Friday, June 12, 2015

Applying Quality Concepts at Home – Remember the human consequences

Given the nature of the June 2015 ASQ Influential Voices blog, I congratulate Sunil Kaushik on his journey through the quality profession.  Sunil has done a masterful job at including his wife in his journey. I have found that applying the things you do at work can be difficult to implement in your personal life.  The personal applications of quality have been most successful when they have been tailored to the participants –sounds just like at work! 

While I was teaching Lean Six Sigma for the Navy I had a good number of students come to me and say what great ideas they had for improvement opportunities at home to use these skills.  When I checked back with them I heard more failures than successes (wife banned me from the kitchen forever, kids can’t keep the garage straight, other people just won’t cooperate, etc.).  What we fail to realize is that how we organize and live our personal lives are often in stark contrast to what we feel SHOULD be happening.  We cannot impose our will on someone else unless the other person is involved in the change.

In my experience kitchen kaizen events using 5S are probably the most reported failures.  For example, recently I visited a friend of mine at her house.  As a courtesy she offered me a cup of coffee.  The one-cup coffee machine was sitting on her counter near her sink.  The cups that she used were in a cabinet on the wall opposite from where the coffee maker sat.  Knowing that my friend was a fastidious person and a proponent of improvement I asked why were the cups not in the cabinet directly above the coffee maker?  She answered that across the kitchen was the best place for them and I don’t have space for them in the cabinet above the coffee maker.   Pressing my luck, I inquired about reorganizing that cabinet.  She pointedly responded that the best place for the current dishes were in this cabinet and nowhere else.  I immediately broke off the engagement having learned a long time ago that hell hath no fury like a cook in their kitchen—and I was thirsty. 

I have read of multiple successes of applying quality concepts to personal health.  The first case study that I came in contact with was one presented in Improving Performance through Statistical Thinking. In chapter 6, Tom Pohlen discussed how he used statistical concepts to manage his wife’s diabetes.  Another example is presented in the book A Sample Size of One, the story of how a quality practitioner, bringing the full spectrum of quality concepts to bear, manages her autistic son’s medical care and quality of life.   

I recently downsized my living space from a four-person, 2500+ square foot property to a one-person, 1700 square foot property.  The end result of this change was extra furniture, boxes, and stuff collected over a thirty year period that needed to be stored temporarily while it was sorted, distributed, and disposed of.  Of course, I was paying the storage rental so there was a point in time where this was starting to get costly.  We just disposed of the rental unit after an organized distribution plan, meeting deadlines for individuals to sort and classify and find a party to dispose of what wasn’t needed. Yes, this was a kaizen that turned out to be a WIN-WIN proposition with fond memories and NO hurt feelings.   The unwanted things were given to someone to sell.  My kids identified things that they wanted to store and we found places for them.  I was able to re-purpose the storage fees to something more immediate, like my son’s orthodonture.   No specific quality principles were communicated; just expectations and dates. 
Moral of the story:  We apply quality concepts all the time in our daily lives; we just don’t call them such.  Any time we impose things in the name of quality things are going to backfire.  If we translate the concepts to the current language of life we are much more likely to see a successful application of the quality principles.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Future of Quality: What I want the future to contain


Last week I wrote a blog post describing my observations about the ASQ 2015 Future of Quality report.  I was a little disappointed with the Quality Leaders portion of the report so I thought I would submit my desires what ASQ and the QBoK need to consider for the future.
 
My graduate degree is in Operations Research.  It is a degree that is a precursor to all these “Big Data” degrees that schools think are trendy right now.  One of the major downsides to having this type of degree is that it is heavily technology dependent, meaning it requires advanced computational capabilities to be successful.  Fortunately, the past forty years has closed the technology gap dramatically (how I miss IBM punch cards, NOT!) where we can now design, test and execute some pretty robust mathematical models in the space of a couple of hours with a simple spreadsheet.  
 
One of my favorite texts was written as a one day course on industrial operations that expanded into a Masters degree program at Northwestern.  IMO, Factory Physics, has become THE source for the mathematical models behind basics processes. It is the best text to explain Little’s Law, a basic tenet of industrial engineering, the lean concept of flow, and Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.   Don Wheeler’s The Process Evaluation Handbook is not far behind though his is more of the “pure quality” approach.  This is surprising that as much as ASQ is hyping STEM and engineers as quality practitioners, they don’t advertise these books as part of the ASQ bookstore nor do they test a lot of the text’s concepts. 
 
I consider this a MAJOR shortfall in the QBoK.  In the study of processes the QBoK is limited to the qualitative analysis of processes.  They are more concerned about drawing process pictures and less about understanding why a process performs the way it does MATHEMATICALLY.  Once we study in this manner, it is easier to identify impacts on process, model them, and then experiment by changing them.  ASQ certifications test our knowledge of simple math models and designs of experiments but they do not teach how to study the process of successfully setting up the models in the first place!
 
Understanding how processes behave is one thing but an area that the quality community have barely scratched the surface is to understand human behavior and its impact on processes and systems.  Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline opened my eyes about human behavior in the work environment.  I understood how Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model fit into the work environment and a good number of things that I was taught about leadership while an Army officer totally failed when applied outside that environment.
 
 Which leads me to my last QBoK “hole” – Leadership.  Bill Troy started the conversation in his December 2014 blog post and the theme that the Quality Practitioner was also a leader.   Reading the blog responses lead me to believe that there is no true definition of leadership.  I see this daily in people who have had little or no knowledge of what is needed at the next level of an organization are thrust into leadership positions who are little prepared and struggle mightily.  Most eventually settle in to a comfort zone that keeps them employed but are they really executing in the way the organization needs them to execute?   What are we as a professional society doing to prepare people that understanding process and understanding people are the building blocks for leadership success?
 
 The ASQ leadership academy, announced at the 2015 WCQI Business meeting, is a band aid that helps too few people.  I find these programs, especially executed in academia, create elitist types of behaviors rather than those necessary to be successful in a working environment. We need to offer knowledge broadly so that it impacts a large number of individuals. 
My future quality world contains a broader acceptance by quality practitioners of the mathematical underpinnings of processes, better cognizance and appreciation of human behavior, and a more concrete definition of what leadership really is.  Probably be a good surrogate to a liberal arts education, but that is topic for another time…