Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Behind the Scenes of the ASQ Six Sigma Forum

I spent this past weekend in Chicago in a strategic planning meeting for the ASQ Six Sigma Forum.  It is always a hoot getting together with this group; besides working together on projects we generally play well together. 
As the steering committee we are the folks that plan activities for the forum.  The forum began as an electronic subset of ASQ members who have in interest in Six Sigma. Today, the forum has a listed membership of 10,000+ folks.  It has kept that level for the past five or so years. Mike Nichols was the first chair of the forum.  A few years back, Liz Keim took the chair and built the steering committee to execute small projects to support the membership.  Today, Joe Basala is the chair and Jeanine Becker is the HQ liaison and general cat herder for the group.  Mark Olson who used to coordinate and run the annual ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference (Phoenix, March 4-5, 2013) and is now working for ASQ Global is a longtime participant.  Rachel Delisle is the incoming chair and we invited Mary Beth Soloy to help us this year and she graciously accepted.
Below is the group doing some brainstorming.  The second photo is staged with Mark Olson taking my place behind the camera.



Some projects that you could see upcoming:
·         Mike Nichols and I are working on a project with the ASQ Learning Institute around Business Process Management.  This is NOT the computer industry version but something that Master Black Belts have to create when dealing with enterprise level application of Six Sigma.  A webinar is in the can and is soon to be published.  Mike has presented this topic as a post-conference seminar at the Lean and Six Sigma Conference the past 3 years.
·         In the next couple of months, Joe has a podcast coming out on Design for Six Sigma. 
·         Liz and I will be exploring ways to better present the tools and templates area of the forum website.  Also check out the website’s new case studies page (thanks Mark and Jeanine).
·         Rachel and Mary Beth are working on Voice of the Customer (VOC) issues and, with Mark Olson’s help, we look to expand that exploration into the global membership.  For example, we are planning a “Global VOC Focus Group” for just the non-US/Canadian attendees to the 2013 conference.
·         Another 2013 conference teaser.  See Joe and Rachel facilitate a “speed networking” session.
·         The forum has a travelling exhibit booth.  You saw it as background for Raleigh ASQ’s Quality in the Triangle seminar this past May.  The booth will make an appearance next month at the Coast Guard’s Human Performance Technology workshop in Hampton, VA as well as the annual ASQ Service Quality conference in Baltimore this October.  Of course, it will be setup for the 2013 Phoenix conference AND we will be showing it at the 2013 ASQ World Conference in Indianapolis.  If you have a workshop and you are interested in advertising the Forum or ASQ let us know.
It was a full weekend, with a full agenda of discussed topics sprinkled with a lot of laughs.  We have a large number of ideas that are on our “waiting to do” list so if you have a passion for promoting Six Sigma we can use all the help we can get with our projects.  If you want to help, drop me a line.   
Until next time!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Break All the Rules

I am borrowing the title of a popular management book because it fits the theme I want to talk about:  addressing rules that appear as barriers.   What got me started was Al Norval’s post from the Lean Thinking blog entitled, Wisdom vs. Bureaucracy. 
Every day we are faced with a rule and we are given the choice of obeying the rule or breaking the rule. For example, if you commute to work in your car and you have to use an interstate highway that is not clogged, how often do you go faster than the speed limit?  Come on, raise your hand.  You are breaking a rule.  We all know there is a risk in breaking that rule so we weigh the risk of being caught breaking it versus our perception of safely travelling to our destination in a timely manner.  In living life we experience that choice obeying or breaking a rule.  As parents, there are behaviors that we follow in setting rules for our children. There is a point in time where rules become useless, most often when they are not enforced. The question becomes, why do we still have unenforceable rules?
I am not advocating in the mass revocation of all rules.  In most cases, there was a purpose for that rule.  As improvement professionals, part of our job is to question and this is area we MUST put emphasis on: questioning a rule’s purpose.
Rules come in two forms, the written type and the perceived type.  I liken them as Bureaucracy and Excuse. Al Norval talks about the first type in his blog entry and how it is often easy to hide behind these types of rules to avoid “risk.”  These types of rules are based on easy fixes—someone’s idea of a low cost way to avoid a future problem without regard to consequence and its ease of implementation.  They are often the most frustrating and damaging—low level clerks enforce the rule in instances where judgment is needed to solve a situation never thought of when the rule was created.   With the rise of a new situation, we create another rule so the bureaucrat knows how to respond. Eventually, the low level bureaucrat has more rules than they are capable of handling and throw their hands up in exasperation and create gridlock because one rule’s interpretation is in violation of another rule. 
The more difficult one to overcome is the “I have been doing it that way for X amount of years and it has worked for me so far” rule.  Unfortunately, this type of response comes from a subject matter expert who is well respected.  It is often a defense mechanism; the older we get the less is our change tolerance.  This type of rule is more noxious. We often stop right there without having the experts explain from where their interpretation is based.  Usually, the comment is reinforced with a historical litany of past happenings that caused them to do the things that they do. 
What’s a person to do?  I don’t win all my battles but I find a little determination, a smile, and a variant of the question why go a long way to at least getting the person to think about why do they do what they do. What we often forget when confronting rules is that the executors of rules are people.  Often, we treat the “rule enforcers” with disdain and exasperation.  This behavior makes them respond in a manner less than respectful to our particular problem.  By understanding this condition, showing respect, and trying to understand why the rule exists, allow us to understand, empathize, and often offer solutions that can be beneficial to both parties. Yes, there will be times that you cannot change the bureaucracy.  But at least you will have learned something and, hopefully, offer a novel solution that can be the basis of a future improvement.  Barriers can often be sources of future opportunities.
Until next time!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Building Quality Culture = Building a “Dream Team”

Paul Borawski’s August blog post for me required contemplation.  I have written a couple of blog posts on quality culture so I did not want to sound like a broken record.  This post is going to come from another direction.  What does a quality culture feel like to me?
I have met a gentleman who has his own consultancy.  He offers a course for leaders that I think is appropriate for our topic: building a “dream team.”  There have been two times in my post-undergraduate life where I have been on a dream team.  My first participation on a dream team was my Army officer advanced training course.  I met some great people and, as a collective in the short period of 6 months, we accomplished some really interesting stuff.   We worked, played, lived as a high performance team.  It was a great time to be alive. Everyone looked out for each other.  It was very sad when we all had to go our separate ways. 
My second experience as a dream team was not so long ago when I was teaching with the NAVSEA Lean Six Sigma College.  We accomplished some phenomenal things; building curriculum, flying around the world teaching to various audiences, mentoring others.  We laughed hard, fought hard, played hard, and accomplished in a short time some pretty amazing stuff that to this day we shake our heads about.  Again, we loved going to work, sharing out thoughts, grousing about each other but knowing that the next experience coming down the road was special.   It was heart wrenching to leave that group.  But what I have come to realize is that I had to leave in order to grow professionally and personally.
The ideal state for quality culture is finicky, fleeting, and fun to be in the moment.   I don’t know if you can sustain that sweet spot because it combines the right people with the right leadership with the clear interpretation of purpose by the entire team.   However, you also have to break the team up because keeping an individual in that team could stunt their future professional growth.   Leadership is going to change, team members are going to change.  Although the underlying purpose and expectations may be constant, the human aspect of different personalities adapting to new roles are what cause that shift out of the ideal state.  It is not bad, it is reality.
So the real question is how can you sustain the “sweet spot” of the ideal quality culture?  I don’t think you can for an extended period of time.  People come and go; they have to change roles in order for them to grow professionally.  Will the next leader embrace the culture?  Fortunately, at the college we had three leaders who did and we successfully kept things going for 5 years, through a number of instructor changes. You cannot count on the next leader to accept the previous one’s direction.  Secondly, the team has to understand with clarity the culture and accept it without reservations.  Traditional recruiting methods for team members don’t necessarily help in sustaining this type of team.  For the college team we were mostly recruited based on someone knowing someone else and would they be a good fit.
So, gentle reader, when have you been on a “dream team?” What did it feel like for you? Do you look back on them with fond memories?  Please feel free to tell me your experiences.

Monday, August 6, 2012

So What DO You Call It?

Today’s post germinated from a Twitter conversation I had this weekend with fellow ASQ Influential Voice Mark Graban.  The conversation details are unimportant but it did get me thinking.  I have a project I am working on in the shipyard.  I wonder, can someone tell me if it is classifiable as a Lean event, Six Sigma project, Theory of Constraints project, Learning Cell, or something else?
The shipyard’s QA organization (the little q guys) possess a materials lab that processes all kinds of samples (solid, liquid, gaseous) in a fixed facility and a calibration lab outside the shipyard proper but have a turn-in/pick-up location at the shipyard.  Mechanics from the waterfront take the samples requiring testing to the materials lab. Travel distance ranges from .25 to .75 miles. Equipment requiring calibration is processed at the turn-in/pick-up point. Travel distance to this point is about a tenth of a mile less vice going to the lab.
From my Army maintenance days, to support our customers deployed we would send contact teams (a sergeant and a couple mechanics) to the major units we supported such that when equipment broke down, the contact team would get right on it, often enlisting the organization’s mechanics to help.  The contact teams had tools and parts and would make runs from a centralized point for repair parts, get caught up on the paperwork, etc.  What if we could do the same thing at the waterfront?  We could have a truck pick up samples and exchange equipment to be calibrated right on the waterfront, saving the mechanics a lot of time (and walking).  Plus, it supports our initiative of “non-stop execution of the mechanic performing work on the waterfront!” 
Of course, the first thing that popped into the QA director’s head when I mentioned it was “oh, like an ice cream truck!”  The two lab heads did not see the good humor in that statement (sorry, had to throw in a bad pun to keep you interested—Good Humor is an American brand of ice cream most often associated with delivery to neighborhoods in a truck).  Since it was my idea, I got tasked with figuring it out.  After meeting with the QA director requesting more info as to its feasibility, I and two other people more wise in shipyard and government procurement sat around a table for 90 minutes and fleshed out a plan of attack on how we are going to implement this idea with the goal of starting the first run at the beginning of the new year.
Now, here is the question.  We obviously are going to improve something, but what should I call it?  No, I do not intend to draw a spaghetti diagram nor take pictures of current state and future state, and I may do a process map more as idea generator rather than a requirement to understand the process.  So, I guess it is not a Kaizen event.   I am NOT going to go around and do time and motion studies to collect data and then determine the probability distribution (read no Minitab) so it can’t be a Six Sigma project.  I am not messing with any buffers so TOC is out.  I am going to change behaviors but I don’t need a special meeting to understand what behaviors need to be, it is pretty self-evident.  Ah, it just struck me, the PMI (Project Management Institute) guys will tell me it is a perfect project to use their tools, but I don’t have time to mess around with Gantt charts. What is a Master Black Belt to do?
Folks, here is my answer.  I am not going to call it anything.  It is the perfect hybrid event/project, with concepts drawn from all the major improvement methodologies.  Yet, if I submitted this event for my Lean certification, it would get rejected because I did not use the tools or they would force me into tasks that are non-value added.  Same goes for Six Sigma, TOC, and PMI.  As a former instructor of these dark arts I will admit I was guilty of a bit of this.
The Bottom Line: the less tolerant of divergence, the greater the opportunity to miss real savings. In this project, the shipyard is investing hard dollars to realize increased work capacity (soft dollars).  Yes, it is pretty evident there is a win for everyone EXCEPT for the QA department because they are the ones adding cost to the way they do business (and their budget). They will not see increased revenue (the shipyard does not generate revenue). Fortunately, the QA director and the shipyard commander understand systems thinking and they support this project.  Makes my job a whole lot easier!