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.