Too Many Copies

February 26, 2010
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A quality manager, who was a diehard flowcharter, went to work for a small startup corporation that did software duplication for client companies.

Source: James P. Hohner Jr.


A quality tale as told to me....

A quality manager, who was a diehard flowcharter, went to work for a small startup corporation that did software duplication for client companies. As an added sales point, the software engineers of his firm developed and marketed a varied tableau of software protection schemes to add both value and protection to the duplicated program disks to ensure future clients that their work would not be subjected to misuse or theft.

When the quality manager joined the company, they had already installed marketing, engineering and sales departments and had already completed much of the required marketing and technical research to get us started. He was brought in to create and staff the production and quality control departments.

About a month into this brave new world, they finally made their first sale-700 program disks, with copy protection, for a young company in California’s Silicon Valley. All went right with the plans of marketing, engineering, production and quality-they completed and shipped the job on time and felt a lot of pride in these accomplishments.

Then the whole production run began unraveling. The client called and informed these young upstarts that they had duplicated the wrong version of the client’s program. The version that had meandered throughout the newly formed company and ultimately vested itself into the final product was a version that was five levels down from the client’s final version.

I listened intently as I tried to imagine the methods that this manager would use to flush out the guilty process or person. He interviewed all of the people about the events; everyone’s answer was a question of total disbelief: “How could we have gotten a wrong copy of the master?” Three of the people showed him the “master” copy that they had. Only then did it begin to dawn on him that they all had their hands on a “master copy.”

Then he asked who would ever allow more than one master copy of anything? In his world that is completely impossible. There is only one master copy. What had he gotten himself into?

This was turning into an interesting detective story. I was sitting right here with a real-world corporation detective.

He then went to engineering and asked for a flowchart of the mastering process. There was no such flowchart-the fact that there also were no other flowcharts did not scare him at that moment.

Source: Patton & Patton Software Corp.

Mastering process

Since there was no flowchart, the quality manager mused, then there was no mastering process. After putting together some preliminary flowcharts that would help develop a “gold” standard and a “silver” secondary level that would be used for production and quality, he asked for and received permission from his boss to get to the bottom of this “process” problem.

He called an emergency staff meeting and asked that marketing and engineering bring to the meeting any and all customer masters. This was monumentally revealing when there appeared 10 items called masters spread out on their conference table.

It took a good 20 minutes for him to relate how the meeting progressed and how he talked with the department heads and was assured that the disks they had brought to the meeting were, indeed, “customer masters.” He said it took almost two hours to tell them, show them, preach to them, warn them and finally convince them that there could only be one customer master and it had to be kept in a controlled safe.

As they began to understand all of this malarkey about gold and silver, they began to realize that they absolutely did not own a customer master-in truth, they actually owned 10 customer masters. And the worst news of all-these 10 disks were all different. He said he found a copy of the customer’s last version and also a copy of the master they had used for duplication, both in the pile.

In the badly drawn flowchart, “Duplicating the First Order,” it can be seen that essentially all departments worked with the customer on all levels, and it turned out that the company owner interacted with his own quality department in ways that precluded getting a single master out of the client company into the other company’s hands.<

Source: Patton & Patton Software Corp.

Once in the hands of the duplication company, the same problems existed-a bunch of interactions and no controls on the mastering process. If the engineering department needed another copy of the master, they went to the customer. If production needed another copy, and engineering was not available, they could go to marketing and get another disk. He told me that all of these facts surfaced during the interviews.

Then, with emphasis, the quality manager related that a system like this simply cannot exist in a manufacturing or service company-a system where everyone is in charge and everyone thinks he is the responsible manager or agent.

The quality manager laughingly stated they should adopt a name for an organization based on 0 planning and 0 control-it should be called an “Oh” system-and the only output is the circle of constant fixing, constant repairing, constant yelling and spiraling costs.

See his first draft of a flowchart to develop some control, “First Step to Creating a Real Gold Mastering Standard.”

Now he was on a roll, and followed with a profound statement: “The people involved with this problem, all fairly well-trained professionals, and good at their jobs, just were never exposed to the precision that is offered by a good flowchart.” He said that once they learned this about flowcharts they were unstoppable.

In these types of control several key points must be understood:

Master a gold copy from the customer.

Have working copies of the gold called silvers.

The customer must see, test and approve a copy of the master (spelled silver).

Production and quality must have copies of the gold (again, spelled silver).

Have a master and a backup master on file (Gold xx.00 and xx.01)

In the final flowchart (See “Gold Mastering Process”), notice that the quality manager actually put in a noted process that would let someone admit that he had an extra gold. And, the chart tells one what to do in this instance. Q

Tech tips

  • Process mapping is a technique that identifies the world of a process.
  • A flowchart can communicate an intricate process between different levels of knowledge, training and abilities.
  • Flowcharts help visualize a process, making it easier to communicate those processes, understand those processes and to ensure that things are not missed.

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