Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement

I'm sort of taking an break during the holidays. I'll be back with a new post on January 4th. Meanwhile, I recommend checking out my reading list on Linked-In and catching up on your holiday reading. Here's a review of a book I recently finished.

I recently finished reading a book that the American Society of Quality gave me for free because I've been a long-time member, so I thought I'd give it a review. The book is The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement by David W. Till.

I was looking forward to reading it to see if it gave a different perspective from my background in Six Sigma and Lean. I was hoping for some insights that might help me with deployments that I lead or help others lead. Mr. Till started off with a high level overview of Continuous Improvement Programs over the years, then launched into a discussion about chemical reactions and how CI programs are like chemical reactions. The key message in this chapter was that CI requires a catalyst to occur; it won't just happen on its own. I understand why that needs to be said, but its very Mom & Apple Pie. Everybody understands it.

I really liked the section of the book (Chapter 2) that identifies differences between leaders and managers. Mr. Till's descriptions ring true with my experiences of both leaders and managers and create a very clear mental picture of why we should all strive to be leaders more and managers less. I agree with the placement of this subject matter in the book, assuming Mr. Till intended to point out that Leadership Commitment is the first priority. My experiences with virtually every culture change program I have grown indicate that without commitment from the leadership, you're sunk. Since I particularly liked this section of the book, I'm going to list the characteristics of a leader that Mr. Till described, then those of a manager. I'm sure you'll notice the difference:

1. Setting Strategic Direction: Setting the mission and vision that will guide the organization.
2. Aligning the People: Communicating the strategic direction and getting commitment.
3. Motivating and Inspiring: Initiating and gaining momentum to moving the organization forward and overcome barriers.
4. Producing Change: Initiating change the make the organization better.

1. Planning & Budgeting: Setting goals, targets, and timetables for the organization.
2. Organizing and Staffing: Develop the organization structure, positions, and roles to meet the budget.
3. Controlling and Problem Solving: Monitoring compliance to the plan and intervening when needed to keep the plan on track.
4. Maintaining predictability: Keeping the ship as steady as possible and preventing change in those areas where it is not beneficial.

I like the STOP process that the author advocates. I have used this method once so far with some people that I work with and it does help to identify things that we should stop doing. I will say, however, that if you're already doing very valuable things, this process is likely to leave you frustrated if you can not identify some significant chunks of time to free up to use on the improvement projects. Still, I like the process and plan to use it periodically to screen out the things that I do. Here's the example that the author used to explain the power of the STOP process.

"A good example of what I later found to be a wasteful task was the monthly report I prepared while working as Head of Quality in a major chemical company. I began to notice questions being asked of me in management staff meetings that indicated people had either not recieved or had not read my monthly report. I checked to make sure they were receiving it, and they were. In the next report, about halfway down the fifth page, I put the following sentence: 'Congratulations on reading so far in this report-you may have won $10. Call Dave Till at 555-5555 and he'll be happy to pay the first caller.' I sent out the report as usual and waited, telling myself that, in the future, I would send the report to only those people who called. After three months of not sending the report to anyone, I got a call from my boss's secretary, who asked where my monthly reports were. When questioned how she had noticed, she replied that there was a hole appearing in the file cabinet where she had kept them."

One part of the book that I had some trouble with was Chapter 4 where Mr. Till lays out his recommendations for a Plan of Action. In particular, Mr Till recommends a 90-day timeline for improvement projects. While I have no trouble with the concept of completing a project in 90 days or less, Mr. Till oversimplifies this complex problem by basically assigning responsibility for speed to the sponsor. His two part premise is that project teams that take a long time to complete their work do so because they don't have an organized plan of action, and two, that leaders aren't pulling for results and completion.

I was familliar with many of the steps that Mr. Till recommends in his simple business improvement process as they are the same steps of the DMAIC method, just rearranged a little: nothing really new there.

My main complaint with this book is that the author attempts to break everything down into a series of steps. Everything from deciding what work to stop doing, to how to be a good sponsor for an improvement team. I felt like the author was attempting to turn leadership commitment into a step by step procedure, when real commitment is much more than just items on a checklist. One other observation is that many of the steps of his improvement process are similar to those found in Six Sigma, just ordered a little differently.

My overall impression of the book is that it lives up to the title The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement but that it is simplicity bordering on naivete. Mr. Till addresses this book to "turn around" types of problems with simple relationships between the problems and root causes. I would recommend The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement to those in small single-location companies where the data that represents the problem(s) is easily created and simple linear relationships exist.

The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement by David W. Till. 2004, American Society for Quality, Quality Press

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Slight Diversion-But Still in the Spirit of Excellence

Please forgive the diversion. Normally this blog is about business stuff, continuous improvement, quality management, six sigma, lean, etc... Today's post is about excellence of another kind. Yesterday my oldest son was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. Here is the speech I made at his ceremony. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I remember taking him to the sign up meeting for Cub Scouts, trying to read his face for any signs of excitement, interest, distaste. I don’t really remember what I got, but we decided to plow ahead and go into Cub Scouts. I was in Cub Scouts, and so I wanted my son(s) to be in Cub Scouts because I had some fond memories and I thought that what scouts taught was worth learning, and that it was fun. I remember his first Pinewood Derby car project. I remember feeling like I lost five years off my life while trying to NOT help him too much. He didn't grasp the concept of applying pressure to the saw to help it cut faster. He believed that gravity would do the job for him. Eventually it did. Fast forward a few years and its time to pick a troop. He chose Troop 111, not because he knew anyone here, not because any of his fellow den mates decided to come here (they didn’t), but for what in our estimation, was the most right reason of all, because he liked this troop over any of the other troops he visited. We settled into the period where all of his den mates tried to pressure him to change his mind, he held firm and in the end, all of the other six boys in his den went to the same troop, then three promptly dropped out of scouting.

