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in technology and information means that 1/2 of what a student learns while earning a 4-year technical degree becomes outdated by their 3rd year.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: