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. 
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