Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Minnesota Quality Month - November 2013

MN Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed November 2013 as Minnesota Quality Month. Commissioner Spencer Cronk, Dept of Administration, presented the state proclamation to ASQ Minnesota Section Chair, Robert "QualityBob" Mitchell on November 1, 2013. Also that evening, ASQ Chairman Dr. John Timmerman spoke about behavioral economics and "Innovation 2.0".

Commissioner Cronk presents to "QualityBob"
MN State Proclamation
ASQ Chairman Dr. John Timmerman

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Celebrating World Quality Month 2013

What are you and/or your organization planning this November to recognize World Quality Month?  According to ASQ, World Quality Month was inaugurated in November 2010. "World Quality Month was established to reignite attention once generated in the 1980s by National Quality Month in the U.S. and to create a united, global forum for the people and organizations that have celebrated World Quality Days in November to come together and raise their voices for quality"

Per the Chartered Quality Institute (England), World Quality Week runs November 11-15, 2013, and World Quality Day is Thursday, November 14. The theme for 2013 is "Making Collaboration Count".

The Minnesota Section of ASQ is launching World Quality Month with a special program the evening of Friday, November 1 featuring ASQ Chairman, Dr. John Timmerman.  John will deliver a presentation titled, "Innovation 2.0". This program is open to members and non-members; senior Quality Leaders from 60+ local organizations and businesses (i.e. MN Executive Roundtable) have also been invited.

Earlier that same day Dr. Timmerman will join several company executives in kicking-off 3M's World Quality Month, beginning with a tour of the 3M Innovation Center at its world headquarters. 3M executives will speak to the importance of quality processes, products and people to the 3M brand, reputation, sustainability, and business performance excellence. This kick-off event will be webstreamed to all of our worldwide operations. Best practices, workshops, contests and social events are planned throughout the month of November to celebrate collaborative continuous improvement.

Does your organization need suggestions to help celebrate WQM 2013? Consult the resources at

New Opportunities for Quality

In his September 2013 blog post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks, "What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?"

I work in manufacturing - the traditional focus of most quality methods and tools. I continue to enjoy a 33 year career in product development, process development, business process redesign, quality engineering, quality management, leadership, Six Sigma and Lean. But I also have the distinct pleasure of being able to share my acquired knowledge and skills in the role as a Baldrige Examiner to help improve organizational performance in healthcare, education, small business, local government and nonprofits.

It is my experience and opinion that two areas ripe for continuous improvement are back office transactions and front office customer service. Even within a manufacturing operation, it is estimated that 70% of all cost reduction opportunities lie in transactional process improvement. The challenges to improving transactional processes are well documented: a general lack of process thinking, lack of customer-supplier relationship and understanding of requirements, lack of defect understanding, and the lack of data. Lean principles offer the thinking and tools to help organizations begin their journey of transactional continuous improvement.

Customer service - or more accurately, the lack thereof, is a huge opportunity just begging for improvement. Whereas the new definition of quality in today's highly competitive, ever changing global environment is about delivering consistently superior Customer Experience, it seems that customer service - across a broad cross-section of the economy - has taken a back seat to impersonal automation in the name of efficiency and productivity. Missing is the emphasis on human interaction for overall effectiveness, increased customer loyalty and improved organizational outcomes. Deming's System of Profound Knowledge teaches managers that appreciation of a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge and knowledge of psychology help to transform business effectiveness. I believe that effective Quality training coupled with customer-focused improvement efforts build employee empowerment and engagement leading to sustainable processes and outcomes.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sustaining Excellence

In response to an ASQ case study of the Corning Journey to Performance Excellence, recently published as part of the Next Generation Quality Leadership series, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks how does your organization stay on the right path amid changing times and leaders?

Like Corning, 3M was founded over 100 years ago. 3M has built a solid brand reputation for innovation, quality, sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and uncompromising ethical behavior. 3M invests significantly in R&D and manufacturing excellence. Numerous books have been written citing 3M's culture of experimentation, collaboration and its storied "15% time".  A core belief of 3M is that creativity needs freedom. Since about 1948, 3M has encouraged its employees to spend 15% of their working time on their own projects; using 3M facilities and resources, to build up a unique team, and to follow their own insights in pursuit of problem-solving.

