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Intergalactic mistakes

On 28 January 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just seconds after launching from NASA’s Cape Canaveral base in Florida. All seven crew were killed. Over 41 million Americans watched in horror and disbelief as live coverage of the catastrophe unfolded on their TV screens right in front of them. 

Investigations found failed O ring seals to be the culprit. Embarrassingly they further revealed NASA’s engineers knew the O ring seals were unreliable before the launch but decided not to do anything about them.

Sadly, NASA’s quality control failure isn’t isolated. As early as 1923 scientists understood that a telescope orbiting Earth could bring exciting potential to their work. They also understood the enormity of the technological challenge to get it there. And they were right – it wasn’t until over 50 years later in the 1970s that work could begin.  

Named Hubble, in homage to astronomer Edwin Hubble, the telescope’s advanced design would allow it to capture extremely high-resolution images of Earth, in spite of the lack of background light available in space. Central to this design was a mirror. Ground and polished to exacting specifications, it would the most technologically advanced mirror ever made.  

NASA and colleagues from the European Space Agency set to, and eventually, in 1990, some 15 years and $1.175 billion later, Hubble was launched into space. The world waited with bated breath for those first exciting pictures. When they came they were certainly sharp. Unfortunately, they were also completely indistinct. 

A congressional investigation later revealed the mirror to be at fault. Exacting though its design specifications had been, they were unfortunately the wrong ones. It was also revealed that vital data which should have been used to inform them had been ignored. What’s more, data known to be unreliable had been used instead. The mirror was useless. And so too, de facto, was the Hubble.

A new world view 

When you consider gross breaches of quality like these, it isn’t difficult to argue the need for organisations to adopt robust Quality Management Systems. And most do, but they are seldom as robust as they need to be to avoid these kinds of disaster.

The problem is mindset. People often approach quality as a tick box exercise. Ensuring the organisation is compliant (ish) to something deemed important (ish) to the needs of its output.  

But at Tharsus, we believe this is a dangerous way to think. Without a proper attitude to quality, how can you deliver it? And if you don’t deliver it, the consequences – as we’ve seen – can be catastrophic.

Here at Tharsus we’ve developed our own approach to quality. We call it the Tharsus Management System or TMS.  Our TMS is uniquely designed to manage, maintain and refine our business strategy, execution, processes, controls and performance to deliver our products and services with a consistent level of excellence.

At Tharsus we don’t just think about quality. We do it.

Unlike a conventional system, TMS governs all of our activities within the product development strategy, rather than some of them. It’s embedded in our culture and aligned to our business strategy. It isn’t something we refer to. It’s in everything we do. 

It brings our DNA to life – essentially what makes Tharsus, Tharsus, and rolls this into everything we do for our customers and how we do it. So with more cohesion and consistency of purpose, we can align everything we do into getting better for our customers. 

Isabela Santos is Manager- Business Excellence at Tharsus