Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stating Your Case for a Raise

ASQ Quality Progress recently published its annual salary survey, which again confirms the value of professional certification. As we close out another year many U.S. companies are conducting annual workforce performance reviews attempting to quantify the relative value and merits of employee contributions. Given today's challenging economic environment confronting every employer what is your case for requesting a raise? Regardless whether you are an individual contributor or a supervisor/manager, how have you helped "move the needle" in terms of delivering organizational results?

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski summarizes that the Quality practitioner's primary impact to business results are typically achieved in the areas of "... Customers more satisfied, revenue enhanced, money saved, waste reduced, lives saved, or risks managed".  Personally speaking, quantifying my impact to business results is made more difficult because as the leader of a corporate staff function I do not have line operation responsibility. Any impact I have to drive business results is the measure of my ability to motivate, educate, engage and influence others. Indeed my role is primarily that of change agent, teacher/coach/consultant, project leader, mentor, cheerleader, customer advocate, and champion for performance excellence. "3M Quality" is a recognized value differentiator delivering customer-perceived best in class performance. Every 3M employee at every level of the organization is responsible for assuring Total Customer Experience.

I approach my role as a servant leader focused on helping my direct reports and business clients to succeed. The case for a raise in 2013 will be made by my clients. Here we use an appraisal process incorporating 360 degree feedback; I am perfectly comfortable letting my employees and clients judge whether I am adding business value while promoting 3M values:
  • Act with uncompromising honesty and integrity in everything we do. 
  • Satisfy our customers with innovative technology and superior quality, value and service.
  • Provide our investors an attractive return through sustainable, global growth.
  • Respect our social and physical environment around the world. 
  • Earn the admiration of all those associated with 3M worldwide.
3M employees all across the globe are strengthening their operational excellence and continuous improvement skills and competencies through internal training offered by my group, supplemented with ASQ content thanks to 3M's enterprise membership. Many are pursuing ASQ professional certification for personal growth to the benefit of 3M and its customers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Accelerating the Adoption of Quality

As we celebrate World Quality Month this November, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks the Quality community what can we do to accelerate the rate of adoption of quality? A big part of the solution, I believe, is to promote the broader role of "quality" in everyday life. This month the leaders of the MN Section of ASQ organized several community service projects partnering with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to "build a House of Quality". We strategically chose two Saturdays in November with Habitat for Humanity to both recognize World Quality Month and to demonstrate the role of quality in design (e.g. environmentally friendly homes) while building stronger social communities. I am extremely proud of our MNASQ members who quickly filled both November dates to participate on indoor and outdoor new home construction projects. We also had a few members who could not physically participate, and chose instead to contribute via charitable donation towards community playground equipment. Habitat for Humanity was so pleased by the quality of our work and contributions that they asked us to sponsor a Saturday in December. Our members have asked the Section leaders to also consider sponsoring a community service project this spring.

Sponsoring community service projects is just one tactic the MNASQ section is using to define and promote quality as "Total Customer Experience" (TCE).  Total Customer Experience is defined as the overall customer impression based on perceptions and experiences of a company's products, services, people, partners and solutions at every touchpoint. Regardless of whether one subscribes to the notion that the U.S. is shifting from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, fewer people involved in continuous improvement today align themselves with traditional 'Quality'. Hence, one explanation of the decline in ASQ membership since its peak in the late 1980's (Total Quality movement). Today's continuous improvement practitioners are organized around such labels and efforts as process improvement, operational excellence, customer satisfaction, patient safety, etc. Early adoption of quality principles in manufacturing made intuitive sense -  it is much easier to view work as a process in the manufacturing environment where supplier-customer interactions are obvious, requirements are generally known, defects are understood, and data are frequent and numerous. Contrast the manufacturing environment to the transactional world where process thinking is not intuitive, the customer is not always identified, the "product" may not be well understood, defects may not be defined, and data are not systematically collected.

Following the "Diffusion of Innovation" model, (Everett Rogers, 1962), service and transactional quality may be regarded as laggards in the quality improvement journey yet hold great potential to delivering significant gains in performance excellence and business success.

In today's difficult economy with increasingly global competition and sophisticated customers, excellent product quality is a given. Dr. Joseph Juran defined quality along three key attributes: free from defects, features, and reliability.  Following that definition, competitive advantage today is achieved through superior, consistent, reliable product and service performance that delivers unmatched Total Customer Experience... every transaction, every touchpoint, every time.

To help activate the adoption of quality in transactional processes it helps to visualize the cross-functional nature of most business processes. Whereas most functions are defined as silos, most processes are cross-functional. Keys to transactional process improvement are recognize where the  internal supplier-customer hand-offs occur and fully understand the internal customer requirements. A critical role of Quality in transactional processes is to manage the organizational white spaces within each cross-functional process.  Many organizations today are applying lean tools and concepts to help them drive speed and improve efficiency through the elimination of waste and non value-added activity.

Dr. Deming is quoted to having said, "Change is not necessary. Survival is optional". Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, CAPA, etc. are all valuable methods of problem solving and continuous improvement to help assure competitiveness of the enterprise. But I define Quality much broader than continuous improvement alone.
Quality is the intentional alignment of mission, vision, values, leadership, planning, customer focus, work systems, workforce and continual improvement for organizational success. I prescribe to the "hamburger" model of the Baldrige Criteria where continuous improvement is just one crucial ingredient to performance excellence of the organization.

