Saturday, June 04, 2016

Employee Engagement - The Importance of Quality

The June topic of ASQ's A View from the Q blog is about employee engagement; specifically, ... to what extent do organizations—whether your current employer or previous ones–engage employees about the importance of quality?

“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” Employee engagement is the key to activating a high performing workforce.
Doug Conant
former Campbell’s Soup CEO

Before one can discuss employee engagement we need to begin from an operational definition. Engagement is more than satisfaction. Baldrige Criteria defines workforce engagement as, "the extent of workforce commitment, both emotional and intellectual, to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organization. Organizations with high levels of workforce engagement are often characterized by high-performing work environments in which people are motivated to do their utmost for the benefit of their customers and for the success of the organization." In other words, when the workforce (employees, volunteers, partners, etc.) is engaged it uses discretionary effort.

Studies have shown that an engaged workforce leads to improved organizational performance and outcomes. (See also the "Engagement-Profit Chain").

With an operational definition in hand, to what extent should organizations engage their workforce about quality? Item 5.2 of the Baldrige Criteria speaks directly to Workforce Engagement. The basic requirement asks how the organization engages its workforce to achieve a high-performing work environment. Suggested areas to address include organizational culture, identification of engagement key drivers, assessments of engagement indicators, performance management (e.g. customer focus, intelligent risk taking and innovation), workforce and leader development, learning and development effectiveness, and career progression.

It is my experience (34 years with 3M; 30+ years as an ASQ member; 7 years as a Baldrige Evaluator) that employee engagement cannot be sustained without a strong focus on the customer. Customer engagement is all about quality: quality of our knowledge about the customer, quality of the supply chain, internal work processes quality, product quality, service quality, transactional quality, and quality of customer relationships. Indeed, customer experience is the result of one's end-to-end value stream performance. 3M Quality is customer-focused process and product understanding. 3M culture can be summed by the McKnight Principles where employee empowerment, teamwork, intelligent risk taking and innovation are encouraged and rewarded, and nurtured with training, development, coaching and mentoring. 3M Values proudly enumerate "quality" as an expectation. 3M Quality is not a slogan, it is a way of life.

Finally, several tools exist to help organizations assess its workforce engagement, and measure the financial impact of workforce engagement to its bottom line. For example, Gallup has developed a 12 Question pulse survey instrument to help organizations assess the key drivers of employee engagement. It is said there are 4 main aspects to consider when calculating the ROI of employee engagement:
  • Productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Speed of Onboarding
(Source: Officevibe. *Example only. This is not an endorsement of Officevibe or its ROI Calculator).

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Capturing and Translating VOC to Deliver Superior Customer Experiences

The topic for the April 2016 ASQ blog is Voice of the Customer (VOC). Specifically, What exactly should voice of the customer mean to the quality professional? How important is it? What are the best ways to gather it?

Voice of Customer is a critical input to the development, commercialization and delivery of cost-effective, reliable and exciting products & services that help assure the growth and sustainability of an organization. The producing organization must first fully understand its supplier-processing-customer supply chain as well as the competitive landscape, while demonstrating the capability and capacity to successfully articulate, measure and improve its own key business processes (see COPs, MOPs, SOPs). For example, what is the organization's mission, vision? Values and principles? Goals and strategic plans? How does the organization go to market? How does the organization make money? What are the organization's core competencies and strategic advantages?

When attempting to define the "customer" it is important that everyone involved in the commercialization process agree on the target customer. One might assume that the customer is the end-user, consumer. But it is often not enough to just consider the end-user needs; the end-user might not be the purchasing decision-maker. For example, who decides what products get placed on store shelves, placed in catalogs, placed in the office supply room, stocked in the parts crib, or made available for on-line purchase; i.e. who is the "Gatekeeper"? In a B2B model, what are the Buyer's needs? What influences the Gatekeeper and/or Buyer purchasing decisions? What are the "Switching costs" associated with any change in supplier? How can your product, brand, or organization help that trade/channel customer achieve its strategic goals better than your competition can? In today's global market where product can be purchased from virtually anywhere on the planet via the World Wide Web, what regulatory, statutory and/or Governmental needs must be satisfied? Of course, let us not forget the Internal customer. How effectively are internal customer & downstream process requirements understood and met by the previous process (internal supplier)? Where can waste and inventory be eliminated in the Value Stream?

There are many ways to collect the Voice of Customer. Surveys are often cited as a common example. However, surveys are very limiting. Problems arise with low response rates and questions concerning the validity of the survey instrument itself. Did the survey reach the intended audience? Furthermore, it is my experience that many survey questions are often poorly written. Bias can easily enter into how the question is asked and/or in the development of a list of possible responses (i.e. multiple choice). The selected Likert scale, if used, may be too narrow to provide any meaningful, useful spread in the data with which act. Before any survey is published the organization should evaluate how well the survey meets the overall objective. How will the organization use the responses to the questions asked? Will the anticipated range of responses help the organization create a better product or service? A word of advice - "pilot" the survey with a sampling of the intended audience prior to launch.

Another weakness of surveys is that they can only identify drivers of "Basic" and "Expected" customer needs. Even if an organization meets 100% of the Basic and Expected needs it will not deliver "Exciting" quality. Customers cannot articulate needs that they are not aware of; but once and organization delivers Exciting quality it is on the cusp of earning customer loyalty. For more information about different levels of needs and satisfaction please review the Kano Model.

Focus Panels are a better VOC tool than surveys because its attempts to identify unarticulated needs, but focus panels assume that one has direct access to the intended customer. Though here again, questions can arise as to how the audience was selected (i.e. segmentation and sampling errors). Focus panels do offer the advantage to surveys in that questions are more free-flowing and can be tailored to the direction of the conversation, often resulting in more insight. Focus panels also afford the producer the opportunity to observe the customer perform a task, often discovering hidden pain points previously unbeknownst even to the customer. I have found C2C's VOC CAGE Model, developed by David Verduyn, to be a great product design process that helps discover unarticulated customer needs.

Surveys and Focus Panels are just two ways that VOC can be captured. There are many more methods available that I will not delve into here. Each of these VOC methods has its strengths and weaknesses in capturing customer wants and needs for a product or service; however, none of them do a particularly good job of capturing insights into how to improve the overall Customer Experience (CX). Developing and commercializing a great product or service is not wholly sufficient if the transactional process outcomes are disappointing. Customer Experience is the total of product reliability and relationship quality that a customer has with an organization, its employees and its partners - every single transaction that a customer has throughout the value chain. From pre-sale to purchase to post-sale and customer service, each step in the value chain is a "moment of truth" that can impact Customer Experience. A relatively new tool called the Customer Journey Map is an awesome tool to help identify drivers and dissatisfiers to delivering superior customer experience. When collecting customer wants & needs, likes and dislikes, do not miss the opportunity to learn more about your competition: why does the customer currently buy the competitor's product? What do they do well? What do they not do so well? Finally, product development offers the opportunity to bring disruptive innovation to the market. How, where can you leapfrog the competition to change the very basis of competition?

A good way to track and improve one's customer experience quality is to track Word-of-Mouth feedback. The internet today enables and empowers the consumer to easily compare product features, reliability, cost, and review user comments. User reviews and ratings are available on nearly every B2C and other customer-facing website and via services such as Yelp!, TripAdvisor, etc. By following - and positively responding to - user reviews the organization can actually build customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. BazaarVoice and PowerReviews Inc. are two service providers that can help your organization track and report customer reviews of your brand and product, to create actionable insights.

Of course, just collecting the Voice of the Customer will not guarantee product or business success. One must be able to effectively translate the "fuzzy" voice of the customer into unique, value-added products and services that will delight the customer while meeting or exceeding all safety and regulatory requirements. Quality Function Deployment (QFD), and Pugh Concept Selection are two matrix-based tools that help organizations develop and select the solutions that best solve customer pain points. A formal phase-gate commercialization process will help keep the product team on task towards achieving the commercialization targets and organizational goals. Prototypes and pilot testing are typical outcomes along the commercialization journey, which provide the product development team the opportunity to examine supply chain and manufacturing feasibility and cost while validating and refining the translated VOC directly with the intended customer.

The quality professional that understands the commercialization process, how to administrate and use the various VOC tools, and where/how to benchmark best practices in COPS, SOPS and MOPS is an invaluable asset to the organization.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Quality Career - What's Ahead in 2016?

The February topic in ASQ's A View from the Q is "Where do you plan to take your career in 2016? What’s your view of careers in quality today - what challenges is this field facing? How can someone starting out in quality succeed?"

2016 brings significant change to my quality career, as I retired from 3M in June 2015 after 34 years of dedicated service as a product developer, process engineer, quality engineer, quality specialist, quality manager, and Quality/Lean/Six Sigma teacher-trainer-coach-consultant. Through the years I have enjoyed building my global network of business leaders as well as quality professionals, colleagues and peers - many of whom I am happy to call friends today.

30+ years of ASQ membership, participation on various ASQ National committees, member-leadership roles in ASQ Divisions and Sections, numerous papers presented at the World Conference of Quality and Improvement (WCQI), membership in the Performance Excellence Network (PEN) and service as a Baldrige Evaluator to the state of Minnesota, all played important roles in broadening my professional network leading to professional growth. My most cherished role is that of mentor and coach. I am so proud to have helped influence the careers and professional growth of my direct reports and mentees, and to have helped shape and sustain the business success of my internal clients and external organizations.

Having retired from 3M last June and moving from Minnesota to Phoenix last July, I am now focused on building my strategic quality leadership consulting business: QualityBob® Consulting. Over the decades I purposely and mindfully built a reputation and personal brand of authentic quality expertise and leadership. Many years ago my friends and colleagues inside and outside of 3M began calling me "Quality Bob". A business associate one day kiddingly inquired as to whether I had given thought to trademarking the phrase "QualityBob". Intrigued, I checked into the process and two years later QualityBob® Consulting became a registered US trademark. Since retiring from 3M my wife and I have been primarily focused on remodeling our Phoenix home (A projected four month project that is finally wrapping up in its eighth month...). I have also launched my professional website and continue to nurture my network. I have renewed my membership in ASQ and Southwest Alliance for Excellence (SWAE) - a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that advances improvement and excellence in organizations, communities and individuals throughout Arizona, Nevada and Utah by using the Baldrige Criteria. This May I am giving a presentation on strategic planning, deployment and business execution at the ASQ Phoenix monthly Program meeting.

Reflecting on changes observed since I began my 3M career back in 1981, I view the biggest challenges facing communities, organizations, governments and even the quality field itself as the exponential rate of change, globalization of financial markets, data security, lack of clean fresh water, global warming and all the associated ills that it brings - droughts, floods, disease, pestilence, famine, etc. But most disconcerting to me is the continued lack of systems thinking by our leaders. Today's complex problems cannot be solved with simple solutions and quick sound-bites. Interconnected, systemic problems require transformational thinking and novel solutions; cooperation and collaboration, not unhealthy competition and lose-lose compromises.

To today's students and apprentices of quality I encourage you to seek out a trusted mentor, participate in professional member societies of quality and organizational excellence, contribute your knowledge, skills, talents and passion to local communities and non-profits, and engage in special projects to broaden your experiences.

Retired from 3M (a great company to work for), but not retiring from Quality,
Robert 'QualityBob' Mitchell

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Talking Quality with the C Suite

In a guest post to ASQ's "A View from the Q" blog, Dr. Suresh Gettala, a director at ASQ India, discusses how quality professionals might effectively talk about quality to convince the C-suite about its role to drive and sustain a culture of quality. My 34 year experience in a global manufacturing company echoes and reinforces much of what Dr. Suresh suggests as the best ways for quality leaders to discuss the importance of quality with senior management.

First and foremost, the quality professional must be fluent in the language of management; that is, the language of money. The quality professional must be familiar with financial terms and measures of inventory, investment, and loss. Terms and concepts such as Balance Sheets, P&L, Assets, Liabilities, Gross Margin, Operating Income, Nonworking Capital, Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Payback Period, Return on Investment, Economic Profit, etc. The more comfortable and fluent the quality professional can become when discussing the financial impacts of quality to the business bottom line the stronger credibility he/she will have among the C-suite. Cost of Poor Quality is an important metric that quality professionals can use to educate the C-suite on quality costs.

  • Appraisal costs include costs of inspection and testing. How many dollars could be saved by using the process approach to understand the root causes of product defects, and focus improvement efforts on improving the process and inputs rather than rely on after the fact product testing and inspection?
  • Internal failures include rework, waste and scrap. What percentage of waste is "inherent" versus process? Process waste is usually much easier to reduce by addressing sporadic special causes whereas Inherent waste reduction may require fundamental changes in process or product design.
  • External failures include customer complaints, warranty costs, and loss of customers. In today's world of highly connected, savvy consumers it is more critical than ever to not just satisfy your customer but to consistently delight your most valued customers. Touchpoints - customer interactions - are becoming a greater differentiator of quality perceptions. The power of social media and word of mouth marketing to influence customer purchasing decisions cannot be overlooked. The effective quality leader is able to quantify customer experience (CX) as a new measure of quality on the C-suite scorecard.
Every quality professional should also be conversant in Constraint Theory, Lean, and Six Sigma/TQM. Senior management is less interested in cost avoidance and other types of "soft" savings than it is in learning how to save "hard dollars". Theory of Constraints teaches us that the application of quality principles to reduce, subordinate or eliminate constraints to throughput are the best ways to save "hard dollars" other than reducing headcount. Lean principles teach us to abhor waste in all of its forms and manifestations, most notable work in-progress (WIP) and inventory (nonworking capital). Value Stream Maps are an invaluable tool to illustrate to everyone involved in the supply chain and to senior management how to see and quantify the piles of nonworking capital located throughout a product's value stream, from raw materials to WIP to finished goods.

One of the best, most effective, endeavors I had the pleasure of participating in my career was to bring Heero Hacquebord in to teach our senior leaders and executives about understanding variation. Heero designed and delivered a series of short modules titled, "Statistical Thinking for Leaders". This training was targeted specially to management and addressed many of the topics I shared above. The goal was to mitigate the tendency of 2-point comparisons and the subsequent all-too-common knee-jerk reaction of management tampering (treating common cause variation as special cause). Common cause variation reduction strategies are quite different from special cause.

Authentic, informed leadership is a critical input to build and sustain a culture of customer-focused, process-approach, systems-oriented quality management leading to organizational performance excellence.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Day with the Future of Quality

In a guest blog to A View from the Q submitted by Edwin Garro, an ASQ Fellow and founding member of ASQ Section 6000, Costa Rica, Edwin shares his recent experience while visiting San Rafael de Poás Technical High School, in the mountains of Alajuela, Costa Rica where 15- and 16- year olds will graduate in 2017 with a technical degree in Quality and Productivity. Edwin asks whether similar programs exist elsewhere.

It has been my great pleasure to participate on the Program Improvement Advisory Committee for the Bachelor of Manufacturing Management degree offered at the University of Minnesota-Crookston. Though not a high school curriculum as per Edwin Garro's example, UMC's BMM degree program is tailored to employees of local manufacturers and includes a strong emphasis on quality principles, statistics and quality management. Per the UMC BMM program brochure the program "is designed to meet the needs of people already in the workplace and two-year graduates who want to continue their education to the bachelor's degree level with seamless integration of prior credits earned. The program is available for in-class instruction on campus, as well as through online education. The online education components of the program are delivered through asynchronous electronic communication technologies and self-directed learning." This is a unique quality management degree program specifically targeted to support area manufacturers and businesses located in rural northeast Minnesota and to help improve the marketability of UMC students.

"The bachelor of manufacturing management (B.M.M.) is a career-oriented program that prepares students to manage people and machines in a manufacturing environment. Graduates will be able to supervise a manufacturing process, manage human and mechanical resources within budgetary constraints, and assure product quality. Program outcomes:
1- play a growing role in their workplace, especially in supervision and management
2- contribute to manufacturing system technology and quality control
3- establish a quality control department and train staff to meet quality audits
4- develop grades and standards of quality
5- set up acceptance sampling and inspection procedures
6- prepare quality control charts and reports
7- control the movement of materials in the most efficient manner at the right time, to and from the correct place in the required quantity
8- do a safety audit through a comprehensive approach to problems of safety in the workplace, including meeting the OSHA standards."

Dr. Christo Robberts is the program director for the Quality Management program and the Manufacturing Management programs at the University of Minnesota Crookston. For more information please visit the University of Minnesota-Crookston webpage at

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Does Mission Matter?

While Vision, Leadership, Values and Principles are widely recognized for their importance to an organization's sustainability, effectiveness and excellence, incoming ASQ Board Chair, Pat Lalonde, asks whether mission matters to improving the quality culture.

The Criteria for Performance Excellence (Baldrige) defines Mission as, "Your organization’s overall function. The mission answers the question, “What is your organization attempting to accomplish?” The mission might define customers or markets served, distinctive or core competencies, or technologies used."

My experience in leading the ASQ Statistics Division (1999-2000 and 2001-2002), the Minnesota Section of ASQ (2011-2013), as well as my 34 years professional work experience reinforces the importance of an understood, well-deployed, consistent mission to developing the organization's strategic plan and then working the resulting business plans to achieve excellence. Whereas Vision is more aspirational, Mission provides clarity to the workforce and guides day-to-day decisions regarding business operations. Clarity of mission is critical in defining who you are and how or whether your value proposition differentiates you from the competition. A sound Mission - in concert with a well-articulated Vision - assists in the development of a strategic plan that addresses gaps between the Current State and the organization's desired Future State.

A consistently applied Mission, congruent with the organization's Values and Principles guides behaviors and decision-making in recognition of the organization's core competencies, strengths, challenges and opportunities regarding the selection of key suppliers and complementary business partners.

Of course, the organization's Mission must be considered and consistently applied by leadership, management and the workforce in order to be effective. I invite the reader to visit the MN ASQ Section website to learn how its leadership skillfully responded to member input and redefined its Mission and Vision as part of its strategic planning process, optimizing its value proposition(s) for the effective development and distribution of its products and services to its key markets and customer segments.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Made in ___" vs. Country of Origin

In the latest post to the ASQ CEO Blog, A View from the Q, guest blogger and ASQ Managing Director Laurel Nelson-Rowe asks, "What does Made in ___" mean to you?" At a recent by invitation-only quality conference in Shenzhen, China, titled “Huawei Big Quality International Seminar", some common words and themes heard were feeling, emotion, patriotism, pride and competitiveness.

Prior to my retirement from a large multinational manufacturing company I served as both the Quality Manager and Country of Origin Coordinator for my business unit. I believe I bring a rather unique perspective to the matter of quality and Made in ___. Here in the United States, the terms Country of Origin and Made in USA are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Country of Origin (COO) is determined for purposes of trade; i.e. customs duties. The proper Country of Origin is determined based on where the "substantial transformation" activity occurs. For purposes of kits and multi-paks the "essential character" of the products also comes into play. It should be noted that the US Gov't has its own set of rules when purchasing certain commodities, whether for the military or government offices (GSA contracts). Many of these COO determinations are dictated by trade agreement acts (TAA) such as NAFTA, or by law (Buy American Act, Berry Amendment, etc.).

"Made in USA" on the other hand is a product marking regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has defined criteria that must be met in order for a manufacturer to claim "Made in USA" and also incorporate the image of a USA flag on the product packaging. The "Made in USA" claim requires that the total manufactured cost of the item must be "all or virtually all" United States content. This cost includes raw materials, components, sub-assemblies, packaging, equipment burden rates and labor. A product whose USA costs are assuredly less than nearly 100% USA (for example, product that is produced or assembled in the USA but with components sourced from outside the US) might not qualify for "Made in USA" labeling. In such instances the manufacturer should state that such product is "Made in the USA with globally sourced materials" (or similar language). Unfortunately, it is my experience that not every company applies the same reasonable basis / interpretation to the "virtually all" cost content requirement. Does "virtually all" mean 99%, 95%, 90%, 75%, anything greater than 50%? The State of California has an even tougher requirement for "Made in USA"... 100% (with few exceptions). This plurality of "Made in USA" definitions imposes significant supply chain administrative processes and cost to the manufacturer.

It is quite possible for a given product to have multiple Countries of Origin depending upon the rule being followed; for example, one determination for Normal Trade Relations (i.e. Customs) and another COO for Gov't purchases (i.e. Trade Agreements and specific commodities). It is also possible for a product to have COO = United States (based on substantial transformation location), but not qualify for "Made in USA" (based on cost).

Aside from the producer's technical aspects of properly determining Country of Origin and Made in ___ product  markings, there is the consumer's emotional element as referenced in the opening paragraph. Both perspectives are very real and very important to commerce. There is much debate on the value of free trade agreements, which I shall not delve into here, except to briefly present the economic theory of Comparative Advantage.  This theory, supported by empirical data, suggests that "where two countries capable of producing two commodities engage in the free market, then each country will increase its overall consumption by exporting the good for which it has a comparative advantage while importing the other good, provided that there exist differences in labor productivity between both countries" (source: Wikipedia). Over the long term, comparative advantage drives specialization and nurtures innovation. Arguments against the theory of comparative advantage cite the dangers of diminishing returns (i.e. productivity), and the pros & cons of diversification vs specialization.

From a quality perspective, today's consumer is very technically savvy and is able to shop via the internet to find the product they want at a price they are willing to pay. Word of Mouth advertising such as online ratings & reviews empower the savvy consumer to find the best overall experience regardless of the product's country of origin. If "Made in ___" is an important value proposition to you please be aware of the different interpretations of the minimum content requirement.