It is my opinion that 3M's culture of innovation and its employees are 3M's strongest competitive advantage. Much of 3M's culture was nurtured under CEO William L. McKnight who served as 3M chairman of the board from 1949 to 1966 and encouraged 3M management to "delegate responsibility and encourage men and women to exercise their initiative."

3M leadership and management continues to rigorously apply the McKnight Principles:
    "As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.

    Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.

    Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow."

To compete in today's world of globalization, ever increasing rate of change, and Wall Street's demand for short-term profits the successful organization must be agile and responsive to customer needs. An engaged, customer-focused, workforce is absolutely essential to consistently deliver superior customer experience.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quality Professional Training

ASQ's Global State of Quality Research found that  “Organizations that govern quality with a centralized group are roughly 30 percent more likely to provide quality training to staff than organizations where a senior executive governs the quality process”.

This is certainly true of my employer, 3M. In fact, I helped manage this central staff group in 3M for the past 5 years. 3M has a long, rich history of superior statistical consulting and corporate quality services groups that delivered continuous improvement and problem solving training, coaching and consulting, and as a result enjoys a well-earned brand reputation for quality and innovation. 3M strengthened its core when it adopted Six Sigma in 2001, and added lean in 2007.  Today, 3M Lean Six Sigma Operations delivers all manner of continuous improvement and problem solving training, coaching and consulting to all 3M employees: Lean Six Sigma Champions, MBBs, BBs and GBs, as well as product / process / quality engineers and technicians; change agents and project team leaders. The 3M Lean Six Sigma product portfolio includes courses in Six Sigma, Lean, DFSS, commercialization, ISO quality management systems, project management, quality, statistics, change acceleration, optimized operations (new employee), hoshin kanri / business execution, ideation and more.  In addition, the 3M functional groups design and deliver function-specific training for employee competency development.

3M became an Enterprise member of ASQ in 2009. 3M is a global, multinational diversified manufacturing company. ASQ also has a global presence. This relationship has allowed 3M to expand its quality training product portfolio and offer ASQ online resources to all 100,000 employees worldwide. 3M Quality subject matter experts use ASQ materials to supplement its internal quality professional certification training (CQA, CQE, CMQ/OE).  3M's goal is that every employee becomes a problem solver. ASQ on-line tools, templates, presentations, white papers, case studies, webinars, etc. are useful supplemental resources available to every 3M employee.

3M talent management advocates a 70-20-10 model for employee development: 70% on the job experiences (i.e. special projects and teamwork), 20% informal (mentoring, networking), and 10% formal (classroom, seminars, conferences).  In addition to the instructor-led classes mentioned above, 3M encourages participation and collaboration in various Communities of Practice (CoP) to build informal networks and share best practices. Examples in the 3M quality community include an ISO QMS CoP, Supplier Mgmt CoP, Process & Product Understanding CoP, Customer Projects CoP, and a Statistical Practitioners Forum. The 3M corporate Quality Council has oversight responsibilities of these quality communities of practice.

Leaders teaching leaders is another tenant of 3M talent management. Advanced Leadership Development and Advanced Coaching are two of many offerings for leader development.

I believe the ASQ Global State of Quality Research offers a valuable benchmarking comparison for 3M.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Building Vibrant Virtual Communities of Practice

Change is constant. The rate of change is accelerating exponentially. For example, the internet has significantly increased the volume of information accessible to the human race, and the rate of change in storage capacity and transmission speed is fantastically explosive. All the while, the sheer volume of technology platforms and information system solutions available for data sharing are becoming mind-numbingly immense. Too further complicate matters, the half-life of these tools is increasingly shorter and shorter - just as one learns how to navigate and master one technology, a new disruptive technology emerges.

At the same time, we see fewer and fewer employers sending its employees to conferences and seminars. Web conferencing, webstreams, and blended learning models are becoming the norm. The younger generations who grew up on video games, text messaging, and video chats are much more likely to use one or more of the social media sites available today.

So, as a quality professional trying to serve all generations in all corners of the world, what social media tools have you found most beneficial? In his latest ASQ blog post, Paul Borawski asks, "... which online communities [we] take part in for professional networking with others in quality."

Do you have a social media strategy to maximize your communications efficiency and effectiveness?

