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.