Quality is achieved by flawless execution at the speed of the customer. So how do we measure flawless execution? The Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) metric and a measure of customer satisfaction (or even better - customer loyalty) are two key indicators.
COPQ Iceberg illustration from
Traditional measures of COPQ track the measures that are relatively easy to observe, such as waste, scrap, rework, inspection costs, disposal costs, warranty and complaints costs, etc. Though these measures are relatively easy to obtain (i.e. "Visible" costs), more often the greater opportunity for operational excellence and customer experience is in the "hidden costs" of excess inventory, numerous engineering change orders, lost sales, costs to expedite shipments, limited product availability caused by the lack of speed, flow and synchronization of one's key value streams, etc.

Illustration from
As quality costs are reduced, profits are increased.  As value streams are optimized to increase velocity and flow, customer satisfaction is increased due to improved "product" quality and availability.

So, back to Paul Borawski's question of how can the quality professional accelerate the adoption of quality... Quality must be defined much more broadly than product or service quality. Competitive advantage today is achieved by a relentless focus on delivering Total Customer Experience including exceptional product/service/transactional quality, consistently good customer service, a warm, inviting customer experience, a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Politics aside, I like Chick-fil-A and Caribou Coffee as two role model organizations in this regard.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Increasing the Value of Quality

During my 31 years in Quality engineering and management I have come to understand, appreciate, advocate and promote the greater role of the quality professional in organizations large and small. Though the average person on the street still thinks of quality as QC and inspection activities (aka "little q"), the demand for "Big Q" strategic, enterprise-wide quality has never been stronger, nor the urgency and importance greater. Today's continuing difficult global economic condition is causing uncertainty in the marketplace. Just this evening the CBS television news documentary 60 Minutes asked the question, "Are we headed for a recession or economic recovery?" Many businesses are scaling back their growth plans and even shrinking their work force in order to limit their exposure and reduce their risk in these uncertain times; they are exhibiting a bunker mentality, hoarding their cash instead of investing in capital expansion, commercializing new products and hiring new talent.

Every year since 1999, The Conference Board has asked hundreds of CEOs from the world’s leading organizations to identify their most critical challenges. The top five challenges from the 2012 CEO Challenge are Innovation, Human Capital, Global Political/Economic Risk, Government Regulation, and Global Expansion.

ASQ has conducted six Future of Quality Studies – in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011. The studies comprise three major components.

  1. Identify the key forces that are most likely to shape the future of quality.
  2. Develop alternative scenarios describing how these forces might unfold.
  3. Determine implications for organizations, the quality field, and for quality professionals.
The 2011 ASQ report, titled "Emergence" discusses the 8 key forces affecting the Future of Quality as summarized from the input of 140 participants in 33 countries: Global Responsibility, Consumer Awareness, Globalization, Increasing rate of Change, Workforce of the Future, Aging Population, 21st Century Quality, and Innovation.

The similarities and overlap between these two studies validate the alignment and importance of Quality's increasing role to deliver organizational performance excellence and business results. I believe the Baldrige Criteria serves as an excellent framework to position Quality responsibilities throughout any organization. The Baldrige Criteria categories address leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, workforce engagement, operations management, continuous improvement and business results. 21st Century Quality goes beyond traditional product and service quality. It is about total customer experience: quality as defined by the customer in every transaction, every encounter - and everything in between.  21st Century Quality starts and ends with the customer. Quality has the opportunity - the obligation - to advocate for the customer (internal and external) throughout the Value Stream. Validating the voice of customer (VOC) to assure differentiating performance and competitive advantage is a key opportunity for the Quality improvement professional. The savvy Quality professional also understands the weakness in VOC methods to gather unarticulated customer desires, and is able to experiment with and facilitate new ideation methods.

Continuous improvement of the voice of process (VOP) is the traditional role of Quality, associated with assuring product and service quality. However, simply meeting specifications (requirements) is no longer good enough. Meeting requirements reinforces a goal post mentality where everything in-spec is equally good. Customers and patients today are more discerning; competition and regulations are becoming more numerous, and the pace of change is accelerating. Today's Quality professional recognizes the value of a quality-by-design, "Run to Target" mindset and is able to convey the merits of sustainability and statistical thinking to help organizations achieve operational excellence. Operational Excellence delivers cost-effective solutions through capable and stable, yet responsive and agile work systems and processes. Today's Quality professional is able to teach, coach and manage an effective Quality Management System to assure regulatory and industry compliance and business continuity. Today's Quality professional is also able to recommend, coach and lead the most appropriate continuous improvement methodology given the organization's culture and needs.  Lean, Six Sigma and Quality together support an overall business performance improvement strategy comprised of problem solving and continuous improvement. Lean philosophy abhors waste. Lean is a continuous improvement methodology that seeks to reduce cycle time and increase flow (i.e. speed) to consistently deliver quality product/service on time at the right quantity and value. Six Sigma is a project-by-project problem solving methodology that seeks to reduce defects for reduced variability and cost, and improved customer satisfaction. Quality processes exhibit predictable aim with minimal variation. Consistent quality and flow cannot be achieved without stable, capable processes; however, entropy is constantly at work. "Entropy acts on every process, causing it to move toward deterioration and decay, wear and tear, breakdowns and failures", says Dr. Don Wheeler. Holding the gains and demonstrating a personal commitment to continual improvement is everyone's job. Successful business performance improvement requires the participation of employees at all levels of the organization. Implementing continuous improvement where everyone is involved greatly enhances employee engagement, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. Quality's role as change agent and catalyst for change is a critical, growing responsibility in today's fast paced global economy.

