Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 2 – Wrap up of a great conference

Writing this post from Atlanta and posting from home; reminiscing on a great time the past few days.   I talked to a few friends who are repeat attendees and all three said similar things.  The conference has quality content, quality speakers, quality location, at a great time.   I will be interested to see the data from ASQ HQ on the end of conference email survey.   On to the day 2 highlights.

The day started with a keynote address from Gregory North, VP of Process Excellence from Xerox.  His message, we need a Lean Six Sigma version 2.0.  Xerox has been faced with the same complaints the Navy has—projects going on too long or dying, leadership being committed but not engaged, being a Black Belt has lost cache, and people not seeing value in process improvement.  The new version?  Work harder to integrate it into existing systems which takes away the language translation.  Belts are facilitators at the lowest level of the organization. Go for speed, no longer than 90-day projects, and concentrate on changing behavior.  Xerox has revitalized their program using these concepts.

After the morning  keynote I was asked to sit in as a subject matter expert (Six Sigma in Government) for the Six Sigma Forum’s Experts Networking Session.  Besides Six Sigma in Government, the group talked about Cultural issues, statistical tools, and reducing waste and costs. Two points that I brought across:  1) Change the project value proposition from dollars to time.  In the federal government, dollars are leadership choice and really do not add value to the real mission of providing the right resources to the right place at the right time.  For Norfolk Naval Shipyard, schedule performance is the #1 concern.  2) Focus more on sustaining behavior change.  It is not enough to codify changes if we have not analyzed the consequences of the change on performing the work.  Some photos from the session are below.

After lunch, I listened to Dr. Barry Carlin present a talk on how ergonomics impacts improvement and how understanding human-machine interaction can also lead to increased productivity. Barry provided not only visual examples but also handouts on simple exercise regimes to help avoid some of the common pains and strains workers can feel.

I also sat in on Visu Balasubramanian’s presentation on how mandating best practices on a workforce often fail and after researching systems theory, cognitive dissonance theory, Toyota Production System, he applied some old school theory of Frederick Taylor by breaking tasks into smaller pieces. Now, the same best practices finally did what they were supposed to do; same their client a lot of money.

The conference wrapped up with a good presentation by Karen Martin.

All in all, a great conference but with one problem, I ran out of time to do podcasts!  I will have to figure out how to free myself up to get these podcasts done.  A quick save the date:  the 2013 ASQ Lean and Six Sigma conference is back at the same location in Phoenix and scheduled for 5-6 March 2013.

Until next time!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 1 - The people come

Wow, what a first day!  You got a sense of things as you walk into the exhibit hall at breakfast and see more than the usual number of folks.  This is my 3rd L&6S conference and this, by far, was the most heavily attended.

Ari Weinzweig talked about his journey in creating something in a field that he found, surprisingly, that he loves--food.  His keynote on the 12 Natural Laws of Building a Great Business was energizing for the group and set a good tone for the start of the conference.  In short, Ari stated that respecting people and allowing them to change the workplace to fit their needs was a big part of the success of the Zingerman empire. He mentioned a number of books as part of his talk (as well as his own, which sold out at the ASQ bookstore).  One book that struck me was John Case's Open Book Management.  I am a big believer in this concept.  Another book on Open Book Management that reads like a case study is Jack Stack's The Great Game of Business.

Fellow ASQ Influential Voice blogger Mark Graban had an excellent presentation on Healthcare Kaizen: Daily Continuous Improvement. I liked his premise that a lot of opportunities for change happens at the personal level and if we can win hearts and minds on the small changes, the bigger changes will be more readily accepted.  He had lots of examples to prove his point.

On the more technical side, Bev Daniels' presentation on  Practical Experimental Design made a strong case for doing a little pre-work to ensure your experiment answers the right question.  I agree with Bev that we don't often consider the type of study, enumerative vs. analytic (Deming's definition) as one potential pitfall. She reinforced a point that I tried to make with students that trusting the p-value is never enough.  Understanding graphical analysis and what it means can be more of an answer to your problems.

It was also great to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones.  For example, Mark Nestle, who helped co-write the initial Green Belt and Black Belt curriculum for the Navy's Lean Six Sigma College back in 2001, is here.  He is a retired Navy Captain who now works as Global Director of Safety, Quality and Productivity for Praxair Electronics.  We sat at the end of the day talking about the demise of technical skill training and the wrong belief that economic power is derived from a college diploma.

Or Janet Legere, an industrial engineer and former Black Belt student of mine from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, talking about the challenges of keeping alive a Lean Six Sigma project when everyone else wants to kill it.

Or even new friend Whitney Bloom from the Charlotte School of Law talking about changing mindsets, especially in an era where academic institutions are placing more and more of a financial burden on new employees into the job market.

