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Archive for the ‘Day-to-Day Observations’ Category

Posts based upon direct observations about quality (or lack of quality) in everyday life

Please Visit; CAPAtrak is Being Retired

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 22, 2016 logoTo loyal fans of downloads found via this Blog, you may have already realized that the CAPAtrak blog was a bit neglected.  The last post was in (horrors!) 2009.  Well, it is now 2016 and the world has changed.  Please note that the CAPAtrak Website and the CAPAtrak Blog will no longer be maintained effective 01 July 2016. Please visit,, for resources previously downloaded from these sites. You may also want to follow the LinkedIn Company Page to stay on top of new offerings. I will announce creation of the blog as soon as it becomes available.

Many of the downloads previously obtained via this blog have been updated, along with some newer resources for you to download, and are now available via Diane Kulisek’s showcase page, which is accessible via her profile on the website’s “About Our Team” page.  If you are seeking her Metrics Presentation, a Simple Dashboard Template, a Balanced Scorecard Template, Quality Plan examples and templates, including one for a Quality Planning SOP, or many free presentation materials, templates and tools for use in Root Cause Analysis (RCA) or Corrective Action and Preventive Action (CAPA) efforts, please visit Diane’s Profile and click on the link to “Learn more about Diane”, to find her Showcase Page.


Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology, Uncategorized, Websites | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Top Three Small Business Quality Problems

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 21, 2009

Lonnie Mitschelen, ASQ CMQ/OE, CQE, CQA, CSSGB, Quality Assurance Engineer at Spectrolab and Owner of Can Do Quality, asked the following question on LinkedIn:

“What are the top three quality problems facing the small business (manufacturer, service provider or retailer)?  Additionally, what would you expect or want from a consultant to help resolve those quality problems? Develop a system/process? Perform a task? Train or teach? Some combination of the above? Or, something entirely different?”

Diane Kulisek, then working as a consultant, provided the following ‘Best’ rated Answer:

“I would have to say that the problems I encounter most have to do with regulatory compliance and superstition. The third would, of course, be inadequate resources to deal with either regulatory compliance or superstition effectively.  

So, the top three problems are:

  1. Regulatory compliance;
  2. Superstition; and 
  3. Inadequate resources

(although, not necessarily in that order).

Let me elaborate and provide some possible solutions from a consulting perspective, in response to the second part of your question.

I recently attended a meeting featuring a top official from a regulatory agency. As I listened to him describe the new requirements being put forth by law (i.e. in the Code of Federal Regulations), I started to realize that many companies I would categorize as “small” (less than $5 million sales per year), could not afford to comply. I asked the official what consideration of the impact upon small businesses had been put forth, he answered: “You’ve obviously mistaken us for somebody who cares. Our mission is to protect the public… not to help small businesses survive.”

The harsh fact is that many of the current regulations are beyond the ability of small businesses to comply with, economically. This places those business owners in the tough spot of having to consciously violate those regulations until they can afford to comply with them, in hope that they won’t get caught during the period in between. Can you see the mindset this establishes among such business owners, however? And for those who survive…. they will carry that mindset into the management of their larger organizations, as well. Regulatory compliance, in other words, seems to become optional, unless you get caught.

With regard to superstition, although these same small business owners seem willing to accept the potential risk of being caught non-compliant, they will not accept the risk of bringing an outside consultant into their organization. I have found that small business owners are extremely resistant to the concept of contractors for quality management or engineering. For some reason, they seem to think that it is imperative to “own” their quality personnel. I’ve even offered outright FREE consultation to these types of small business owners, just in an effort to demonstrate its value, and had it refused. I can only speculate as to why. I don’t think its personal… because I’ve heard the same story from other quality consultants. My guess would be that, because small business owners ARE making decisions that are possibly against regulatory laws, they don’t want somebody who is not dependent upon them for their livelihood knowing about it. Yet, the very people who could best bring them into compliance, and do so most cost effectively, are those they could never afford to hire on a full-time basis…. a highly-qualified and experienced quality consultant. Go figure.  [Side note from Diane now:  If you have further interest about this part of the answer, you might want to read my article published in a past issue of the American Society for Quality’s Quality Progress Magazine, now available to the public via open access, titled: “Full-Time Quality Manager or Part-Time Quality Consultant“.]

As for the inadequate resources, answers for the first two issues and your consulting question would seem to say that a consultant COULD potentially offer an affordable solution for the first two problems to a small business owner… if given a chance. When employed, there were a number of situations where I would read a regulatory requirement that the other managers in the company thought was a “show stopper” and could show my employer why, within the same regulation, our company was actually exempt from having to comply with the requirement. I remember being challenged with words like: “I thought you were supposed to be ENFORCING” the quality regulation, not circumventing it!” I would respond by saying…. “I AM enforcing the regulation. I am NOT circumventing it. I am simply explaining to you why it does not apply to our operation. The exception is written right into the regulation… but you need to know where to find it.”

Postscript from Diane:

If you are starting a small business, there are more open resources available to help you bring your organization closer to compliance today than there have ever been in the past.  Google(tm) is an amazing tool.  You can find no cost or low cost webinars on just about every quality system or compliance topic.  The U.S. Government posts every Federal Regulation and Compliance Guidance Document on-line, at no expense to businesses.  There are several free on-line and paper copy trade publications that offer outstanding articles, tools and training.  Discussion boards and answer pages, such as those offered by LinkedIn, empower you to ask nearly anonymous questions of some of the top professionals in the quality-related disciplines and receive timely answers, for free. 

For ideas about how to implement a compliant quality-management system for your small business, I recommend you start by browsing the helpful links, downloads, forms, templates and presentation handouts provided at no cost to you via the CAPAtrak website.

Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Curing Lean Six Sigma Weak Points

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 14, 2009

The following question was asked on LinkedIn by Bill Rushmore, Principal at Rushmore Technologies, a degreed Chemist and Engineer:

For those who have experience with Six Sigma or Lean Sigma, what is the one (or two) weak point(s) that you would fix with a Six Sigma or Six Sigma project? I am looking into how to improve Lean Six Sigma and have my own factors. I am looking for other opinions or experiences to expand the possibilities.

Diane Kulisek’s answer, one of many posted, was selected by Bill as the ‘Best’ Answer.  Here it is:

I think two things need to change:

  • 1.) There needs to be less emphasis upon the correctness of the terms used to describe what is being done and more emphasis upon doing it; and
  •  2.) There needs to be less elitism associated with those accountable for employing the methodology.

Let me say I believe that Six Sigma and Lean will continue to be terms used for at least the next five to ten years, however, I also have started to hear many of the same criticisms of “Six Sigma” and “Lean” that I used to hear in relation to “SPC”, “Quality Circles”, CPI and “TQM”. All six of these terms (Six Sigma, Lean, SPC, Quality Circles, CPI and TQM) entail top management support, problem-solving methodologies, process improvement tools, and, potentially, improved value or economy. All six of these terms could also be costly to implement. All six of these terms are subject to failure during top management changes. All six of these terms also, unfortunately, can be categorized as “fads”. When you peel back the glitzy layer of names, they are all essentially the same thing. You can garble them up with new terms to describe old concepts. You can claim that they do things differently from one another (which they certainly do, slightly). You can say that the next one made the previous one “obsolete” or old-fashioned (which is not necessarily the case)…. but the bottom line is, they all have so much in common that you can pretty much expect Six Sigma and Lean to take a nose dive the minute enough negative momentum about “THOSE words” has been achieved…. and it’s on it’s way.

My advice would be to stop using trendy words like “Six Sigma” or “Lean” and talk about the fundamental tools being used. More people will understand and the continuity will be better through the turmoil of management changes. So, that’s the language aspect of it.

Secondly, business managers were taught to beat the “quality-is-everybody’s- responsibility” drum for decades. Then, along came Six Sigma. Only the best/brightest were drafted into the Six Sigma ranks. Their grasp of finance needed to be as great (or greater than) their grasp of technology or methodology. They were subjected to extremely expensive (often) company-sponsored training programs…. out of which they emerged, with the green beret of the Six Sigma special forces. Proud and overly confident, many freshly-belted (pun intended) Six Sigma initiates blundered out into the production workspace only to be shot down by older, wiser and angrier personnel lurking in sniper positions.

 The elite division of class that is so often identified with the “Six Sigma” black belt mystique has created far more problems, in my opinion, than have been solved. In fact, I would venture to say that there are more people working to be sure a Six Sigma Black Belt falls smack dab on his or her nose than there will ever be willing to help them in an otherwise just cause. The problem is that nobody likes to be treated as a “lesser than”. Six Sigma Black Belts (and even other belt designations) seem to be taught a smugness that acts like a bullseye on their butt cheeks and foreheads.

My recommendation would be to get rid of the title. Again, focus upon the fundamental tasks being performed. Define the roles from the perspective of basic tasks. “You will be accountable for improving the performance of this process. Accordingly, you are henceforth our Process Improvement Project Manager.” EVERYbody can understand what THAT is.   Well okay, maybe not everybody…  but more than understand ‘six sigma black belt’.

What is a “Six Sigma Black Belt”? It’s an abstraction, especially for those who have NOT (nor likely ever will) been through the training to become one. Why create mystery where openness is the key to improvement? Why create an “elite class” when collaboration at all levels of the organization will be essential to creating desired change? It’s counter-productive, at best. Drive out the use of the terms “Six Sigma and Black Belt”. Use role definitions and job titles that EVERYBODY can understand… and support.

Postscript from Diane:  I suppose it might be worth mentioning that I’m actually starting to see the word ‘quality’ reappear in job descriptions, perhaps not in the titles, but in the responsibilities.  People in charge of hiring people who need to know how to use quality improvement tools and methods have not yet become quite bold enough to venture that a rose is a rose by any other name, but they have begun using ‘other’ terms to avoid using “six sigma’, ‘lean’ or ‘lean sigma’ in many of the more recent position descriptions I’ve been seeing on the open job market.  Examples of ‘new’ quality-related titles include: “Continuous Improvement Project Manager”, “V.P. Organizational Excellence” and “Director of Business Performance Reporting”.  It is …. a start.

Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

ISO Publishes New Standard for Effective Risk Management

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 4, 2009

Complemented with risk management vocabulary guide

 (ISO: Geneva) — A new international standard, ISO 31000:2009—“Risk management—Principles and guidelines,” will help organizations of all types and sizes to manage risk effectively.

ISO 31000 provides principles, framework, and a process for managing any form of risk in a transparent, systematic, and credible manner within any scope or context.

At the same time, ISO is publishing ISO Guide 73:2009—“Risk management vocabulary,” which complements ISO 31000 by providing a collection of terms and definitions relating to the risk management.

“All organizations, no matter how big or small, face internal and external factors that create uncertainty on whether they will be able to achieve their objectives. The effect of this uncertainty is ‘risk’ and it is inherent in all activities,” explains Kevin W. Knight, chair of the ISO working group that developed the standard.  “In fact, it can be argued that the global financial crisis resulted from the failure of boards and executive management to effectively manage risk. ISO 31000 is expected to help industry and commerce, public and private, to confidently emerge from the crisis,” continues Knight.

The standard recommends that organizations develop, implement, and continuously improve a risk management framework as an integral component of their management system. “ISO 31000 is a practical document that seeks to assist organizations in developing their own approach to the management of risk,” says Knight. “But this is not a standard that organizations can seek certification to. By implementing ISO 31000, organizations can compare their risk management practices with an internationally recognized benchmark, providing sound principles for effective management. ISO Guide 73 will further ensure that all organizations are on the same page when talking about risk.”

ISO 31000 is designed to help organizations:

  • Increase the likelihood of achieving objectives
  • Encourage proactive management
  • Be aware of the need to identify and treat risk throughout the organization
  • Improve the identification of opportunities and threats
  • Comply with relevant legal and regulatory requirements and international norms
  • Improve financial reporting
  • Improve governance
  • Improve stakeholder confidence and trust
  • Establish a reliable basis for decision making and planning
  • Improve controls
  • Effectively allocate and use resources for risk treatment
  • Improve operational effectiveness and efficiency
  • Enhance health and safety performance, as well as environmental protection
  • Improve loss prevention and incident management
  • Minimize losses
  • Improve organizational learning
  • Improve organizational resilience

ISO 31000 and ISO Guide 73 can be applied to any public, private, or community enterprise, association, group, or individual.   The documents will be useful to:

  • Those responsible for implementing risk management within their organizations
  • Those who need to ensure that an organization manages risk
  • Those needing to evaluate an organization’s practices in managing risk
  • Developers of standards, guides, procedures, and codes of practice relating to the management of risk

Both documents were developed by the ISO working group on risk management.  For additional information, please visit the ISO website at:

Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Quality-Related Answers on LinkedIn from Diane

Posted by Diane Kulisek on November 30, 2009

As I was updating some of my information on LinkedIn this morning, it occurred to me that I’ve shared much more information about quality there than on this blog.  While I want to keep the information I share here fresh, sometimes I’m a bit too busy with other urgent matters to compose a new message.  In cases like that, I think you might find some of the answers I’ve posted on LinkedIn of interest… especially those that have been rated highly by LinkedIn users.

Before I get into that, here are a few facts about my LinkedIn activities to help put things into perspective. 

I joined LinkedIn on April 30th, 2006.  Today, I have 365 first degree connections (people I personally know and who are connected directly to me through LinkedIn), 162,200+ second degree connections (people who know people connected to me), and 6,814,700+ third level connections (people who know people who are connected to me), for a total LinkedIn network of 6,977,300+ people.  My LinkedIn network has grown by 30,677 people in the past week.    

Members of my nearly 7 million person network are from all over the world but are largely located in New York, San Francisco, India and Los Angeles, each with 5% of my total LinkedIn network membership, and Chicago, with 3% (for a collective total of 23%).  That means that roughly 200,000 to 350,000 people in each of 4 major U.S. cities and in India are accessible through my network… and can interact with me… via LinkedIn Answers.  India, Los Angeles and London are my fastest growing LinkedIn network regions.

Many of my direct LinkedIn connections are in quality-related professions, however, there is no ‘quality’ profession category to identify oneself with on LinkedIn (and, yes, I’ve mentioned this to LinkedIn‘s management team), so 38% of the industry-categorized members of my LinkedIn community currently fall into the following fields: 

  • 14% Information Technology and Services;
  • 07% Staffing & Recruiting (no surprise there, eh?);
  • 06% Management Consulting (a.k.a. ‘previously employed’, also not a surprise);
  • 06% Computer Software (a.k.a. Information Technology and Services – the sequel); and
  • 05% Human Resources (a.k.a. ‘Staffing & Recruiting’ – part deux).

    I change my LinkedIn industry category declaration to suit my circumstances or my mood.  I’ve used ‘management consulting’, ‘medical device manufacturing’, ‘process industries’, ‘electrical and electronics’, ‘government relations’ and, currently, ‘public safety’.  They’re all true, of course, or were at the time I used them.