The experienced Quality professional, skilled in strategic planning and change management, is also able consult and facilitate in strategy development, deployment and execution. Hoshin kanri/ business process execution methods are a new frontier for today's Quality professional seeking to make an impact at the C-Suite for enterprise improvement.

I believe the strategic, customer-focused Quality function is uniquely qualified to help businesses mired in indecision and paralyzed by fear to achieve sustainable, quality growth. As Quality professionals we should seek every opportunity to teach, coach and consult to enlighten others that delivering total customer experience requires everyone's participation, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, confidence and growth.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Speed is Life

In this highly competitive global economy I believe that "speed is life". ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks for some of the ways the practice of quality is changing to meet the needs of faster, faster, faster.

Now, certainly there are many, many instances in business as in life when, not executed flawlessly, speed can kill. In fact, there are numerous examples when tampering and knee-jerk reactions have resulted in undesired results. While "first to market" offers a distinct competitive advantage when done right, speed at all costs is not a successful long-term strategy. "Quality" processes must be designed to support agile business needs. The key is to focus on velocity, not speed alone. Velocity is speed with purpose, with aim, at the speed of the customer.

Velocity requires a thorough understanding of one's value proposition, and the elimination of non-value added activities and other forms of muda (waste) in your key value streams. Waste is in the way of your business success. Operational excellence is delivered through understanding and translating the voice of customer into high quality, reliable products and services, the elimination of waste, and standardization of the best known way as foundations for continual improvement. Organizations must adopt a learning culture where every employee is encouraged, recognized and rewarded for sharing their best practices and key success factors. Helping deploy a knowledge management system that supports the shift from "learn to know" to one of "learn to do" is another area where the Quality function can help drive business velocity.  Additionally, Quality can play an important role in helping to identify the hand-offs, document internal customer requirements, and manage the organizational white spaces in inter-departmental processes (value streams).

Last month I spoke to the role of trust in driving speed, employee empowerment and culture change. Trust and mutual respect are critical to fostering a safe environment that promotes healthy crucial conversations, welcomes experimentation and values continual learning. In business you get what is measured; measurements drive behavior. Leaders must create experiences and model behaviors to foster beliefs that will drive the actions necessary to achieve desired results. (Connors: Journey to the Emerald City). Here, Quality can assist management to adopt a responsive Lean Management System that transforms strategy into success.

Speed is Life, but speed can kill if not skillfully and flawlessly executed. Quality can be the agent of change in this cultural transformation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Key to Speed is Trust

In his August 2012 blog post ASQ CEO Paul Borawski probes the issue of feelings in building a culture of quality noting that feelings drive loyalty and success. Paul asks what personal attributes you look for when hiring someone into your organization. While developing my response this month I serendipitously came across the following Lou Holtz quote in my Franklin Planner®, "Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it".  I recently hired two individuals into my organization. I place a great deal of emphasis and weight on the applicant's attitude. Competencies being equal, additional skills can be taught.

Simon Sinek ("Golden Circles") tells us that the lymbic brain is responsible for human emotions and feelings, like trust and loyalty; the lymbic brain is also responsible for all human behavior and controls our decision-making. Talent, passion, ethics and integrity are personal traits that I look for in the interview process.

Speaking of trust... trust must be earned and is absolutely required in order to build empowered, engaged employees and high performing teams. Trust is built on a foundation of mutual respect and dignity. Based on research spanning 10 million employees and 10 million customers around the globe, Gallup shows that organizations employing HumanSigma® management principles have outperformed their five largest competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. In fact, companies that built this critical mass of employee engagement grew earnings per share (EPS) at 2.6 times the rate of companies that did not. HumanSigma changes how leaders view their work, their employees, and their customers.

So, if feelings - and trust - are so critical to building a culture of quality, how do leaders create a culture of accountability? In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey writes, "... in our flat world economy, the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time. And the ability to exercise Smart Trust is a vital part of that competency".
The authentic leader is able to effectively communicate the organization's values and principles, possesses strong influencing and story-telling skills, and consistently and constantly models the desired behaviors. Systems and structures such as measurement, recognition and reward are implemented and institutionalized to shape mental models and motivate even greater performance. Joseph Grenny, author of Influencer, says that "true leadership is intentional influence". Influencing is about changing behavior. Motivation is a function of beliefs and personal mental models. The key to successfully effect change is to first identify whether the individual is morally asleep - unconscious of the implications of their behavior, morally deficient, or simply lacks the necessary ability.

Finally, what feelings do I associate with a quality culture? Joy in work. Pride in results. Sense of ownership and personal accountability. Freedom to choose one's own path. Respect from peers, colleagues, suppliers, customers, management and leadership.

If you're working to build a culture of quality in your organization, what attitudes do you believe support the success of a culture of quality? Are the personal attributes universal, or do they differ around the world?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quality's Role in Social Responsibility

ASQ’s 2011 Future of Quality Study identifies global responsibility as the most significant force in shaping the future of quality.  A total of 1,105 respondents participated in a research study conducted by ASQ in partnership with IBM, which details distinguishing characteristics and metrics that organizations use to lead to successful Social Responsibility programs. ISO 26000 (Social Responsibility) was released in November 2010 but was available in various draft forms for at least two years before the release.

