Monday, September 04, 2017

Use Design Thinking to Innovate Your Quality Improvement Journey

In its monthly blog, A View from the Q, ASQ asks the Quality community how they might use Design Thinking concepts to improve their problem solving and process improvement roadmaps. Design Thinking is a strategy-making process that focuses on customer behaviors rather than opinion (aka tribal knowledge) and market research.

There is a lot of press lately about Design Thinking concepts, applications and examples in the development of new products and opening new markets. Design Thinking was popularized by David M. Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO and Roger Martin of the Rotman School. A very good, short video on the topic was recently published by the Harvard Business Review blog . For a more detailed explanation please read the paper, "Design for Action" written by Brown and Martin.

Design Thinking process:

From a paper recently published by Creativity At Work, "Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating a preferred future. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer)".

So how might Design Thinking be applied to your Quality improvement frameworks and roadmaps? The three major stages of Design Thinking are:
  1. Observe customer behavior; define unarticulated needs
  2. Ideate, Prototype, experiment and test
  3. Bring the new concept to life; open new markets
What differentiates Design Thinking from traditional Voice of Customer collection approaches is the emphasis placed on observation of behaviors rather than relying on customers' input to satisfaction surveys. Survey responses tend to validate Expected Quality and rarely reveal Exciting Quality opportunities (see "Kano Model"). In this way, Design Thinking is similar to Focus Panels and "Be the Customer" methods to better understand unarticulated customer needs. It is at this stage of Design Thinking that the Quality practitioner has the unique opportunity to innovate through the introduction and incorporation of Journey Mapping to document customer experiences throughout the value chain of the producer-customer relationship, from product awareness to purchase and after-sale touchpoints.

An example of customer journey map:

The stages in Design Thinking around Ideation and Prototyping should look very similar to your existing Product Development and Commercialization processes. Many such approaches use a stage-gate model to prototype, test, and refine product design to evaluate customer acceptance and verify production cost estimates. Quality's role in this stage should be to coach and consult in the proper use of experimental design to minimize experimentation costs and identify potentially important interactions of inputs and process variables to optimize performance of customer needs.

Another unique opportunity in the Design Thinking process for the Quality professional is in the final stage of bringing the new concept to life. With the help of social media the properly trained Quality professional can analyze customer / consumer feedback to validate areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, focusing on opportunities to build loyalty and engagement.

One can debate whether Design Thinking is really all that new or novel an approach to the value creation process. Design Thinking reinforces the power of understanding customer behaviors and unarticulated needs to deliver Exciting, innovative new product and service offerings for improved customer satisfaction and engagement... and potentially opening whole new markets. Per Linda Naiman (Creativity at Work), "Design Thinking minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers or users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts". The Quality professional might also consider how Design Thinking and Journey Mapping can help him/her to innovate their professional services portfolio for increased customer satisfaction in teaching, coaching and consulting outcomes.

"The best way to predict the future is to create it" - Peter Drucker

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Role of Quality in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

As part of its continuing series of Roundtable discussions among the "Influential Voices of Quality" participants, ASQ asks, "As Industry 4.0 continues to evolve, what can quality professionals do to ensure they will be an integral asset throughout this industrial revolution?"

First, let's begin with an operational definition of Industry 4.0.
Wikipedia defines Industry 4.0 as "the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing. Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a "smart factory". Within the modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the value chain".

Accenture released a report in January 2015 that concluded an industrial-scale version of Industry 4.0 could add $14.2 trillion to the world economy over the next 15 years.

Christoph Roser at illustrates the four industrial revolutions:

So, the fourth industrial revolution is the move towards digitization including automation, robotics, artificial intelligence. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) in the United States is a non-profit organization comprising manufacturers, suppliers, technology firms, government agencies, universities and laboratories that share the goal of advancing the thinking behind Industry 4.0. Its purpose is to construct an open, smart manufacturing platform for industrial-networked information applications.

In a Forbes article dated June 20, 2016, Bernard Marr states that in order for a factory or system to be considered Industry 4.0, it must include:
  • Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
  • Information transparency — the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order to contextualize information.
  • Technical assistance — both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems and the ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
  • Decentralized decision-making — the ability of cyber-physical systems to make simple decisions on their own and become as autonomous as possible.