    I’ve also changed my title, to suit my mood.  Currently, I bill myself as: “Organizational Excellence and Quality Assurance Leader”.  I used to be a “Senior Quality Professional” until I read that “Senior” means “Old” on a resume.  Then I was just a “Quality Professional”, until somebody mentioned (rightly) that all professionals are (or should be) quality professionals.  Then I was a “Quality Assurance Professional”, until another person pointed out that, since Lean and Six Sigma has been around, people don’t hire actual “Quality Assurance Professionals”, anymore.  So, I compromised with kind of a play off of the American Society for Quality’s Certification Designation for a Quality Assurance Manager:  “Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence” and changed the word “Manager” to “Leader” (mostly to try to stop people from sending me first level management job leads — which don’t seem to work very well for me).  I’m now calling myself an “Organizational Excellence and Quality Assurance Leader”.  I think I need to drop “Assurance” and change it to “Improvement”.  The word “Assurance” is apparently still somewhat politically incorrect, in the current job market.  I’ll do that today.

    Anyway, continuing on… according to LinkedIn… I’ve posted 175 answers, as of today.  Unfortunately, not all of those who ask questions on LinkedIn rate the answers they receive (which is really just a form of thanks for those of us who took the time to answer), but for those of my posted answers that were rated, 70 were considered ‘good’ or ‘best’, with 32 falling into the ‘good’ rating and 38 into the ‘best’ answer rating.  23 of the ‘best’ answers I’ve posted are in relation to the topic: “Quality Management and Standards”, but there are many other answer categories that I’ve provided ‘best’ answers for.  Following is the LinkedIn breakout of my ‘best’ answers by topic: 

    • Quality Management and Standards (23 best answers)
    • Organizational Development (2 best answers)
    • Manufacturing (2 best answers)
    • Project Management (2 best answers)
    • Supply Chain Management (2 best answers)
    • Certification and Licenses (1 best answer)
    • Mentoring (1 best answer)
    • Event Marketing and Promotions (1 best answer)
    • Personnel Policies (1 best answer)
    • Business Analytics (1 best answer)
    • Corporate Governance (1 best answer)
    • Labor Relations (1 best answer)
    • Inventory Management (1 best answer)
    • Career Management (1 best answer)
    • Professional Organizations (1 best answer)
    • Ethics (1 best answer)
    • Starting Up (1 best answer)
    • E-Commerce (1 best answer)
    • Computers and Software (1 best answer)
    • Using LinkedIn (1 best answer)

    What this means for you is simply this: out of my nearly 7,000,000 member LinkedIn Network, I am, by far and away, the top rated ‘expert’ on “Quality Management and Standards”.  I must be doing something right.  I don’t like to describe myself (or anybody else) as an ‘expert’, but LinkedIn does that based upon the highest number of ‘best answer’ ratings. 

    Here is how being an ‘expert’ looks on the Answers page (at the bottom) for this topic: 

    In case you’re thinking the apparently huge ‘best’ answers lead I seem to have over fellow professionals, like close runner up, Anshuman Tiwari, does not take into account the expertise of my 2nd degree or 3rd degree LinkedIn contacts, take a look at this:

    Yeah, Shaun (2nd degree connection) and Scott (3rd degree connection), ‘expert’ front runners, are snapping at my heels (NOT). 

    And, by the way, I only post one or two LinkedIn Answers per week… so I don’t spend a lot of time doing this.  I find providing answers on LinkedIn challenges me and keeps my mind tuned into the latest developments in my chosen profession, so I do it for my ongoing personal and professional development as much as for others.  It takes me about an hour (usually) to research and prepare one ‘best’ answer.   That is not a huge investment for my return on it.

    So… the point of this shameless bragging about my LinkedIn activities and answers is this:  maybe I’ve posted some answers that would be worthwhile for you to read.

    I recognize that finding past answers I’ve posted to support your more urgent needs or interests might be like looking for a needle in a haystack via LinkedIn, especially if you don’t have a LinkedIn account (although Google is doing better at providing this information, now).  Nonetheless, I’m going to start posting some of the better answers I’ve provided here, too.  I do provide plenty of links to the LinkedIn website here, so let’s figure this might inspire some of my blog readers to open a new LinkedIn account (or better use the one they have), shall we?  It’s a win-win-win. 

    Anyway, my future LinkedIn Answer Blog posts here will be titled in a manner that best represents the original question asked.  The entire content of the question will appear in the body of the post. 

    If you have any questions for me about LinkedIn, I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them for you.  Better yet… join LinkedIn and ask me there!

    Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology, Websites | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Lessons Learned While Reaching For the Stars

    Posted by Diane Kulisek on September 18, 2009

    apollo_11_launchLast night I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a special session of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA) Space Transportation Technical Committee at the Hilton in Pasadena, CA (home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories and CalTech).  I wish to thank Bob Tarn, a colleague of mine from The Engineers Council and Pratt & Whitney – Rocketdyne, for sharing an invitation to the event with me.

    For those of you who may not know this, despite my obviously enduring passion for quality, my first and greatest love has always been for manned space flight.  I was enthralled.  You couldn’t have kept me away from this event with a flame thrower.

    A few words of praise for the Hilton Hotel in Pasadena

    Even though it may seem off topic, I like to give praise where praise is due, so bear with me about this.  When I arrived at the Hilton, I was really pleased with how easy the things I needed were to find.  Google maps helped get me from Simi Valley to the right address in Pasadena, of course, but the short term parking for AIAA attendees was very clearly identified and my specific event was on the list shown me by the parking attendant, who cheerfully told me which level the event was being held on, the easiest way to get there from the parking structure and which level would probably be best to park on.  Wow.  Kudos to Hilton for that!

    Traffic had been kind of heavy and I was running just a few minutes behind my schedule, so I walked as quickly as I could into the hotel, right onto the floor where the event was located…. but I knew that finding the meeting room might be a little bit of a challenge.  Not so.  An employee wearing a Hilton badge was right inside the entrance and kindly directed me to the proper room.  Wow, again.  Hilton has it down, eh?!

    Meet the Moderator and Panel

    When I got into the room where the presentation was to be held, I noticed three gentlemen sitting, panel style, at a table on a riser, with another gentleman standing at a podium to my right.  I believe that the gentleman at the podium was the Event Moderator, probably Peter Montgomery, Deputy Branch Manager, Space and Missiles Testing for the Aerospace Testing Alliance/Arnold Engineering Development Center at Arnold AFB in Tennessee, who had sent out an update, adding one of the panelists, earlier in the day.

    Those three fellows on the panel were pretty remarkable people and deserve an introduction here.   

    First, there was John Casani, former Program Manager for several major spaceflight projects, including Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini, currently Special Assistant to the Director at JPL.

    Next, there was Wil Swan, former Program Manager for the Apollo landing impact systems.  Will also worked on a variety of satellite programs during his time in the industry.

    Last, but certainly not least (none of them were ‘least’), there was Chuck Lowry, former Program Manager for the parachutes on the Apollo program and consulting today on parachutes for Orion and Blue Origin.

    Each of these esteemed speakers were asked to share a couple of memorable moments from their work on space transportation programs.  Although the word ‘quality’ was not mentioned much, the stories often had to do with something (or someone) not doing what was expected or not working the way it was supposed to work.  Their descriptions of the problems flowed smoothly through to root cause analyses and explanations of the solutions.

