improve the quality - they now had a system which told them that the process was producing consistently to a standard, albeit a poor one. No one (except the poor SOB's having to use this stuff!) seemed to think that maybe the object of the exercise was to reduce the failure rate!

The result was that the improvements never arose - but at least they now knew that the standard was low. In part this was addressed by the makers themselves with new development of weapons replacing some of the designs and calibres used in the first Great War. Unfortunately, the Defence cuts, particularly the Naval cuts of 1921/22 and again in 1928/29, meant that the gun foundries which built the navy's big calibre guns were all closed down and broken up. This resulted in the debacle of orders being placed in 1934 - 36 for 15 and 16 inch gunned ships (the KGV's were planned to have 9 x 16 inch guns) which, while under construction, had to be redesigned to make use of 14 inch guns from ships broken up in 1921 - 1927. Why? Because the gun foundries could not be rebuilt in time to supply the necessary guns. But worse, the quality of the navy's munitions was still substandard in 1939 when war broke out.

It took two years and supplies from the US to sort that one out, with, as you would expect, the Civil Service denying that there was a problem - because they had all the correct forms filled in!

It is encouraging to see that the latest version of the ISO 9001: 2000 standard is less about having all the paperwork right and more about actually getting the end product up to standard. The blindingly obvious conclusion is that while some form of record is needed to identify the intention, the process and the outcome, it is there as a blue print and is not a set of tablets carved out of a lump of Mount Sinai, conceived in perfection and never to be amended, changed or improved.

Whether the bureaucrats of this world will ever grasp this concept remains to be seen. Somehow, I take leave to doubt it, and yesterdays training day rather re-inforced my view. Ah well, we can keep trying, perhaps one day the genetic engineers will come up with a genetic modification which will permanently cure the bureaucratic mindset - by breeding it out of the genepool hopefully!

Posted by The Gray Monk at February 25, 2004 02:43 PM


Damm them for changing the ISO 9001 it was so much easier to have my paperwork in order then having a working end product

Posted by: Matthew at February 27, 2004 10:24 AM

Whaddaya mean we're supposed to make something? We have all these lovely forms to fill in and shuffle endlessly!

Posted by: The Gray Monk at February 27, 2004 12:37 PM