There is an old saying: Garbage in, garbage out. It is a reference to the need for any creative, quality end product to start with quality, reproducible material. Imagine the Mona Lisa being painted with used motor oil and an old sponge. There’s a chance it wouldn’t be hanging in the Louvre, even if Da Vinci’s vision was that of the most beautiful woman in the world.

A similar saying exists in the culinary world—It helps to cook with the right ingredients. A nod not only to having a solid recipe, but also fresh, quality meats, fruit, vegetables, and spices. Many chefs would tell you it is the difference between your meal being received with a "fantastic!" or a "meh."

These sayings exist to help us remember that the end is dictated by how we start and carry the process through. But what happens when we do get that "meh" Yelp review? When something in the process does go wrong? In manufacturing, we have root cause analysis and process monitoring. In sports, we have a proliferation of Monday morning quarterbacking.

Naturally, and unsurprisingly, sports fans always want to know why our team lost and why. What went wrong and exactly when did it go wrong, but we are not always great at pinpointing it. Take the story of Steve Bartman.

In 2003, Bartman was one of thousands of fans in attendance at a Chicago Cubs game when a foul ball was hit in his direction. He reached out to grab it, as any fan would, naturally. Unfortunately for Bartman, it happened to be Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Chicago was leading 3–0 in the eighth inning of the game and had a 3-2 lead in the series. Cubs’ outfielder Moisés Alou attempted to catch the ball Bartman had reached for, but Bartman deflected it. If Alou had caught the ball, the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945 and potentially on their way to their first championship in 95 years. It would be another 13 years before the Cubs would win a World Series.

Upset fans and many others were more than comfortable blaming Bartman for the team’s misfortune, choosing to ignore what happened next, complements of Wikipedia:

The Cubs endured an on-field meltdown. Pitcher Mark Prior threw a wild pitch to walk Castillo and allow Juan Pierre to reach third base. After a run-scoring single to cut the Cubs' lead to 3–1, Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez mishandled a ground ball that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play. The Cubs ultimately allowed eight runs in the inning, and lost the game 8–3. They also lost in Game 7 at Wrigley Field the following day and were eliminated by the Marlins.

So, perhaps in this case, fans and pundits alike were a bit lax in their assessment of why and when. A better example might be found in the story of the Three Little Pigs. Nowhere in the story is there mention of the design of the third pig’s house or the methods he used to build it. Although the other two pigs were accused of being lazy, it all came down to materials. The third pig used brick, a material strong enough to thwart the attempts of the wolf to blow it down. Proper root cause analysis is no more evident in the fact that the other two pigs immediately rebuilt their houses using brick.

Or as Carl Bramley writes, "Any physical manufactured product is made of something—its fundamental material is the baseline on which its functionality and usefulness are built. Neglecting materials testing can be the root cause of final product failure in service and damage a brand’s profitability and reputation. Quality materials are the route to quality products."

So read Carl’s article, "What Product Quality Testing is Made of," and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!