All in all, a great first day!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Conference Day 0 - A little pre-work before the opening reception

The ASQ Lean & Six Sigma conference for me starts Sunday at noon and this year was no different.  As a member of the Six Sigma Forum steering committee I was tasked to help setup the booth at noon, followed by a 1:30 - 4:00 pm meeting of the committee catching up on business. Then it is off to the Keynote Speakers reception and other fun activities for the remainder of the evening.

So who are the Six Sigma Forum steering committee?  The present chair is Joe Basala, a Master Black Belt and ASQ Black Belt instructor.  He, along with Elizabeth Keim, an ASQ past president, steering committee member, and Master Black Belt, are the prime drivers for the ASQ Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt program.  Mike Nichols is also an ASQ past president and Master Black Belt who now works as an instructor for Bank of America. His passion is process management. Rachel Delisle, a Black Belt with KARL STORZ outside Boston, has a passion for voice of the customer stuff and was the prime driver of the February VOC survey to the forum membership.  Jeanine Becker is the ASQ HQ liaison and does a fantastic job of herding us cats.  Rounding out the team is the conference director, Mark Olson from ASQ HQ.  This is Mark's last year as Conference Director and he goes out with a bang, as this year's conference has the largest number of initial signups (600+) in the 12 years it has been running.  Thought I would show a picture of the group.

Two of my favorite are here at the conference as well.  Dave Harry, a Master Black Belt at Rolls Royce in Ohio, and Sean Kent, a government contractor and former colleague of mine when we were instructors at the Navy's Lean Six Sigma College.  I also got to meet Mark Graban, a fellow ASQ Influential Voices blogger, and Karen Martin a conference keynote speaker, who agreed to help out with a podcast.  One of my main jobs at this conference is to create podcasts for the Six Sigma Forum website.  I get to learn a new skill!

That's all for now, more towards the end of the day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is Lean REALLY taking over?

On Fridays, fellow ASQ Influential Voices blogger MarkGraban turns over his blog to guest contributors.  This past Friday, Tim Noble from Avery Point Group discussed results from their annual review of internet job postings.  Good news; more companies appear to desire individuals with Lean and Six Sigma qualifications.  Interesting news; more companies desire Lean skill sets over Six Sigma skills. More interesting news; there is more of a desire of a Lean centric skill set rather than a mix or a Six Sigma centric skill set.  I say apparently because by following the links that Avery provides, we get a very good summary (read marketing piece) of the study but not the actual study itself. Meaning, we cannot read about the study methodology or see the actual data.I am not going to poo poo the study.  In the most part, a lot of the results make sense as businesses become more educated consumers and they start to understand their own needs and how the Lean and Six Sigma skill sets fit with those needs.  Here is my take:
  • The Lean skill set is more appropriate to companies just entering the process improvement arena. The Lean basic toolbox is easier to understand by neophytes and requires less “techy” tools to use effectively (a good thing!)
  • Assumption: most companies do not have robust metric systems. The Six Sigma toolbox does wonders with robust metric systems and struggles when things are really difficult to measure.
  • With the Lean emphasis on eliminating non-value added activities, these efforts usually have a more direct path to balance sheet items.
  •  Level of Effort. Given the short-sided nature of most managers (again, another assumption but I have loads of anecdotal data to support this), they are looking for the quick win. Lean often translates to quick wins easier than Six Sigma can.
In short, Mr. Noble says to go fill out your Six Sigma resume with getting a Lean certification.  He mentions SME/Shingo/ASQ certification as something to consider.  Please consider it but also understand its foibles. If you are used to ASQ’s Body of Knowledge (BoK) format, the SME-centric Lean BoK structure will be confusing.  It was for me.  Also, there are three levels and to achieve the highest standard, it will cost in total over $2000, not including the effort that you need to do to document the work portfolio.  I took the Lean Bronze certification test back in 2006 and did not find it that difficult.  I found the documentation requirement so onerous I saw the certification as non-value added.  Again, my opinion, there are people who swear by this certification.  Equal time:  the ASQ Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification is just as costly and onerous.  Understand these processes need to  be difficult so that the certifications create value; but to whom?

Next up...I am in Phoenix at ASQ's Lean & Six Sigma conference. Will try to provide daily blog entries.  I did bring my camera so maybe I can get some photos of some of the players.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Two more weeks...

This weekend in Tidewater Virginia we had our first snowfall. Nothing like what Central Europe received last week and almost all of it has melted, but at least it is a sign that we are in the winter season. I bring it up because in about a week, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to baseball spring training (Go Phillies!) and in two weeks I am heading to Phoenix for ASQ's Lean and Six Sigma Conference.  It is one of my favorite conferences in that the networking opportunities are vast (over 400 have signed up for the event this year) and the topics pique more of my interests.  The resort is not bad either.

This conference I wlil be VERY busy.  I sit on the steering committee for Six Sigma Forum so I get involved in some of their projects but this year I will be heavily involved in the social media aspect of things.  I will be tweeting (@srlean6) and blogging from the conference. For tweeters, follow with hashtag  #LSS12.  I will also be involved in a series of podcasts in which we will be talking to Lean & Six Sigma thought leaders and posing 5 questions to them.  The podcasts will be posted on the ASQ Six Sigma Forum website.  Besides manning the Six Sigma Forum booth now and then I will be speaking in one of the breakout sessions Monday afternoon.  Can you say time management?

