What Box?

Henry Ford is credited with saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, I would have built a faster horse”.  Even though the Harvard Business Review disputes that Ford ever said this, it is still a valid reflection of a philosophy shared by Steve Jobs – people don’t really know what they want.  They often don’t realize the possible solutions to their problems.

At QIC, we fully embrace that approach.  Even though it often makes our job more difficult, it inevitably achieves better results for our client.  Have you ever noticed how most people tend to define their problems in terms of the solution:   The problem isn’t “I need to get my 4 kids to Tuesday soccer practice”; it becomes “I need to buy a new minivan, because my 4 kids have soccer every Tuesday and I need to drive them.”

At QIC we try to elicit the root cause, and then go to work on a solution.   Clients sometimes think we did not understand them when they explained the problem.  Usually we heard and understood too well.  Some call this “thinking outside the box”.  I prefer to deny the existence of the box – it restricts creativity.

In the minivan example, there are alternatives such as:

  •    Set up an account with a taxi / transport company;
  •    Make arrangements with a neighbour;
  •    Get the kids new bikes;

all the way to

  •     Move next door to the soccer pitch; or
  •    Hire a nanny with a Maybach.

And yes, that would include “buy, lease, steal, borrow a new minivan, bus, 6 seat car or truck, etc.” which may be the right answer, or not…

We have had 3 scenarios in the last few weeks.  In each case, although the client came to us with a specific, very expensive solution they expected from us, we came at the problem from an entirely different direction.

In one case our solution cost about the same as what the client asked for, but could be done with far less complication, planning and personnel.

In a second, we actually proposed a completely different software package that will cost less in its entirety than the cost of just support on the existing solution – the most interesting thing is that the two software solutions are as different as Word and Internet Explorer – not even the same kind of solutions.

In the third case, although the client wanted to replace their existing system, at some considerable expense, we recommended they continue to use the existing system, which worked exceptionally well, and add a new component that allowed them to do the analysis that was missing.  This results in far less change management, and accomplishes everything the client expected to gain after years of rebuilding their environment in a new, expensive software solution.

So the next time you hear yourself say “We need a… because …” pay close attention to the “because” clause… that is probably where you find the true problem definition.

FSMA in Canada

Our industry has been focused on FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) in the USA.  Granted it is a huge transition, and it affects food companies worldwide (at least any that ship food into the US), but there is another piece of legislation that affects Canadians, and anyone shipping into Canada.  That is the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received Royal Assent on November 22, 2012.  Large portions of the legislation are not yet in force, but they will be.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but I did read the Act, and it reads fairly easily.  I’ll share some of its concepts over the next few blog posts.

Aside from the fact that it is 39 readable pages, and not full of run on sentences with generous use of “wherefore”, “heretofore” and “forthwith”, what really struck me is that it has teeth.

Fines may be a “cost of doing business” but most would not see years of imprisonment as such!

People who are convicted of contravening the Act can be subject to a fine of $5,000,000 and up to 2 years in prison.  If that contravention “knowingly or recklessly causes a risk to human health” the financial penalties are at the discretion of the court and up to 5 years in prison.  (Section 39 (3))

The Act also deals with the “company” being the transgressor with Section 39, subsection (4), which states:

“If a person other than an individual commits an offense under subsection (1), any of the person’s [corporation’s] directors or officers, or agents or mandatories, who directs, authorizes, assents to, or acquiesces or participates in the commission of the offence is a party to the offence and is liable on conviction to the punishment provided for by this Act, even if the person is not prosecuted for the offence.”

 So theoretically, the Crown can prosecute an individual for simply looking the other way, without trying the company itself.

Although the Act doesn’t specify regulations, it does “incorporate by reference” any regulations established covering a wide range of food quality and safety issues. (Section 52), and it specifically is intended to consolidate the provisions for food currently covered by the Food and Drugs Act, Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act, Canada Agricultural Products Act, and Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.  So (again I am not a lawyer, but as I read it), a Quality Manager could go to jail for having inadequate quality records!

However, there is some good news in the form of Section 39 (2) which states that:

 “A person is not to be found guilty … if they establish that they exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence”

 which I would take to mean that if you set up reasonable systems to monitor processes and ensure quality and compliance, that you are effectively shielded from any unintended breach of the Act.

The Cloud, the NSA, and Everybody

After the recent revelations that the National Security Agency was tracking cell phone traffic and emails, I think we have to realize that regardless of your political stripes and of how much you trust your government or a foreign government, anything that is out there in a public or semi-public repository is vulnerable.  That defines the cloud.

And, from what I understand, the NSA’s snooping was not restricted to servers in the US.

Whatever you may think of Edward Snowden, there is likely more than one of him working in trusted positions who may share confidential information for his own reasons.  So, all that is needed is one person with that kind of access to be a little less scrupulous than the average spook, and your data could be in the hands of your competitors, yours government or a foreign government or tax authority, or anyone.

While that might be fine for pictures of your cat, your iTunes library, or your social calendar,  I’m not sure I would want to have all of my company’s work instructions, customer complaints, manufacturing methodologies, working formulae, and financial data out there.

Heck, I won’t even use Office 365!