I work for a large, multinational, diverse manufacturing company. I have also had the pleasure to lead the ASQ Statistics Division and the ASQ Minnesota Section - ASQ's largest section.  I have used a wide assortment of digital communication tools over my 33 years in 3M; 25+ years in ASQ. For example, the ASQ Statistics Division was one of the very first ASQ divisions to embrace the internet. We had the very first ASQ electronic bulletin / discussion boards - pre-dating the world wide web and the advent of websites. We quickly became one of the first ASQ divisions to host its own website - long before ASQ.  The ASQ Statistics Division also maintains the "Statistical Thinking" blog.

Similarly, I believe the Minnesota ASQ section website ( is a best practice amongst section sites, built on the powerful, customizable and configurable WorldPress platform. The Section's social media strategy includes an active LinkedIn group with seeded discussions and job postings, a Twitter account, a Facebook fan page, and YouTube channel - all positioned to drive traffic to the section website. The MNASQ section is transitioning away from SharePoint to Google Apps to better coordinate and align our various committee activities, calendars and communications. The MNASQ section also delivers ASQ certification exam preparation classes via instructor-led web conferencing in an effort to better serve our remote section members and non-members, inside and beyond our section borders. The MNASQ Section leadership is currently developing its first "un-conference" targeted specifically to the young quality professional.

I have been active in social media since the mid-1990's thanks to my involvement with the ASQ Statistics Division leadership. Like the MN ASQ section, I, "QualityBob", (U.S. trademarked) have a website, blog, Facebook fan page, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr accounts and a YouTube channel (along with Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, and more).  I am currently learning how to create professional videos using Camtasia software and green screen technology. My plan is to produce and publish a series of 2-minute "Quality Shorts" video blogs within 3M. Research has shown that short videos draw more interest, resulting in more conversation, than emails and written blogs. I am also experimenting with Google+ Hangouts where sessions can be recorded and automatically uploaded to YouTube.

Data privacy and security is a large concern for anyone planning a significant presence on the internet. Practice safe internet browsing by utilizing VPNs and viewing 'https:' sites whenever possible, maintaining strong passwords, and constantly updating your antivirus and anti-spyware definitions.

How do I find the time to pursue all these hobbies, participate on various professional organizations, volunteer in my community, and still excel at my job you ask? Well, my children are grown and my lovely wife is very supportive of my pursuits. She is constantly amazed by my passion for quality, by how much I love my job and what I do. Besides possessing a passion for the subject matter and a thirst for learning and sharing, a key success factor to developing a viable virtual community of practice is to develop and flawlessly deploy a comprehensive social media strategy. Good program and project management skills are paramount. Project management is an important skill for the certified manager of quality & organizational excellence (CMQ/OE) - and, oh by the way - the next CMQ exam is  scheduled for October 5, 2013.  Have you registered for the CMQ/OE certification exam preparation class in your area? Classes start on or around August 1...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Do Quality Professionals Explain Their Jobs?

In the March 2013 issue of Quality Progress magazine, contributor Marcia Weeden laments the difficulty of explaining what she does as a quality professional to her friends and acquaintances who have no idea what quality is. Marcia states, "Sometimes, if I am lucky, somebody might guess, 'Is that like quality control? You inspect things?' I have hope. At least they know that much".

I just tell such people that I am a farmer!

Seriously, though, I borrowed that line from the episode "The Career Day" of  "That 70's Show" starring Ashton Kucher.  In this episode, Kelso (Kucher) is trying to understand what his dad's job is as a "senior executive statistical analysis technician".  Totally dazed, confused and frustrated, Kelso finally gives up and says that he will just tell his class that his dad is a farmer!

I have had similar experiences to Marcia Weeden where acquaintances might associate quality assurance with quality control. My response is to explain that my role is more strategic and that my goal is to replace product inspection with process control. I work with business teams to design processes and products that help the business WIN in the marketplace by creating value for the customer. (Entitlement Quality is when the customer gets what they want, when they want it, at a price they are willing to pay, and the business makes a reasonable profit). Borrowing from the Baldrige Criteria, I developed a 2-minute visual presentation comparing quality to the hamburger where the meat pattie represents the business results; the buns represent the organization's mission, vision, principles, and action plans. The condiments represent Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, and other continuous improvement activities. The lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, etc. are leadership, planning, work systems & processes, and customer & workforce focus.  The entire experience of ordering and enjoying your hamburger - prepared exactly as you ordered it - is the final outcome of a "Quality" process.

