5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 8: Team Tools for Planning Quality


1.  Introduction

Among the 8 tools & techniques listed for process 8.1 Plan Quality Management, the one that is listed as #7 is actually a group of tools called Additional Quality Planning Tools, which are listed as:

  •  Brainstorming
  • Force field analysis
  • Nominal group techniques
  • Quality management and control tools

The quality management and control tools will be described when I get to process 8.2 Perform Quality Assurance.  The other three, brainstorming, force-field analysis, and nominal group techniques have one thing in common, and that is they are group or team techniques that are meant to involve the entire project team and/or subject matter experts, whereas the quality tools listed as #3 in the list of 8 could be done as a group, but can also be done alone by a single person.  These tools listed above, however, are meant to be done as a group or team.

2.  Brainstorming—the example of Multivoting

Brainstorming can be done with project team members together with subject matter experts as needed.

One common brainstorming technique is multivoting, where a series of ideas are listed and then the group votes on those that considers to be the most important; this is done to find out what the group considers to be the highest priority.

1. Brainstorm Generate a list of items to be considered using a brainstorming technique.  Record the items on a whiteboard, flipchart, or other surface so members can see it.
2. Review & Combine Review each item so group understands it.  If there are any items that are similar, combine them if group agrees.
3. Number Once items have been combined, number them in a list for voting purposes.
4. Decide Vote Method Group decides on voting method.  Typically, each person gets to vote for 1/3 of the total number of items in list.
5. Conduct Vote Each person votes for items he or she considers most important in list.
6. Tally Vote Tally the amount of votes and list items in terms of number of votes cast.
7. Reduce Items Select items based on voting criteria.  Some groups only choose those items voted on by at least half of the participants.  Some groups eliminate the three least-voted items.
Redo steps 5, 6, and 7 with continuously shrinking list of items until only 4 or 5 remain.
8. Announce Results Announce final four or five ideas that remain after multivoting process complete.
9. Discuss Results Discuss final list of items.  Conduct a group discussion to decide which of the final ideas should receive top priority.  Or conduct one last round of votes to see which item is the priority item.

 3.  Nominal Group Technique

This is also a brainstorming technique, but the difference here between this and the multivoting technique is that the generation of ideas is done separately by members, and the results are pooled together.  This can also be done by sending responses remotely to, say, subject matter experts (SMEs) or stakeholders, for example.

Step Explanation
1. Discuss Explain the purpose of the activity, to generate a list of action items by means of group consensus..
2. Write down Each person should write down their ideas separately; collect them.
3. Clarify Put all ideas on whiteboard.
4. Cull List Combine similar items so you have a final list of ideas.
5. Distribute Cards Distribute index cards so that there is one index card for every 5 or so ideas on the final list.
6. Vote Vote for the best ideas, one idea per index cards.
7. Rank Rank how many votes each idea receives, rank in order from most chosen to least chosen.
8. Announce Announce the top-ranked ideas.
9. Discuss Agree upon moving forward on the action items that were top-ranked by the group.

4. Force field analysis

Force field analysis is a tool in analyzing the forces that are for and against a proposed decision or change that management wants to have implemented in the organization.

Force field analysis was developed in the 1940s by an American social psychologist named Kurt Lewin.  But the more I read about the technique, it reminded me of a technique Ben Franklin described in his autobiography whenever it came time to make a tough decision.  He described it as follows:

.. my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.

In modern force field analysis, you divide your paper into three areas, a central rectangle for the central decision or change being proposed, a space on the left-hand side for the forces for the change and a space on the right-hand side for the forces against the change.  You don’t balance out the forces like Ben Franklin supposed but you do list them.

Then you estimate the impact of each of the forces on either side, with one common scale being suggested of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not very impactful” to 5 being “very impactful”.  Then you make the height of each arrow correspond to the number on the scale, and then you calculate the total height of the arrows that are on the left-hand side for the forces for the change and you compare it to the total height of the arrows that are on the right-hand side for the forces against the change.

