A Quality Management Parable


It’s a bit like Life of Pi, except it’s about Quality Management

Let’s start the story at the beginning. Sometime in 2005 I was on my way back home on a Thai Air flight from Jakarta to Heathrow, via Bangkok. In Bangkok I was joined by a casually dressed, youngish Englishman. Little did I know that I was about to learn a lesson that would live with me for a while.

One look at my travelling companion told me he had some money because his clothes and shoes looked expensive, as was his seat on the plane. After a while we got talking. I told him what I did, he told me what he did. Turned out he was a professional gambler living in Thailand. I was immediately captivated by the glamour of his chosen profession, he seemed keen to talk and while away the hours, I was keen to listen. So in the intervening 12 hours or so I got a pretty good insight into the life of a professional gambler

Well, surprise surprise, it’s not all glamour and it’s not all luck. That was lesson number one and two. The man was a statistician by education, a former mathematics teacher of all things, who had turned a knowledge of statistics to his advantage in the arena of sports betting. The trick to making a profit in the longer term was, apparently, to have an ability to identify when the bookies have got the odds wrong. That’s when you place your bets. They don’t all come off, but the odds start slanting your way as opposed to the way of the bookie. Being able to identify when the odds were wrong involved a working knowledge of statistics, and a better knowledge of the event than the bookie appeared to have, and that usually involved some very painstaking research. He was based in Thailand because the bookies in South East Asia get the odds wrong more often than they do elsewhere. Makes sense

So what were his strategies? Well, here are some that I can remember:

* Bet with a clear head. If you have a favourite team, leave it alone
* Avoid accumulator bets. With each accumulated event, the odds lurch further the way of the bookie
* Do your research. Pick, say, ten football teams a year and study them continually. Find out which games they tend to win, which they lose, which players appear to be key, injury situations etc. This will all give you a clear advantage over the lazier bookies
* Stick to sports you like and understand. You’ll have to study hard, but it will be easier for you if you happen to enjoy the game
* Steer clear of boxing

There were a few others, but that gives a feel for it

Get to the point, Sayers!

Very interesting, you may say, but what’s this all got to do with quality? Well there is a point to this tale, and here it is

Remember in the earlier post, Deming’s inconvenient truth, I suggested that Deming taught that management decisions should wherever possible be based on hard facts and evidence? But also that a lot of management information is both unknown and unknowable? Well that summarises in a nutshell that business is one big lottery. There are no certainties, and for every success there is a failure. If all management information was knowable there would be a scientific formula to remove all elements of risk from the decision making process. But it isn’t and there isn’t. That is a lot like the world of professional gambling. All bets carry an inherent risk, and professional gamblers accept risk and occasional failure as an unavoidable fact of life. HOWEVER the most successful gamblers use as much Management Information as they can get their hands on to slant the odds their way

That, I propose, is probably as close to an absolute definition of “Management Information”, its uses and limitations, that you’re ever likely to get

As definitions go, it is a bit on the long side. Sorry

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