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Quality Improvement in Financial Management at the University of Washington

Vol 1, No. 2
Summer 2002

WSQA—Promoting and Recognizing Quality

Musical Dashboards – The Summer Event

Procurement Card Team Marks Two-Year Achievements

A Short History of Quality
from 10,000 BC to the Present Day




A Short History of Quality
from 10,000 BC to the Present Day

by R.Q. Teasdale

As we practice Quality in our daily work lives in Financial Management, it’s easy to forget the significant impact that Quality has had on human history. This article will highlight a few important dates and events in the history of Quality.

10,000 BC, A deeply wooded area near a river. The invention of Quality is largely attributed to a female hunter-gatherer named Tiffany. As the story goes, Tiffany was watching her mate prepare a satchel to carry food. After a moment of thought, Tiffany showed him a more efficient way to construct the satchel to maximize its carrying capacity. Tiffany then scratched a mission statement into a stone wall and made a loud grunting sound that signified process improvement.

12 AD, Jerusalem, First Quality Champion, Caleb of Khartoum. Caleb was a basket weaver by trade, but had a real soft spot for quality initiatives. It was this deep interest in making things better that attracted a group of goat herders to Caleb. These herders were working on a process improvement for weaving goat wool. Caleb was engaged to work with this group to resolve conflicts, create consensus and keep the goats out of the meeting area. His compensation: twelve shekels per week, or roughly $40,000 per year in today’s dollars.

565 AD, Rome, Invention of the scatter diagram. Some believe that the scatter diagram was invented in ancient Rome when a servant of the Emperor Augustus called out to a group of street vendors to “scatter” because the emperor was approaching. When they did so, according to legend, the servant noticed the pattern of the running vendors and immediately thought of applying this pattern to some data he had gathered and of plotting this data using the Cartesian Coordinate System. This story is in serious dispute among some scholars due to the fact the Cartesian Coordinate System (named after Rene Descartes) was not invented for another 1,000 years.

1492 AD, Spain – First QI Team. Before Queen Isabella engaged Columbus to set sail, the Spanish Royal family formed a quality improvement team to plan the trip. The team was comprised of the Queen, a few Princes and Princesses, and a facilitator. The team only functioned for a short time because when the facilitator suggested that the Queen needed to stick to the agenda, he was beheaded.

1849 AD, Milwaukee, Invention of Customer Service. No one ever smiled at each other before 1849 largely because it was tough to find a good dentist. Without smiling, there was no human warmth, which directly caused the surly and rude attitudes pervasive in the early 19th century. Shirley LaVoin, a bartender from the south side, smiled constantly, due to a rare muscle disorder. This smiling had a dramatic impact on business and soon people came from all over Milwaukee to see Shirley’s smile. It wasn’t long before entrepreneurs got the hint and began smiling and saying nice things to their customers. Thus customer service was born. As for Shirley, her facial muscles eventually relaxed and she was fired from the bar for being churlish.

1912 AD, Somewhere in the Atlantic, First reference to a Type 3 problem. As the Titanic was sinking, someone was heard to say: “I don’t think there’s a bloody thing we can do about this.”

1956 AD, Hollywood, First television program created using Quality Principals. Those Wacky Witches of Salem, which aired in the fall of 1956, was developed and produced entirely using Quality principals. The writers and production crew formed teams, brainstormed problems, and developed a mission statement. When jokes weren’t funny enough, gap analysis was used to quantify the humor and bring it to the desirable level. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only three episodes and Hollywood has steadfastly refused to put Quality into its programming since.

1990 AD, Seattle, UW Financial Management adopts Quality within the Division. Financial Management, through the Leadership of V’Ella Warren, was one of the first UW departments to adopt the Quality framework. Like Tiffany from 10,000 BC, the Pioneers Team and the others that followed began by grunting and scratching mission statements onto walls. This all changed dramatically a few years later when the division bought pens and flip-charts. The light of Quality was lit in Fin Man in 1990, today it still burns bright.

Dr. Teasdale received his doctorate in Television Viewing and Cellular
Biology from the College of Universal Life at P.O. Box 3763, Loma Vista, CA.

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