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.
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