Thursday, May 11, 2017

ASQ: Moving ahead towards a foggy future—do we have a compass or oars?

I recently attended (April 29 – May 3) ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Innovation (WCQI).  I include the April dates because the weekend before is what I consider the most important part of the conference:  the member leader oriented “Community Leader Institute (CLI)”.     As part of Saturday’s agenda, there was something called ITAG (Ideas to Action Group) which was spawned from a 2006 member leader revolt.  This is usually the venue where member leaders get to sound out on the direction of the Society.  Unfortunately, this year’s ITAG was directed towards how many times and ways we can say “TRANSFORM” and keeping to a schedule rather than anything substantive.
CEO Bill Troy has been putting out monthly messages about the process in which ASQ is “transforming.”  It must be an interesting process because it has been pretty small on details.   But we seem to be making progress because that is what Bill has been stating we have been doing.  This has been going on for about a year. 
The most telling question asked at ITAG was, “What is ASQ transforming to?”  The answer:  “We haven’t finished collecting the data yet, but we will know in June!”  It reminds me of that old military axiom, “Take that hill!”  “Which hill?”  “That one!”  The company runs up the wrong hill and takes needless casualties.
To my fellow volunteer leaders on the ASQ Board of Directors, let me offer a suggestion on what we need to transform to.  We need to be an organization that supports all the individual pieces of the organization as collective and not individual entities (silo mentality).  When was the last time that Corporate Development worked alongside member units to develop models where the objective of developing new enterprise members coincided with the needs of the member units.  How can we defeat the perception from member units that enterprise memberships drive away local membership?  How can we defeat the perception that ASQ Learning Institute takes away revenue opportunities from sections and divisions?
From ASQ Global, why are we not leveraging local talent in translating ASQ products?   Why is the HQ infrastructure so thin when the greatest opportunities for growth exist outside the US?  Besides country counselors, why are we not cross pollinating between ALL member units to get our word out?
Lastly, why are there so few corporate level quality professionals attending WCQI?  Why are there so few corporate level CEO’s/COO’s attending the conference?  I was taught that if the boss was interested in something, you better make sure you were.   Sounds to me like a compass direction we need to pursue. 
Bill, Eric, Elmer, I am tired of hearing the word TRANSFORM.  The mission of ASQ is not going to radically change as a 3M or DuPont or HP transforms.   What I and other member leaders want is leadership action and direction not promises of such.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Are Quality Professionals a dying breed? No, they are called something else.

This month’s ASQ Influential Voices blog topic is:  “If quality professionals do not change their behavior, the resource pool will be drained down to a small, trickling stream of competent “old-guys” supported by unskilled workers.”  How can we prevent this from happening? What adaptations need to occur for both quality professionals and the quality industry to avoid this fate and attract the next generation of quality professionals?  

First, let’s put the question into context.  The question came from two recent posts on LinkedIn.  The first is a short post from John Cachet. Mr. Cachet never describes the interaction behaviors he dislikes and then assumes the profession will regress to the old quality manufacturing model of “unskilled inspectors” managed by people on their way to retirement.

Two months later, Rick Harrington’s post on LinkedIn poses an additional question of, “…has manufacturing went to just Risk and Reward, by which I mean we manufacturer it and if it breaks or we get sued we will replace it or fight the legal battle.”

My immediate thought is what generated the question?  Is it frustration that causing the comment?   As these two authors are respected individuals selling services, are their customer pools becoming more sophisticated consumers, or the traditional ways of communicating the benefits of their services are not meeting their customer base, or are they no longer seen as THE voice for quality?

Putting all that aside, let’s get to the basic premise; is the quality profession a dying breed?  The title foreshadows my answer.  I would argue that the tenets of quality are being absorbed by industry professional societies and ASQ is not being as sought out as THE source for quality principles.  The health care industry is offering certifications for quality (National Association forHealthcare Quality).  There are more competitors for quality certifications (ISPI, IISE, et. al.) than ever.  The numbers of consultants offering quality management and improvement services increases DAILY.  No, I truly don’t see the quality profession languishing.
What I do see are communication issues.  There is a communication thread that quality professionals do not talk the language of the C-Suite.  I see this as excuse for two shortfalls-quality professionals failure to understand their audience in talking about the importance of what they do and ASQ’s dismal failure of engaging the education community on the importance of quality principles as a key tenet to organizational leadership success and imparting these concepts into traditional curriculum.