We came to Troop 111, and boy scouting was new for all of us, so we embarked on the adventure together and while we have had our ups and our downs, in the end, I wouldn’t trade the experience for any in the world. Scouting has given us the opportunity to do things together that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. The opportunities have been too numerous to mention here. Through it all, I have gotten to watch and help him get over the rough parts and celebrate the good parts and grow into the fine young man he is today.

We are proud of our son. I suppose that is obvious, but it goes deeper than the obvious things. While we are proud because he has achieved the highest rank in scouting, that’s not all. While we are proud because he planned and executed a project that required leadership beyond his years, that’s not all.

A parents wish for their child is that they will teach the right lessons, apply the right pressure, push just enough but not too much, and that the child will, in the end, become a responsible, productive, contributing citizen, with a job, a place of their own, and have built for themselves, a good and happy and fulfilling life. While some of these wishes are still in the future, we are proud of oldest son for the person he has become, and we know that, as he sets out on the next journey of life, he has the skills, values, and compass to be successful in life.

One of the things that I admire most in you is your sticktoitedness. You never quit, you hang in there when others throw in the towel. It does not escape me that we are here today to celebrate your achievement of the top rank in Boy Scouts, an achievement that only 4% of all boy scouts reach. The reason that is on my mind is because, as I mentioned at the beginning, I was never a Boy Scout, let alone an Eagle Scout. When I was your age, I could not have done what you have done. I didn’t have it in here. The credit for your achievements that we celebrate today are yours, but you didn't get here all on your own. I am grateful for whatever small part I may have played in helping you along the path to Eagle, but I am most proud of the person you have become. We love you. Congratulations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Six Sigma-Innovation Killer NOT!

I'm reading a new book that everyone should go out and buy. Its called The Brain Advantage, Become a More Effective Business Leader using the Latest Brain Research. A friend of mine is a co-author so I got a copy from him to read through. I'm only through Chapter 3 but already I've made several connections to my past experiences in leadership.

I'm going to share one of them with you here, then you go right out and buy the book.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a brief post about myths regarding Six Sigma. See the original post here. One myth that I addressed in that post was that Six Sigma is an Innovation Killer. This is the widely held conventional wisdom in publications such as Business Week that resulted from the withdrawl of Six Sigma from places like 3M in the recent past.

In The Brain Advantage I found an answer to why this myth persists and why Six Sigma may be perceived as an innovation killer. The answer is a simple as Right Brain vs Left Brain. In Chapter 1 and 3 of The Brain Advantage the authors discuss the commonly held misconception that Six Sigma is an innovation killer and research that indicates that innovation (literally the Eureka moments) are exclusively Right Brain activities, while process oriented scripts and routine tasks are the domain of the Left Brain. Further, the authors discuss how there is no bleed over in brain function between the right and left brain when it comes to innovation. Its as if the left side of our brains go to sleep while we think creatively exclusively in the right Anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus (ASTG).

We can apply this new learning to help overcome the bias against Six Sigma in innovation circles by intentionally setting the stage for innovation to occur within the steps of the Six Sigma method. So, follow the six sigma process to achieve a product or process design that meets or exceeds the customer need (Left Brain), but at the critical process steps where a innovative solution is needed, we must recognize that an intentional shift in focus is needed and that the environment for innovation has to be intentionally set that allows for the rules to be ignored, creativity to flow, and insights to occur (Right Brain). "Ok, great, how do we do that?" you might be saying. My advice to you is to contact the authors and ask them for some help, seems like their area of expertise to me.

Go buy the book, right now! You can find it here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Six Sigma or not to Six Sigma? That is the question.

I was having a conversation recently with a friend who runs an academic program at a major US university. She was telling me about solving a problem in her department and how the solution was obvious so she just did it. She then related how one of her collegues protested that she should have used some six sigma tools to really understand the process before making the change. The short story is that she rejected this suggestion and just did what she knew needed to be done. A strange coincidence occured last week when Leadership Change Agent and fellow blogger Brad Kolar posted on the very same topic here. It must be something about Thansgiving that makes people contemplate their "gut feel" for things.

Of course, I think she was exactly right. This discussion reveals one of the major issues facing continuous improvement initiatives today. Doesn't matter if its Lean, Six Sigma, 8D, TRIZ or whatever the latest fad in the workplace is. If you know what to do to solve a problem, why mess around with "discovering" it. Just get your backbone up and do what you know is right.

If that's the case, then why do so many "experts" advise going through the "process" to "discover" what to do? Two reasons. First, I have found that some practitioners of six sigma have a devotion to it that borders on religious fanaticism, insisting that everything be done with six sigma. The truth is that everything should not be done with six sigma, or lean or whatever your method du jour is. There's an old saying that I like. Not sure where it came from but here it is. "When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail". What this means to me, is that we have to use different tools in our toolboxes intelligently to solve different problems appropriately. Instead of a nail, every problem is more like a snowflake, unique and different in some way from every other problem. Sure there are some common traits of certain problems, but a cookie cutter approach will only carry us so far. The second reason is really abuse of the CI method. A common misconception I hear frequently is that using the process, say six sigma, builds a solid case for management to use in decision making with all the data and statistics and stuff. The only problem is that you've spent 3-6 months to build a case to prove that you should do what you knew you should do in the beginning. The net effect is that the problem continued for 3-6 months while you deferred the decision that you knew you should make in the beginning. This is an abuse of six sigma, lean or any other CI method. It leads to criticisms of the method as slow, not innovative, or original. Abuse leads fence-sitters and non-believers to conclude that you really don't need six sigma or lean or whatever to make things better, since all six sigma does is confirm what we already knew.

