e-Talk Radio: Yourdon, Ed, 21 November 2000


Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt and the child that was in the Sixth Sense. It is a very simple idea that if someone does you a favor rather than paying it back or ignoring it altogether, that you might reciprocate by paying it forward. You know, passing it on but in kind of an expanding chain. If somebody does you one favor, you pass on the favor forward to three other people and each of those three passes it on to three others and so on. The reason that I was suggesting it, particularly in the context of quality assurance in the computer field, that is a bottom-up grass roots approach to making things better as opposed to the top-down approach that you see in most business organizations, and frankly in many government and social movements as well. The idea that the president, or the boss, or the CEO is going to figure out how to make things better and then the issue of edicts and orders that will ripple downward through the hierarchy to cause things to be done in a different fashion. Sometimes, that is important, particularly if you have a charismatic leader who can help break some kind of stalemate or paralysis in an organization. But I think in a lot of cases, it is going to have to come from the bottom upwards, and that was what I was trying to suggest in that conference and to help reinforce it. I made sure that everybody in the conference had a copy of the book. I also told them that I was prepared to follow my own advice by offering a "Pay It Forward" favor to two or three people in the conference.

Carol: That was a very powerful way, I think, of getting that message across that quality really starts at home, that quality starts with every piece of software that anybody really touches. We have spent a few shows talking about what constitutes quality and do we have a misalignment in expectations on the part of the users with what the developers produce and that type of thing. There are really no slick and easy answers. But one of the things that I think is really powerful is that it does start at home. That quality does start at the bottom with everybody in the organization.

Ed: Well, it is also easier to sell the idea if you can demonstrate the personal benefits to yourself and to the people that you have immediate interactions with. Again, what you normally see in most organizations, and not just in the computer field but in all different aspects of quality, is this top-down directive that says for the good of the company and to improve corporate earnings and to make the shareholders happier we hereby direct all of you bottom level peons to do X, Y and Z which often makes their life worse. It means that they have to spend a longer time in the office trying to do a good job, which of course, they would like to do. But they do not get any immediate personal gratification out of it. Nor do they necessarily see that their immediate peers, the people surrounding them, are necessarily any better off. It may turn out that a year later corporate earnings will go up by a penny a share but that does not necessarily translate into things being better for yourself.

Carol: Right.

Ed: It has been interesting to see a variety of movements that are bottom-up grass roots things. Some of the so-called best practice movements are

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