Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oldies but Goodies

About 11 years ago, as we were struggling with Y2K (remember?) there was a burning discussion about information storage, retention, and retrieval.  The tech world was moving too fast.  Information that was stored on 5 and a half inch floppies was no long accessible because computers no longer had had the right disk drive.  And the same was likely soon to be true for 3 and a half inch drives. 

 Many say the trend continues today.  CD’s and DVD’s are likely to disappear soon as well.  So what will we do.  Maybe it will be flash drives or cloud memory, at least for a while.  But if history repeats, these will be transient technologies as well.

When push comes to shove, the one answer for important information storage is now and will always be... the book.  Yes, paper forever.  

So why do I bring this up?
I was reading in the February 2011 edition of ASQ’s Quality Progress about how resistance to change is as alive today as it was many years ago.  (see  We are Different by Mike Carnell.  QP Feb 2011.  The author talked about an antique book Mary Walton’s The Deming Management Methodwhich he recalled reading in the early ‘80s and how it demonstrated how Deming battled with resistance to change in those days as much as we do today.  The article went on to discuss Deming’s “seven deadly diseases” and fourteen obstacles to the adoption of a quality culture.

First off, I enjoyed the article because I regularly struggle with folks who demonstrate their reluctance and resistance to change with the same pat concern “I know that might work for them, but you have to realize that we are different”.  “  Second, Carnell is referring to this ancient text , but we continue to use it as a core text in our UBC Certificate Course for Laboratory Quality Management   It is still published by Perigee (now a part of Penquin Putnam, New York) and is available through Amazon.
I don’t know ihow many copies they sell these days other than the ones that we buy for our course, but I would argue that it should be a compulsory book for every quality manager office.  Yesterday, Today, and maybe forever.   There are some things that are almost assuredly true.  This is a book that will never be electronic.  If you want it you probably will have to have it in that ancient of ancient formats... ink upon paper.  

But before I drift off into some sad rendition of how things were so much better in the old days, the point of this entry is that progress was not better back then, and further more, we are still struggling with the same challenges.  Experience indicates that despite 30 years of published discourse this is a lesson we have never yet  learned.  Tasks may be specific.  Quality principles are generalizable.   Quality is a central part of patient care, immunohistochemistry, building cars, and delivering pizza.  Establish policy, monitor for deviation, learn for the experience and continually improve.  Adopt and go forward.  Resist and continue along the path of repeated error.

For the laboratory in transition, reluctance to change is probably a hard wired genetic human trait.  Resistance to change is counterproductive.  

Incidentally, without getting too political, Deming undoubtedly was a visionary.  Not only did he see the problems of his day.  He was able to look forward to 2011.  In 1982 Deming wrote in “Out of Crisis.  (MIT Press, Cambridge, London):about the diseases and obstacles to  transformational change in American management.  In the automobile industry, the cost of employee health care was greater than the cost of steel per automobile.  Even Deming, who was in no way a pro-management type guy, knew this was unsustainable.  
Flash forward to today, to the challenges of General Motors and the financial burdens facing states like Wisconsin.  Who knows where the financial health of the US would be today if sometime over the last 30 years, someone would have recognized that benefit packages needed to be managed for the sustainable long term.  

If you listen real carefully, you can almost hear Deming calling out  “I told you so!!”

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