5.  Conclusion

These three examples above show the different possibilities of coming up with ideas and discussing them using the “collective wisdom” of the group.  This requires the project manager who moderates these team tools & techniques to keep the criticism on a constructive level so the creativity of each member is not discouraged.

On a cultural note, in Japan, the younger members are usually asked their opinions first because the Japanese recognize that deferring to senior members is a tendency in their society because of the respect for seniority in an organization.  If they were to allow the senior members to go first, if the younger members had a different opinion, they would be reluctant to express it if it differed from the opinion of the senior members.  So the younger members are allowed to express their opinion first so as to overcome this built-in deference to seniority that exists in the culture, and to tap the creativity of the younger members who may lack the experience of the senior members, but who make up for it in terms of having a fresh perspective.

Next week, I will discuss the outputs for the process 8.1 Plan Quality Management.

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5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 8: Seven Basic Quality Tools


 

1.  Introduction

The planning process in the Quality Management Area is process 8.1 Plan Quality Management.  Among the tools & techniques used in planning quality are the Seven basic quality tools (which collectively are listed as the third in the list of tools & techniques by the PMBOK® Guide for this process).  These seven basic quality tools can can also be used to monitor and control quality in process 8.3 Control Quality.

2.  The Seven Quality Tools

Here’s a description of the Seven Quality Tools used in Quality Management.

i.  Cause-and-Effect Diagrams

Also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams.  The problem (or “special variation” in quality speak) is placed at the “head” of the fishbone and the various “bones” that come off of the “spine” of the fishbone some possible source of the problem.

ii.  Flowcharts

These are useful for diagramming the inputs, processing steps, and outputs that make up a process.  They can be used to better understand a process in order to determine which steps add value to the process and which ones do not (and which therefore can be eliminated).  They can also be used for estimating the cost of implementing quality or for estimating the cost of a failure or nonconformance.

iii.  Checksheets

Checksheets help collect useful data about a potential quality problem, including identifying defects.

iv.  Pareto Diagrams

Once the sources of a problem are identified (for example, through the cause-and-effect diagrams mentioned as tool #1), the Pareto Diagram is a bar chart arranged so that the sources that cause the most of a problem’s effects are listed to the left, and so on towards the right until you get a threshold under which you list the rest of the sources as “other”.

v.  Histograms

They are used to answer basic questions about the statistical distribution of quality data, for example:

–are they normally distributed, skewed in any particular direction?

–are they tightly distributed around a central mean, or loosely distributed?

vi.  Control Charts

When a measurement from a process are taken over time, you can see if the process stays within certain predetermined limits, called control limits, and if they remain randomly distributed around these limits (“random variation”) or if there is any sort of drift that takes place as a result of a “special variation”.

The control limits play the same function that the lane markers do on a highway, to help  drivers steer their cars between them.  This helps prevent cars from going off the road, which would be the equivalent of going beyond the “specification limits”.

vii.  Scatter diagrams

This compares two variables compared to see if changes in one variable are correlated with the changes in the other.  However, one of the basic rules of statistics is that “correlation is not causation”.  If  two variables are correlated, it may be because they are both related to a third variable which causes them both.

This was brought home to me in a psychology class, when the teacher showed a curve which showed for a series of rural French villages the number of storks seen in the village and the number of children both in the village that year.  There was a strong correlation between the two, but although I was a college freshmen, I already knew enough biology to know that an increase of storks were probably not the cause of the increased number of children.

Then I remembered a fact from my French class that storks (or cigognes in French) often nested in the chimneys of rural French houses because the shape and size were convenient for the storks to place their nests there.  That’s when I realized why there was no causation, although there was a correlation.  If there were more houses, there were more storks because there were more chimneys to place their nests in.  But if there were more houses, there were also more families, and therefore more children being born to them.  So both the number of storks and the number of children were dependent on the variable of the number of houses, but independent from each other.

3.  Quality and Health—An analogy

You can understand how the different quality tools are used for different purposes by making an analogy to the health of a patient.  A doctor sees a patient on a regular basis and does tests to see how the patient’s health stacks up against the baseline, which the doctor would figure out beforehand based on the patient’s age, sex, medical history, etc.  This is the monitoring that a doctor has to do.

