Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Twelve Days of Lean Christmas

In keeping with the Christmas Holiday tradition I thought I would create my own, tongue in cheek, version of “The 12 days of Christmas.”  Obviously, sung to the tune, I am only going to list the individual day verses. 
“On the X day of Christmas my sensei gave to me:”
·        Twelfth: Twelve months of continued employment
·        Eleventh: Eleven emails from lean senseis
·        Tenth: Ten kanban cards
·        Ninth: Nine poke yokes
·        Eighth: Eight Kaizen bursts
·        Seventh:  Seven new work cells
·        Sixth: Six andon lights
·        Fifth:  Only Five S’s
·        Fourth: Four re-purposed work teams
·        Third: Three complete value stream maps
·        Second: Two pull supermarkets
·        First: a fully filled out A3

My best wishes to everyone for a safe and happy holiday season.  Here is hoping that the Lean and Six Sigma communities soon realize that there is more to life than just their own way of improving.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Twelve Days of Six Sigma Christmas

In keeping with the Christmas Holiday tradition I thought I would create my own, tongue in cheek, version of “The 12 days of Christmas.”  Obviously, sung to the tune, I am only going to list the individual day verses. 

“On the X day of Christmas my MBB gave to me:”
·        Twelfth: Twelve senior leader kudos
·        Eleventh: Eleven coworker smiles
·        Tenth: Ten new networking sources
·        Ninth: Nine improvement ideas
·        Eighth: Eight high-level process steps
·        Seventh:  Seven ideas to investigate
·        Sixth: Six sources of data
·        Fifth:  Five engaged team members
·        Fourth: Four months to work
·        Third: Three Champion interviews
·        Second: Two GB assistants
·        First: a Clear charter problem statement

For equal time, next week I will post my version of the 12 Days of Lean Christmas. 
This is all in fun; sometimes we have to laugh at ourselves to keep sane.  Here is hoping your holiday preparations are going well.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

World Quality Month 2013 – Trust in the data

The November Influential Voice topic celebrates World Quality Month.  This year and last I have had the good fortune to speak to organizations outside the Navy and Hampton Roads on my quality related topics.  This past week I was honored to speak at the ASQ Princeton, NJ section meeting, previewing my upcoming talk at ASQ’s Lean & Six Sigma Conference.  Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking in Dubai for the Dubai Quality Group’s annual Improvement and Innovation Symposium.  Part of the value of World Quality Month is to be able to share your thoughts and quality moments outside your normal sphere of influence.

This month the Influential Voice bloggers were asked to share a personal quality moment.  The one that immediately jumped to mind involved understanding process, analyzing data, and determining root cause, all for the sake of understanding impact of change.  Back in 1998, I was a Quality Systems Manager in the paperboard industry working in a long-shuttered plant in Chambersburg, PA.  The plant produced packaging for a major candy company who is serious about statistics and measures.  They were very interested in understanding opening force of cartons so understanding the characteristics of raw materials were important.  They were very specific about the stiffness of the paperboard we purchased and wanted to tighten the allowable range of stiffness for specific paperboard thicknesses.  I was asked to study the impact of narrowing the allowable range. 

Paperboard is produced on rolls 5- 6 feet in diameter. I designed and executed a study of stiffness on specific types of paperboard that we used to produce the customer’s packaging.  The study required I take samples in 3 spots across the roll; at the beginning, middle and end of the roll, for a total of 9 samples per roll.  I did this for 5 specific thicknesses.  The results were something I did not expect.  The stiffness measurements across the roll varied little but the stiffness readings from beginning to the end of the roll varied by 10%.  With thicker substrates this would cause us to reject rolls.

As someone with little knowledge of paperboard manufacturer and fairly new to the paperboard industry in general (3 years experience) I consulted an expert to determine what would cause this.  The answer I got was logical:  The mills stretch the web when first placing the paperboard on the roll in order for it to adhere to the roll and then lessen the tension as the paperboard continues to roll on the spool.  Armed with my data and explanation I presented it to the customer.  They were unhappy.  They KNEW that stiffness could not change that drastically, questioned my competence, and were generally nasty.  I gave them the contact information for my expert and let the customer handle it.  Six months later I got a call from the customer, thanking me for providing the data to them. Yes, they agreed with the findings that I gave them and would not be tightening the thickness interval as planned.

This incident has stuck with me ever since as I talked about statistical concepts, the power of data, and how process knowledge tied with data can impact decision making. Yes, I was “hassled” at times by my boss and my people for the large amount of time we were spending doing this study but what we saved in the headaches of potentially rejecting good product cannot be captured.   So, my final thought to you for World Quality Month is that it is important to have process knowledge.  It takes time to gather that knowledge.  Defendable process knowledge, backed by data and logic, are the most powerful tool quality practitioners possess. Happy World Quality Month!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quality in the Most Necessary Place