So if we should not use a cookie cutter approach to problem solving, when is it appropriate to use or chose not to use a particular CI method? First, if the problem that needs to be solved has an obvious root cause and/or obvious solution, don't bother with any CI method, just summon the courage and go do it. You may need some tools to help figure out exactly what to do, but if you know, don't waste time, just go do it and start reaping the benefits sooner. If these conditions dont exist, then you really do need to consider some method to discover what is causing the problem and what should be done about it. In general, if its a variation type of problem, use six sigma, if its a waste type of problem, use lean, if its a design problem use Design for Six Sigma or TRIZ or something like that. If its a bottleneck constraint in the workflow, use Theory of Constraints(TOC). Finally, once you start to dive into the problem, don't adopt a rigid approach. Be open to use some lean to remove waste while reducing the main variation problem. If considering a waste problem, look for bottlenecks in the process and apply TOC to speed the flow throught the "factory". The bottom line is that problem solving calls for thoughtfulness, flexibility, and creativity. Above all, problem solving requires a good understanding of the different methods in the toolbox so that good decisions can be made about what to use in different situations.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the Improvement, Stupid

Apologies if the title offends. I'm borrowing a phrase from a presidential campaign in the 90's to help make my point. In this presidential campaign, the usual back and forth between candidates occurred but the phrase "It's the Economy, Stupid" summed up the disconnect between the candidates and effectively showed how one candidate (my guy, unfortunately) was not connected to the real issues that people were struggling with. This phrase was pretty effective, my guy lost the election. We then spent the next 8 years trying to define what "it" is but that's a post for another time.

So, why do I recall this story? It relates quite well I think to the attitudes that many companies out there have about continuous improvement programs. In the late 80's and early 90's much noise was made about how Baldrige winners were outperforming the stock market. It seemed that Baldrige may have been the secret sauce behind those successes, or at least that was the story. The other side of that picture though was that some of those companies subsequently failed miserably or at least suffered significant downturns in performance, such as ST Microelectronics, Dana Corp, IBM, Xerox, and Motorola. In each of those cases it could be argued that other factors led to the declines seen, and I believe that is true. Winning the Baldrige award does not lead to failure directly. The point in highlighting that some award winners fail is this, winning the award is not the point of the exercise. Certainly it is nice to receive the recognition for a job well done, but the point of having criteria like Baldrige and other similar types of standards is the improvement that comes from applying a consistent standard and measuring performance against that standard. The point of the exercise is the process of improvement that an organization undertakes towards the award criteria, not the award itself. Many companies that have won these types of awards subsequently take their eye off the ball and lose focus, lose their connetion with their customers, lose the drive to improve, become complacent or even arrogant in thinking that they have arrived because they won an award. As Dr. Deming said, "It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory". Dr. Deming's meaning here is that change is a constant, competition drives change and those who chose not to continually improve will not survive.

So to paraphrase the political quote from the 1992 presidential campaign, It's the Improvement, Stupid.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Keeping Leadership Invested in the Change

How do some leaders who were champions for change become entrenched in the system? People change, but an interesting thing happens sometimes as people change. Sometimes you can measure a person's tenure in their role by the shift in their attitude and behavior about changing the culture. When new to the organization, there is little risk in standing up and saying something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Little risk because its not their mess they are pointing out, and they get to show leadership by pointing out the mess. As they grow more comfortable in their skin however, a change occurs, where they gradually become less connected to the dynamic change that is occurring and more invested in the status quo because they now have ownership for the system and to point out the messes would be self-incriminating.

So the question; How do we help leaders stay passionate about the change and see that there is still more to do, that we have indeed NOT arrived?

I think about my own experiences in leadership. I'm kind of a different sort of person when it comes to leadership. I think leadership is about working to create a vision that everyone can rally around, but I also think leadership is as much about helping people make the vision happen. I view it as one of my primary responsibilities as a leader of people to help my people be successful. In the book The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement by David W. Till, I found an interesting list of characteristics of leaders. Let me share them here;


1. Setting Strategic Direction: Setting the mission and vision that will guide the organization.

2. Aligning the People: Communicating the strategic direction and getting commitment.

3. Motivating and Inspiring: Initiating and gaining momentum to moving the organization forward and overcome barriers.

4. Producing Change: Initiating change the make the organization better.

So from that little list I hone in on the last bullet. Producing Change. That's an action. That means get involved, start to push the wheel around, get others to help but you get in there and help too. The other part of that bullet that interests me is the part about making the organization better. I'm sure everyone shares a similar goal, we all want our organizations to improve. Then why is that some don't improve? In my opinion, leadership is the primary cause. Leadership is a pretty broad topic to assign all the blame to and I certainly don't assign all blame to leadership. The leadership imperative to produce change implies that the direction of change must be something that the leader is bought into and supports. The leader must believe in the change in order to initiate change. If that commitment is not present, the change initiative will ultimately fail. Another significant issue for success of a change intiative is participation. Leaders initiate the change. Looking at bullets 3 and 4 shows that leaders are also active in the change, not passive sideline players. People are smart enough to recognize when real commitment is not present.