What if a problem is detected, i.e., some of the medical tests show up some abnormalities?  Then the doctor has to control these problems by diagnosing what the cause is.  Once the doctor figures out the cause or causes, he or she can administer a cure.  Of course, then the doctor must go back and demonstrate that the cure has actually worked.

Then the doctor should try to encourage the patient to improve his or her health by eliminating those things which are bad for it and doing more things that improve it.

With this analogy in mind, let’s take a look at the seven quality tools.

 

  Quality Tool Purpose Medical analogy
1. Ishikawa or fishbone

(cause-and-effect) diagrams

For finding root cause of quality problems Diagnosing cause of health problems
2. Flowcharts For analyzing processes as step towards improving them Improving patient health on ongoing basis (exercise, etc.)
3. Checksheets For collecting data on a quality problem Monitoring patient health
4. Pareto diagrams Identifies sources that are responsible for the most quality problems Diagnosing cause of health problems
5. Histograms Describes the statistical distribution of quality data Analyzing patient health data
6. Control charts Determines whether the process is stable or unstable Monitoring patient health
7. Scatter diagrams Used to indicate correlation between variables Diagnosing cause of health problems

The next post will discuss some of the additional quality tools listed for process 8.1 Plan Quality Management

5th Edition PMBOK Guide–Chapter 8: The Cost of Quality


1.  Introduction

The first tw0 of the tools & techniques listed for process 8.1 Plan Quality Management are a) cost-benefit analysis and b) Cost of  Quality.

These tools answer the question:   is the effort and expense put into quality management worth the benefit that it brings to the company?    In reality, answering the question “is quality management worth it” in the abstract is a kind of meaningless question.   The more meaningful question is “at what level of quality to the benefits outweigh the costs?   Do we need the expense of, say, a six-sigma level of quality if we are not producing a product that requires that level of quality?

The purpose of this post is to go into some detail regarding the cost of quality to see the categories that it encompasses.   Understanding these categories will help a project manager now only calculate the cost of quality, but will help that project manager to explain the results to management, if the necessity for the costs of quality management are ever questioned.

2.  Cost of Quality

The two basic categories to understand are the costs of conformance and the costs of nonconformance.   The costs of conformance are the costs of doing quality management.   What if you don’t do quality management?   Then the product that the project is going to create may contain defects, and these defects create costs to the company which are the costs of nonconformance.

Within each of these two major categories are two sub-categories.   Let’s take the costs of nonconformance first.   What if the defects are caught before the product gets shipped out to the customer?   Then the defective product needs to be either a) reworked or repaired or, if repair is not possible, b) scrapped or thrown out.    These costs are internal failure costs.    But what if the defects are not caught before the product gets shipped out to the customer?   Then this means it is the customer who will discover them.   The customer may call the customer call center and complain.  The customer will, if the product is covered under warranty, ask for the product to be either repaired or replaced.   If the customer uses the product and the customer or a third party is injured due to a failure of the product, then the customer may make a product liability claim.    If the claim is denied or the amount offered by the company is not agreed upon by the customer, the customer may seek legal remedy by filing a product liability lawsuit against the company.

No matter how serious the claim, from a call to the customer call center to a lawsuit, the customer will not be satisfied with the company that makes the product, and there is the additional cost of lost future business from that customer.   All of these costs are external failure costs.

What can be done to reduce these failure costs?   That’s where the cost of conformance or the cost of quality-related activities comes in.   You can try to prevent defects from happening in the first place, which is a practice encouraged by the Project Management Institute.   This can be done by designing the product so that the probability of defects is reduced right from the start.   Let’s say the design is done with the idea of reducing the amount of defects.   Then the manufacturing process must also be paid attention to so that defects do not show up there either.   This is where training of machine operators or others involved in the process comes in.   The equipment must be maintained so that faulty equipment does not contribute to defects.   Finally, human resource practices must allow operators the time to do the job right.    Trying to squeeze more productivity out of a worker has diminishing returns at a certain point when a tired operator is more likely to make mistakes, the kind that can create defects in the product.    All of these costs are prevention costs.