The October Influential Voice topic discusses the evolving nature of quality and how it is going to places that are “non-manufacturing” related.  The common thread is that quality is a function of process.  We face it every day where the human desire of producing results meets the need of the discipline in following a process to create a result. In its basic form, to get something you have to have a process to make that something.  Quality takes on two approaches – discipline to the process (producing process failures) and meeting customer expectations (producing desired results).
Where quality has been greatly talked about but poorly enacted is in the education industry.  What pundits fail to realize is that usually there is wide variation to the customer’s expectation of a good quality education.  Some will argue that you can only receive a quality education from a named school in a named program or receive a specific degree. Others say that a quality education produces people with appropriate survival skills and others insist that knowing specifics facts prove that you received a quality education.  I would argue that future society needs elements of all three and unfortunately we have not done a good job to talk about the processes that create these results.
There are two bloggers who I enjoy that talk about the science of learning.  Fellow Influential Voice Guy Wallace has been involved in building, fielding, studying, and improving training and learning systems his entire working career.  He got started under the tutelage of Geary Rummler, one of the founders of Motorola’s Six Sigma program and Motorola University. Exploring his website is a training geek’s dream. There are loads of information, webinars, PowerPoint presentations on the art and science of instructional system design and learning.  He is a strong proponent that learning is not affected by style.  If more educators used one-tenth of the information found on his website our education system would be significantly better.
Another blogger that I have found that I particularly enjoy, and have mentioned in earlier blog posts, is Annie Murphy Paul.  She does write for traditional print media but I find her blogs much more engaging.  Her October 15 post takes the lack of learning styles one step further.  All learners benefit when information is put forth in diverse ways that engage a multitude of the senses,” states Paul.  So why does our current education system steer away from this and push standardized learning as the answer to improved education performance? In her blog posts, Annie infers that learning is a process. The problem is, and it is a common one for improvement practitioners, is that process owners don’t understand their process!
Now ASQ does have, as part of their community, Quality as applied to Education.   I feel that we are applying it to the wrong perspective.  Rather than trying to improve an industry, why are we not applying our techniques to the learning process?  I am not espousing going back to Koalaty Kid program but we have a huge amount of talent in higher educational institutions available to tackle this problem. For our future, learning is the new frontier where quality professionals can best impact society.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sustaining Long-term Excellence

September’s Influential Voice post from Paul Borawski summarizes Corning’s sustained organizational success since it started its first glass product in 1851. There are other companies that can also claim sustainable quality and excellence: 3M, DuPont, Coca-Cola, and GE, among others. Each of these organizations has a published track record of success.  Each organization has a unique culture with periods of great success as well as turbulent times. Ultimately, it is the alignment of culture, strategy, and execution that defines organization sustainment during change of organizational leadership.    
I like to think that the antithesis of organizational sustainment is what I call the “buggy-whip” syndrome.  At the turn of the 20th century there were a lot of buggy whip manufacturers whose chief job in differentiating from their competitors was to build a better, cheaper buggy whip. Over time, we know what happened to that industry due to myopia. When the organization “takes the blinders off” (pun intended) they have taken the first step towards a sustainable life because they are not solely focused internally.  They are focused on creating organizational value, not organizational commodity.
“Innovation” is the new buzzword (along with Big Data, but that is for another time).  October’s Harvard Business Review issue covers the topic in health care, research and development, and consulting.  Nicole Radziwill has a great review of the most recent Business Innovation Factory summit.  ASQ has an Innovation Interest Group.  Innovation, in my mind, is our willingness to NOT let regulation, bureaucracy, culture, and strategy hinder our ability to answer change. It is always good to get unlike minds together; it was one of the success factors of TED.  The challenge is that once the idea exists and fits the culture and organizational direction, you need regulation, bureaucracy, and culture to grow the idea into organizational value. 
Where things go wrong is when value becomes commodity.  The organization becomes a slave to Wall Street and the shackles of profit.  The organization no longer has customers as part of the equation other than a “consumer.”  It becomes a race to become a commodity and to hold onto that “commodity” tag for as long as possible.  The notion of value becomes lost to the organization.  In Paul’s blog there was a reader comment denigrating Corning’s success because it did not meet someone’s expectation of a stock price.  I am still struggling to understand how a stock price directly impacts a customer’s perceived value of a product.
Ultimately, quality is an enabler because quality is more interested in value than in commodity.  The quality community is more concerned about customer needs than a balance sheet line item. Quality is cultural expectation that rises and falls based on how the leader values the organizational culture. If the leader and organization are not aligned (and yes, I believe an organization is a living entity) no amount of innovation or Lean or Six Sigma will help maintain organizational success in the long run.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Putting a face onto a tragedy

Today, September 17, is very similar to days after mass shootings.  We all try to recover from the tragedy, try to make sense of it, comfort the grieving.  Yesterday was not as catastrophic as the 9/11 tragedy or the USS Cole bombing but for someone working for the Department of the Navy it is very personal when one of the victims is someone that you have worked closely with for the past 9 months.
Kisan Vishnu Pandit’s official title was technical warrant holder for metrology and calibration for NAVSEA. His job was challenging in that he had to work with the rest of the Navy to provide cogent policy, equipment upgrades and financial resources to an enterprise that supports the Navy metrology and calibration world-wide. It is a daunting job to consistently walk a fine line between customer support and communicating enterprise requirements. Sometimes there were verbal battles but Kisan always did his job with grace and patience.  His work impacted the Navy military and civilian community.  He will be missed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

But is it the right training for your organization?