Do you have a similar metaphor or story to explain your job in the quality profession?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Quality - Flawlessly Delivering Customer Value

The definition of quality continues to evolve. Joseph Juran defined quality as fitness for use:
  • product features that meet customer needs
  • freedom from deficiencies.
Philip Crosby defined quality as "conformance to requirements".

The current definition of quality that I prescribe to is "total customer experience". Customers today are sophisticated and savvy. The growth of the internet and e-commerce allows consumers to physically examine and compare products in local brick-and-mortar stores, but seek the best price and review user ratings using on-line sites and tools. Perfect product quality today is a given. Competitive advantage is won by the business that best delivers a satisfying experience to the customer throughout the entire value chain and over the course of the product life cycle, including advertising, promotions, point-of-sale merchandising and support, the purchase experience, cost to use/own, and after-the-sale service.

In light of two recent studies commissioned by ASQ (Emergence - the 2011 Future of Quality; and, the 2013 Global State of Quality) ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks two fundamental questions:
  1. What is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?
  2. What question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?
Edwards W. Deming postulated the Deming Chain Reaction where quality improvements decrease costs and increase productivity allowing for lower prices and increased sales. However, a single-minded focus on costs alone can result in decisions that negatively impact quality and customer satisfaction. In today's global economy of slow economic growth there is immense pressure on organizations, businesses, Quality functions and Six Sigma departments to improve efficiencies and reduce operating costs. The important challenge to the quality community, then, is to advocate for the customer - internal and external; to not lose sight of organizational and operational effectiveness, and champion the cause to deliver distinct competitive advantage and superior customer-perceived value.

Not all costs are created equal. If cost reduction is to be the focus, the Quality professional should encourage and promote a focus on addressing structural and product design costs as opposed to the traditional focus on realized and systemic costs. In 2010, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., published a cost driver framework that showed greater cost reduction impact by focusing efforts on product design, manufacturing strategy and supply chain structure rather than manufacturing efficiency.

*ISSR Cost Driver Framework graphic is used with permission.

Lean philosophy teaches us that value is defined by the customer. Lean philosophy abhors waste. Waste is whatever the customer is not willing to pay for. The desire by organizations to reduce costs should be based on the lean philosophy... to reduce non-value added activities and eliminate all forms of waste. Muda is the Japanese word for waste. Taiichi Ohno at Toyota had described a list of seven types of muda. Many lean-based organizations are focused on driving out muda. But there are two other forms of waste that relatively few organizations have yet to pursue: mura and muri. Mura is excessive variation (e.g. unevenness); Muri is complexity (i.e. overburdening). Jim Womack, CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute, states that mura and muri are the root causes of muda in many organizations.

Another quality guru, Genichi Taguchi, developed the Taguchi Loss Function that described variation as loss to society. Today's continuous improvement and sustainability efforts share the belief that conformance to requirements alone does not deliver superior customer experience. A "Run to Target" mindset promotes improved process aim and variation reduction.  Stable, capable processes enable flow resulting in operational excellence and optimized customer value. Delivering superior customer experience is today's most important challenge for the quality community.

So, what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world? In my opinion, Quality must convince leadership that focusing organizational resources on cost avoidance activities - even in difficult economic times - has greater return on investment (ROI) than cost reduction activities alone.  In an article recently published in Industry Week magazine, Eric Arno Hiller, President, Hiller Associates, reminds us per a famous DARPA study from the 1960s that the majority of product cost (~ 80%) is “locked in” early in the product development cycle. Eric Hiller argues that 70% to 90% of product cost management resources should be focused focused on avoidance instead of after-the-fact cost reduction.
* ROI of cost avoidance graphic is used with permission from Hiller Associates

To advance the state of quality practice in the world, the quality community must continue to advocate for the customer and society. Quality leaders must be able to demonstrate the economic value of customer loyalty to the business enterprise. A 6-year study of stock performance completed by Watermark Consulting demonstrated that customer experience leaders outperformed the market between 2007-2011, generating a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500 Index.