I point to Toyota and the numerous books out that discuss the development and thinking behind the Toyota Production System and “the Toyota Way” as curriculum sources.  These sources are prevalent in the professional world.  How many undergraduate and graduate business programs contain courses on the integration of leadership, quality principles, and corporate culture? How many hours are spent in the analysis of Dr. Deming and his 14 Points on development and synthesis of corporate culture and leadership at our colleges and universities?   What time is spent on incorporating statistical thinking as a basis for individual problem solving and organizational improvement?

ASQ has a strategic initiative in doubling their membership in 5 years.   The ASQ CEO has been slowly teasing the membership on the tactics behind achieving this goal.  What I have seen is little different from past initiatives.   General Troy, you have cleaned house at ASQ HQ.  It is time for a new direction.  This direction of pointing ASQ as the leader in corporate leadership synergy IS, in my opinion, the message you need to execute and not a rehash of past practices just to boost membership.  That is my recommendation for making ASQ and the quality profession relevant in the 21st century.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What the future holds for Professional Societies and other humanistic organizations in general

I want to congratulate ASQ Chief Operating Officer Shontra Powell for (finally!) a thought provoking discussion topic on the ASQ blog “A View from the Q.”  This blog has steadily regressed since its initial role as a personal voice of the ASQ Chief Executive.  There have been a number of factors that have caused this regression.  I hope the blog is re-energized by Ms. Powell’s interest in speaking directly to the members using this forum.

I find the future of professional societies and organizations a more interesting topic than the one currently being readied for the discussion roundtable.  I am fortunate that currently serving as an ASQ section chair we have re-energized the quality base locally.  Through small efforts we have taken an organization of 100 members 18 months ago to one that has over 130 members.  What have we done?  Spruced up the website, have less frequent but more meaningful section meetings, and involved the largest local business as part of running the section.   We have added much more creativity to our leadership group and made running the section fun.   I like to think we are responding to a changing world where members do not want their chosen professional society to be a burden to their life.

 Ms. Powell discusses in her blog her view of what that less burden would look like.  It is extremely interesting as it focuses more on social media and less on face to face interaction.  I would argue that there needs to be a balance with both.  As human beings we are naturally a social creature.  Yes, in the past 10 years we have seen a plethora of new social avenues being made available to us.  Yet, I see these avenues become less and less “social” in that these avenues are often more for self-advertisement rather than actual discourse and sharing of knowledge.  Yes, as human beings we need a little ego stroking to maintain self-worth.  But there is a point where it becomes mere annoyance.  At that point these social media platforms actually drive people away rather than enhance social interaction.

There is still that need to connect to people on a personal level.  Yes, I agree that conferences and large gatherings are becoming more burdensome and cost prohibitive as they become larger and long distance travel becomes more a personal affront. But these gatherings are still important for our well-being.  We NEED that social interaction and with that interaction there is a derived benefit that cannot be captured by a financial return on investment.  Sometimes we do it because it is the right thing to do.  We need that rush on meeting that subject matter expert that stirs that inner sense of accomplishment.

Which, I believe, Ms. Powell’s vision actually drives the opposite expected behavior.  Our quality “stars” are becoming fewer and far between.  There really is no platform to grow the next dimension of quality.  The new ASQ structure is insulating the executive leadership from this discourse rather than encouraging it.  Where is that upcoming opportunity for the next generation quality superstar to share their light and draw the new converts to quality?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

You are not selling Quality to the C-suite. You are selling short-term relief.

Dr. Gettala’s ASQ Influential Voices post this month provides a well-worn message around the business of selling your message to leadership. Although the message is important I think we need to remember that Quality is not a methodology that offers “gentle relief for the common business cold.”

Quality is a set of principles.  If you ask any senior manager they would say that quality exists in their organization.   They believe (ok, there are outliers like Enron and VW Group) that their organization conforms to specified requirements and that their organization must improve and change to survive.  The message we are really telling senior managers related to quality is that, “In our opinion, their actions and behaviors are not supporting the cultural climate and needs of the organization.  Their message is being garbled and we need it clarified.”

More to Dr. Gettala’s point is the fact that when a quality practitioner sees a short term opportunity for improvement that will benefit the organization use the tips espoused by him. 

There is no prescriptive way to change corporate behavior from below.  The only way to effect significant corporate behavioral change is from internally at the C-suite level or external pressures placed on the organization by customers or regulatory requirements.  As quality practitioners, we do have ways to influence this behavior. 

One way is to get involved in corporate leadership training.  I have mentioned in the past that ASQ is way behind in this cause.  Leadership training as it relates to quality is not a path ASQ chooses to pursue.  I have commented in previous blog posts that they should.  This past Monday I had an opportunity to effect change in my organization by participating in a curriculum summit addressing leadership development in the shipyard.  Yes, I will probably retire before I see the next generation of shipyard leaders mature but I know that I have done the most to impact change at the senior level today. 

What is needed from our senior quality practitioners is rather than solely focusing on selling their expertise to the C-suite for short-term gain, why are they not focusing on changing the behaviors of the future quality leaders?  Why are they not asking to impact corporate culture by offering support for changing the behaviors of future organizational leaders such that they appreciate that leaders provide the resources and the environment by which quality exists today.
For all those in North America I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving season.  Be safe, appreciate your family with love, and continue to practice the quality principles our profession espouses.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dissecting ASQ’s Mission

In July 2014 I wrote a blog post asking the new ASQ CEO Bill Tony to clarify ASQ’s vision because it was pretty murky as to where ASQ is heading.  This month, incoming ASQ Chair Pat La Londe talks about the ways ASQ is moving forward in executing its mission.  I also found enlightening Dan Zrymiak’s critique of Pat’s blog post. 
Maybe it’s me, but I have a different take of Mission, Vision, and Values.  I was taught that an organization’s vision is what they strive to be and the mission is the how the organization executes the vision.  The values are the things that an organization will not compromise in its path on executing the mission.   Vision is aspirational, Mission is clarity, and Values are the bedrock from which to move. 
ASQ’s Mission:  To increase the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world.
Sounds more like a vision statement to me. It’s funny, but on the same web page that contains the ASQ Mission and Vision statement I found a more executable and clarifying Mission Statement: "… provide local access to the quality community, career development, credentials, knowledge, and information services related to quality" (italicized words are my addition).   Although this statement was attributed to the ASQ Global offices, I would think that the ASQ Leadership would be extremely happy if this were done by all member units of the society. 
Let’s go a little deeper in what Pat is presenting. 
·         ASQ is aligned and united to grow and advance the Global Quality Community.  Unfortunately, that is not true. As much as ASQ HQ want this to be true, the devil is in the details and ASQ HQ has to go a LONG way before the field is in sync with HQ.  I commented about this relationship in my March 2015 post.  Sometime bureaucracy gets in the way of collaboration and ASQ HQ and ASQ Global needs to find a happy medium to get in sync.
·         ASQ is committed to and investing in member value, this year and beyond.  This is long overdue. The great challenge is that ASQ does not have a rising revenue stream that creates the ability to provide member value through technology.   HQ does not have web page designers or website experts that allow the development of a member-friendly web presence so the society gets what it gets.  HQ personnel are interested in expanding the use of technology; the dollars just aren’t there to do everything the society needs.
·          ASQ in 2015 has its challenges, yet is responding, evolving and adapting, to ensure our members’ and customers’ success in a rapidly changing, competitive, global environment. Again, my opinion, but I think this is code for “US membership is declining dramatically; international membership needs to increase significantly if the society is going to survive in the future.”
Unfortunately, what is not addressed is how we are going to win the hearts and minds of leaders to accept quality as a VALUE rather than a governance characteristic.  There is no strategy to address the Quality Body of Knowledge as standard curriculum in MBA or other academic leadership programs.  To their credit, ASQ is initiating a “Young Leaders” program to develop future corporate leader. I see that more as a flight of fancy rather than something that will be truly lasting.   
There is a lot of work to be done.  Unfortunately, the society still does not have a clear, actionable mission statement that can be easily translated and accepted by member units her in the US and globally.  So, if you were new to ASQ, what would you think of the Society’s mission statement?  Would you partner with us?

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…