Many people confuse, or at least seem to equate, Social Responsibility (SR) with environmentalism and Sustainability (Green movement, LEEDS certification, etc.).  However, Corporate Social Responsibility has generally focused on governance, responsibility, accountability and transparency; whereas, Sustainability focuses on multiple bottom lines and on the need for systemic changes to protect natural resources. Social Responsibility (SR), then, is ultimately about respect for people and respect for mother Earth.

ISO-26000 emphasizes seven core SR areas: the environment, community involvement & development, organizational governance, fair operating practices, labor practices, human rights and consumer issues. Per the above-mentioned survey, respect for the environment and community involvement tend to be the top two areas of organizational strategic focus.

Paul Borawski, in his latest blog post asks, "How has the standard shaped our dialogue? ... is the world growing more responsive to the needs of being socially responsible?  Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe?" I offer two examples of SR today, one from my employer, 3M Company; the other from the Minnesota Section of ASQ.

3M' s internet website has 1-click links from its homepage directly to its Business Conduct policies and Sustainability efforts. These business conduct policies detail 3M's commitment to integrity and ethics, legal compliance, organizational governance, and respect for dignity and worth of every individual, and the communities in which it operates. 3M's corporate values are stated in a letter from the CEO. These corporate values are consistently and regularly communicated by senior leadership and management:
  • Act with uncompromising honesty and integrity in everything we do
  • Satisfy our customers with innovative technology and superior quality, value and service
  • Provide our investors an attractive return through sustainable, global growth
  • Respect our social and physical environment around the world
  • Value and develop our employees' diverse talents, initiative and leadership
  • Earn the admiration of all those associated with 3M worldwide

3M innovation is guided by three strategic principles that make sustainability implicit in everything it does:
  • Economic Success: We build lasting customer relationships by developing differentiated, practical, and ingenious solutions to their sustainability challenges.
  • Environmental Stewardship: We provide practical solutions and products to address our environmental challenges for ourselves and our customers.
  • Social Responsibility: We engage key stakeholders in dialogue and take action to improve our sustainability performance.
3M introduced its Pollution Prevention Pays initiative - better known as 3P - in 1975. 3P prevents pollution at the source, in products and manufacturing. Back in 1975, that was considered innovative thinking. To date, 3P has resulted in the elimination of more than 3.5 billion pounds of pollution and saved 3M nearly $1.5 billion. More recently, 3M Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS), and Lean Six Sigma - Corporate Quality (LSSQ), have teamed up to drive a lean philosophy (elimination of waste), and Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) reduction, and are developing a "Zero Landfill Plus" recognition program. (Zero Landfill is increasingly promoted today by environmentally-conscious businesses as a measure of Sustainability, but it is deemed an incomplete measure of sustainability because it can lead to unintended consequences such as increased incineration or simply converting waste into fuel.) 3M's goal is to eliminate the use of solvents and reduce the consumption of natural resources in the design and manufacture of products, thereby protecting our natural resources and ensuring a clean, safe environment for future generations.

Turning to the local section of ASQ, the Minnesota Section (#1203) leadership has included SR in its long range and annual strategic planning  process since I first became involved in the Section back in 2007. Long-term strategic objectives are synthesized and prioritized, then fed into the business execution X-matrix where annual objectives and tactics are developed and project plans implemented. An updated Mission and Vision have been communicated, and are used to validate our new products and services. The MNASQ Executive Board reorganized itself in 2010 to improve organizational governance, responsiveness and agility, and increase member satisfaction. A formal succession planning process has been developed to improve the leadership skills of our member leaders for improved engagement. An Executive Roundtable was designed and delivered to capture the voice of our members' bosses to learn where and how the Section can help them - and their organizations - to succeed. This year the Minnesota Section is working with Habitat for Humanity to partner on a project to build a "House of Quality" in November... World Quality Month! What a great opportunity to demonstrate the intersection of Quality and Social Responsibility!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making Connections for Improved Experience

In a guest post to A View from the Q, ASQ Managing Director Laurel Nelson-Rowe reports record attendance at the World Conference on Quality & Improvement (WCQI) and a 75% lift in attendance to the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference. Laurel asks "Why do you attend events, conferences, or meetings that bring quality professionals together? And if you don’t—why not?".

I, too, have seen a resurgence in interest in the field of Quality and continuous improvement. I am hopeful that Quality is beginning to connect more on an emotional, personal and community level. Quality is more than a set of impersonal, rational methods and tools to deliver improved product, processes and service. Perceived Quality is about the total experience. Customers want what they want, when they want it, a price they are willing to pay for the perceived value.... but they might not know what they want until you give it to them - consistently, flawlessly time after time. Simon Sinek is famously quoted, "People do not buy what you do, people buy why you do it".  The connection between engaged customers-suppliers and employees is on a deeper limbic brain level of emotion and purpose.

As a 25 year member of ASQ I have been attending the WCQI (known previously as the ‘AQC’) since 1989. I think I may have missed maybe 5-6 ASQ conferences over those 25 years. I have attended as a regular attendee, a speaker, a session moderator, or a member leader of the ASQ Statistics Division. The Statistics Division – like most ASQ Divisions – has its own annual conference as well. The “Fall Technical Conference” is targeted specifically to the Statistics Division membership; the papers tend be more detailed and advanced than those presented at the WCQI, but both conferences fulfill their intended purpose. I find the conferences a terrific opportunity to build my professional network, learn new topics and renew old acquaintances.