* CX Stock Market performance graphic used with permission from Watermark Consulting

To advance the state of quality practice in the world, the quality community must speak the language of management while relating increased customer experience to improved customer loyalty (willingness to repurchase, willingness to recommend) leading to repeat business and increased sales.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Global State of Quality - A Perspective

ASQ, in partnership with APQC, released the first findings of the ASQ Global State of Quality research initiative at ASQ’s 2013 World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Indianapolis, Indiana. Releasing its Discoveries 2013 report, ASQ asks "What finding is the most useful to your work?  What finding is the most surprising? What question would you most like to have answered?"

I first became exposed to the Discoveries 2013 report during the Enterprise member Executive Roundtable event at the WCQI. Two key observations that I took away from the report are the revelation that "service organizations are 1.6 times more likely than manufacturing organizations to view quality as a strategic asset and competitive differentiator" (page 14); and, the relatively small number of customer perceptions of quality used as compared to the number of internal measures of productivity, efficiency and effectiveness (page 18).

Why might more service organizations view quality as a strategic asset than their manufacturing counterparts? One main reason, I believe, is because service is THE product of service organizations; whereas service is an added feature of manufacturing. Direct contact with the customer is the moment of truth for service organizations; a distinct competitive advantage is won by the organization that can deliver consistently superior customer experience. In today's global economy, local interaction can be a cost equalizer and a key differentiator.

Common measures of quality frequently cited by participating organizations include:
  • First Pass Yield
  • Defects Per Million
  • % On Time
  • Safety
  • Internal Failures
  • % Compliance
  • Employee Satisfaction
  • Customer Satisfaction.
While I am not surprised that most organizations measure performance based on their internal goals and requirements, it appears that very few organizations measure customer perceptions of quality beyond an overall satisfaction number. First, it has been well researched and documented that Satisfaction does not necessarily translate into Loyalty...  Second, ASQ's 2011 Future of Quality Study (Emergence) introduces 21st century quality as Total Customer Experience (TCE). TCE is quality experienced by the customer at every touchpoint in every transaction with the supplying organization. I would be interested in learning more about how organizations are capturing and translating customer experience ratings throughout the value chain and product lifecycle: advertising, merchandizing, point of sale, invoicing, customer service, technical service, installation, service, repair and disposal, as well as any online web experience. What innovations have organizations implemented to increase employee and customer engagement?

I look forward to reading the subsequent analysis and insights reports due later in 2013.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Surviving Conferences

In his April blog post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks, "What’s your advice for getting the most from  a conference or networking event?"

Yes, I am planning to once again attend the ASQ World Conference on Quality & Improvement (WCQI). I have attended nearly every WCQI/AQC event since 1990. As an officer of either the Statistics Division or the MN Section many of the related WCQI trip expenses have been shared between my employer and the ASQ member unit for whom I was an officer, or complimentary as a conference speaker. This annual networking experience has proven to be a win-win for my personal development, my employer's benefit, and the ASQ member unit.

Conferences such as the WCQI and the ASQ LSS are an excellent opportunity to build one's professional network. I bring a handful of business cards and, of course, my smartphone. Apps like LinkedIn's CardMunch and Evernote's Hello are great tools to quickly capture contact information and profiles. Social media apps such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and many others are also very helpful collaboration tools. This year I plan to capture video via Viddy (for Facebook and Blogger) and Eyejot (for email) as I document my impressions and interactions at the WCQI for the benefit of others.

However, no number of electronic impressions can equal or replace the impact of face-to-face collaboration and networking. The receptions, luncheons, hospitality suites and 'After 5' sessions are other great venues to meet speakers, subject matter experts, and people like you exploring new learning and best practice sharing opportunities. I hope to see you at the Indianapolis WCQI, but if you cannot physically attend I encourage you follow my tweets and others' (#WCQI13) and/or follow the ASQ Influential Voices blog posts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The MN State Quality Program - Performance Excellence

In his April blog post ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks for examples of national quality programs, and whether the program is growing in visibility and perceived value and creating capacity for organizational excellence.