Although you can try to prevent defects, you must also have a system in place that will detect defects that may occur during the manufacturing process through a series of tests and inspections which may require destructive testing.   Destructive testing means that the component that is randomly selected, once tested, cannot be released to the customer and must be scrapped.   Obviously this is an expense which contributes to the cost of quality.   These are referred to as appraisal costs.

 

So, in summary:

  • Cost of nonconformance = internal failure costs (rework, scrap) + external failure costs (customer complaints, lost business, warranty, product liability)
  • Cost of conformance = prevention costs (training, quality documentation, equipment, time to do it right) + appraisal costs (testing, inspection, destructive testing loss)

Knowing these categories and being to actually calculate out the costs of quality or the costs of conformance vs. the costs of NOT doing quality (i.e., costs of nonconformance) is the key to being able to explain precisely to management and other interested stakeholders the answer to the question “are the costs of quality management worth it to the company?”

The next post covers the third of the tool & techniques listed for process 8.1 Plan Quality Management, namely the Seven Basic Quality Tools.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide: Chapter 8: Process 8.1 Plan Quality Management


This post gives an overview of the first of the three processes in the Quality Management Knowledge Area, namely process 8.1 Plan Quality Management, with summaries of the inputs, tools & techniques, and output of the process.

1.  Inputs

The information about the performance baselines and the stakeholder and risk registers form the background of quality management, but the main substance of quality management comes from requirements, which translate the customer expectations into the various technical requirements that the project will fulfill.

 

8.1 PLAN QUALITY MANAGEMENT
INPUTS
1. Project Management Plan The following elements of the PM Plan are used in the development of the Quality Management Plan:

  • Scope baseline (= project scope statement, WBS, and WBS dictionary)
  • Schedule baseline
  • Cost baseline

These three performance baselines covering scope, time and cost are respectively the outputs of processes 5.4 Create WBS, 6.6 Develop Schedule, and 7.3 Determine Budget.

2. Stakeholder register Aids in identifying which stakeholders possess an interest in, or have an impact on, quality.  This is an output of 13.1 Identify Stakeholders.
3. Risk register Contains information on threats and opportunities which may impact quality.  This is an output of 11.2 Identify Risks.
4. Requirements documentation Captures the various requirements (project, product, and quality) that the project shall meet pertaining to shareholder expectations.  This is an output of 5.2 Collect Requirements.
5. EEFs
  • Governmental regulations
  • Rules, standards, guidelines specific to the application area of the project
  • Working or operating conditions of the project which may affect quality
  • Cultural perceptions which may influence expectations about quality
6. OPAs
  • Organizational policies, procedures, guidelines about quality
  • Historical databases
  • Lessons learned
TOOLS & TECHNIQUES
1. Cost-benefit analysis Compares the cost of each quality activity to its expected benefit.
2. Cost of quality (COQ) Compares the overall cost of performing quality activities (cost of conformance) with the expected benefit in terms of the reduction of the cost of nonconformance, i.e., the costs that would be incurred if those activities were not implemented.
3. Seven basic quality tools These seven tools solve quality problems.

  • Cause-and-effect diagrams (aka fishbone or Ishikawa diagrams):  for finding root cause of quality problems
  • Flowcharts:  for analyzing processes as a step towards improving them
  • Checksheets:  for collecting data on a quality problem
  • Pareto diagrams:  identifies those few sources that are responsible for the most quality problems
  • Histograms:  describes the statistical distribution of quality data
  • Control charts:  determines whether process is stable or predictable
  • Scatter diagrams:  used to indicate correlation between variables
4. Benchmarking Compares planned project with comparable projects in order to provide a basis for measuring performance and to identify best practices and generate ideas for improvement.
5. Design of experiments (DOE) Statistical method for identifying and then systematically changing all of the important factors that affect product quality.
6. Statistical sampling Choosing part of a population of interest for inspection.
7. Additional quality planning tools
  • Brainstorming
  • Force field analysis
  • Nominal group technique
  • Quality management and control tools
8. Meetings The project team may hold meetings to develop the quality management plan.
OUTPUTS
1. Quality management plan Describes how the organization’s quality policies will be implemented, and how the project management team plans to meet the quality requirements.
2. Process improvement plan Details the steps for analyzing project management and product development processes to identify activities which add value.
3. Quality metrics Describes an attribute of the project or product and how the quality control process will measure it.  They are used in both the quality assurance and control quality processes.
4. Quality checklists Verifies that a set of required steps has been performed.  They should incorporate the acceptance criteria included in the scope baseline.
5. Project documents updates
  • Stakeholder register
  • Responsibility assignment matrix
  • WBS and WBS dictionary

