diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Queen Quality and the Demon of Risk (a modern fairy tale)

Once upon a time, not so long ago in a country not so far away, there lived a humble carpenter called William. William was a great craftsman and carved the finest furniture you ever did see. His tables were a marvel to behold. His cupboards were masterpieces of great beauty. But it was for his magnificent chairs that William was best known. Each chair was carved from solid oak. The legs were curved and elegant. The seats were smooth and comfortable. The backs were intricate and ornate. Everything about William's chairs was exquisite, and he was duly proud of his work.

One day William was at home in his workshop when there was a knock at the door. Imagine his surprise when there, large as life on his front doorstep, stood the Queen! "Hello good citizen William," she said. "I am undertaking a new project at the castle and I am in need of fine furniture. I have heard great things of your woodworking skills, and have come to ask if you would carve me a chair for the royal bedchamber. It must be a great chair, the very finest you can create, and free from all imperfection. We must ensure quality. I'm sure you will not let me down. I bestow upon you three days in which to complete your task." William bowed low as the Queen departed.

On the first day, William set about finding the very finest wood with which to make the chair. He was just about to venture out into the forest when there was a knock at the door. It was the Queen again, holding a sheaf of parchment in her hand. "Oh William, you cannot begin your task until you have completed this Project Initiation Document. I know that you are a great carpenter, but imagine what might happen if your goal objective parameters were left undefined. I cannot allow such a threat to quality". And so William spent most of the first day preparing the Project Initiation Document, consulting with the village elders whenever he got to a particularly difficult part of the 18-page form. Just before sunset he finally found time to go out and collect some wood, but it was a bit scrappy and not up to his usual standards.

On the second day, William busied himself in his workshop ready to carve the various parts of the chair. He was just about to dig his chisel into the wood when there was a knock at the door. It was the Queen again, holding a sheaf of parchment in her hand. "Oh William, you cannot continue your task until you have completed this Risk Assessment Spreadsheet. I know that you are greatly skilled with the fretsaw and the drill, but imagine what might happen if some unforeseen disaster were to impact upon the successful delivery of project milestones. I cannot allow such a threat to quality". And so William spent most of the second day updating the Risk Assessment Spreadsheet, addressing all relevant Health and Safety protocols where necessary. Just before sunset he finally found time to make a start on carving, but the light was failing and his carpentry was not up to his usual standards.

On the third day, William prepared to assemble the chair and to sculpt tiny royal crests into the armrests. He was just about to start putting the pieces together when there was a knock at the door. It was the Queen again, holding a sheaf of parchment in her hand. "Oh William, you cannot complete your task until you have filled in this Performance Appraisal Overview. I know that you are a most talented carpenter, but I must insist on firm documentary evidence that all designated objectives have been achieved. I cannot allow such a threat to quality". And so William spent most of the third day completing the Performance Appraisal Overview, obtaining written feedback from key stakeholders as appropriate. Just before sunset he finally found time to assemble the chair, but there wasn't time to do anything fancy with the armrests or to give the wood a proper varnish.

As night fell, the Queen summoned William to the palace. Here he placed his creation in front of her Majesty, with some trepidation, and handed over the relevant paperwork. "Excellent, you've completed all the necessary forms," said the Queen, before locking them away (unread) inside an overflowing filing cabinet. "My auditors will be duly satisfied. But what kind of chair do you call this? The wood is cheap and knotted. The carving is rudimentary and rushed. The armrests are plain and undecorated. And the varnish is still damp! I don't understand what could possibly have gone wrong. After all, I ensured that you followed all appropriate quality procedures."

"With greatest respect, your Majesty," replied William, "I spent so long filling in all those forms that I didn't have the opportunity to engage properly with the project. You were reluctant to trust me to do a good job, so instead you wasted my time by requiring me to prove that I was doing a good job. Your over-bureaucratic quality procedures actually prevented me from ensuring quality. It's your own bloody fault you blinkered managerial pedant."

"Ooh excellent!" exclaimed the queen. "I think I've just invented Business Quality Management. I must initiate rollout to all organisations across the country immediately. We must ensure quality." And nobody lived happily ever after.

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