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Quality Creates...Perspective

What Star Wars Can Learn from Quality Management Software

Tim Lozier
by Tim Lozier on Fri, Aug 06, 2010

Star Wars and Quality ManagementAnyone who knows me knows I am a Star Wars geek. I spend way more time than I care to admit obsessing about the Star Wars films, collecting random star wars toys, and musing about the “what ifs” in the Star Wars universe. The other day, it occurred to me, “What if The Empire had implemented a Quality Management System on the Death Star?” So I thought a bit on this, and here’s what I think might have helped The Empire in their endeavor to rule the galaxy if they only had put Quality Management as a strategic initiative.

Project Management: From the time that the death star plan were conceived, it took The Empire almost 20 years to complete the Death star. A project this large requires multiple roles involved, and delegation of activities. The Death Star project management team consisted of three key people – Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. These are not the more flexible managers, and are not above taking employee errors or missed deadlines with the aid of a lightsaber, force lightning or a death ray.

Perhaps if The Empire implemented a Quality-Based Project Management System, they would be able to clearly define the roles involved in the project, assign tasks to those roles, and manage the project from an aggregate level. Workflow keeps the project deliverables on track, and perhaps this level of visibility would enable them to maintain control, without having to resort to the Dark Side as their only means of clairvoyance.

Document Management: Let’s be honest – even The Empire could’ve used a strong document management system. Given the sheer size of the Death Star, with the thousands of “employees” that worked there, there would have been tens of thousands of records that would need to be controlled – Work Instructions, Job Descriptions, Procedures, Floor Plans, and the like. You would think that with this “technological terror” The Empire constructed, there would be secure Document Management System in place.

Then how did a small droid like R2-D2 plug into the network and was able to download the Death Star plans like it was a space walk in the park? My guess is that The Empire, in all its glory, was using a file system to store documents. If The Empire would have used a Document Control system like those in a Quality Management System, access to these specifically sensitive documents would have been limited to those who had the proper access rights. Furthermore, document control can limit the details of certain fields within the data, so that no sensitive data is accessed.

Employee Training System: Without proper employee training, then many organization run the risk of Quality incidents, Safety incidents, and other risks to the business. It appears to me that The Empire was not tracking training in a centralized system. If they were, then they would have been able to see that nearly 80% of the Stormtroopers in The Empire couldn’t hit a target with a blaster if their lives depended on it (and it often did). Or maybe they would have uncovered the fact that their patrol procedures clearly miss security breaches – Like 80 year old Jedis skulking around the tractor beam. Proper training system enable managers to see visibility into not only who is trained, but also how well they are trained and whether actions need to be taken to update training records for poor performance.

Star Wars, Document Control

Supplier Management and Supplier Rating: Let’s face it – The Empire had to have contracted out to build this Death Star. All the components that go into building a finished product rely on suppliers and contractors to help complete the process. When watching the movie, we know that the Rebels found a weakness in the design of the Death Star (thanks to the weak document management system). If The Empire would have had a real-time inspection and rating system, they would have been able to inspect that access port, and send out a Corrective Action to the knuckleheads who thought putting a direct access to the Death Star core was a good idea.

Nonconformance, Audits and Corrective and Preventive Action: Let’s stay on this, then. Obviously, we know that the Death Star had a defect. It was only in the final hour did The Empire realize the danger, and by that point it was too late. If they had a quality system in place, they would have found this flaw, whether through regular space Audits (or at the very least an Audit through tremors in the Force), or a Nonconformance when the defect was installed, and issued a Corrective Action to fix the problem. Clearly, Quality took a backseat to their overconfidence, and ultimately resulting in, well…you know the rest.

Management Review and Reporting: As I said before, the primary project managers used fear as their primary motivator, and seldom relied on the data to help them with Quality. In the movie, you see the officers of the Death Star sitting in a conference room, and not one of them produced a report – If they had a robust reporting system that collects quality data from all areas of the Death Star, and rolls this data up to help determine the top risks and top quality issues, then maybe that meeting would have gone differently. Perhaps if that poor guy had shown Darth Vader his latest Quality Report, he wouldn’t have gotten the old “force choke” from the Dark Lord of The Sith. Having a top-level reporting system that presents the Quality System challenges in a single view might have mitigated their risks.

Risk Assessment: I think that perhaps The Empire took many risks when going about this whole Death Star thing. Did Tarkin assess the risk of testing the Death Star on Leia’s home world? Did Darth Vader assess the risk of letting the Rebels escape with the Death Star plans? Did they assess the risk when they underestimated the rebel’s chances of destroying the Death Star? In any system, it is important to incorporate risk into the processes, whether Quality or similar system. If The Empire would have perhaps weighed the severity and likelihood of the risks associated with their actions, perhaps we would have seen a different outcome of the story. Risk Assessment, especially in a Quality Management system, allows managers to filter out critical event, and make better decisions on how to handle them, and then ultimate the mitigate the risk of recurrence.

Of course, we know that if The Empire followed these rules of Quality Management, we wouldn’t have had the story that makes Star Wars so great. But it is sometimes fun to imagine, “What if?” and see how life would have been if instead of Darth Vader, we had Darth Deming.

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Tim Lozier
Written by Tim Lozier
Tim is the Manager for Marketing and Strategy at EtQ, Inc.
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