2.  Tools & Techniques

The cost-benefit analysis and Cost of Quality (COQ) are mainly tools for justifying the expense of the quality activities to management and to the interested stakeholders.

For designing and implementing quality activities, you have the tools of benchmarking, which is like lessons learned, but not from one’s own past projects, but by those done by others.

For actually performing the quality control measurements, you have the tools of statistical sampling.  If one finds there are quality problems, then the seven basic quality tools can help you isolate the causes of problems, and then with design of experiments, you can demonstrate that you have indeed isolated those causes that contribute to the most problems.

Process improvement processes are also included in the tools & techniques, as are some of the “group decision” quality tools such as brainstorming, and force field analysis.

All of these tools and techniques are important, and I will be doing separate posts on Cost of Quality, the Seven Basic Tools, and some other quality tools that I feel need highlighting with a post of their own.

3.  Outputs

The main output of Plan Quality Management is, unsurprisingly, the Quality Management Plan, one of the knowledge plans that make up the omnibus Project Management Plan.  Another output, the Process Improvement Plan, is one of the four subsidiary plans that make up the Project Management Plan.  The quality metrics and quality checklists are also valuable inputs to the other two quality processes.

The next post will cover the Cost of Quality, because this is important in now only educating stakeholders in why quality activities are being undertaken, but in setting the level of quality for a project.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 8: Quality Management Knowledge Area


1.  Introduction

Chapter 7 concludes the discussion of the knowledge area of Cost Management, the last of the three major “triple constraints” (scope, time and cost).  The next chapter, chapter 8, covers management of quality on a project.

2.  Quality Management Processes

There are three project management processes in the Quality Management Knowledge Area.  One of them is in the Planning Process Group, the second one is the Executing Process Group, and the third one is the Monitoring & Controlling Process Group.

The first process, that of Plan Quality Management, creates the Quality Management Plan which is the framework for all of the other processes, including what the quality requirements will be.  The second process, that of Perform Quality Assurance, is where the quality requirements set up in the first process are audited to make sure they are appropriate.  The third process, that of Control Quality, measures the quality of the deliverables and makes sure they conform to the quality requirements.

 

Process

Group

Process

Number

Process
Name
Process Description
Planning 8.1 Plan Quality Management Identifies quality requirements and/or standards for the project and its deliverables; documents how the project will demonstrate compliance with quality requirements.
Executing g 8.2 Perform Quality Assurance Audits the quality requirements and results from quality control measurements to ensure that appropriate quality standards and operational definitions are being used.
Monitoring & Controlling 8.3 Control Quality Monitors and records results of executing the quality activities to assess performance and recommend necessary changes.

 

The next post will go over the first of these processes, the planning process 8.1 Plan Quality Management.

3.  Quality Management Concepts:  Quality and Grade

One of the popular definitions of “quality” is the expense of the item involved.  Most people would say that an Audi is a higher-quality car than an Volkswagen.  But in the world of project management, quality basically means “the technical requirements of the product which the customer requested” whereas grade means the different technical characteristics of the components in the product.

To use the same example, an Audi would have a higher grade than a Volkswagen.  Which would you rather have, an Audi or a Volkswagen?  Well, if you’re like most people, you would prefer an Audi because it is a higher grade or automobile.