The ASQ Section is a geographical community of practice, whereas the Divisions are the technical bodies of knowledge (subject matter experts). The MN ASQ Section (#1203) to which I am a member offers professional ASQ certification prep courses as well as monthly Programs for its members. Many programs are structured to deliver a “hard” tools presentation pre-dinner, and a “soft skills” topic post-dinner. These programs offer best practice sharing and yet another face-to-face opportunity to build one’s professional network. The Section has held special Programs dedicated solely on building your professional social network where we have sponsored speakers to discuss tips and tricks to improve your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and ASQ Communities experience. The MN Section is currently exploring the feasibility of offering remote training to our out-state members in the far reaches of our section's boundaries via web conferencing and/or self-paced computer-based training. The MN Section, too, has its own annual quality conference, called the ‘Professional Development Summit’, featuring papers and short course workshops.

A relatively new development in the networking space are “flashmob” type of impromptu meet-ups of young quality professionals. I have observed several such impromptu sessions in 3M grow from a simple, single suggestion between 2-3 individuals quickly blossom into a gathering of 10-20 like-minded people, thanks to internal social collaboration tools. One such recent meeting was initiated by a couple of new 3M CQEs seeking more information about the CMQ/OE certification from a more seasoned quality professional. The meeting grew to an after-work gathering during Happy Hour at a local watering hole.

It is indeed heartening to see the growing interest in and excitement about Quality.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Moving Quality up the Corporate Agenda

In his June blog post ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks, "What success have you had in moving quality beyond product?"

In addition to my role as an "Influential Voices of Quality" blogger I am also the incoming Chair of the Minnesota section of ASQ.  During my term as chair-elect I led a project team to design, develop and deliver an Executive Roundtable to gather up to 60 senior executives of businesses and organizations throughout the MN section's geographical area.  This Roundtable was an invitation-only peer-to-peer networking meeting where executives discussed common challenges and best practices to operational excellence, innovation and growth. The event was co-sponsored by MNASQ, the MN Council for Quality (recently re-branded as the Performance Excellence Network), and the Manufacturers' Alliance. A pre-Roundtable survey was distributed to the target audience to prioritize their areas of interest and need. These MN executives and senior Quality leaders' common challenges and concerns are focused around innovation for growth - not just products and services, but more importantly, business processes and building a culture of innovation; plus, the increasing rate of change, the aging workforce (retiring Baby Boomers) and talent management.

48 executives and senior Quality leaders from 44 organizations in the Twin Cities metro, out-state Minnesota, and as far away as western South and North Dakota participated in this 1-day event, representing a wide cross-section of the local economy, including manufacturing, healthcare, biomedical, food-drug-cosmetic, retail, business and personal services, banking, insurance and finance, education, state and local government and non-profits. Based on their survey responses the day's discussions were framed around the 2011 CEO Challenge, the 2011 Future of Quality study, and the MN State demographer's talent profile of the Minnesota economy. In addition, the President of Cargill Kitchen Solutions presented a keynote on innovation and quality.

Feedback from the inaugural event has been phenomenal! 100% top-box satisfaction. The MN Section is already planning the 2013 Executive Roundtable event. The executives benefited from the peer-to-peer networking, learning and sharing. The MN ASQ Section gained valuable insights (e.g. Voice of Customer) to help us develop new, relevant, targeted training material and explore multiple delivery methods to reach members and potential members in all four corners of our geographical reach, to help their organizations achieve success.

Closer to home, my employer has been on a journey to incorporate hoshin kanri, PDCA and business execution into its strategic planning processes. Tools such as the X-matrix, A3s, bowler scorecards and management by fact are helping to prioritize business objectives, identify and resource top improvement opportunities, deploy aligned project teams and improve key performance indices. Senior executives are leading corporate teams. These methods and tools are not only used in the operations side of the enterprise but also in the support functions like Quality, HR, Legal, Finance, Supply Chain, etc. Certainly we have product quality, productivity and cost goals and objectives, but at 3M "quality" has definitely penetrated the C-Suite.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quality Improvement in Government

In his latest blog post ASQ CEO Paul Borawski ponders the lack of a commitment to quality in government. Paul writes, "Why do so few leaders charged with leading countries, states, provinces, and cities require improved performance? ... there are thousands of public service success stories... Yet the adoption rate versus the opportunity is remarkably low."

I have had the unique opportunity to participate on two community service improvement projects in local government: one with the City of Hutchinson, MN; the other with the Planning Commissioners in McLeod County MN - both to redesign local government processes to eliminate waste and create a "One Stop Shop" for services.  Both case studies are discussed in more detail in the booklet Improving Performance Through Statistical Thinking by Britz, Emerling, et al. from the ASQ Statistics Division. (ASQ Quality Press). From my experience it seems much easier to drive continuous improvement at the local government level than state or federal. Why? Perhaps because most mayors and commissioners tend to serve their communities for multiple terms spanning many  consecutive years, enabling a constancy of purpose. Also, local government leaders are closer to their constituency (voice of customer), less susceptible to high-powered well-financed lobbyists and special interest groups, and can more visibly and immediately see the impact of their decisions.

Despite the creation of a U.S. national quality award during Ronald Reagan's presidency, the 2007 Executive Order of then President George W. Bush requiring every federal agency of the United States government to name a Performance Improvement Officer, and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's pledge to adopt Lean Six Sigma, waste in government continues mostly unabated. There are pockets of exceptions, of course... the U.S. Army and other military institutions, for example, have been on a protracted Baldrige journey to improve their efficiency.  Hence, I believe the reason for lack of efficiency in state and national civilian government is the general lack of a shared, common mission and constancy of purpose (e.g. politics) that prevents execution of any sustained performance improvement. Whether one supports states' rights and a small central government, or prefer a strong federal government that provides oversight and accountability, we all want our tax dollars spent wisely to serve the republic and enhance civilization.