Having defined Industry 4.0, it is clear that assuring such inter-connectedness of software, sensors, devices and data centers requires a quality system that delivers data integrity, privacy and reliability in addition to assuring reliable, rugged, scaleable, fully-integrated systems and processes that seamlessly data-share between networks while consistently meeting producer, governmental and customer needs. Opportunities exist for the Quality professional to make significant, innovative contributions in areas of software quality assurance, reliability, process validation, environmental life testing and accelerated stress testing, Real Time Process Monitoring, multivariate statistics, 1st Principles and transfer functions, advanced calibration and big data analytics. Now, more than ever, product development and commercialization teams must assure reliable machine-human interface ease of use and real-time results-driven feedback loops. And, of course, discover even deeper insights to the ever-changing voice of customer (and voice of process) along with a comprehensive understanding of the customer experience throughout the value chain (e.g. journey maps), and assure that the organization is measuring the right key metrics to deliver success.

Industry 4.0 offers exciting new challenges to the Quality profession while building on our expertise of problem solving, process improvement, and managing the organizational white spaces to sustain customer focus and achieve operational excellence.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Enhancing & Sustaining the Role of Quality

The March 2017 ASQ Influential Voices roundtable discussion topic asks, "How can we prevent quality professionals from being perceived as a “thing of the past”? What adaptations need to occur in the quality industry as a whole and on the individual level to revitalize the industry and attract the next generation of quality professionals?  

In his Square Peg Musings blog response, Scott Rutherford attributes the source of this ASQ discussion topic to recent LinkedIn posts by others suggesting that the role of manufacturing quality appears to be backsliding to that of end-of-line product quality inspection and a system of Risk and Reward where defective product is either repaired or replaced in the field or the purchase price is refunded, with little focus on process improvement and prevention.

My years of experience in manufacturing as a quality professional, coupled with my experience as a Baldrige Examiner where I have evaluated organizations across the economic spectrum of healthcare, education, government, small business and non-profits leads me to conclude that the Quality profession is not dying, rather transforming and expanding into traditionally non-Quality departments or operations of the organization. For example, a key tenant of Lean is that everyone - at all levels of the organization - becomes a problem solver. Six Sigma belts are sometimes the Quality professional but more often the subject matter expert in a given discipline or function, and is positioned as a career development opportunity perhaps leading to future management or leadership positions. Many non-manufacturing organizations have replaced the traditional "Quality Dept." with employees staffed in departments responsible for "Customer/Patient Satisfaction" or "Operational Excellence" or the like. Many service industries have developed their own quality certifications specific to its own needs, mission, vision and culture.

Which begs the question, is there a fulfilling career opportunity for someone pursuing a role - or perhaps currently feeling trapped (i.e. career plateaued) in a current role - in the Quality function?
A real concern of mine is that many organizations seem satisfied by equating quality to standards conformance. Their quality professionals are primarily engaged in documenting procedures and requirements, auditing for compliance, and issuing reports. Though a required set of activities in certain compliance-based industries, this in itself is not a particularly engaging nor growth activity for the quality professional. A primary role of Quality is Business Process Management to improve the organizational white spaces - the communication and handoffs - between departments to assure operational excellence. By first focusing on and optimizing these internal customer-supplier relationships within the organization the Quality professional builds organizational capability to better serve the needs of its external customers. A Customer-first culture must be nurtured by leadership to enable organizational performance excellence. A genuine focus on the customer/patient always results in a more engaged workforce leading to process improvements, innovation and performance excellence.

So ... "What adaptations need to occur in the quality industry to revitalize the industry and attract the next generation of quality professionals?" Some of my thoughts:
  1. More ASQ focus and training on quality's role in driving and achieving innovation
  2. More ASQ focus and training to aid the technical Quality professional in making the successful transition to management and leadership.
  3. More ASQ involvement in K-12 education curriculum to increase certain quality concepts teaching in STEM courses (e.g. statistical thinking)
  4. More ASQ involvement with community colleges, universities and business schools to increase the awareness and discussion of quality principles and the Baldrige Criteria.
The successful Quality professional has adopted a philosophy of life-long learning beyond the areas of technical Quality and data analysis to broaden and strengthen his/her individual capabilities, in both "hard" and "soft" skills.
  1. Interpersonal Communication
  2. Social Media (for customer engagement)
  3. Change Management
  4. Leadership Behaviors
  5. Strategic Planning and Execution
  6. Community Involvement
  7. Coaching and Mentoring
The future of Quality is us. We cannot afford to sit idly by, or risk irrelevance; seek new opportunities and experiences. (e.g. What is the role of Quality in automation and robots?) "The best way to predict the future is to create the future" [Peter Drucker].