In the August 2013 View from the Q, Paul Borawski reports on the Global State of Quality research and their analysis of the teaching of quality concepts in work organizations. He is cheered about the pervasiveness of this type of training in organizations but is disappointed in that it is directed only to those individuals working traditional quality functions.   There have been a number of responses from the Influential Voices (IV) group.  Some talk about what their organizations do for teaching quality concepts.  An interesting post came from new IV member Babette Ten Haken which discusses small and mid-sized organizations and the difficulty they face in providing training for quality concepts for their employees.  This post and a side project that I am doing for ASQ’s Learning Institute drove me to think about this follow-on question: How do we know that the quality concepts training that you are receiving is the right training for your needs?
There are two aspects to this question.  Most training given by consultants is usually based on subject matter experts (SMEs) and their idea and approach to concepts.  For example, there are a plethora of training courses in Lean concepts, Six Sigma concepts, quality auditing concepts, etc. and the most popular are the ones based on a manager’s preference based on a website, marketing material, or someone’s recommendation. Hardly a scientific way to choose what the best training is or what is needed for an organization.  Fear not, there is help.  There is a professional society for training, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  There are loads of resources on their website to not only develop training but also to determine what is needed. This group concentrates determining the training product quality.
But organizations should not train for the sake of training. Fellow IV Jimena Calfa blogs this month about the power of training. Training is an investment of scarce resources so how do we that the training is actually performing its purpose—to increase performance? There is a professional group very concerned about that as well—the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  Although ISPI likes to say that they encompass performance improvement as it relates to process the group really shines on evaluating how training improves the performance of organizations. Measuring organizational performance improvement is a labor of love. Often organizations rely on anecdotal information and “smiley sheets” (those post session surveys on how well you thought of the training performance) that we often fail to realize the benefit of talking to managers after the fact to see if the training contributed anything to the organization’s performance.  In my mind, post training performance needs more emphasis. 
I agree with Paul that it is good that organizations are investing in training quality professionals the real interest is whether this training benefits the organization.  An indicator is training availability outside the quality group and that is where we get a bad indicator that training may be good for quality professionals it isn’t as good for operations, financial, or logistics managers as indicated by the low numbers of people outside quality getting training. How do we reverse this trend?  We as quality professionals need to show that the training is critical to individual AND organizational success.  I strongly suggest looking into ISPI to help with this task.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Future of Quality: Developing from Left-Brain thinking to Right-Brain thinking

This month I struggled with keeping up with my requirements as an Influential Voice blogger.  Besides the personal summer distractions of my son participating in the neighborhood swim team competitions and all that entails (personal volunteer time as “skilled labor) June is the semi-annual “get the vehicles maintained” (major hit to the checkbook) and, of course, the serendipitous destruction of about 10% of the electronics in the house (send back a 3 month old laptop for replacement, send back an 8 month old car navigation system for repair, home server crashing, replacing the power sensor on the outside A/C tower, replacing the power adapter for another laptop—you get the drift).  Focus has not been on the task.    
For inspiration, I turn to my fellow Influential Voice bloggers to kick-start the brain for ideas.  Starting with Paul Borawski and the ASQ Future of Quality research, I went over to Dan Zrymiak and his discussion about making sausages.  That blog mixed with the ideas of Dan Pink , Annie Murphy Paul’s latest blog post, innovation, and right-brained thinking led me to the current topic:  The future of quality is not in tools but in the way we think.
Consider the following:  Most people’s entrance into quality is through conformance.  Conformance is a structured approach to ensuring standards are being met.  Common tools of the trade are a checklist, some form of procedure, a measuring device, and internal fortitude behind not coming off the interpretation not matter how hard another person tries to change your definition.  Conformance is left-brained thinking (for a fluffy definition of left- versus right-brain thinking see this blog post). Left-brained thinking is a very common approach to learning.  Learning by rote, by repetition, by practice is a common approach for acquiring a skill.  Work that involves a process is often left-brained.  ISO standards require left-brained thinking.  Left-brained thinking is often comfortable because it often represents something tangible, especially when making comparisons.
Unfortunately, there is a cost in staying in the left-brained world. My metaphor is a race horse with blinders; the view is the finish line and no other inputs are welcome.  This tends to provide a myopic view of the world.  It also stifles learning, and by learning I mean true understanding of why we use a particular tool for a particular situation.  When a person learns a new concept, they start in the left-brained world to acquire self-confidence in the tool use. Often the strict left-brained individuals get “stuck in a rut” because they may think that tool works only in that situation.  If I take the individual that is not well trained in a particular tool and place them in a different environment they could become indecisive.   Unless they truly understand the tool they cannot take it out of the environment that they are used to.  You can see this manifested in having a particular flavor of tool for a particular industry.
Right brained individuals understand the power of the left brain and then take the risk of applying it to a different situation.  I would argue Walter Shewhart was one of these people.  He truly understood the concept of how sampling over time will produce a normal distribution—a basic statistical concept.  How could he apply that concept to managing processes?  With a little trial and error (and some journalistic license on my part) the control chart was born.  Some of the great quality thinkers are/were right brained individuals: Joe Juran and the Pareto chart, Kaoru Ishikawa and the fishbone diagram, Jack Youden and Youden plots.  I would argue that innovators are right brained thinkers.
I am not here to espouse one type of thinking for another.  I am here to state that the natural evolution of innovation involves the transition of left-to-right brained thinking.  Innovators can operate in both worlds. Quality needs to have more innovators; more folks who can take the structured concepts we learned as quality conformists and re-purpose these concepts to a more dynamic world.  Additionally, these same folks have to clearly communicate the transition.  Here is where Annie Murphy Paul comes in.  She has a blog about learning that I really enjoy and the latest post strikes home.  A teacher learns just as much from the student and this learning allows them to take the student further in their development.   When I was teaching statistics my challenge was in the communication of the why we did what we did.  Often, while clarifying the required left-brained thinking tasks, the other hemisphere would be restructuring my neural network to provide clarifying examples to explain the why.  It was strange, exhilarating, and frustrating to my colleagues who complained that I often changed things on the fly. All I was doing was meeting the student’s needs.
This post is getting kind of long so let me summarize where we need to take this.  As quality professionals we need to continue to evolve and innovate.  It stimulates the left-to-right brained transition.  We should not be happy in that quality is just conformance.  In order to innovate we need to provide new approaches to the timeless concepts of quality.  The only way to do this is to innovate.  Learn the why of the concept, communicate the concept, experiment with the concept, and don’t be afraid to bend the concept to create something new.  For in this way we learn about concept capability and how far we truly can go with change.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The “Value of Quality”

Paul Borawski’s June 2013 blog post ask two questions for the collective. Paraphrasing:
·         What is the most important challenge to ensure that the value of quality is realized in today’s society, and
·         What information do we need to advance quality worldwide?
Guy Wallace in his blog post speaks to understanding and communicating the value proposition to leadership. In a similar vein, Anshuman Tiwari feels that quality is less valued based on the behavior of organizations towards quality. Both voices are similar to the tack that I want to address: Leadership does not understand what quality brings to the table and this lack of understanding comes from an education system that does not teach leadership, leadership behaviors, or leadership expectations when running teams and organizations. 
I have written in past blogs that academia does not understand the quality profession.  Dan Zrymiak briefly addresses this point as part of answering the two questions above. I would argue that quality is the root of leadership that distinguishes between good and great leaders.  The difference between good and great, in my opinion, is VALUE. 
There are innumerable tomes about leadership.  These books discuss how to treat people, how to create strategy, how to evaluate choices, and biographies that talk to successes of famous leaders.  How many of them discuss failures, their lessons, and how they changed based on they learned?  How many of them talk about the expectations that people are going to fail and offer work environments that create the ability to feel consequence from failure yet have the ability to learn from experience?  What I read is how they hold people accountable; use a big stick more often than a carrot.
There are schools that teach “leadership” to undergraduates. What they often turn out to be are exclusive political cliques that teach how to network and fund-raise rather than truly learn how to determine the root cause of an organizational problem.   What you get is a skewed version of leadership; they were in charge but did they actually help a team accomplish value?
My answer to this communication of value is for ASQ to champion the concept that the Body of Knowledge is the core of leadership.  Quality is serving the customer.  Leadership is serving the organization.  Robert Greenleaf first put this proposition out in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader.  He states, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
This is the value of quality.  It provides the behaviors endemic to great leadership.  It answers both of Paul’s questions and it complements Guy’s, Dan’s, and Anshuman’s posts. It also identifies a role for ASQ to be the vehicle for this message.  ASQ creates the structure then engages the members to communicate and live the message.  But ASQ cannot do it alone.  It has to engage academia to come into the 21st century regarding leadership because the current leadership models being espoused will not work in the global challenges we face today and tomorrow.
Just my 2 cents, let’s hear yours!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dan Pink and Deming – Are they on the same wavelength?

Fellow ASQ Influential Voice Anshuman Tiwari wrote an interesting blog post regarding Dan Pink’s recent keynote address at this year’s ASQ World Conference on Quality and Innovation (WCQI).  I want to thank Anshuman because I wanted a copy of the talk and you provided me the YouTube video of the same talk.  Thanks for the link!
However, I do believe that Dan stayed true to Deming’s 14 Points.  I think where Anshuman goes off track is the interpretation of Deming’s points. Anshuman talks about the Deming point behind work standards or quotas and likens them to the standards by which people work by from a quality perspective.  Let me offer my interpretation of Deming’s point through a real-world experience.
In the mid-80’s, while serving in the US Army, I was put in charge of a company of soldiers who were responsible for recruiting young men and women in the Army.  Each month they were give a number of people that they were expected to recruit into the service.  If they met or exceeded their number that month, they were a hero; fall short and they were less than heroes. The soldiers that came to me were considered to be the top performers in their specialty and recruiting assignments were supposed to “choice” assignments. 
What usually turned out was the best example of what NOT to do according to Dan and Dr. Deming. There was a lot of pressure to “make your number.”  Although there was extensive analysis regarding demographics, we were evaluated based on your ability to make “cold calls:” calling a prospective applicant 3 times and giving a sales pitch. Yes, there are mechanics who are very good salespeople but excellent mechanics does not necessarily translate their success to another field.  Plus, it was not uncommon for higher HQ to increase numbers based on needs of the service, regardless of how the demographic analysis turned out.  Suffice to say, the pressure placed on young, previously successful soldiers could often drive them to bad behaviors in their drive to continue to be heroes.   
The other point that Deming made in regard to eliminating quotas was to substitute leadership.  Well, after consistently failing to make my numbers for a few months I got called into my boss’ office for a performance review.  We went over what I was doing and I asked point blank: “What else do I need to do?”  His response: “Work harder.”  I immediately knew I was never going to succeed and started actions to get me out of that position.
Suffice to say, my recruiting duties were of the cognitive nature.  I understood Pink’s principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Where things failed was the quotas. It was difficult to patch together how my struggles to make the monthly quota (about 0.5% of the monthly Army quota), was actually helping the Army being successful. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t having much of an impact and I sure was not getting the help I needed to be successful (read lack of leadership).
Deming’s 12th point about quotas actually has two parts. It addresses both the physical and cognitive types of work that Pink talks about in his keynote.  Management, by its nature, is more cognitive work and as such can never be subject to quotas (STUPID:  I have make sure I talk to 4 of my 7 direct reports each day?!?).
Final point: Deming’s points cannot be taken as separate entities.  There is so much overlap and I believe that is by design.  Deming’s 7th point talks about instituting leadership.  Specifically, “The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.”  To me, this is strong evidence that Deming talks about supporting both the physical and cognitive areas of work. 
So as quality leaders, what are we doing to help our people (in our organization, in our local community, in the ASQ family) and machines and gadgets do a better job?  Simplistic principle? Absolutely, but hard as hell to practice daily.
Until next time!
UPDATE:  I want to welcome the new ASQ Influential Voice bloggers to the fold.  Two of my particular favorites are James Lawther's The Squawk Point and Chad Walters' LeanBlitz.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Random thoughts on Innovation