The United States has the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program. I first became familiar with the Baldrige Criteria while an internal evaluator back in the late 1990's when 3M's Dental Products Division won the national quality award in 1997. The Baldrige Program is the USA's public-private partnership dedicated to performance excellence, administered by NIST and ASQ. Rather than focus on the national program, I wish to introduce my readers to the Minnesota state quality program. The Minnesota Council for Quality and Productivity was formed in 1987 as a part of the Department of Trade and Economic Development. The word “productivity” was later dropped from the name, and the organization was eventually spun off into an independent, private non-profit. The Council was one of the first state quality award programs modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In 2012 the MN Council for Quality was renamed to the Performance Excellence Network, or PEN for short. The primary goal of PEN organizational assessments is learning and improvement, but it also recognizes levels of performance excellence to eligible organizations through the Performance Excellence Award (formerly the Minnesota Quality Award). Per the PEN website, the Award Cycle - with its multiple levels of recognition - remains an important part of PEN’s offering. Since 1991 there have been nearly 100 MN State Award recipients, representing various industries, sizes, and communities throughout the region.

I have been a trained State Evaluator for four years and have participated in several assessments and site visits. The great thing about the MN State Award process is that, unlike the national program, EVERY applicant gets a site visit!  Brian Lassiter, President, and the PEN judges and evaluators have done a masterful job of building a program focused on learning and best practices sharing. My participation with PEN has also benefited from the knowledge and experiences shared by Mark Blazey, author of Insights to Performance Excellence, whom has been invited to teach every year of my PEN evaluator refresher training. Serving as a MN state evaluator has significantly strengthened my understanding of overall organizational performance excellence beyond traditional quality tools, methods, processes and systems, which has also benefited my employer and all with whom I correspond.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Quality in Local Government

Paul Borawski, in his latest ASQ blog, talks about quality improvement efforts in various city governments including Milwaukee, WI, Coral Springs, FL, and Irving, TX.

I have similar experience with the City of Hutchinson - a small town in central Minnesota - where the mayor and city council wanted to establish a "One Stop Shop" for licensing and permitting in the building/planning/zoning departments. A cross-functional team was assembled from across three different government entities: the State of MN, McLeod County, and City of Hutchinson. A problem statement was developed focusing on delivering constituent experience and satisfaction. The 'DMAIC' problem solving methodology was employed to define a new operating system. Quality tools used include surveys, fishbone diagrams, FMEAs, C&E, brainstorming, affinity diagrams, inter-relationship diagrams, experimentation, SPC and control plans.

A more detailed explanation of this example and other personal success stories using statistical thinking are available in the book, "Improving Performance Through Statistical Thinking" by Britz, et al (ASQ Quality Press, Item H0160).

Quality Tools in Forensics

In his March blog, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks if anyone had spotted a place where a quality tool would really come in handy. I am happy to announce that I am in the midst of a planned weight loss program. I lost 52 lbs during July-November to achieve my target weight, and have been in transition mode back to "normal" foods since December while maintaining my new weight.

During my weekly consulting sessions the weight loss coach would take my blood pressure, measure my weight and every few weeks conduct an "in-body" scan of muscle vs body fat. I continue to be amazed by the large variation between blood pressure monitors and the apparent lack of standardization between the different scales. Fortunately, these devices are not life critical in a weight loss program, but how often do you question whether the lab equipment at your clinic, in the dentist's office, or in the hospital are calibrated, or whether the test methods are validated and in a state of statistical control?

In a story making local and state headlines, the St Paul Police Crime Lab suspended its drug testing in July 2012 after public defenders challenged the reliability of the lab's work in court. The lab provides drug testing for Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties. The problems at the crime lab have thrown thousands of past and pending cases into question. In a report from MPR News, "A senior lab employee also testified that the lab lacks written procedures for testing evidence for drugs and provides only informal training to new employees. The lab, which processes up to 50 cases per day, does not regularly review its work to check for errors, the employees said, and, like many other smaller crime labs in Minnesota, is not accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors."

Minnesota law does not require accreditation for crime labs, although evidence from these labs play an increasingly larger role in convicting people of drug possession, murder, and other crimes. Perhaps this case will cause the state government to reconsider the value of quality audits, equipment calibration, standard procedures, measurement quality assurance and operator training and certification.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Celebrate Failure As Learning, Leading to Growth

According to an ASQ survey conducted by Kelton Global, while 95 percent of teens agree that risk-taking is required for innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - careers, 46 percent say they are afraid to fail or uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems. Failing and trying again is key to problem-solving in STEM careers, including the field of quality. Fewer teens are pursuing STEM fields today because of the fear of bad grades. ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski, suggests that "We need to teach today’s students how to take risks and fail so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work."