If you are attending the conference, come say hello!  If not, you can hear what I really sound like on a future podcast posted on the Six Sigma Forum.  Until next time!

Friday, February 10, 2012

More on STEM

Shrikant Kalegaonkar wrote a response to Paul Borawski's February blog that resonates with me.  It's not about getting people to like STEM--it is about the self discovery and how STEM resonates in their lives. Unfortunately, we have systems that put barriers into place that prevent that self-discovery. 

In the state of Virginia education system students are taught to a fixed curriculum based on Standards of Learning (SOL). Other states have similar systems.  Individual public schools are funded based on their student's ability to pass SOL exams.  There are two unintended consequences at play.  First, there is inherent pressure on teachers to teach to a test. Second, students are being trained as "parrots," rewarded with a grade for the right answer.

The traditional undergraduate academic institutions also play into this problem.  They wail at the system that creates these parrots that now frequent college classrooms.  They have courses in their curriculum that are deisgned to "weed out" students (introductory statistics courses are often cited here) and they often fail to work with students to help them understand the linkages of their curriculum and how it relates to the world in which they will enter.  

So how do we fix this?  The only way I know of is to get involved in the learning process as a parent and volunteer.  When both my son and daughter were in elementary school I would go to my child's math teacher and, as someone who taught statistics at Christopher Newport Universtity, I would offer my services to teach and provide free textbooks to the teachers.  I would teach fractions, pareto charts, bar charts, stem & leaf plots (can you believe a 2nd grader needs to know about stem & leaf? Another rant for another time!) using M&M's. Can you say big hit?  

Now my son is approaching high school. I am looking to offer tutoring services under the guidance of a friendly faculty member.  After having stumbled in earlier teaching efforts, I figured out a most effective strategy:  Tell stories, show logic, ask questions, create fun.  School is stressful to our kids and if our subjects can relieve the performance stress that is required in our school systems the student will naturally take to it.

Getting your employer involved is also important. It also supports ASQ through the Social Responsibility initiaitve. Our shipyard has a community outreach program with both the local public school system as reading and math mentors and the universities engineering programs that help students see who fluid mechanics, thermal dymanics, et. al., impact shipbuilding and ship repair.

Change comes from the spark of passionate people.  In the 18 years I have been an ASQ member, I have never met a more passionate group of people who are willing to share of themselves and their experiences.  Change does not occur until we participate.  How will you get involved?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The STEM-Quality Connection Minefield

Paul Borawski’s latest blog entry welcomes the new Influential Voices blogger (thanks for the invite!) and tries to stir up interest in STEM as a lead-in to the designated Engineer’s Week coming up in a couple of weeks. Well written blog and it provides a human element of Paul that a typical ASQ member does not often see. 
I came into the quality field quite by accident.  For the first twelve years of my professional working life (after my B.S. in Accounting) I was a serving Army officer.  I served in logistical units where customer service was ingrained in me. I left the Army after Desert Storm I and went back to my alma mater (University of Delaware) to get an Operations Research degree.  I too, liked the language of math but was more interested in the business applications.  During my two and a half year graduate program I struggled to find a full-time job.  Finally, I was told to get a certification; APICS or ASQ fit my background best and since my wife was supporting the family I chose the path of least resistance.  More on my certification path in a future post.  In less than a month after passing the ASQ CQE, I landed my first quality job. I have been loyal to ASQ since.  As a square peg, I have been told I can talk like an engineer but I do not have the formal training of one.
Fast forward to my current career as a Master Black Belt supporting a large (500+ military & civilian workforce) quality organization in a nuclear shipyard.  I was hired because I am not an engineer and there are a BUNCH of engineers here.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the engineers have fallen into the Rickover effect:  verbatim compliance, creativity not welcome in a highly regulated environment.  My role is as a square peg because it allows me to push buttons and move engineers to step outside their training and think creatively and in systems. 
I do agree with Paul that STEM is a valuable resource.  I don’t agree that STEM, although a foundation of quality, should be the primary or preferred entry point into quality.  My sister is a nurse (BSN from Delaware).  She spent at least five years in her hospital’s performance improvement group.  Why did she get the job?  She was honest, willing to identify problems as they occur, and ALWAYS had the patient’s best interest in mind.  There are a number of quality professionals who have little or no background in STEM.  What makes them good quality practitioners?  A clue can be found the Fundamental Principles of ASQ’s Code of Ethics. 
As I keep telling my boss (he is especially partial to Hokie engineers) there are other fish in the sea and a steady diet on the same type of fish leads to a less rich world of experiences.  Let us celebrate STEM, but not to the exclusion of the others out there who took a non-traditional path into quality.

Until next time!