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.