Incremental continuous improvement and personal accountability should be expected of every individual employed in government - just as it is expected in business. Performance standards should be documented and established; key performance metrics should be developed and measured; root cause analysis performed and corrective & preventive action plans implemented. Breakthrough performance improvement may require the formation of specialized teams similar to ex-President George W. Bush's suggestion of Performance Improvement Officers. Citizens concerned about the cost to implement such programs should take comfort by the magnitude of actual savings realized by industry. Properly designed, implemented and executed, these waste reduction efforts will save many, many times over the cost of implementation. But until and unless we can get beyond the severe polarization and win-lose mentality of today's politics it is difficult to believe we will ever achieve significant performance improvement. Society must first return to civility, and we must adopt a shared mission of efficient and effective government.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Are Quality Professionals Happy on the Job?

Forbes Magazine recently named the software quality assurance engineer as the “happiest job” in the U.S.  Forbes says, “Professionals with this job title are typically involved in the entire software development process to ensure the quality of the final product…Software quality assurance engineers feel rewarded at work, as they are typically the last stop before software goes live and correctly feel that they are an integral part of the job being done at the company.”

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks if other quality professionals are happy on the job, and what we might do to raise the voice of quality.

In a summary reported by Susan Heathfield (Human Resources expert): "According to a 2009 report by The Conference Board, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, only 45% of those surveyed say that they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1% in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted. While overall employee satisfaction has declined to 45%, the percentage of employees satisfied with their jobs is lowest in the under 25 age group with only 35.7% satisfied. Among employees in the age group 25-34, 47.2% are satisfied; employees in the age group 35-44 scored 43.4% in job satisfaction. Employees in the 45-54 age range scored 46.8%; employees 55-64 scored 45.6% in employee satisfaction and, of those employees age 65 and over, 43.4% are satisfied."

A Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study found that employees identified these five factors as most important:
  • job security,
  • benefits (especially health care) with the importance of retirement benefits rising with the age of the employee,
  • compensation/pay,
  • opportunities to use skills and abilities, and
  • feeling safe in the work environment.
The next five most important factors affecting employee satisfaction were:
  • the employee's relationship with his or her immediate supervisor,
  • management recognition of employee job performance,
  • communication between employees and senior management,
  • the work itself, and
  • autonomy and independence in their job.
Susan Heathfield states that more important than decreasing employee satisfaction is the fact that "The U.S. has a problem with employee engagement." In this year’s SHRM survey, U.S. employees were only moderately engaged (3.6) on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is highly engaged.

A book that I recommend to every supervisor, manager and executive interested in increasing their employees' morale and engagement - and increased organizational performance-  is John Fleming's Human Sigma. Engaged employees create engaged customers who foster organizational success by delivering positive financial outcomes. Employee engagement is the ability to capture the heads, hearts, and souls of employees to instill an intrinsic desire and passion for excellence. Engaged employees want their organization to succeed because they feel connected emotionally, socially, and even spiritually to its mission, vision, and purpose.

So, am I happy on the job?  I have enjoyed many diverse experiences as a quality professional over my 30 year career, progressing from an entry-level QA engineer to Sr. Mgr. of Corporate Quality Services and Lean Six Sigma Operations in a $30 B multinational company. I also dabbled in product development, process development, and technical service. Most days, yes, I actually look forward to coming to work. To what do I attribute my success and satisfaction? From very early in my career I had a role model and mentor who encouraged me to continue my professional development while pursuing stretch growth opportunities. Through this mentor I became involved with the ASQ Statistics Division where I was able to develop and hone my leadership and strategic planning skills - skills that would be highly valued by my employer. 3M has a strong culture of innovation. My supervisors and managers have consistently provided me the autonomy and independence to pursue my genius and develop my personal brand ('QualityBob'), while rewarding me with roles of increasing responsibility. Over the years my professional focus has shifted from a decided technical methods and tools focus to leadership, strategy, people and systems focus. I still enjoy teaching, coaching and consulting but I also take great pride in developing my direct reports and helping them succeed to leadership positions.

Building a network of friends and colleagues in my chosen profession is an important contributor to my satisfaction and engagement. I take great pride in my membership with ASQ (Fellow, Past chair ASQ Statistics Division, Chair-elect MNASQ), my participation with the MN Council for Quality (MN Baldrige Evaluator), and the enduring friendships I have cultivated in Quality worldwide.

I believe that raising the voice of Quality to build employee engagement requires a commitment to enhancing the "Total Customer Experience"; continuous improvement of business processes; and, employee recognition and development.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How do you sell Quality?

Paul Borawski, CEO ASQ, asks in his latest blog how we "sell" quality to executives. In my business travels throughout the U.S. and across the globe, as I seek to educate, train, teach, coach and consult to promote quality and Lean Six Sigma it has been my experience to frame quality in terms that most impact the respective business leader: "Where is your organizational pain - high waste? low productivity? lack of process speed? low sales? high costs? high customer complaints?".

While high costs may be a barrier to growth it must be remembered that cost is an outcome; a result. An improvement approach that seeks to reduce costs for cost's sake can actually have unintended consequences that could result in lower quality to the customer.  Remember the Deming Chain Reaction from his book Out of the Crises: A focus on improving quality leads to reduced costs and improved productivity allowing the enterprise to capture greater market share, resulting in growth and increased jobs. Though "quality" is defined by the producer (e.g. conformance to requirements), quality is ultimately judged (perceived) by the customer. Furthermore, value is described as what the customer is willing to pay for. Customers do not care about the producer's costs; they want a quality, reliable product, at a price they're willing to pay, and the product must be available when they want it. Customers are not willing to pay for the producer's waste and process inefficiencies or other nonvaue-added activities.

In further dialogue with the business leader we then discuss the organization's challenges to growth and where quality systems and processes can have a positive impact. Challenges such as lack of organizational agility, lack of strategy deployment and execution, lack of innovation (in products, services, processes and systems), talent management and employee engagement, increased globalization, more sophisticated customers and the rapid rate of change. 

While many business leaders still think of Quality in terms of "little q" activities associated with auditing, conformance, inspection, root cause analysis and corrective action, I choose to promote the greater societal role that "Big Q" can play in serving the community, protecting the enterprise, delivering the promise, improving operational excellence, strengthening organizational performance and increasing customer satisfaction. Rather than a focus on product (or service) quality alone, I encourage organizations to think in terms of improving the end-to-end "Total Customer Experience" for differentiating competitive advantage.

Finally, think strategically; lead holistically. Genichi Taguchi defined quality in terms of Loss to Society. This definition is the foundation of today's push for Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Product Life Cycle Management.

Expressed in these terms, I believe Quality sells itself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

STEM and Quality - Statistical Thinking Required

It is estimated that 30% of the U.S. workforce will reach retirement age in the next four to six years. That is a potentially huge loss of talent and experience to employers. How well are organizations poised to retain years of acquired knowledge before it walks out the door? On the supply side, according to ASQ commissioned research on teens’ pursuit of STEM careers, teens appear to understand that engineering will be second only to medicine for available jobs. However, teens are somewhat reluctant to pursue STEM fields because the cost and time to obtain a STEM degree is deemed too high and involves too much work and study compared to other careers.

The world today has become much flatter; the competition for jobs is no longer isolated to the local community. Technology is easily transferable. Competition is global. In the popular YouTube video Did You Know 3.0, Karl Fisch reveals that India has more honor students than the US has students. Furthermore, the exponential rate of change in technology and information means that 1/2 of what a student learns while earning a 4-year technical degree becomes outdated by their 3rd year.

The same afore-mentioned ASQ sponsored research revealed that many students spend more time browsing the internet or playing computer games than on schoolwork. I am reminded by a Deming quote that states processes are perfectly designed to deliver what they get. So what more can STEM professionals and educators - and society - do to support STEM students? Learning is a process. Every process has inputs that are transformed into outputs. All processes have variation. I believe that school boards, administrators, educators and professionals must apply the concepts of Statistical Thinking to curriculum design and delivery. Furthermore, Abraham Maslow's Hierarcy of Needs reminds us that our physiological and safety needs, and sense of love and belonging must be met before we can achieve self-esteem and self-actualization. Nutrition, mobility, discipline and attendance of our children must be a shared partnership between engaged parents, school boards - and local government - in support of desired outcomes. Effective process feedback mechanisms must be developed and implemented to measure progress and provide early warning of adverse trends. W. Edwards Deming advocated that all managers need to understand the System of Profound Knowledge in order to drive and sustain improvement:
  1. Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services;
  2. Knowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;
  3. Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known.
  4. Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature.
The challenges are immense and known: inadequate funding, larger class sizes, infrequent measures, decaying buildings and infrastructure, etc. Engaged stakeholders can better support STEM students by creating a learning environment that encourages personal accountability, teamwork and collaboration, and ignites innovation and creativity while rewarding experimentation - and failure. Learning must become more outcomes focused and less standards based.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Demystifying Lean, Six Sigma and other CI methods

  • Are you still confused about when, where and how to apply Lean versus Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints or Business Process Re-Design?
  • Are you experiencing difficulty implementing change in your organization?
  • Is your organization still struggling to integrate continuous improvement into its operations, across all disciplines?
I strongly recommend that you and your business leaders read the book Lean Acres for an easy to understand approach to selecting and implementing the correct continuous improvement methodology for a given problem. Lean Acres is enjoyable and entertaining, yet educational.

Lean Acres is a fable about how the animals on a farm work cooperatively, each bringing their unique skills and talents to the team, and taking on roles and responsibilities to improve overall farm performance in the production and sale of corn, eggs, milk and wool. The fabled farm animals work together to identify their farm performance challenges, discover solutions together, and implement the most appropriate continuous improvement method among Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and Business Process Re-engineering.

Lean Acres
is available for $18 + S&H (member price) from ASQ Quality Press (Item # H1408).

The author, Jim Bowie is a strategic performance improvement expert. He has more than 18 years of experience leading improvement efforts in diverse environments and industries around the world. Jim is a former United States Army Infantry Officer and an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, holds a Master of Business Administration, is Kaplan-Norton Balanced Scorecard Certified, a Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt (including ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt), an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence, a Certified Lean Master, a Certified Project Management Professional, and a certified facilitator. Mr. Bowie was selected to serve as a member of the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2010 and 2011.

Lean Acres is more than a book. It also has a blog (, a Twitter account (, and a Facebook fan page (

Update:  May 2016
The following link to an infographic comparing and contrasting ISO-9000 to Six Sigma is reprinted with permission from Shuba Kathikeyan, APEX Global Learning:

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Cost of Non-Quality: COPQ and Social Responsibility

In his latest blog post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks whether economists have the tools to make a compelling argument for the cost of poor quality at a societal level?  For me, the COPQ Iceberg came immediately to mind. In an article written by Joseph A. DeFeo and published in the May 2011 issue of Quality Progress, quality costs were represented as "Visible" and "Hidden" costs. Visible costs of poor quality include scrap, waste, rework, inspection, disposition, disposal, customer complaints and warranty costs, etc. Hidden costs of poor quality are more difficult to measure and quantify - but often yield the greatest opportunity to positively impact organizational performance - such as lost customers, employee turnover, pricing and billing errors, inventory costs, costs to expedite orders, premium freight, overtime, and many other forms of waste (muda).  According to a report published  in 2005 by the Juran Institute, the Cost of Quality is estimated at 10-40% of sales, depending on the quality level (i.e. "Sigma") of the process.

But COPQ alone is not an adequate measure of Quality and its impact to organizational success. It has been my experience that most measures of COPQ are inward facing (i.e. internally-focused) and often solely process focused. Every organization should also deploy measures of business process speed, employee engagement and customer satisfaction; measures such as value stream cycle time and lead time, factory escapes (defective parts per million), customer complaint resolution time and effectiveness, customer satisfaction, employee engagement pulse surveys, etc.  Organizational speed, agility, flexibility and responsiveness provide critical competitive advantage in today's global economy. For example, a story recently published in the New York Times reveals Apple's decision to manufacture the iPhone outside the United States was based primarily on the need the need for a low cost yet capable, flexible workforce, as well as an agile and responsive manufacturing and supply chain.

On the flip side, a story appearing in a Yahoo finance blog sheds some light on the appalling labor conditions inside Foxconn, Apple's largest overseas contract manufacturer. Indeed, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability are two significant - and growing - opportunities for the Quality discipline to help show organizations the way towards profitable organizational performance improvement with minimal loss to society. If, as attributed to Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Edwards Deming, Lord Kelvin and others, What gets measured, gets done (improved), then how do we measure CSR and Sustainability? I believe the Baldrige Program, with its Criteria, site visits and role model best practices provides an excellent framework for improving the net economic and social value of organizational performance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review - Journey to Emerald City

I've been asked to write a series of reviews for the ASQ MN Section on books I have read and recommend with respect to leadership and continuous improvement. One of the books I recommend for every Quality Manager's library is Journey to Emerald City.

Journey to Emerald City is not a new book – it was copyrighted in 1999 – but it is one of my “Top 15” for every Quality Manager’s library.  Journey to Emerald City is a follow-up book to The Oz Principle in which the authors illustrate the importance of self-accountability towards achieving team and organizational goals. In The Oz Principle the authors present a “Steps to Accountability”SM roadmap, which explains “Above the Line” and “Below the Line” thoughts and actions. “Below the Line” habits result in the blame game; “Above the Line” habits result in accountability.  In Journey to Emerald City, Connors and Smith explore the relationship between a company's culture and its ability or inability to effectively implement its strategic plan to achieve the desired results, and describe how to “Create a Culture of Accountability”SM.

Both books use the characters in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz to illustrate the key points. For example, an organization’s strategic plan is depicted as the yellow brick road; reaching the Emerald City is the goal. Each Oz character has their own failings and needs – and brings their own set of unique skills. Through personal accountability, teamwork and a shared common vision they are able to overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve personal and team goals.

I first became exposed to Journey to Emerald City while serving as Chair of the ASQ Statistics Division. During our 2000 Long Range Planning session, the Division leadership team was seeking to fundamentally change the direction of the Division from being perceived as a statistical tool pharmacy to an organization purposed to promote and advance statistical thinking everywhere. ("Statistical Thinking Everywhere" was the Statistics Division's vision statement first verbalized back in 1996. New division products and services were developed and distributed in alignment with this vision). The division leadership team recognized that a culture change was required to sustain our mission and vision as division leaders rotated on and off the Council.  Then Chair-elect, Davis Balestracci, a degreed statistician and management consultant, had been focused on helping his clients’ leaders drive organizational change. Davis brought the "Results Pyramid"SM (see below) to the Division planning process. The ASQ Statistics Division leadership team bought into Connors and Smith’s prescribed culture change model and we successfully implemented our strategic, annual and tactical plans that resulted in 11 consecutive years of ASQ “Top Achiever” status in division operations and member satisfaction.

I especially like Journey to Emerald City because it clearly communicates the important role of management as change agents to create the experiences and model the desired behaviors to achieve the expected results. The main points of Connors and Smith’ message is simple:
•    An organization’s leaders must create its culture
•    The organization’s culture will create its results
•    A Culture of Accountability is the most effective culture to achieve results
•    Accelerating the transition to a Culture of Accountability creates competitive and organizational advantage.

In Journey to Emerald City, the authors present the “Results Pyramid”SM that clearly explains how experiences, beliefs and actions create culture; and, discuss how management must create experiences and model behaviors to foster beliefs that will drive the actions necessary to achieve desired results.

As I explained in the first paragraph, Journey to Emerald City was written back in 1999. More recently, the authors have launched a new website, Partners in Leadership, offering free web seminars on workplace accountability.