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend from the healthcare industry.  Given the future new world of upcoming healthcare legislation that is coming into effect (The Affordable Health Care Act’s main clauses are supposed to take effect 1 January 2014), she stated that healthcare had to be innovative in their approach to affordable care. 
I am being bombarded lately with the word innovation. In the last three issues, Harvard Business Review has at least one article mentioning innovation.  The tech community is constantly talking about innovation and the “speed of innovation” and “innovative entrepreneurs.” My same healthcare friend now tells me there is something called "reverse innovation."
For quality professionals, Praveen Gupta wrote a piece in Quality Digest called “Innovation: The New Face of Quality."  I am hearing in the hallowed halls of ASQ talk of “should there be an Innovation Body of Knowledge?”  Being a contrarian I am asking, why?  We still have many frontiers to overcome in quality, why worry about this one?
Let’s get to down to basics.  Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a noun: 1) the introduction of something new or 2) a new idea, method, or device: novelty.  For me, this describes an end result; something produced.  The IT community uses innovation as a way to add features to existing products.  Deconstructing this further, innovation requires a behavior and a process in order to produce a result.  That is where all the articles come in.  They describe someone’s path on how they became “innovative.”  Praveen Gupta describes three rules of creativity (Choice, Combine, Practice).   But creativity has become just as amorphous to me as innovation.  How does someone be creative or increase their creative capacity?  From Mr. Gupta’s aspect of things practice is the thing that increases creative capacity.  This means we have to fail which is often the kiss of death in the business world.  Given the circular reference—failure may increase creativity capacity but it sure doesn’t help your reputation as successful, has this call for innovation become trite?
Again, back to my quality roots, innovation should not solely be focused on creativity.  There is something more important—Anticipation.  Successful innovation requires customer acceptance which means that there has to be some level of anticipating demand for that innovation.  How we anticipate, in my view is the key success factor for successful innovation.  Steve Jobs had a number of failures (Lisa, Newton, Next). Knowledge gained from those failed introductions led to the Macintosh, iPod, and MacBook.
So rather just creating something new, I propose the following definition of innovation:  the ability to anticipate coupled with the ability to execute.  We can create new ideas but if we don’t create the ones that consumers are willing to buy all those great ideas just become wasted.

Update: I wrote the above post before the ASQ World Conference in Indy.  While there, I got to meet some folks who are members of the Innovation Interest Group.  My first blog post from Indy covered their booth but what was interesting is the apparent lack of strategic knowledge as it relates to innovation.  There are a number of "case studies" that talk about how a person innovated but very little on how do I plan for innovation.  John Latham had an excellent blog post about how innovation is not prediction (Agree!) and HBR had a recent blog post in a similar vein.

Last word: Innovation is much more than a definition or a desire to change.  There has to be a plan--and that plan has to include what to change.  In my pea-brain, innovation is the path that gets you to your desired state.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quality and the C-Suite: ASQ promoting a dichotomy?

From the 2013 ASQ World Conference on Quality and Innovation:  midday Monday keynote Karen Martin talked about the disconnect of quality professionals and their inability to communicate, or even rise, to the corporate level.  Paul Borawski has blogged here and here about this issue. The major question is, what are we doing about it?  How are we educating corporate leaders about the value that a quality professional provides as a way to improve the organization?

What really set me off (yes, this post is a minor rant) was a recent tweet:
From the ASQ side of the house, IMO, we promote way too much of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers. Academia is doing us a disservice if it is our desire to get quality professionals to understand and speak "organization."  If you look at typical university engineering curricula it is all about process. Now there is nothing wrong with that if we understand that if we want STEM careerists to eventually rise to the corporate level, there has to be an outlet that will allow STEM careerists to understand business.  Just because a STEM Black Belt or Lean practitioner can use a SIPOC does not mean that they truly understand what goes into acquiring the inputs or appreciate the melting pot of legal, contractual, financial, and human resources skills needed to manage a business.

What's strange is that there are BUSINESS programs that do just that.  They teach both process and business aspects of work.  It usually comes under the framework of Operations Management.  These people are trained to go into work as shift supervisors and learn about working with people.  Engineers get little training early in their career about how to deal with people and manage resources.  If they do get supervisory training it is often leading engineers (read similar backgrounds), and not people possessing different technical skills.

So, ASQ, which certification covers the business aspect of work?  It is not the certified Quality Manager. It is none of the Six Sigma belt certifications.  Where is it?

OK, I am biased.  My first degree was accounting, my second degree in Operations Research. Besides my current career work in a naval shipyard (huge engineering organization) I have very little contact with engineers other than asking them for answers and often I get the, "Oh you are the quality manager, you don't understand the problem" look.  The funny thing is that the skills I learned being a quality manager, teacher, Master Black Belt, all provided a huge foundation to lead a calibration facility.  My organization is in a sorry state if I have to go down to the bench and do calibration work.  But I better know the business processes, the talent acquisition process, organizational control processes, and a good read of the parent organization's culture in order for me to be successful for my organization.

BUSINESS people have the skills to be excellent quality practitioners.  There are FINE ARTS majors that have the skills to be dynamite Black Belts.  If we truly want quality practitioners to rise to corporate leadership than ASQ needs to provide these tools to ALL majors not just STEM.  Otherwise, STEM becomes just another quota.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013 ASQ World Conference Post #2

It's Wednesday morning and spending the time packing up and getting ready to travel home after an excellent conference.  Just one disappointment, I did not get to meet Dan Zrymiak, a fellow ASQ Influential Voice member.  I had heard that he was here in Indy but come to find out he did not attend. Oh, well, I will continue to enjoy his blog and will talk offline and share ideas.

My desire for these conference posts is to cover some of the other, less publicized aspects of the wide-world of ASQ.  The first area I want to bring to your attention is the wonderful work that the Social Responsibility Organization (SRO) is doing.  You can find them on the web at They had a booth in the exhibit hall right outside the ASQ Center and I got the pleasure to talk with 2013 Hutchens medal award recipient Dr. Manu Vora about the efforts that he is working on alleviating chronic blindness in children and senior citizens in India.  You can listen to the podcast here.  Of course, I had to get a picture of the group.

Update!  Dr. Vora sent me a link to his TEDxIITBHU talk this past April.  It is a great talk that talks about the triple bottom line of Social Responsibility.

Last November I blogged about the Dubai Quality Group's 4th Annual Conference on Quality & Business Excellence.  They are a dynamic group with a number of events that promote the quality principles to the region.  I was very fortunate to catch up with the current chair and the former chair and sat down for a podcast with them. ASQ has a partnership with this group and has also opened a local center to serve the Middle East and North Africa region.  

Lastly, I had the opportunity to sit down with fellow ASQ Influential Voice Don Brecken. He is an ASQ Fellow and currently Region 10 Director.  He is also working on a project with ASQ Managing Director Michelle Mason on increasing the presence of ASQ Fellows as thought leaders for the society.  The program is still in its infancy.  Give us a listen here.

The battery is running out of my laptop (forgot to bring the power supply) and I have no one to mooch for power so I will sign off.  It was a great conference.  I learned a lot, got to meet some new friends, catch up with old friends and take away some great memories.  For those who attended, I hope the conference went well for you. For those that wish to attend, I strongly recommend that any ASQ member take an opportunity to visit the World Conference at least once.  Next year's conference is in Dallas, May 5-7, 2014.  Bookmark this link to keep up to date.

Monday, May 6, 2013

2013 ASQ World Conference Blog Post #1

Finishing up on Monday afternoon and it's time to get a blog post out. To get a sense of the exhibit hall and current work environment, this is the view in front of me from the back end of the ASQ Automotive Division booth.

 To the left of us is Chuck Underwood in the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum booth. Say hi Chuck!

It has been a great conference so far, lots of activity and meeting a bunch of new friends.   The big takeaway so far for me is the Innovation Interest Group.  Through Michelle Mason I was able to sit down with some of the group members: Peter Merrill, Jane Keathley, Kevin Posey, and John Latham. Great conversation over adult beverages and lots of laughter.  I am developing a future post on innovation so stay tuned.  Additionally, supporting the Wednesday closing keynote speaker Sally Hogshead, the Innovation Interest Group has a questionnaire to determine what type of innovator you are.  I took the survey and found out I am a creator; the source of great ideas but not necessarily the one that insures it gets implemented.  Strongly recommend visiting the booth. Here are Tracy Owens, Jane, and Kevin from the group showing off!

The opening keynote was Dan Pink.  One of the best leadership talks that I have heard.  If you follow my twitter feed, @srlean6 with hashtag #WCQI13, you will get the gist of the talk.  In short, there are 3 components of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Give people enough information to work on their own, provide the necessary tools for them to achieve personal excellence and continue to explain why their efforts are important to the collective.  Dan left us with a challenge to ask two less how questions and ask two more why questions. 

I FINALLY caught up with Karen Martin, the midday keynote, in order to do a podcast.  We have been trying to catch up ever since she spoke at the 2012 ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference.  It took us a while to find a quiet place but I think we have a great podcast for you. Give a listen here.

The final thing tonight before I go out and visit the hospitality suites put on by some of the divisions, ASQ has a recognition reception that I will be attending.  It is an opportunity for ASQ to thank all those important volunteers who do a lot of project work that support the initiatives that members are requesting. 

One more blog post tomorrow. I do have a mission and that is to meet fellow ASQ Influential Voice Dan Zrymiak.  I always enjoy his blog and I want to swap ideas.  If you are at the conference and see Dan, please ask him to come to the Six Sigma Forum booth.  

 Will try to get more pics for you. If you don't know by now, Elias Monreal ALWAYS posts his pictures of the sights around the ASQ conferences that he attends.  Go here to view his snaps from the conference.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Having a National Quality Award is Only Part of Sustainable Success

The last two topics of the lead Influential Voice blog, A View from the Q, address quality awards and the successes that these programs bring to their organizations.  These successes are important but how lasting are they?  Do they support the first of Deming’s 14 Points that state that organizations need a constancy of purpose?  Let’s discuss!
Recently, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) has celebrated 25 years in existence with a program named after President Reagan’s Commerce Secretary, who was a broad proponent of performance improvement.  In that time, the program has established a management criterion that has become broadly accepted by almost all of the individual state quality awards. 
Of interest are the winners of the award.  Looking over the list there are very few repeat winners, those that can apply after 5 years for a sustainment level award.  I would expect that once anyone is on this journey and they have fully embraced the criterion that constancy of purpose is a natural byproduct of the journey.  The level of commitment is sustained based on a significant application fee as well as the ability for people from the organization to participate in judging other organizations by becoming an examiner for the award.  For the examiners, besides the resume boost, it allows them to learn what other organizations do and bring what they learn back to their service organization.
So why aren’t their more repeat winners?  Some theories:
·         For small businesses – the cost is a barrier though some state programs are starting to overcome this issue. 
·         Changes in leadership – all quality award programs require FULL management support and MBNQA is no exception.  The leader who shepherds the organization to winning the MBNQA often does not stick around for another round.  The question becomes for the new leader, what is the ROI for being an award winner and does it generate significant revenue to continue supporting the program?
·         Economic Conditions – This theory particularly impact non-profit and governmental winners in that these organizations often are not revenue generators.  Budgetary efficiency is a prime driver and the same management questions above are often asked here as well.
·         MBNQA as a “bolt-on” – This theory is my pet peeve because we really have not addressed the essence of quality programs.  Quality works best when it involves organizational integration.  Usually, a small group is involved in developing the award packets.  “It’s their job to do MBNQA.”   This leads us down the path of “real” ROI to doing MBNQA and it opens itself up for immediate cuts in poor economic situations.
So, is having a national quality award program really in the quality community’s best interest? For establishing a standard of expectation, yes; for reinforcing constancy of purpose, no.  We need support from other societal units to get the second piece.  Consider that our culture supports leaders who make their own unique mark on an organization.  Leaders are not taught what that concept means in the long term health of an organization.  It used to be taught when an organization grew from a patriarchal (or matriarchal) experience base when survival of the organization was dependent upon core values passed down from experience  That model was denigrated by Wall Street and MBA factories back in the 1980’s and again with dot com explosion at the beginning of the century. 
What we need to understand is that national quality awards have inherent flaws.  They are good short term fixes for organizations that are sick and are good models to aspire to but they are not supportive by the core societal groups that provide the training and experience for future organizational leaders.  But most importantly, businesses rarely have a constancy of purpose.

What we often find is that organizations that do have constancy of purpose often don't need national quality awards as proof they are a quality organization. Again, looking back at the list of winners; where are the Toyota's, the Apple's, the Google's, the Amazon's on that list?  

Which truly begs the question--do we REALLY need a national quality award for businesses to succeed?  I would contend that a better guideline for a national quality award should be Deming's 14 Points rather than the MBNQA criteria.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Survival Guide to ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI)

By the calendar it is spring and ASQ’s annual big bash is just around the corner.  I thought I might provide a survival guide for getting the most out of WCQI.  I hope to have some tidbits for everyone, whether you are new to quality, a member leader, or someone who has been to a few and is looking for that nugget.  To show my age, I was at the last ASQ world conference (they called it the Annual Quality Conference-AQC) they held in Indianapolis, back in 2000. Come see me at the Six Sigma Forum booth in the exhibition hall and I will show you a relic from that conference (13 years, how time flies!).

The conference really is not just about the two and a half days of presentations.  There is a lot going behind the scenes.  As a busy member leader, the real work was the weekend.  On Saturday, ASQ puts on the Learning Institute for its member leaders to learn about how to manage ASQ sections or divisions.  In the afternoon, there is the grand brainstorming session-ITAG (Ideas to Action Group).  New to me this year is the member leader dinner Saturday night.  I found these sessions energizing as it provides me an opportunity to talk specific issues about ASQ governance, put a face to a voice that you keep hearing on conference calls, and network with like minded individuals.  Sunday is the big SAC/DAC meeting (Sections Affairs Council / Division Affairs Council), meetings within your own divisions, ASQ projects (I spent a lot of time with Rob Watters on some Learning Institute issues a few years ago) and other invitation only types of meetings.  That wraps up with the annual business meeting in the late afternoon and awards presentations in the evening.  If you are an involved member leader you are tired by the time Sunday finishes.
For others, Sunday is getting ready for Monday and the first keynote.  Have a plan on what to see.  You cannot see everything so pick and choose what areas to see.  My favorite recommendation: Go see at least one Quality Impact Session.  It will give some great ideas for your own organization.
Some recommendations during the open session
·         Eat lunch in the exhibit hall with someone you don’t know and play the “5 degrees of separation” game.  You never know what you will learn.
·         Visit an “After 5” session.  You will be surprised at the fun applications of quality.  Yoga anyone?
·         Visit the Exhibition Hall often. It is a great place to get all your needs filled at the ASQ Bookstore and meet vendors.  Explore more options about ASQ and see, in one place all the ASQ divisions and what they have to offer.  See me live blogging from the Six Sigma Forum booth, across from the brand new cars on display by the Automotive division.
·         Go to the Tuesday dinner.  It is another great networking opportunity, meet new people at your table, share stories—truthful and tall.
·         Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if you are confused.  There are always volunteers very willing to help you.  They will be dressed distinctively to single themselves out. 
One last thing in preparation:  carry an extra travel bag for all the stuff you are bringing home.  I always seem to come home with a least one more book than I wanted, a stack of business cards, and a couple pages of notes and ideas.  For me, this year will be no different.  I am on a learning journey to understand calibration.   Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Change is a result of Action as a Function of Desire (C = D(A))