Changing this fear of failure - and the impact of bad grades - requires a culture change where failure is recognized and celebrated as learning; where taking a chance by enrolling in a difficult course that stretches one's ability and receiving a lower passing grade - is rewarded with some kind of bonus points. Not all risks are equal; not all "A's" or "D's" are the same. Formal learning and grading systems should consider the degree of difficulty when calculating the student's grade. Failure in the business world is ultimately evaluated from the perspective of dollars and sense. It has been my experience in business that "bad" financial results are much more palatable when the quality of the decison-making process was first-rate. Project Management Institute (PMI) tells us that minimizing the negative impact of risk can be accomplished by maximizing the expected monetary value of a decision. Expected Monetary Value (EMV) allows you to quantitatively prioritize risk: prioritize the risks with the highest probability of occurrence versus the risks with the greatest monetary impact. EMV Decision Trees help identify the set of options available to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. For example, a "make or buy" decision can be evaluated with knowledge of the probability of each risk along with the monetary value of each risk.

I have used EMV on occasion in my career when considering the cost vs benefit of alternatives impacting quality and reliability. An interesting exercise for the potential STEM student and mentor might be to construct an EMV decision tree to evaluate curriculum options (effort vs. expected grade) using the anticipated earnings of a STEM versus non-STEM career.

In today's fast changing world we must all become comfortable with the uncomfortable. However, that does not mean we should haphazardly make important decisions in the name of speed. According to a study reported in HBR, "...operational speed is quite different from strategic speed. Firms that 'slowed down to speed up' improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period... higher-performing companies with strategic speed made alignment a priority. They became more open to ideas and discussion. They encouraged innovative thinking. And they allowed time to reflect and learn."

Allowing mistakes and accepting failure as learning helps to encourage experimentation, potentially leading to breakthrough or even disruptive innovation resulting in personal growth and organizational success.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

21st Century Quality

13 years into what Dr. Juran said would be the "Century of Quality", ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks in his January 2013 blog post, "What do you use as the best, most inclusive, and illuminating definition of quality?" The 2011 Future of Quality Study defines Quality as a force of change, and introduces the concept of "21st Century Quality" - Quality is ultimately what the customer says it is, and what the customer is willing to pay for. Quality today is more than product quality. Perfect product is a given. Exceptional service and transactional quality are often powerful differentiators.

  • Quality improvement is the process of managing variation around customers’ expectations.
  • Quality processes deliver brand promise, protect the enterprise, improve operational excellence, enable customer-perceived value, increase customer satisfaction.
  • Quality, then, in its simplest definition is "Total Customer Experience."
Total Customer Experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier over the duration of their relationship with that supplier, from awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. Superior Total Customer Experience delivers memorable, satisfying experiences in every transaction every time. Peter Drucker, a renowned Quality Management expert reminds us, Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.”

People often ask, “How is Quality different than Lean Six Sigma?” It is my opinion that while Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, etc. are all important problem solving and continuous methods in the Quality practitioner toolkit, Quality is much more than continuous improvement. A key role of the Quality function is to manage the organizational white spaces that exist between departments in cross-functional work systems and processes. Quality recognizes the importance of effective hand-offs between internal supplier and customers to meet and exceed end user requirements. The Baldrige Criteria offers an excellent framework that describes this holistic definition of Quality. I want you to visualize the hamburger. The bottom bun represents the organization's values and principles. The top bun symbolizes its mission, vision, strategies and plans. Lean, Six Sigma, CAPA, PDCA, PPU are the condiments. The meat, cheese and vegetables are the key business processes of leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, human capital, process management, and business results. Quality assures the alignment of these systems and processes to deliver a satisfying burger experience.

Winning in today’s highly competitive, global market requires flawless execution at the speed of the customer. Delivering Total Customer Experience requires stable and capable processes, with consistent flow, and an engaged, motivated and empowered workforce. To quote Ernst & Young, "There is little chance that your customers will be excited about your products or services unless your workers are."