    Following are those examples.  Please forgive me for not being able to write fast enough to capture the details any better:

    From Wil Swan

    • Wil Swan discussed how, in order to determine what pressure to apply to prevent landing wheels from locking, a fifth wheel was added to the typical 4-wheel landing configuration.  The purpose of the fifth wheel was to collect pressure data so that the amount of braking pressure to be applied and/or withstood prevented the main wheels from locking.  This was the first application of an anti-lock braking system.  One can only imagine how many landing wheel lockings it may have taken to figure out this might be necessary.
    • Wil, at the jovial urging of his colleagues,  explained his infamy for having been involved with the spectacular sinking of a capsule due to an unknown water landing impact pressure (after it was thought that couldn’t happen).  This was solved by ‘gluing’ additional/thicker heat shielding to the capsule.  I guess, in both of Wil’s cases, more really was… more.

    From Chuck Lowry

    • Chuck Lowry noted that, when things did go wrong, there was usually a lot of embarrassment.  He cited an example involving what was eventually found to be the failure of an MRI Redstone mission abort indicator.  When the vehicle was supposed to have launched, it just hovered a little bit and then sat right back down on the pad.  Unfortunately, without the mission abort indicator functioning, the stage separation pyrotechnics and parachute deployment pyrotechnics activated, perfectly, with the vehicle still sitting on the pad.  Once events had been set in motion, all anybody there could do was watch.  It sounded like it was quite a show.  
    • Chuck continued on to describe how a NASA project for parachute testing  had  required some poor guy to ride in the back of a plane and manually arm the pyrotechnical device for the parachute just prior to dropping the test vehicle out of the plane.  It sounds as though it was a hair-raisingly risky job and, wouldn’t you know it, the first test failed miserably.  When they pried the failed test vehicle from its position, deep in the dessert ground, it was found that the pyro device had not been armed.  Naturally, the company moved quickly toward firing the guy who was supposed to have flipped that switch.  NASA intervened to save the guy’s job, saying something like: “We’ve just invested a hundred million dollars in training this guy.  He’s the LEAST likely person to EVER repeat this particular mistake.”

     From John Casani

    • John Casani’s first contribution to the conversation had to do with a Mariner 69 launch effort.  Apparently, a pre-valve had been left open and ignitable gas was spewing out of the tank.  Some guy from General Dynamics actually ran under the vehicle to shut off the valve and save the spacecraft. This led to John’s observation that people matter most in the success of a program.
    • John’s second example to illustrate this concept had to do with a technician working on the Magellan launch of the Titan.  There was a Lockheed Martin Safe/Arm pyro device for internal and external wrenches.  The technician had gone over the system with the QA representative and everything checked out, but something was nagging at him.  After he had left the base, he asked the driver to turn around and take him back.  Sure enough, during a drafting translation from the supplier drawing to the customer drawing, the internal and external wrenching plugs had been reversed.  His intuition, experience and willingness to act upon them had saved the mission.  

     What Mattered Most?  People and Communication.

    A general discussion about what mattered most in their experience ensued and, to a person, they all agreed that people were the most important element for success.  People needed to be alert, listen carefully to one another (with this being cited as the most important skill), be mindful of the work they were doing and look to the frontline for the most crucial information.  Being willing to make tough calls was critical, such as was the case for the situation whereby John had to call a mission abort when he had evidence that the internal and external power check (pyrotechnic) switch for one vehicle were not working correctly.  Chuck said that, without a doubt, technicians actually work out solutions to more real problems than engineers.  Based upon my personal experience, I sure agree with that.  My advice is to never, ever, underestimate the knowledge, ability or courage of those working on the front line.  

     The Importance of Knowing How to Listen

    The moderator for the session, Peter Montgomery, mentioned something he had once been told by Col. Vic Whitehead, USAF (Ret.), former System Program Director for Expendable Launch Vehicles and former Vice President of Space launch Systems for Lockheed Martin Astronautics.  Vic had told him that, when you are monitoring the launch command channels, which there can now be about 24 of working simultaneously, you cannot listen to all of the words on all of the channels.  So, Vic said, you listen to the tones of voice.  If you hear changes in the tones of voice from what they normally sound like, you tune into the words.  An interesting way to address information overload, eh?  Listen for the critical changes in the behavior of others.  I imagine this would apply to watching for critical changes in the behavior of others, as well.

    The Economic Case for Open Communication and Empowerment

    John Casani talked about how the cost of on-board payload experiments always being overrun and the challenge this posed for him as a space flight program manager.  He was pleasantly surprised that the solution for that problem came from a CalTech Economics professor.  This professor said, more or less, just open the communications between the various parties with the experiments, disclose ALL of the resources available to them, then let them know: “That’s it.  That’s all there is” and tell them they are free to work it out among themselves through barter, but, when all is said and done, they’ve got to come back to you with their solution.  This took the program manager out of the frustrating, time-consuming, middleman role, empowered the stakeholders, and solved the problem.  From that point forward, the on-board experiments were consistently addressed within budget and on schedule.  Open communication and empowerment were the keys.

    The Importance of Expecting the Unexpected or “We’re All In This TOGETHER”

    Even when somebody is heroic (or foolish) enough to volunteer for  what seems to be the most risky job for a program, there is no assurance that the actual final risk will behave as it was predicted.  Chuck Lowry was asked to describe his experience with a Mach II (2000Q) ejection seat project.  A physiologist working with the program had agreed to ride in the ‘hot seat’ (pun intended), which had been loaded with pyrotechnics to assess the result of using human restraints upon deployment of the ejection seat.  In order to avoid decapitation during ejection, a face shield being pulled down from over the pilot’s head would activate the ejection seat pyrotechnics.  The physiological challenge was to reduce the pilot’s risk of loosing other body parts, due to flailing amidst shrapnel, by restraining the limbs tightly, as close to the rest of the body as possible, with automated clamping devices for wrists and ankles.  When the test had been set up, and the human guinea pig was mounted on his chariot of fire, those there to witness took their positions behind some thin metal shielding.  Somehow, they had failed to consider the possibility that, when the pyrotechnics went off, the shrapnel would fly OUTWARD.  The test subject, inside the circle of explosions, ended up being in the safest place in the room.

    Questions and Answers

    At this point, the event was opened up for questions to the panel.

    Question 1:  The average age of Apollo flight directors was 28 and the ages ranged from 25 to 30 years old.  Is the reason things seem to take so long today because of the age of the workers?  Would younger people be faster?

    Answers 1:  Not necessarily.  Age probably doesn’t have as much to do with it as risk management does.  Flying in spacecraft is dangerous but current space program managers do not want to accept that risk, so the safety precautions slow everything down to a crawl.  If Wilbur and Orville Wright had refused to take some reasonable risks, they would never have flown.  If you don’t want to fly, you should stay home.  Unfortunately, as one ‘common sense’ astronaut told one of the panelists, NASA personnel seem to have a mindset that they must compete with each other to see who can be most conservative with regard to flight safety.  One attendee concurred that safety and liability concerns are hobbling the space program and that there is no tolerance for any reasonable level of risk.  She noted her annoyance with employees of one company wearing t-shirts with the slogan: “Failure is NOT an option.”

    Question 2:  How did the failure to handle standard unit to metric unit conversions effectively lead to failure of a multi-million dollar space program?

    Answers 2:  The hardware for that program was designed entirely using standard units but, when it came to the navigation system, because the supporting technology had been developed in Europe, the units for it were metric.  This was not taken into account by the young engineer (fresh out of college) who had been asked to design the hardware for the system in standard units.  The unfortunate thing is that there were at least five subsequent points in the program whereby the problem could have been, and should have been, detected and corrected.  In one case, the problem was actually communicated and documented, but the person to whom it had been assigned left his position before he could bring it to closure, and it fell between the cracks.  Failure by many, who could have, to document and follow through on observed problems was identified as the most significant, although secondary, cause of the program’s failure.

    Question 3:  How did the failure that led to the deaths of astronauts upon launch in the earlier space programs happen?