In the groundbreaking book Good To Great Jim Collins describes one of the key elements of success of good companies that became great companies as the "Stockdale Paradox". Briefly, the Stockdale Paradox is named for the late Admiral James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot's VP running mate in 1992 and before that was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When interviewed about how he managed to survive a long captivity in the Hanoi Hilton, Admiral Stockdale credited two paradoxical viewpoints. First, was an undying optimism that he would survive. This was tempered with a dose of reality that he would not be free any time soon. Of additional interest in the interview with Admiral Stockdale was that those fellow POW's that had an overly optimistic view, not founded in reality, suffered more defeatist attitudes when their freedom did not come when they thought it would. He believed that his fellow POW's with rose colored glasses died of broken hearts. Mr. Collins found the Stockdale paradoxical characteristics in the leaders of good to great companies. The ability to see the present situation for what it is, along with a high degree of confidence in the future of the company. Over time leaders run the risk of becoming managers if they can not keep themselves tuned into the realities of the present situation. For clarity, lets review the roles of management from The Recipe for Simple Business Inprovement that I mentioned earlier;


1. Planning and Budgeting: Setting goals, targets, and timetables for the organization.

2. Organizing and Staffing: Develop the organization structure, positions, and roles to meet the budget.

3. Controlling and Problem Solving: Monitoring compliance to the plan and intervening when needed to keep the plan on track.

4. Maintaining predictability: Keeping the ship as steady as possible and preventing change in those areas where it is not beneficial.

Sounds a little less exciting doesn't it? Those who were once leaders run the risk of becoming managers by insulating themselves from what's really happening. This happens a number of different ways, but one that I have seen is the yes man. The leader comes to the organization and is the "new sheriff in town". He or she is kickin @#%$ and taking names to establish a reputation. After a while some personnel change decisions need to be made and the leader choses the clone or, thinking that they are doing the right thing by bringing in different perspectives, brings in people who don't have the same value set for the program(s) being led. I call them the anti-clones. The clones are easy to spot, they are the ones who dress, speak, and act like the leader. The anti-clones are a little more difficult to deal with because they want to belong too so they will say and do the right things in front of the leader, but left to their own devices, they think you're wasting your time with this initiative. They don't lead, they manage, they don't help push the wheel, they cheer from the sideline when the right people are looking, but sit down when no one is watching.

Meanwhile, back at the top, the former leader does nothing to actually see for themselves whats going on and believes everything they are told. They start to believe they have arrived. They are no longer leading, just managing. The speed of the wheel starts to slow because key people aren't helping to push it around. Pretty soon, that commitment we talked about earlier from point 2 on leadership becomes less clear, no one is clearly communicating and getting commitment to push the initiative. As commitment and direction are lost, so is momentum. So how is the leader to re-establish or maintain their fresh perspective, their urgency for the change?

One of my personal values as a leader is to seek out those that will tell me the truth. I love it when someone tells me that something I have done is a bonehead move and why, because I get to learn. I value and respect those people more than any others because it is through them that I become a better, smarter leader. If you want to avoid becoming a manager and stay a leader, get out of your office and go talk to people who will tell you the truth. Interesting thing about the truth, it's different depending on who's talking. Seek out the real truth, find it where it lives and tap into it. Chances are, that is not in a conference room.

Excerpts on Leadership and Management from "The Recipe for Simple Business Improvement" by David W. Till. 2004, American Society for Quality, Quality Press

Its on my reading list on Linked-In, check it out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kano Model for Customer WOW!

The Kano model is a useful tool to help the design team or even an improvement team develop ideas that will WOW the customer by addressing needs that the customer does not even know they have. It is a simple model for customer satisfaction that posits three satisfaction regions; Dissatisfaction, Satisfaction, and Delight. The model was developed by Japanese TQM consultant Noriaki Kano*. The Kano model is useful for process improvement teams as well as design teams to help the team think outside the box for innovative solutions that are focused on meeting and hopefully exceeding customer needs. Heres a visual of the model: (Click to enlarge)

The model works this way. A product or service that does not meet the customers' unspoken or basic needs will result in dissatisfaction of the customer. A product or service that does not meet the expressed needs will also result in dissatisfaction. Think of it like this. You purchase a car that claims to get 100 miles to a gallon of gas. If that car does not actually get 100 miles or more to a gallon of gas, you will be dissatisfied. If that car also has no steering wheel, you will be really dissatisfied even though you didn't expressly ask for a steering wheel to be included. That's the difference between a spoken and an unspoken need. Unspoken (Basic) needs are assumed to be present, until they are not. The interesting thing about basic needs is that by meeting them, satisfaction does not improve, but the absence of them will cause satisfaction to decrease. Having a steering wheel in your car does not make you a satified customer, you assume it will be there. The other interesting thing about basic needs is that customer expectations advance over time and things that were satisfiers in the past, become expected today and in the future. In our visual example above, the customer is dissatisfied because the machine that they purchased from us does not complete a manufacturing cycle without causing a process reset activity. A basic need in this example might be that the machine controls actually function properly.

In order to move from the basic needs into a leadership position, the customers' expressed needs must be met. In our example, to move from dissatisfaction to satisfaction, the team must solve reliability issues with the machine such that the customer can complete a cycle without having to reset the process. If the team is able to redesign the system to perform reliably, customer satisfaction will improve. This will be particularly true if performance of the new system exceeds competitors performance.

Moving from dissatisfaction to customer delight is where the real power of this tool lies. This is where innovation and out-of-box thinking comes into play. The Kano model challenges us to think about what would delight the customer in regards to the problem we are working on. Delight results from the delivery of a product or service to the market that the market didn't ask for but once its is experienced, the customer can not do without it. Using our car example from earlier, if our car achieved 100 miles per gallon of gas AND had an autopilot function for long trips, that might delight some customers who would prefer to nap or read than drive on a long trip. The iPhone is another example of a delighter. Flash memory sticks were a delighter to those of us that remember floppy disks. Those were not things that customer's demanded but they were recognized as extremely valuable once the idea was introduced. In our visual example, the customers that did not experience the problem but experienced the upgrade to prevent the problem from occuring were delighted by the service provided.

I recently talked about a couple of myths about six sigma. One of those myths was that six sigma stiffles innovation. Use of the Kano Model as a tool in the six sigma process is one way to make sure that innovation is not stiffled, but encouraged in the problem solving process as well as in the development process.

*From Quality Function Deployment: How to Make QFD Work for You by Lou Cohen. Copyright 1995 by Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Measurement-Context is Important

Fellow blogger and Leadership Change Agent Brad Kolar posted last week on something that has got me thinking. Brad shared an experience he had with a team in which the team had some data about an improvement that showed a tremendous productivity gain. However, Brad got the team to look at the data a different way, which showed that the improvement was not nearly as dramatic and that more work needed to be done on adoption of the improvement. Read Brads full post here.

I have had all kinds of similar experiences to Brad's story. The most recent one occurred this week. I was doing some coaching with one of my friends who is also a Six Sigma Green Belt. He was asking me to review his data and help him present a graphic and set of statistics that would show the improvement in performance of a process that he has been working on for several months. He had done some of his work ahead of time so there was very little for me to add but one thing struck me during our discussion. He was comparing process performance in September with process performance in October since they represented his before and after improvement conditions. On the surface, this seemed a valid comparison until you consider that the process interacts with outside weather conditions. So I asked the question, was September and October different or the same in terms of outside weather? Turns out, September was warmer and drier than October, making the comparison suspect. So what to do? We looked for a comparable period of outside weather conditions in the before period and ran the analysis on that month. Turns out March was very similar to October so that was our before comparison month.

Completing the analysis showed us that indeed the process had improved in terms of variation and centeredness. My friend was on solid ground to make his claim of improved performance. Just goes to show, you have to think about your data and ask yourself hard questions about the validity of assumptions that are made to be able to stand up to scrutiny and convince others that your improvement is real.

Monday, November 9, 2009

ISO Stuff: Competence, Awareness, and Training

In this series I will talk about sections of the ISO 9001 standard that I have seen organizations struggle with. Starting with Competence, Awareness, and Training.

The requirements for Competence, Awareness, and Training are few but very important to success of an organization. The requirements tell us that;
1. People should be competent to perform the work they are doing through a combination of three avenues:
    a. Education
    b. Experience
    c. Training
2. That the organization is responsible to determine competency requirements for satisfactory job performance.
3. That the organization is responsible to provide training or other experiences required to close the gap between the individuals ability and the needs of the position.
4. That the organization must assess the effectivness of training or other experiences provided.
5. That records must be kept of these activities.

Seems pretty straightforward. Determine what skills people need to do the job, assess their education, training, and experience against those requirements, provide training to close any gaps, assess the effectiveness of that training, and record it all. Since its so straightforward, you would think that the programs for addressing  these requirements would also be straightforward. My experience is the opposite in most cases. One typical approach is to assign too much weight to the prior skills and experiences of potential new employees and do nothing to teach them how the do the work that is specific to the company. This is the "we hire PhD's so we don't have to train them" approach. While it is certainly valid to assign some credibility to outside education and prior experiences and skills, this approach ignores the reality that every organization is different. We may hire PhD's but they don't come in the door knowing how its done in our organization. We owe them some level of "indoctrination" to how we expect them to research or perform other duties at our organization. Same is true of managers or technicians. Hiring a manager who has previous experience as a manager is a great starting point, but there are as many ways to manage as there are companies out there. Requirement three above tells us that we owe them some training on how to be successful. According to JDA Professional Services information, the cost to fill a $60,000 per year position can be over four times that amount. Given the high cost of hiring, we should consider it an investment in a successful hire to provide them with the best opportunity to be successful and to check how well they are doing in the roles assigned (requirement 4). The alternative is that we may have to repeat the hire if the employee is not successful, in addition to the suffering the impact on quality of that employee's poor performance.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Six Sigma-Its no substitute for knowledge

I recently was having a conversation with a senior manager who was lamenting that "six sigma analysis" did not find the root cause of a longstanding problem but our scientific knowledge did. I think this may have been meant as a dig at me since I'm a Master Black Belt but I think he makes a great point, slightly misguided but still a great point. Six Sigma, or any other problem solving process is only as good as the information analyzed. We've all heard the adage "Garbage In-Garbage Out". I've thought alot recently about the perspective of this senior manager and it reminds me of something that I think is worth reminding ourselves from time to time. Six Sigma is no substitute for knowledge. In the problem I was discussing with this senior manager, no routine data was collected on the process step that produced the problem.

Some people seem to think that Six Sigma is an excellent method for discovery of new knowledge. I understand why this misconception occurs. One of the strongest tools in the Black Belt's toolbox is Multivariate Regression. This toolset is used to uncover hidden relationships in data and thereby help uncover the root causes of problems that can't be solved in other ways. This, I believe, leads people to assume that Six Sigma properly applied can find new knowledge, and it can, but only when the data is present. The strength of six sigma is in the disciplined, logical problem solving approach that is inherent within the DMAIC method. But, Six Sigma will not find the root cause of a problem if there is no data on that problem or that particular root cause. The DMAIC method teaches us to follow the data, and trust the statistics. We still have to use our brains though and when the data and statistics do not present an answer to the problem, we have to expand our circle of thought to include other information that didn't get included in the first go around.

In all of the six sigma classes that I have taught and all of the mentoring I have done with project leaders I have emphasized that six sigma is not a substitute for your brain. Use the DMAIC method, but follow the data and trust the statistics and if they tell you that you have not found root cause, go look somewhere else for the answer. One of the best places to go is to the guru. Sometimes, scientific experimentation has already produced the answer to our problem but we may not have ready access to that knowledge because it resides in someones head, rather than in a library somewhere.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why embark on a journey to ISO registration?

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. In my twelve plus years of experience as a Quality professional, this is the question I have run up against most. Of course the answers range widely from, "because our customers demand it" to "we think it will help us be a better company". Actually, truth be told that last reason I don't hear as often as I'd like and the first, I hear way too much.

To the purist, the only reason to embark on a journey to ISO registration is to improve the operation of your business. Unfortunately, most purists also get offended at the notion that the deployment should return on the investment in a very real way. The purist believes in Quality for Quality's sake. Being that I am somewhat a purist (reformed slightly) I am a strong believer in the instrinsic value of Quality. I do recognize that companies are not in business for altrusitic reasons, but rather, to make a profit and the notion that a Quality Management System should contribute to that profitability is an altogether reasonable expectation.

The challenge is that Quality Management Systems, as they are typically deployed, are bureaucratic and cumbersome. Ultimately they do not contribute to helping people do their jobs better or easier. Deployment leaders can improve their credibility by keeping some concepts in mind as they progress. First, keep it simple. The base ISO 9001 standard only requires six written procedures, SIX! My experience is that every place I've ever reviewed has had much more than six procedures. So where did all those extra procedures come from? The easy answer is that they come from a misconception based on a simple idea that underlies all registered quality systems, "say what you do, and do what you say". From this simple idea comes the incorrect notion that everything said must be documented. I suggest an easy exercise to decide if a process needs to be documented; look at how its performing. Are there frequent defects, is the process complex and difficult to execute, is the process done infrequently, do people tend to make mistakes while doing it? If any of those conditions exist, then consider a documented procedure. If the process is working well as it is and no requirement exists to document it, don't. The idea is that the QMS should support the business, not add a burden to it. The second principle to keep in mind is to find opportunities to tie the QMS to key business results. This concept is key to getting managements' attention. The key business objectives should be clear to everyone in the organization. What can the QMS help improve upon? Can internal audit reveal anything about why key objectives are not being realized? Could a structured problem solving approach solve key customer problems? If the deployment leader can find real results to tie the QMS to, they will have a much easier time getting management onboard with the system.

The key ideas ingrained in the ISO standards are things that we all can agree are good to do. We should all periodically review the performance of the business (Management Review) using data (Analysis of Data), impartial observers should periodically check to make sure we are doing things right (Internal Audit), whenever we have a problem we should fix it (Corrective Action) and try to prevent it from happening again (Preventive Action), and that people should be skilled at the jobs they do (Competence, Awareness, and Training) among other things. So while embarking on a journey to ISO registration can be successful if motiviated by almost any reason, it will ultimately not be a part of the fabric of the business, unless it supports the needs of the business rather than adding unnecessary burden to it. The ISO standards are truely intended to be a template for how to run a successful business, if only they are used that way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Six sigma vs Lean. Whats the difference?

As you consider your options for kicking off a Continuous Improvement initiative, one of the questions you'll face is which program to chose. I talked a little about this here. Today, I want to go a little more in depth on the differences between two of the most popular CI programs; Lean and Six Sigma.

First a little definition, starting with Six Sigma. Six Sigma is many things. It is a statistic (3.4 defects per million), it is a set of tools (GR&R, Descriptive Stats, Regression, DOE, etc.), it is a problem solving process (DMAIC, PIDOV, DMADV), but it is also a management philosophy.

Lean is all of the things listed above (except a statistic) for Six Sigma. Lean is a toolset (Kanban, Poke Yoke, Andon, VSM, Standard Work, Visual Factory, etc..).Lean is also a process, usually starting with 5S and proceeding from there to more difficult problems and solving them using a Kaizen approach. Lean is also a management philosophy.

Both approaches can be successfully applied at any of the levels mentioned, but the full realization of each is as a management philosophy. Gains can be made when the tools are applied to a given problem so each can be successful without full commitment, further each compliments weaknesses in the other approach, which leads to the recent trend in combining the tools and methods together (Lean Six Sigma). There are obvious differences between the tools used in each method, the processes used are similar to each other. Kaizen can be mapped over the steps of DMAIC or vice versa.

So what is the difference between Lean and Six Sigma? The biggest differences can be found when Lean or Six Sigma is applied pervasively as a way of managing the business. Both include training as a core component but there is a subtle difference between the approaches used. While both Lean and Six Sigma need trained practitioners to be successful, Lean has an additional value placed on training that does not exist in Six Sigma. A core concept of a Lean culture is a cross-trained workforce. Cross-trained in the work process, not specifically in Lean tools. This is an important part of a Lean Transformation because a cross-trained workforce supports job rotation to keep workers from getting bored and complacent. Another significant difference is evident in the use of measurements. Both Lean and Six Sigma emphasize measuring performance, the approach is very different however. Six Sigma seeks to measure process performance relative to the problem being worked on at the project level or of the most important measures of business success through Dashboards. These dashboards cascade down from the top and rarely show up on the shop floor, so the workers dont really know how they are doing. Lean, on the other hand, focuses measurements on the shop floor FIRST and places a high value on managers going to the Gemba, or shop floor to see for themselves how things are going. This suggests a bottoms up approach to measurement, starting with the work cell and proceeding UP to the plant and the company from there. This is supported by Visual Factory concepts. I remember a quote from one of my Lean Sensei's that the standard for Visual Factory effectiveness was that a one eyed person could gallop a horse through the plant and at the end be able to tell you what is going on in that plant. It should be that obvious. This difference highlights the main philisophical difference between Lean and Six Sigma. Six Sigma is a tops-down management philosophy that only occasionally reaches the shop floor whose main practitioners are mid-level managers and engineers. Six Sigma projects are chosen by reviewing performance at a high level and imposing the change down with some involvement from the "doers". Lean, on the other hand is characterized by the idea of "servant leadership" in which the leadership views one of its main functions to be enabling the success of the workers. Management goes to the floor to see what is happening, values effective communication, training, promotion, and learning and the initiative start and complete improvment work starts at the lowest level, the individual worker and the work cell member's desire to improve their own work.

Finally, there is one other significant differnce between Lean and Six Sigma at top level. Since Lean is so focused on enabling the worker to perform better, a sacred trust is built between the workers and management. This implied contract is that making Lean improvements will not result in people losing their jobs. This is incredibly powerful in creating trust. Dont get me wrong, Lean does result in fewer workers being needed in the work cell, but the sacred trust means that those workers are placed elsewhere, not on the street. Six Sigma on the other hand...well, one only needs to talk to someone who has worked for GE during the Welch era to know what happened there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creating an Organization-Wide Continuous Improvement Culture (Part 2)

In Part 1 we discussed the realization that a CI program of some sort is needed and that the two most important things to consider are the level of commitment that you have and the expected outcomes for the business. In this section we will discuss detailed planning to achieve the vision, training & execution, marketing your success and promoting the right behaviors and skills (otherwise known as feeding the beast).

Detailed Planning: There are a thousand little things to consider here. Many depend on what approach you settle on. Who will do your training? Will you certify your internal people? To what standard will they be certified? How will you communicate internally about progress and the program? How will you handle the negative backlash to change? What fears are most likely to rise up? All of these question will need to be addressed in a detailed way, pretty much up front. Some might wait until later, but if you imagine yourself as wildly successful, you will soon be faced with these issues, better to start thinking about them now.

Training: Depending on the program you've chosen, there are a wealth of resources out there to help accomplish this task. When engaging with someone to help you with training and even with program development, remember, you are in the drivers seat. Do your homework so you can engage the consultant and they can help you craft a program that meets your organizations needs, not theirs.

Execute, execute, execute: Once the detailed planning is drafted and the training is underway, its now time to execute. This is, by far, the most important part of any culture change activity. This is where credibility is built. This is the part where skeptics can become supporters and even passionate believers in what you do. The old saying "the proof is in the putting" is appropriate here. Early success is key to building credibility, so chose what problems to tackle wisely. Remember that you are dealing with high performing people but they have little to no experience with this new set of tools. Mistakes will be made, projects will fail, it happens so don't set someone up with a too complex problem as their first opportunity. At the same time, you want the problem to be real and easily recognizable by all as a problem worth fixing

Market your success: Once you start to have some solid success, start marketing. This part is underrated by many (including me early on) but marketing the successes will help create momentum for the initiative. You'll be able to recognize when you have momentum when you no longer have to recruit people into the initiative, but they seek you out to lobby you to allow them to participate. How to market depends on the company culture. I've used "Six Sigma Fairs", project presentations, billboard and email announcements, and testimonials to varying degrees of success. Try lots of things and stick to what you find works.

Promote the right behaviors: One of the most important things to consider upfront is how you will feed the beast in the future. Most CI Initiatives require some intentional turnover to be viewed as beneficial and viable. The challenge here is what to do with the people that have the new skills required to be effective CI leaders. The best thing to do is promote them into positions of leadership. If the program is truely valuable to the company, those skills will be valued in leadership roles as well. There is an added benefit of showing the organization how important the initiative is to the company's success, and that participation is a possible path to promotion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Creating an Organization-Wide Continuous Improvement Culture (Part 1)

Want to improve your business situation? Regardless of the reasons why, a recognized need to improve the performance of your business is all that is needed to get the ball rolling. Once the decision is made, however, several questions immediately come to mind. Which approach? How do we start? How many people will this take? What do I expect to get from this? In my experience, it really does not matter which approach you chose. You can chose Six Sigma, Lean, Baldrige, ISO, PDCA, or any of the other latest fads in continuous improvement methods. With the right attitude and commitment, any of these approaches can be successful.

There are proponents of each of the previously mentioned methods, true believers in Six Sigma abound. Fervent advocates of lean are also out there in force. Many companies in the US have used the Baldrige criteria to improve and achieve excellence. ISO requirements for improvement have been ingrained since the standards were developed. Go to a conference and you will find all of these adherents out in force, preaching the gospel of their particular flavor of Continuous Improvement and telling anyone who will listen that THEIR flavor, can save the world and what the shortcomings of all of the other approaches are. So, which to choose? Answering this question starts with another question. What is your organizations culture and what are its big problems? If your organization is already highly disciplined and the perceived problems are with efficiency, lean may be the way to go. If you’re organization is very entrepreneurial, with no appreciation for process discipline, maybe start with ISO or Baldrige requirements. If you’re organization has a basic process discipline appreciation, but product quality issues are killing you, six sigma is for you. By the way, you don’t have to choose just one method. The trend in recent years towards combined approaches (Lean Six Sigma) makes sense from the standpoint of wanting to get the most benefit possible.

Since which method is not the most important thing to consider, what is? There are two things that are of paramount importance to the success of a CI initiative; How committed are you, and what is the expected outcome? I can not overstate the importance of top management commitment to the program. Commitment comes in many forms, starting with agreement all the way up to active participation. Real, meaningful management commitment is towards the top end of that spectrum, but don’t worry, you don’t have to do a Black Belt project to demonstrate commitment. What you do have to do though is this; Commit high potential resources, I mean really commit them. Take people out of their current roles and dedicate them to making this culture change happen. Do not take a half step here, don’t create “Part-time” resources because part–time means no time. An important point here is the caliber of people that you commit to the effort. Don’t choose the people that you can “afford” to do without in their current roles. If, while having the resource discussion, a persons’ name comes up whom someone says they can’t live without, that’s the right person to put on the effort. This decision is a reflection back to managements’ commitment. If the people chosen to lead the effort are viewed as expendable, the organization will recognize very quickly that management is not really interested in this initiative and support will wither. The second thing to consider is what do you expect from the program? What’s the big hairy goal that focuses the organizations efforts on this program? Is it winning awards from your customers, is it reducing cost by 50%, is it growing the business significantly? What motivates top management to be interested in this program and the results it achieves? Once you know this you’re ready for the next phase.

Create a crisis. This statement is one way to say that you need to create a vision and a sense of urgency that everyone can easily recognize and understand, to make it easier for people to support and participate. So what is your crisis? Is it competition taking market share, customers firing you, significant product quality costs, significant overhead costs making you less competitive? Clearly define the crisis and communicate it broadly to the entire organization, repeatedly.

Once you have defined the vision, selected an approach or set of approaches to use, determined resources, and communicated the crisis, it time to get to work. Those resource decisions that you made earlier, its time to execute them. Actually take people from their old roles, reassign their old responsibilities to others, move them physically if possible. Now it’s time to think about training.

Next week, we’ll talk about planning for training and helping people to build a detailed vision and plan for culture change and linking that to the crisis. We'll also discuss creating momentum for the inititaive.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Debunking Six Sigma Myths

I'm a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma, I say that upfront in the interest of full disclosure that I am biased about Six Sigma. Being a Master Black Belt and Deployment Leader for Six Sigma also means I have some expertise and not a few opinions on the subject. So with that I'd like to tackle two common myths about Six Sigma.

Myth One: Six Sigma is too slow.

I hear this one all of the time. "Six Sigma slows me down. Analyzing all of that data takes too long". Two things about this myth; One - there is no time constraint on six sigma. Typically a project takes 3-6 months to complete, but I have seen them complete in less time. I've also seen them take longer. My observation about this is that if you have a problem with speed in six sigma, look for underlying organizational dynamics that might be causing it. Do other types of projects go much quicker and still achieve good results? If so, maybe there are training issues with six sigma practitioners, or there may be issues with accessability and useability of data critical to analysis, if not maybe there's an underlying issue with accountability and urgency in the organization. Another common problem that leads to the "too slow" criticism is using six sigma to implement a solution that is already known. The purest reason to begin a six sigma project is to solve a problem that we dont know how to solve. If we use six sigma to solve problems we already know the answer to, then of course, the method will be slower than just deciding to implement the solution and doing it. Six Sigma used to create management commitment to a known solution is a misuse of six sigma. Finally, using the "six sigma is too slow" excuse is typically an excuse to do nothing, which has shown time and again to take much longer to improve performance than doing six sigma.

Myth Two: Six Sigma Stiffles Innovation

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am most familiar with the Design For Six Sigma (DFSS) method known as PIDOV. (Plan, Identify, Design, Optimize, Validate) I also have some exposure to DMADV but am less familiar. A brief review of the steps that underly each of the phases will quickly show that there is no step in the process where creative thinking is discouraged. In fact creative thinking is required to build the possible solution. The only requirement placed on innovative thinking is that the results of innovation must meet the needs of the customer as expressed by their Critical To Quality characteristics (CTQ's). That's it. Develop an innovative solution, but make sure that you have something that the customer will need. If the innovative solution meets no one's needs, who will buy it? No one. A buggy whip with GPS installed is still a buggy whip.

See my other published article

In light of my good news earlier today, I thought I should remind you to check out another article I had published a couple of years ago. This article is about a Lean Six Sigma project that I completed on a transactional process-Business Forecasting. You can check it out at the link on the right hand side of this page.

Good News!

Good news! American Society for Quality has accepted my article abstract for my best practice article "Internal Quality Audits for Impact". Look for it in Quality Progress in the coming months. When I know specifically which issue it will be in, I'll let you know.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Welcome to my blog. I plan to use this blog to communicate ideas about Quality and Continuous Improvement programs and practices. I plan to share useful tips for those involved in a lean or six sigma deployment, or attempting to start or improve a Quality Management System deployment. Come back any time to get helpful tips and ideas based in experience with these systems, or to share your ideas. I hope to hear from you soon and frequently.