But what is a high-quality Volkswagen?  It is a Volkswagen that is free of defects.  A low-quality Audi, on the other hand, would be one that has a lot of defects.  Which you rather have, a low-quality Audi or a high-quality Volkswagen?  Again, if you’re like most people, you would prefer the higher-quality automobile over the lower-quality automobile, even if it is a lower grade than the higher-quality automobile.

4.  Quality Management Concepts:  Accuracy and Precision

Measuring quality is to a large extent a matter of statistical sampling, and so to better understand quality, it is good to have a clear understanding of some simple concepts related to statistics.

One of these concepts is the difference between accuracy and precisionAccuracy is a measure of correctness, i.e., how close the measured value is to what it is supposed to be.  Precision is a measure of exactness, i.e., how close the measured values are to each other.

If I shoot at a target, and all of my shots hit close together, my aiming is precise.  But only if those shots hit close to the bull’s-eye can I say that my aiming is accurate.

5.  Quality Management Concepts:  ISO standards

One of the efforts of the 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide is to make the quality management part of project management conform the International Organization for Standardization quality standards.  The ISO approach to quality management emphasizes the following concepts, which the Project Management Institute endorses.

  • Customer Satisfaction:  quality means delivering the product so that its requirements meet the customer’s expectations.  However, gold plating, or adding requirements that the customer did not request, is frowned upon by the Project Management Institute.
  • Prevention over Inspection:  inspection can reduce the probability of defects, but prevention through planning, designing, and building in quality can reduce that probability of defects for a lot less cost than through the inspection process.
  • Continuous Improvement:  the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle which is the basis of the concept of continuous improvement goes back to Deming.  Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, and the Japanese Toyota Way are modern quality improvement initiatives which improve the quality of project management while improving the quality of the product of the project.
  • Management Responsibility:  rather than thinking that quality is what job operators do on the factory floor, the modern concept of quality improvement initiatives mentioned in the last paragraph require the approval and active participation of management.
  • Cost of Quality:  The cost of implementing quality standards is the cost of conformance.  Do what level of standards should an organization aspire?  This is where the Cost of Quality comes in.  What is the cost of nonconformance, or what used to be called the cost of poor quality?  Well, if the defect is caught before the product gets shipped to the customer, this is an internal cost of nonconformance, and this involves scrapping the part of reworking it so that it is in conformance with the quality standards.  However, if the defect is not caught by the inspection process, and it goes out to the customer, then the costs could be in terms of the claims the customer makes for replacement or repair under warranty, or product liability, if the customer or a third party is injured.  I used to handle product liability claims and lawsuits for a manufacturer and then an insurer so I am very familiar with these costs, and they can be potential ruinous to a company.  These costs are the external costs of nonconformance.  If the cost of conformance, that is, of implementing quality standards, is higher than the potential costs of nonconformance, then your quality standards may be set too high.  Six-sigma quality level may be a requisite for aerospace and aviation-related components, because of the high cost of nonconformance, but may be inappropriately high for other applications.

This post covers the basic quality concepts that underlie quality management.  The next post will cover the first process, process 8.1 Plan Quality Management.

Can Wisdom be found in Literature?


1.  Introduction

Yesterday I posted about Shakespeare:  the Invention of the Human, the book which Prof. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, wrote about the plays of Shakespeare.    Previously, I wrote about the Western Canon:  The Books and School of the Ages, a review and analysis of 26 canonical writers of Western Literature other than Shakespeare, who had been covered in his earlier book.

Today I wanted to write about the third book of Prof. Bloom’s I have read, Where Shall Wisdom be Found, which is a survey of wisdom literature.    Of the three major criteria that Prof. Bloom uses to choose those books which he himself reads and teaches about at Yale University, namely a) aesthetic splendor, b) intellectual power, and c) wisdom,  the first two criteria were adequately covered in the first two books I mentioned in the first paragraph.    The book Where Shall Wisdom be Found obviously covers wisdom, the last of these criteria.

2.  Wisdom Perspectives

The first part of his book covers the wisdom perspectives which our Western culture embodies:  those that come from Jerusalem and those that come from Greece.   They are not compatible–with Jerusalem, the relationship between man and God is different than the relationship between man and the gods in Greece.    As Joseph Campbell once memorably put it (I’m paraphrasing here):  “On Sunday, we pledge allegiance to the values of Jerusalem.   From Monday through Friday, we pledge allegiance to the values of Greece.   And then on Saturday, we visit the psychologist wondering why we’re always so ambivalent.”

Then he discusses Plato and his argument against Homer’s “immoral” influence on the education of Greek youth, a charge that was ironically leveled at Socrates.   The temptation of Plato to politicize literature is a perspective that continues to this day in what Prof. Bloom calls the School of Resentment, the various modern literary theories that attempt to have literature serve the ends of social justice.

The wisdom of Shakespeare and Cervantes are compared, with Shakespeare choosing the monologue as his mode of representing a character’s thoughts, and Cervantes opting for the dialogue instead.

3.  Great Ideas

The second part of the book deals not with perspectives, but with great ideas themselves, and the writers who have espoused them:  Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Emerson, Nietzsche, Freud and Proust.

4.  Christian Wisdom

The last part of the book deals with the wisdom from the Gospel of Thomas, the gnostic version of Christianity which is comparable in many ways to Buddhism.    It then ends with the pleasures of reading, a perspective gleaned from St. Augustine.

The pleasure of reading this book reminds me of the definition of Buddhism.   The Buddha does not teach Buddhism, but only the way to Buddhism, which is the state of enlightenment that each of us must experience for ourselves.

In a similar way, Prof. Bloom does not teach wisdom, but only the way to wisdom through reading the classics of wisdom literature that he introduces.    I’m grateful that, after reading his book, I went to the local library and found the Great Books series put out by the Encyclopedia Britannica company which contains within it all of the works that Prof. Bloom describes.

So the answer to the question is that wisdom can be found in literature, but you must actively look for it.   It helps, though, to have a great guide, and for that, I am very grateful to Prof. Bloom.

Prof. Harold Bloom’s Bardolatry: Shakespeare’s Omnipresence in the Western Canon


1.  Introduction

In an earlier post, I discussed Prof. Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon:  The Books and School of the Ages by comparing his unsympathetic viewpoint towards modern literary theory with the sympathetic viewpoint espoused by Prof. Arnold Weinstein of Brown University who did some of the lectures for the Teaching Company Great Course called Great Authors of the Great Western Literary Tradition.

There were some points of agreement between the two with regards to the study of western literature, namely, that it could be used to understand the culture in which it was written, and they were both dubious about the traditional argument that the study of literature would necessarily help one improve one’s moral or ethical values.   They probably would agree that literature can take you inside a time and place and create an inner world that compels the reader.  In fact, it is that literary power of originality, to create an internal world so compelling that it changes the inner world of the reader, that is the source of where an author’s work stands in the Western Canon.

Where they would most disagree is in the politicization of the study of literature.   Many of the new theories of literature that try to downplay the role of the individual author are making it sound as if the “culture” or society itself produced them.  This view is something he is vehemently against, the idea that Paradise Lost, for example, can be reduced to an interplay of economic forces.  You can illustrate the economic relations of the various classes by analyzing poems by William Blake on the chimney sweep, but the originality and literary genius is took to create those poems are not illuminated at all by a knowledge of those relations.

2. Literary Theories and Integral Theory

To sum up, the reason why Prof. Bloom disagrees with the modern theories of literary interpretation can be shown in this diagram from Integral Theory:

Each quadrant holds a way of viewing the world. The top two quadrants are the viewpoints of an individual, the bottom two quadrants are the viewpoints of a group. The left two quadrants are the subjective viewpoints, and the right two quadrants are the objective viewpoints. So putting it all together:

  • The upper-left quadrant contains the “I” viewpoint and is the domain of aesthetics.
  • The upper-right quadrant contains the objective viewpoint of looking at “it” and is the domain of science.
  • The lower-left quadrant contains the values of the group and is the domain of culture or ethics.
  • The lower-right quadrant contains the structures of a group and is the domain of society or politics.

To sum up Prof. Bloom’s objections to the various modern interpretations of literature, he believes that interpretations should be centered in the realm of the aesthetic, the upper-left quadrant in the diagram above. However, modern literary theory interprets literature through the lens of the culture and the society, almost to the exclusion of the individual aesthetic. And in Integral Theory, assuming that you have “cornered the market” on truth because you insist it be seen from your particular perspective, is a fundamental error.

So in my own mind, whereas I grant that there may be insights derived about the culture and politics of the age in which a piece of literature is written, as Prof. Weinstein posits, I much prefer to center the experience of literature within the realm of the individual writer and reader, as Prof. Bloom does, and state that it this dialectic that is the crucial one in deciding whether a book will enter the Western Canon or not.

Prof. Bloom’s work on the Western Canon in fact rekindled my own love of literature which started back in the 1980s after I had finished my undergraduate degree as an engineer.  His work remains for me a touchstone in deepening my appreciation for literature.  I re-read his book recently on the Western Canon which analyzes the works of 26 writers besides Shakespeare.

3.  Shakespeare:  The Invention of the Human

His work made me want to go back to his work on Shakespeare, called Shakespeare:  The Invention of the Human, to discover what it was about Shakespeare that, to Prof. Harold Bloom, made him the very Center of the Western Canon.

There are several elements that come to mind when one thinks of Shakespeare, his cognitive originality, his ability to represent a wide array of characters, and his mastery of language, but the one element that Prof. Harold Bloom singles out as his singular contribution to Western Literature is his ability to represent internal change within a character by means of having that character speak his thoughts and overhear himself or herself, at which the person reflects and in some cases changes the course of what they were originally planning to do.

The best example I can think of is in Hamlet, where he is trying to ascertain whether his uncle Claudius is actually guilty of killing his father.   The arrival of a troupe of actors provides him with a means of testing this:   he has them stage a play which Hamlet changes to re-enact the circumstances of his father’s murder onstage.   Hamlet plans to watch Claudius’ reactions to the play.

When the murder scene is presented, Claudius abruptly rises and leaves the room, which Hamlet sees as proof of his uncle’s guilty conscience.    He is then determined to go kill Claudius as the ghost of his father has commanded him to do. He sees his uncle Claudius who is kneeling in penitent prayer.   Hamlet says that sending his uncle to his death while he is in a state of grace because of his penitent prayer would cause his uncle to be sent to heaven.   This would be tantamount to “hire and salary not revenge” (i.e., a promotion rather than a punishment).   So Hamlet sheaths his dagger and plans to kill Claudius at a later time.

Hamlet, by overhearing him own thoughts and stepping back from them, reacting to what he has heard, and then changing his mind, gives the prototypical example of this ability to portray internal change in a character.

Other playwrights could show the dramatic tension between characters; Shakespeare invented a way to show the dramatic tension within a character.

4.  Shakespeare and Presence

I am reading the first chapter of Prof. Harold Bloom’s book after having listened to the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle on a recent cross-country trip.    It’s interesting that the Power of Now basically means the power that people feel when they stop identifying with the stream of thoughts in their head, and pull back into the more elemental sense of presence, the feeling of being here and now that is more fundamental than that stream of thoughts.

When I think of Shakespeare and the universal, cross-cultural acclaim that he has gathered upon himself through the ages, I think it is because people are seeing his characters stepping out of the stream of their own thoughts and overhearing themselves thinking, and thereby representing the power of presence or The Power of Now up there on stage.    Something deep within them connects with that power of presence represented on stage, and I think it is the part of themselves that experiences reality from the same deep ground.

5.  Shakespeare and Omnipresence

And this is probably the reason why he has influenced all of Western literature, because his power of representation has influenced all of subsequent Western literature.   Other writers may show cognitive originality (Emily Dickinson), inventiveness of language (James Joyce), or the ability to create a panoply of memorable but distinct characters (Charles Dickens), but Shakespeare was the one who invented a way to show us on stage how we can all be more human, by overhearing ourselves, stepping out of own stream of thoughts, and occasionally, through that powerful sense of presence, changing the direction of our lives.