    Answers 3:  A pressurized pure oxygen atmosphere in the command module was used to keep the weight of the launch load down (to reduce costs), instead of the less volatile oxygen/nitrogen mix used now.  Although the root cause of the spark that caused the highly volatile pressurized oxygen to explode could not be found after the vehicle had incinerated, it was believed to be a an electrical arc caused by wire damage which could have occurred while working in the cramped space of the crew compartment.  

    Question 4:  How do you balance risk against cost?

    Answers 4:  It needs to be done, but it is very challenging to attempt.  As an example, retro rockets were developed for the Apollo vehicles, to reduce touchdown impact pressure, but were not used due to cost.  It was determined that restructuring the vehicle’s heat shield was a much less costly but reasonable alternative solution for withstanding touchdown pressure.  On a more personal level, we need to come to terms with the fact that we can’t afford to eliminate every risk.  One of the panelists provided this example:  “I was asked if I thought it was possible that I might suffer a stroke someday.  I said that, yes, that was possible.  I was then asked if I thought it was a good idea to have paramedics around, who could respond, if I did have a stroke, to possibly save my life.  I said, yes, I supposed it was.  I was then asked why I didn’t have paramedics on duty, 24 hours a day, right outside my front door.  The answer was that I couldn’t possibly afford that.  So it came down to a trade off between my accepting a certain level of risk because I couldn’t afford the alternative. 

    Closing Advice

    In their closing remarks, the panelists were asked to share their advice to those just beginning or considering a career in space transportation.  Here is what they said:

    1.  Have a morning meeting for at least a ½ hour each day and force people to talk about immediate problems that need to be solved.  Do not let it turn into a status meeting.  Focus on eliminating obstacles and moving forward. 

    2.  Demand written requirements, not just from customer outside of the organization, but from your direct customers within the organization.  Make sure it is written on paper or electronically.  Do not let requirements be held only in somebody’s mind.  

    3.  Challenge requirements that cross the line between need and want.  Do not let requirements based upon speculation (“what if”) drive up the cost and time it takes to complete a mission.  Use cost to push back on speculative requirements.  Risk is negotiable.

    4.  Do not be discouraged by those who demand there be an economic benefit to them.  The manned space program NEEDS to go on.  If every decision was based upon economic benefit, who would have kids?  Asking about the economic payoff is not the right question, because the payoff is not in dollars.  INSPIRATION is the payoff. 

    I think that, off all the very valuable information that I was honored to be able to enjoy at this event, these last words of advice were the most valuable:  “Risk is negotiable” and “INSPIRATION is the payoff.”  I can apply this advice to so very many aspects of my life.  I believe you can, too.

    Inspiration was definitely MY payoff, at last night’s event.  Thank you, again, to all of those who have lived their lives so well as to be able to share these insights with me and others who may read this.  I hope I captured enough of what was said to spread some of that inspiration around a bit further.

    Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

    My Experience at the 15 Sept ASQ Meeting

    Posted by Diane Kulisek on September 16, 2009

    shaking-hands[1]Today’s post is really going to be more about the quality of relationships than anything else, but that may not seem immediately apparent.  Please bear with me.

    I suppose that many people have fulfilling family lives, dedicate much of their time to the needs of their place of worship, volunteer for community service groups to fight poverty, raise funds for medical research, education and the arts or support political agendas intended to provide us with fairer laws and safer highways. 

    I am not one of them, at least, not directly. 

    I do have a ‘family’, though.  My family is my fellow quality practitioners.  We are a unique type of people.  It might even be possible to pick us out in a crowd.  I suspect it may be genetic.   We do serve our community.  We work to improve the quality of life for all, but our efforts are almost entirely invisible to those around us.  When people ask us what we do, and we say “quality assurance”, the next question is often:  “What is that?”…. and I think we all have a pretty hard time explaining it.

    We make our livings by applying our unique skills, utilizing highly specialized tools and methods, to the task of, very simply, assuring things are what they are supposed to be to those who care.  We also get really good at noticing when things are NOT … what they are supposed to be. 

    As an example, one of our most unique skills might be called “the quality touch”.  The closest thing like it that you might recognize is probably telekinesis: the ability to move objects with one’s mind.  Here is how it works: any one of us can walk into a busy, cluttered, crowded, crazy, loud environment and, without even realizing that there might be a problem, reach into a barrel containing 9,999 perfect ball bearings …. and pull out the ‘1-in-10,000’ that is not what it is supposed to be, randomly, while blind-folded.   This can be a very annoying phenomenon for those who would like to be able to claim that nothing ever goes wrong. 

    Imagine being in a room full of people with this odd ‘gift’.  Now, imagine being in a room full of people like that for 25 or more consecutive years… and you’ll begin to understand my ‘family’.  You wanna talk criticism?  You wanna talk uncompromising expectations?  You wanna talk ‘attention-to-detail’ ad nauseum?  Nag nag NAG nag nag….   Okay.  We have our issues.   But, when all is said and done, we appreciate our similarities more than our differences.  We may even be more than just ‘family’.  Perhaps we are a ‘tribe’…. a ‘quality tribe’.  And we make an important contribution toward improving the quality of life for everybody in the world. 

    So, anyway, let’s get back to the matter of my experience at the 15 September American Society for Quality (ASQ) Meeting. 

    I try to attend at least one ASQ meeting, in person or via teleconference, per month.  Many months, I attend three or more meetings.  Every once in awhile, I am the featured speaker at these events, but not this evening.  I thought it might interest you to hear what goes on at one of these events… from my perspective, anyway.

    About a week ago I went on-line, registered, and paid my $20. (which covers the expense for dinner, speaker appreciation gifts and, sometimes, when they aren’t donated, a few modestly priced little doorprizes).  The event was held at the Baxter facility in Westlake Village, California, about 20 miles from my home.  Yeah…. I’m unemployed, and the price isn’t all that cheap… and my car’s ‘out-of-gas’ light came on during my ride home… but you’ll hopefully come to understand why this expense was actually an important investment toward ending my unemployment as you read through the rest of this article.

    The featured presentation was titled: “Continuous Improvement Quick Overview.  The presenter was Mark Lindsey, an ASQ member for more than 25 consecutive years (like me), with possibly more letters for the professional credential acronyms after his name than there are letters in alphabet soup.  Mark drove all the way north from San Diego County, through Los Angeles County (which is larger than some states), to Ventura County…. to make his presentation to us.  For that dedication, he receives our sincere appreciation and one (1.00)  highly-coveted full recertification unit (an RU).   You need to collect 18 RU’s, over a 3 year period,  in order to maintain certain ASQ credentials without having to retake the certification exams.   

    Baxter has a gorgeous facility in Westlake Village.  It kind of reminds me of a castle with a moat.  We (those of us attending the meeting), park right out in front of this huge building and get to enjoy the luxury of a state-of-the-art conference room next to the main lobby, compliments of Baxter management.

    After a brief check-in with Baxter’s security desk, I was greeted by several cheerful young ASQ volunteers working at the registration table.  They made sure I received copies of presentation handouts for two (surprise!) presentations that would be made this evening.  I signed the attendance list and put my peel and stick pre-printed name tag on my lapel.

    I rounded the corner into the main conference room to the fragrance of a hot BBQ meal.  To my delight (I don’t cook), the event planners had arranged for a wonderful caterer to bless us with fresh garden vegetables, fresh hot rolls with soft butter, homemade BBQ beans and coleslaw and the most lip-smacking BBQ beef and chicken I’ve tasted in years.  MmmMmm… it was good.  We also each received a bottle of water and… oh my, there was desert baked from scratch.  There were home-baked Tollhouse-like chocolate chip cookies, some kind of thin sweet cracker pastry topped with a thick dark chocolate glaze and a cheesecake/crumbcake combo that was finger-lickin’ good.  The meal, alone, was worth my every expense for the evening (thanks to Annette Dawson Davis, for that)!

    As I was awaiting the start of the official program, I put a half dozen copies of the latest newsletter from our industry Division, the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division (I’m on the cover, as author of the Outgoing Division Chair’s Message), on the literature table.  I had just received them via UPS, that morning.  I blinked … and they were gone! 

    There were probably about 25 people in attendance for this 3-hour weeknight event.  Two grinning gentlemen approached me and extended their hands in greeting.  They turned out to be former coworkers of mine from Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, CA.  We had worked together to assure the quality of rocket engines, including those for the space shuttle, about 15 years ago.   It was nice to see them.  They explained that they had been talking about the last time they had attended one of these ASQ meetings (several years ago) and were wondering whether or not they might see me tonight….just before I walked in the door.

    I also went over to say ‘hello’ to Rosemarie Christopher, current Vice Chair for the ASQ FDC Division at the National level and President of MedExec International, an executive placement firm serving the biomedical industry.   Rosemarie’s volunteer work with ASQ spans a period of over 15 years and our friendship goes back at least that long.  It is because of Rosemarie and the other tireless local ASQ volunteers within the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Industries, that this evening’s meeting was possible.

    The hostess representing Baxter, Mary Thorsness, covered some basic facility information with us and welcomed us all to the event, then turned the program over to Rosemarie Christopher for introduction of our first  (surprise) speaker.

    Tami Nguyen works for Genentech… which I think may be located even a greater distance from Westlake Village than San Diego.  Tami, one of the first people in the world to successfully pass the new ASQ Certified Pharmaceutical GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) Professional , or CPGP, exam, shared a presentation about the new credential with us.  She also encouraged those of us who could to take the exam, when it is next offered this coming December.  Her presentation was rewarded with the same coveted 1.00 RU that the main speaker would receive and she thanked us all as she hurried to the door, lamenting that she would likely miss her scheduled flight and end up on standby, but noting that it had been worth doing so to be there with us tonight.

    The main speaker, Mark Lindsey, did an absolutely outstanding job of providing an overview of Continuous Improvement methods and tools, including those of Six Sigma and Lean.  His handout was 10 double-sided pages long and there was not a bit of fluff in any of it.  Those pages contained images of 120 Powerpoint charts presented at an average rate of about 2 slides per minute.  The presentation moved so fast that I felt like I should have been wearing a seatbelt.  It was a great ride (inside joke)!

    Mark’s presentation was also, for me, a very timely reminder about the tools of my trade.  I can (and very likely will) use the information he provided to answer questions during my, hopefully soon to come, plethora of job interviews.

    When Mark ended his presentation, he opened the floor to questions from the attendees.  There were a number of people who asked questions but the one that stood out most in my mind shared an almost metaphysical observation about the difference between the way quality is viewed in Japan and the way it is defined in the United States.  He cited Taguchi as his inspiration and pointed out that, in the United States, while we seem to define quality as conformance to requirements or fitness for intended use, the Japanese define quality as what is left after the loss imparted to society by the item being something other than what it is supposed to be has been subtracted from its otherwise inherent value.  He pointed out that this placed a greater emphasis upon the importance of community and, therefore, upon the quality of life.  Intriguing.  Running through my mind was that ‘quality is the result of care’ line from Pirsig.  Profound.

    The meeting ended with a lovely plaque being presented to Mark as an expression of our appreciation for his effort, along with a dinner-for-two-gift-certificate …. to thank Mark’s significant other for letting him loose to help us out for the night….. and, of course, doorprizes.  Many of the door prizes had been donated by a local manufacturer of high end personal care products (shampoos and the like).  There was also a brand spankin’ new 2010 Dilbert desk calendar awarded to one lucky meeting attendee.

    You might think this was pretty much it … but no.  Conversations continued after the main event had ended and I chatted, cheerfully, with the event organizers as they were tidying up the meeting room and packing away excess supplies to be used at the next event.  During the conversations, I asked (in my role as former acting chair for the Education Committee of the ASQ San Fernando Valley Section),  if it might be possible for us to teach some of our exam preparation courses there at the Baxter facility… and the answer was…. (drum roll please)…. very possibly “Yes”.    Yay! 

    Almost as importantly, I was introduced to a prospective co-facilitator for the courses, a former public school teacher with a law degree and a passion for… you guessed it… quality.  We’ll be in touch with each other to start working out the details, soon.  We exchanged our business cards.

    Lastly, as I was answering questions about my job search efforts from concerned colleagues, I learned that Rosemarie may be able to assist me with contract positions, through her Rxresearchstaffing subsidiary (  Rosemarie was instrumental in helping me get my last job, so that was great news …. and I’m more hopeful than ever that I’ll find some good income solutions, sooner, rather than later! 

    So…. what do I have to show for the $20 bucks I spent, the 40 mile  round-trip and the 4 hours or so of my time to attend this meeting?   Relationships. 

    These aren’t just ANY relationships.  These are very important relationships.  Relationships with my ‘family’, my ‘tribe’.  Relationships to remind me of who I am and what I do.  Relationships to remind me what makes me valuable to those around me.  Relationships that enhance my personal quality of life (such as breaking bread with people who understand and care about me over a really GREAT meal).  Relationships that connect me with ways to assist others more effectively (like, by providing a possible place to teach and somebody to help facilitate that teaching), even though I need some help myself, right now.  Relationships that offer solutions for career paths I thought would otherwise be impossible (such as contracting without being ‘self-employed’).  Relationships that helped me walk out of the room with my head held high, my spirit renewed, my self-confidence reinforced.  Relationships critical to my ability to win my next career opportunity and make a priceless contribution to the well-being of my next employer…. while assuring and improving the quality of life, once again, from behind the scenes, for all of us.

    I hope you were able to see and understand the benefits of attending this meeting , and meetings like it, as easily as I was but, if you weren’t, I’ll leave you with the same information our featured speaker, Mark Lindsey, shared at the end of his excellent presentation:

    • Deming:  “The Good news is that you do not need to do any of this.”    
    • [insert awkward silence here]. 
    • Unwitting Corporate Executive Student:  “Why?”
    • Deming:  “Because survival is not compulsory.”

    Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Fact-Based Quality

    Posted by Diane Kulisek on September 14, 2009

    WISDOM HIERARCHYI believe that the most important ‘product’ a quality assurance professional provides is actionable information.  Not all information, however, is created equal. 

    There is a hierarchy associated with information. 

    • The lowest level of information is RAW DATA. 
    • When RAW DATA has been objectively verified, it can be classified as a FACT. 
    • A FACT that has been validated as appropriate for an intended use can finally be deemed true INFORMATION. 
    • The acceptance of INFORMATION transforms it into KNOWLEDGE. 
    • KNOWLEDGE, combined with courage, provides the power to take action and create change. 
    • Change begets lessons that can only be learned through experience and transforms KNOWLEDGE into WISDOM, the highest level of information (without becoming metaphysical).

    You can find out more about the Hierachy of Wisdom on the QualityWarrior website (

    Because information is so essential to the pursuit of quality, I particularly enjoyed an email containing an article from Michael McLaughlin, “The Guerrilla Consultant”, this morning titled: “Just The Facts”.  In Michael’s article, he explains how best to sell consulting services and advice to consulting clients using facts.  In particular, he discusses the potential pitfalls and considerations that must be applied to the soundness of fact-based sales pitches.

    I found that, by substituting a top manager, colleague or prospective employer for the ‘client’, and by considering that what is being sold is a change to the quality management system or to a quality assurance process, as opposed to a change to any other aspect of the way a company does business, Michael’s recommendations could serve those of us attempting to make a case for continual improvement, return on quality investment or the economic case for the pursuit of quality, as well.

    Here are some highlights of the article:

    • Your recommendations need to be accepted and acted upon to have value;
    • Acceptance of facts relies upon the skill with which those facts were gathered, analyzed, sorted for the most relevance and communicated; 
    • A compelling case for change can only be made when the facts supporting that change cannot be argued.
    • Change (even necessary, beneficial, positive change) tends to be resisted and the validity of facts used to make a case for change WILL be challenged;
    • If your facts are discredited, your recommendations based upon those facts will be dismissed and your credibility for subsequent recommendations will be much more difficult to reestablish;
    • If your facts are objective, timely, and valid, you will build credibility and trust with your top manager, colleague or prospective employer; 
    • Experience is not enough to earn the trust of decision-makers and your track record, alone, will not serve you as well as will presenting compelling facts;
    • Review your facts with those you wish to make a change and listen for feedback and buy-in before making any recommendation. 
    • There must be agreement about the validity of your facts before your recommendation is likely to be accepted;
    • When the validity of facts is certain, you will be able to focus upon solutions, without the distraction of defensive debates; and
    • Welcome debates about the merits of proposed solutions but avoid debates about the validity the  facts leading to your proposals “like the plague”.

    In closing, Michael indicates that there are three critical considerations for building a sound fact base:

    1. Use multiple sources of information to validate your facts, especially external ones; 
    2. Cross-check every fact in your presentation and make sure there are at LEAST two credible sources of reference for each one that you can easily cite; and 
    3. Make sure your facts are free from bias or opinon and are objective, regardless of whether their sources are internal or external.  As Mark Twain was quoted as saying:  “There are liars, DAMNED liars, and statisticians.  Be sure your facts have not been manipulated to support only one desired outcome.  

    My summary of Michael’s article is uniquely slanted toward serving those of us within the quality practitioner community and I hope I have done him justice in my having done so.  Nevertheless, his article is eloquently written for his target audience, the consulting community (to which some of us may also belong).  I encourage you to enjoy it in his own words on his website at: .  For those of you who consult, I highly recommend that you join The Guerrilla Consultant mail list and take advantage of Mr. McLaughlin’s monthly newsletter.  I assure you, he does not abuse his access to your email account and every issue contains his personal insights about successful consulting.

    Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    What ELSE to Do While Looking for Work

    Posted by Diane Kulisek on September 13, 2009

    jobhuntOkay, I’ve been laid off, again.  I almost made it a year this time… but no.  It was not to be.  At the end of August, I was on my own, again.  My heart goes out to those who remained behind to struggle through the challenges of a manufacturing company under seige by the current economy.  Nonetheless, I am faced with the challenge of surviving while trying to find my next best source of livelihood.

    I don’t really know what one should do, aside from seek employment, while unemployed… but I can share what I have decided to do with you.  Perhaps you’ll find some part of it useful.

    Firstly, I let myself grieve a bit… but not long.  It brought me a sort of spiritual closure.  I reconciled myself with what I had done (or not done) that might have led to my being let go while others were retained.  Happily, I concluded that I had done the best I knew to do, regardless of whatever others may have thought of those efforts.  I am always adding new ways to do things better to my knowledge base, but I am certain that I gave everything I had to give to my last employer and that what I gave was more than many others could have given (or will be able to give).  That understanding has brought me inner peace and the confidence to move forward with a positive attitude about what I have to offer my next employer.  I can now add my experience from one more company, one more industry, one more unique set of business cirumstances, to those I can bring to bear on my next job. 

    After the grieving was over, I turned my attention to my personal affairs, which had, unfortunately, been somewhat neglected while I was working for somebody else.  I filed for unemployment benefits, I completed the COBRA application, I updated my resume and my LinkedIn profile.  I’m getting my documentation in order to renew my professional certifications through the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which, as luck would have it, are due for renewal this year, I sorted out the other piles of paperwork waiting to be attended to in my home and began doing the things I needed to do to resolve each situation. 

    I’ve reviewed and adjusted my budget, such as it is, to best deal with the fixed income I’ll receive through unemployment insurance until I find my next gig.  It will not, of course, cover my most basic current expenses, even with significant belt tightening, but I can survive awhile longer than might otherwise seem possible with some careful maneuvering.

    I’m updating my on-line presence, as this blog post evidences.  My websites will be updated next.

    I let those closest to me know of my predicament which, over the past week,  has rewarded me with lots of well-wishing phonecalls, introductions for new potential opportunities or alliances and many, many encouraging emails.  I was even able to enjoy lunch (and a few hours of impromptue bible study, at her request) with a new professional colleague… who lives walking distance from my home (the result of an introduction from another professional colleague on LinkedIn).  We’ll be working together on a possible on-line CAPA tracking application soon, hopefully.

    I also, reluctantly, bowed out of the most costly and time-consuming volunteer activities I had committed to for the American Society for Quality (ASQ).  Unfortunately, that meant resigning from most of my leadership roles.  I’m holding onto the Quality Advocacy position for San Fernando Valley Section of ASQ, only.  This will better enable me to focus my time and money on job seeking… while better conserving my more limited resources.  It is amazing how much time can get sucked into volunteer activites…. if we let it happen.  I was getting over 50 emails a day, most days, relating to volunteer activities.  Most wanted time, money or both.  Now, that has slowed down to a trickle.  There are new, better, ways for me to make contributions to my professional community, during this time of unemployment.  Posting this blog is one of them.

    I made a daily “to do” list, as well as set some longer term goals… using the task manager feature in MS Outlook.  On my daily task list are things intended to improve my visibility to prospective employers, such as:

    • sending out at least two resumes for new opportunities per day;
    • updating at least one job board profile per day;
    • answering all emails and phone calls from recruiters and prospective employers, daily;
    • posting a new blog entry (here) each day;
    • answering one or two LinkedIn questions, email questions or commenting on web-based discussions each day; and
    • reaching out by offering at least one public presentation, registering to attend a professional development meeting or workshop, enrolling in a free webinar or writing an article for publication, per day.

    There are also some ‘to do list’ items intended to maintain or enhance my attitude, enthusiasm and general quality of life, despite the horrors of poverty and impending doom associated with unemployment.  Among these are:

    • attend to personal dental and other healthcare needs;
    • meet with, talk with or write emails back and forth with at least one friend or family member per day;
    • take at least 10 minutes per waking hour (on average) to do something relaxing, like reading a book, watching a movie clip, listening to music, taking a walk, playing with my pets or meditating;
    • Set aside at least 1 hour per day to ‘play’ or do something creative, like playing a game that makes me think, or developing a game for the Quality Warrior website, drawing/painting, archery, dancing, writing for fun (poetry, fiction), taking photographs, creating a collage, etc.;
    • Take at least 1 hour per day to clean, straighten and unclutter my home or attend to my yard;
    • Get dressed as though I may need to dash out the door for an interview at any moment, each weekday morning (no working in PJ’s except on weekends!);
    • Get 6 hours of sleep out of every 24 hour period (this is almost unheard of for me, because those close to me know I’ve never been able to sleep more than about 3 hours per night, but I’m finding I think much more clearly the next day when I take a nap or two during the day and sleep through those 3 hours at night); and
    • Eat a healthy breakfast (I usually have oatmeal or toasted oats with skim milk and fruit), a light lunch and a satisfying dinner each day.

    I have not yet figured out what to do for excercise, although walking, dancing, playing with my pets, archery and housework all involve elements of that.  I sorely need to find something that works well for me in this department.  Heh.  I’m open to new ideas.

    Along with my ‘to do list’, I have a less formal (more philosophical) ‘don’t list’.  Here are the things I think are on it, so far:

    • Don’t try to blame anybody else for my current plight;
    • Don’t focus upon what I may or may not have done wrong or may be doing wrong (focus on what I have done right and am doing right, instead);
    • Don’t let anybody tell me I need to be anything other than what and who I am, and especially, don’t let anybody convince me to hide my knowledge or experience because I might seem too ‘over-qualified’ or ‘intimidating’;
    • Don’t be afraid to try something new or different (take qualified risks);
    • Don’t let people with jobs treat me disrespectfully just because I don’t have a job at this moment, yet;
    • Don’t tolerate employment-related discrimination, harassment or unfairness;
    • Forgive, but don’t trust people who have proven themselves untrustworthy in the past;
    • Don’t forget to help others along the way; and
    • Don’t forget to express my gratitude for the wonderful things in my life, everyday.

    I’m sure I’ve probably left a lot of stuff out while improvising this message.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what to do while looking for work… and I’m sure others would, as well.  We can help ourselves best by helping each other.  Please send me a note or post your thoughts.

    Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Social Commentary | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Independence and Unity – Balance as Quality

    Posted by Diane Kulisek on July 4, 2007

    us-flagToday is our Independence Day holiday in the United States, it seems appropriate to call to the attention of all people throughout the world that the concepts America holds most dear are often in contradiction with one another… intentionally. Take the name of this holiday and the name of this country, for instance. How can people be united and independent, simultaneously? The answer to that question is perhaps fundamental to the joy of life and pursuit of happiness… and therefore… an element of that ever elusive “quality” of life. The answer is… BALANCE.

    As an amateur metaphysician, dabbler in the esoteric, ponderer of existentialism, as well as a systems thinker (as most quality leaders tend to be), I’m pleased to say that both chaos and order appear to have essential merit in the universe. As I consider the usual state of my office while I am engaged in the pursuit of any complex project, the observation that chaos has value is especially relevant. After the project is done, order will be restored (sort of) and with it will linger my personal satisfaction about having mastered the elements of chaos and prevailed with order, yet again.

    Why would such opposite concepts have seemingly equal value, though? Why would independence and unity both have value, despite their contradictory implications? How could chaos and order be equally meritorious states of being? Well, discussions about this fill bookshelves in far greater libraries than mine shall ever be. For now, I’m just going to focus on the importance of balance as an essential element of quality.

    When I was new to the quality profession, I thought that one of it’s most compelling attractions was the ease with which one could discern good from bad. It was black and white. The specification was literally written in black and white on some authoritative document and there were acceptance criteria and rejection criteria and if something was good it was clear. If something was bad it was also clear. How convenient. How honest. How straight forward. But ultimately…. how MISLEADING.

    Goodness or badness are rarely immediately clear distinctions… as anybody with a mischievous child or pet learns pretty quickly. There is a bit of good and bad in each and every thing depending entirely, of course, upon beholders’ perspectives. This is a great rationale for providing your child with a pet early in life. Let them learn about this up close and personal!

    At the beginning of my quality career, back when I was still young enough to mistakenly think that the more I learned the more I would know, I suddenly stumbled upon the concept that opposites might actually be part of the same continuum. I bit my lip and came to terms with the likelihood that learning something new meant understanding there were many more things I didn’t know.

    You see, there are all kinds of shades of gray between black and white…. but the fact was that black and white were at opposite ends of a single linear scale of graduated darkness and lightness. Then, I realized that I could flip the scale around and have the darkness graduating to light or the lightness graduating to dark. Join opposing ends… and the linear scale had now become circular. But wait. There’s MORE.

    With a bit more pondering, I realized that every point along the black/white continuum also had graduated levels of radiance associated with it. Now, I could envision this continuum as a fractal plane… or…. even as a holographic sphere…. and it started to look like…. <gasp>….. hadn’t I seen that symbol somewhere before? Good grief! It was a yin-yang symbol…. in 3-D! I had finally become one with the surfing community of Southern California. EGADS!

    I promptly went out and bought “The Tao of Physics” (Fritjof Capra, 1975, Shambhala Publications, Berkley, California). Imagine my surprise upon learning that the renowned, Nobel prize-winning physicist, Niels Bohr, had also incorporated the yin-yang symbol into the Bohr family coat of arms when knighted in 1947 and adopted, as his motto: Contraria sunt complementa (opposites are complementary). Come to think of it, this wasn’t a new concept. Newton came up with something like it in 1687, namely, Newton’s Third Law: “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

    I started to notice opposites everywhere… as pairs, not as distinctions. And there were gradients between the pairs. And there were orders of magnitude for the opposing features of each pair. Goodness and badness were no longer distinct. In fact, if one pursued goodness to an extreme, it could transition to badness… and visa versa (too much of anything is a bad thing). If love and passion are marked by the appearance of obsession, for instance, when somebody is obsessed enough with their hatred toward another… it can look an awful lot like… love. If one loves another to the point of obsession, however, especially if it is unreciprocated, the obsession can turn into all sorts of ugliness: stalking, abduction, murder… and closely resembles hatred. On the other hand, if hatred is pushed to it’s lowest extreme, malicious neglect, it can mimic the lowest boundary of love, bare tolerance, and perhaps the destructive power of indifference would be at the imaginary boundary between the two, if such a boundary existed. No wonder the phrase “love/hate relationship” has become so common.

    When I began to understand the statistics behind quality control and the uncertainty associated with population distributions relative to sample distributions, confidence levels and operating characteristic curves, I could not help but realize that I was encountering still more application of balance as a quality factor. What had seemed like a firm scientific and mathematical basis for acceptability I now understood to be based upon assumptions about acceptable levels of risk. Wait a minute. Doesn’t a sine curve point of inflection look an awful lot like….. oh NO…. it DOES…. it’s a yin yang symbol!

    Then I learned of the Taguchi loss function, which defines variation (or perhaps more appropriately: “deviation”) from a specific desired outcome as a “loss to society”… and shuns the notion of “goal-posting” (setting acceptability limits within which everything is either suddenly “good” and outside of which everything is suddenly “bad”, a.k.a. tolerance limits). This is when I realized that quality practitioners could no longer enjoy the comfort of a “black and white”, “good and bad”, world. Quality practitioners must strive for balance as much as for any other outcome.

    How much loss is society willing or able to endure in order for anything to have less quality? How much is society willing to suffer or survive in order for our planet to have less ecological balance? Consider the factors important to consider when answering questions of this nature. The quality practitioner’s life had just shifted from the purely mathematical and scientific, to the sociological and philosophical with only a foundation in math and science. Chaos rules. Drat.

    Well, if it’s any consolation, despite my tailspin off into quality engineer-ese, the founding fathers of the United States of America understood and communicated the need for balance in much more common terms. They diligently defined quality and balance for this country in our Declaration of Independence, our U.S. Constitution, and, lastly, in our Bill of Rights and Amendments. These governing documents consistently recognized and balanced the need to protect the rights and independence of the individual against the need for and strength of unity in every possible way. The fruit of their labors has endured for over 210 years and, in that time, has made the United States one of the most desirable places to live in the world. I see that as one of the loudest, clearest, most basic statements about the importance of quality, with balance as an element of quality, and the indisputable value of quality in the world today.

    Happy 4th of July!

    Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Social Commentary | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »