4 Quality Management Tips We Can Get From Time Travel Movies

Ever want to travel through time 
to repair a quality mistake?
Ever wish you could have a do-over? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go back in time to change or undo some event? Or what about going to a future time? Nothing illegal, maybe just to avoid the lines and hassle of getting a ticket to the next episode of Star Wars.
If you’re in quality management and an auditor hands you a list of inspection observations or a warning letter, the notion of going back in time might seem appealing.
Actually, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells aside, when it comes to quality management, the whole space-time continuum thing might not be so far-fetched. With the changing regulatory landscape and manufacturing processes, manufacturers are exploring more effective ways of managing quality. Companies hoping to sustain productivity and momentum while staying compliant are applying more of a closed-loop approach to quality, which, in essence, is a form of time travel.

Closed-loop quality management dismantles organizational silos and creates a conduit that connects quality management throughout the value chain. What this means is valuable information and data freely flow from R&D, design and procurement up through manufacturing, distribution and service and back again. In this environment, a quality mindset is ever-present in each functional area, making it easier to identify and resolve failures and reduce their (potentially significant) downstream impact.
No discussion of time travel is complete without mentioning Hollywood. After all, moviemakers continue to mine the concept of time travel with a multitude of movies about the topic. While motion pictures tend to lean more toward the farcical side of time travel, they can offer up some helpful advice to the quality management community. Here are four tips for quality management courtesy of time travel movies. 

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#1 Keep communication relevant and transparent

In Michael Crichton’s “Timeline,” a group of archeology students travel back to 14thcentury France to rescue their professor. They knew right where and “when” to go because their professor revealed his whereabouts by strategically placing some items he knew his students would find and recognize. The students just needed to go retrieve him without getting pulled into the heated disagreement between France and Britain going on at the time.
Closed-loop quality is about quality interaction and communication and interconnecting people. Creating feedback loops among different functional areas helps establish process and product quality early in the design and manufacturing stages. 

#2 Don’t make assumptions about downstream impact

In “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the crew of the starship Enterprise needed to boldly go where many have gone before - back to the Earth during the 1980s. Their mission was to retrieve two humpback whales and bring them to the 23rd century so they can help prevent an alien probe from destroying the planet.
During one scene, the starship’s engineer (Scotty), accompanied by the medical officer (Dr. McCoy), needed to procure the materials to construct a water tank large enough to transport the whales. In brokering a deal with a Plexiglas manufacturer, Scotty offered to hand over a highly advanced formula for manufacturing Plexiglas in exchange for the materials they needed. Dr. McCoy immediately cautioned Scotty about the prime directive of not changing the course of history.
McCoy: “You do realize of course, if we give him the formula, we’re altering the future.”
Scotty: “Why? How do we know he didn’t invent the thing?”
McCoy: “Yeah!”
Closed loop quality is not about making assumptions, and it’s certainly not about making decisions from inside of a silo. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. How employees function and interact and what they produce moves downstream. This makes quality management a staple in all departments. 

#3 Training and development are critical to quality management

In the movie “Army of Darkness,” Ash Williams, along with his car, is pulled through a time portal and emerges in the year A.D. 1300. During his attempts to return to his time, he gets caught up in a medieval war between humans and an army of dead soldiers who have risen from their graves. Ash’s hand-to-hand combat skills help him survive at first. However, the scientific knowledge he gained from textbooks he had in his car proved to be more valuable than strength and weaponry.
Employee training and development is not only a compliance requirement, it helps minimize deviations and non-conformances resulting from human error. Also, when organizational managers and staff continue to expand their knowledge and skills, it helps establish a culture of high performance, innovation and continuous improvement. 

#4 All quality processes should be connected in some way

One of the most quintessential movies about time travel is “Back to the Future.” In the story, a hapless teenager, Marty McFly, inadvertently travels back to the time when his parents first met. After interfering with his parents’ love-at-first-sight encounter, Marty’s continued existence depends on him being able to orchestrate their alliance.
Disgraced nuclear physicist Dr. Emmet “Doc” Brown is the time-travel mastermind in this movie. His time machine components of choice include a flux capacitor and plutonium, which he stole from a band of Libyan terrorists. As he is about to embark on his futuristic field trip, he offers Marty this bit of advice: “Better put on this radiation suit, not that there’s any concern, but it’s always best to be cautious.”
Quality processes should all be interconnected. For example, risk and corrective and preventive action (CAPA) should be connected because risk management is helpful in prioritizing CAPA processes. Doc Brown demonstrated the importance of preventive action with the radiation suit. However, based on certain events in the movie (no spoilers here), he neglected to fully consider the risks involved with ripping off a group of Libyan nationals.

Closed-loop quality management adds more value to your organization’s good manufacturing practices (GMP) because it involves quality in every aspect of the value chain. It also makes you feel less compelled to attempt time travel.

What “uh-ohs” do you wish you could go back in time and undo? We all have them, share yours in the comments section below.

David Jensen is a marketing communication specialist at MasterControl. He has been writing technical, marketing and public relations content in technology, professional development, business and regulated environments for more than two decades. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Weber State University and a master’s degree in professional communication from Westminster College.