Viewing many articles on the successful implementation of change or improvement you hear generally the same lament; management doesn’t provide change agents the needed resources or support. People in the workplace don’t want change, put up roadblocks to change, etc. To me, it is a distillation of a basic math equation: The amount change is affected by the desire to change as it relates to change activities.  What does this gobbledygook mean?  Let me provide an example.
My son and I were discussing his current progress in school. A couple of classes he mentioned he had not done to well but his retort was, “I will do better! I will try harder!”  I said that was great but what was your plan, what were you going to change in order to get better grades?  I immediately got the “deer in the headlights look” and the response, I am going to try harder! Things digressed significantly from there based on his frustration from not understanding what I wanted and not be satisfied with the tried and true response that would move the conversation on to another topic. Do you think my son’s performance is going to change if his efforts have not been successful and he is just going to do more of the same?  Anyone heard of Einstein’s vision of insanity? There appears to be a strong desire for change but no plan of action.  The likelihood that grades will change is slim.
Let’s take another example.  It’s a good bet that people are not happy with the current health care system.  The current Administration put forth and based a wide and sweeping plan to change health care as we know it (euphemistically called “Obamacare).  There is a good amount of consternation with this plan. The idea is for the entire country to execute the plan.  Yet, the following AP newswire story suggests something entirely different. In this case, we have a plan and not a consistent desire to change.  Results should be forthcoming.
Evolutionary change comes from a high desire to change and a dedicated plan that is executed with discipline. Current change curriculum concentrates more on the developing and executing the action side of the equation and rarely, if ever, addresses the desire portion. Yet, without both, we do not see change or change is not sustainable.  So, how do we increase the desire?  Often there is negative reinforcement (circumstances dictating a “life or death” choice) or the reward will be so great that it would be stupid not to change.
As change agents I challenge you to include as part of your change efforts some reflection time on ensuring that the necessary desire to change exists.  There are some tools out there to account for desire (stakeholder analysis, WIIFM (What’s in it for Me) analysis) but it is going to require more planning time to ensure success. What’s in it for you? Hopefully, a relief from the frustration of another “less than promising result” from you next change effort.

Friday, March 8, 2013

BB Moral - Never leave an advanced tool lying around without disabling it

The ASQ Influential Voice topic for March talks about using quality tools in nontraditional ways.  It recalls a time when I was first working for the Navy.  In order to qualify as a Navy Master Black Belt I had to do a project outside my parent organization.  The Navy Office of Civilian Resources (OCHR) came calling and asked me to help them get comfortable with Lean Six Sigma.  I worked with them off and on for three years and really enjoyed my time with them. This tale is about the time that I used the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) in a non-traditional application and ultimately got a little bit singed because I did not offer the appropriate danger messages (i.e., "Do not attempt to do this at home") to the customer.

Context:  OCHR had just completed a large value stream exercise and had identified a number of challenges that required executive leader approval.  These challenges were presented to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Civilian Human Resources (DASN(CHR)) and she requested that we identify and prioritize the challenges to determine what executive decisions needed to be made to help reduce cycle time of the civilian recruitment process. Given how the request was made, I immediately thought that the FMEA was the ideal tool to prioritize the risks so that decisions could be better made by the DASN and her boss, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (ASN (MRA)).

I was in San Antonio with my Navy clients co-facilitating an event that was determining the next replacement for RESUMIX, the Navy's civilian hiring tool.  After the first day, and just before heading down to Riverwalk, about 8 of us sat around my laptop and proceeded to fill out the FMEA.  In preparation I had created all the severity, occurrence, and detection scales to fit my application so, with the help of 2-six packs of beer, we filled in the FMEA in about 90 minutes, generating over a dozen of risks that we needed an executive leader to address and resolve.  Of course they were prioritized by Risk Priority Number (RPN).  I was really impressed how well things worked out and turned the FMEA spreadsheet over to the Black Belt in training I was mentoring to clean things up for presentation to the leadership.

With me in tow, we went to the Pentagon to brief the DASN.  She loved it. It was exactly what she wanted in a neat package that could be presented to her boss.  The meeting with the ASN was not for a couple of weeks in the future and I could not make that brief.  Suffice the say, the brief that worked so well for the DASN flopped with the ASN.  I was told that ultimately, the ASN was not prepared for the expectation that he had to do something.  He just looked at the data and balked. It took another 6 months before an actual decision came down on the data we presented.

There are many morals to this story. First, just because you have the requested data, doesn't mean the decision maker is ready to make the decision.  Second, what one leader wants is not necessarily what another leader is expecting.  Third, NEVER provide the actual FMEA as a slide; it will scare the living you-know-what out leadership if they do not know what an FMEA is.  Finally, just because you know how to use a tool does not mean novices do.  You have to teach the nuance and risks.