Confessions of a Quality Manager  

Being the adventures of four jet-setting quality consultants who like to talk shop even more than they like good food and drink.

This is fantasy consulting. For the real thing, go to Fell Services' Quality pages.

Corporate hospitality is wonderful - enough to make something like football seem - well - quite enjoyable. But, before I write anymore, I should put it firmly on record that until Thursday, all I knew about football was that it was played by chunky looking men (or is that rugby? Even I know that David Beckham isn't chunky). Dietrich wasn't much better. He'd met Neukirchner back in 1991, shortly after he'd joined Sturm Graz, but, frankly, the life of a quality consultant doesn't mesh much with that of a football fan. Unless one of the clients is also a sponsor - hence the hospitality.

So Dietrich and I were sitting comfortably in the Almondvale Suite, sharing a bottle of wine, a plateful of samosas and another of cute little triangular, spicy, iced sultana things. We were preparing to watch the Livingstone-Sturm Graz UEFA Cup match and had each had hurried briefings to prevent us cheering the wrong team - because, competing as usual, we were each supporting different teams.

The tragedy of having a free bar is that the drink is not treated with the respect it deserves. I didn't think Dietrich and I were especially greedy - in comparison with the others - but we got through three bottles of wine before kickoff. When we finally staggered out to watch the game, it was a bit disorienting to see the Lions (as I'd been reminded to call the Livingstone side, why I've no idea) had their new first strips: virgin white with candy pink insets in honour of their main sponsors, Intelligent Finance. Sturm Graz were in a much more attractive orange and black.

All the Scottish fans were loyal, but pessimistic. Livingstone were 3 goals down, and Sturm Graz are one of Austria's top teams with some outstanding (non-Austrian) players.

I realised very quickly that I wasn't going to appreciate the game. Dietrich, who's better at camouflage than me, had sidled over to the group of Sturm Graz supporters and was simply copying what they did, a quarter of a second behind everyone else. True, I was surrounded by Scottish fans, and the terrace opposite was crowded with even more, but it was far easier to look at the game from a quality point of view. Also, the Scottish habit of cheering whenever a Lion tried to score (but unsuccessfully) was a little irritating.

I'd thought that, being 5:2 on aggregate, Livingstone would play a defensive game. Wrong. It wasn't enough to stop the visitors scoring, Livingstone had to score three more goals than them, and so the Lions were very aggressive. This is where my quality antennae started prickling. It was very obvious that the Livingstone players had been spending too much time practising their fancy kicks and too little on gettng back to basics. They were delinquent - in the quality sense - in two ways. First, they didn't have a sufficient knowledge of where the ball would end up after one of their kicks. And secondly, they hadn't played together enough to intuitively realise where the ball would end up when a fellow team player kicked it. This led to the entertaining, but rather embarrassing, sight of Livingstone players running like hell to head off a friendly ball, while the Sturm Graz players, who had a much better grasp of strategy, would casually saunter down the pitch and arrive at the ball easily able to kick it to a partner before the panting Livingstone player arrived.

It was also moderately noticeable that if the Livingstone players got stressed, they somehow forgot that they were each just one cog in the team machine, and not individual prima donnas. I've seen this in quality problem solutions: when the going gets tough, the more insecure managers show that they don't really trust other people and try to do everything themselves. I was in two minds about Marvin Andrews, whether he was one of these people, or if he was just very conscious of having to give lots of quality for money. Marvin is easily recognisable, both in appearance and actions (I only worked out who Neukirchner was, for example, by a process of elimination).

Marvin played a great game, don't get me wrong, so criticising him seems a bit underhand. But, none the less, he was responsible for everyone getting far more breaks to catch their breath than they really ought to, by the simple expedient of making a series of long, strong kicks with his left leg which curled, with a lazy and inexorable parabola, away from any Livingstone players and over the white lines making the edge of the pitch. Which led to a Sturm Graz penalty. Again and again. And again.

Furthermore, if Marvin saw a ball heading in his general direction, he'd leap so that it encountered his chest or leg or, occasionally, foot and therefore reversed direction immediately. Good for the mighty Marvin. Marvin was everywhere. In the first half, his territory seemed to spread from his own goal to just short of the opposing goal. Which is why I was surprised to see him shadowing his own goal in the second half, though that may just have been a passing phase, as he appears to have scored the winning goal in the last seconds of the match. What I'm trying to say is that Marvin played a one man game, which could have been construed as being both unfair and patronising to the other players.

As I see it, football is a bit like applied mathematics. One action will result in a number of possible reactions and any player in the immediate vicinity must be ready to instantly react to which of the many possible variations will occur. This makes is particularly tough on the goalkeeper, who gets faced either with a ball coming towards him at high velocity or a hostile diversion designed to make him look one way while the ball gets kicked in from another direction.

So where does that leave Livingstone? Apart from winning the match, but losing by 2 goals on aggregate, of course. The corporate hospitality will continue for the time being, whatever their state of play. But, if Livingstone want to rise above being so low in the league, they are going to have to adopt some business improvement techniques or, at a minimum, improve their networking and team bonds.

Dietrich reappeared after the end of the match, rather cheerful and dishevelled, offering me a share in another couple of bottles of wine. Personally, I consider the fact that I got back to the hotel without throwing up or getting lost to be a minor miracle. Getting up at 6am required a bit more discipline, an awful lot of adrenaline and quite a few espressos. Lasting through the day was an endurance test in itself, which makes me ask myself: Why am I so very eager to get back and do it all over again?

  posted by Dovya R @ 4:25 PM : discuss

Sunday, October 06, 2002  
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