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Definitions, principles, theories and ‘big picture’ quality musings

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.


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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 »

Measure or Metric? Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other?

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 7, 2009

Here is another LinkedIn ‘Best Answer’.  Anshuman Tiwari, a Change Management and Business Excellence Professional within the Information and Technology Services industry and  an active member of the American Society for Quality in India, asked the following LinkedIn Question:

“How would you differentiate between Measure and Metric?  Measure and Metric are often used terms in Balanced Scorecard and the Baldrige framework. How would you explain the difference. Do you have any examples?”

Below is the answer I posted, which Anshuman rated as the ‘Best’ answer of six provided by LinkedIn Members:

“The only distinction that I think might be able to be made does not appear to be available in any of the literature I’ve checked. I’m basing this only upon my personal experience.

I would have to say that a measure is usually performed to gather information for later analysis or to assess conformance with a known specification.

Meanwhile, I would say that a metric is a collection of measurements performed consecutively over a period of time (or in relation to some other progressive scale) that reflects ongoing performance toward attainment of a desired goal or ultimate outcome. Some measures, however, may also appear in analysis of priority or importance with regard to attainment of a goal or may influence allocation of resources for ultimate attainment of a goal (such as might be the case for cumulative Pareto analysis or 80-20 Rule determinations).

In a nutshell, then, I would have to say that a measure tends to be tactical and a metric tends to be strategic.

It certainly should be defined somewhere, officially.”

This was not part of my LinkedIn Answer, but below are the Google-derived definitions of ‘measure’:

Related phrases:   performance measure   unit of measure   made to measure   common measure   tape measure   oregon ballot measure 7   measure for measure   beyond measure   linear measure   how to measure a planet

Definitions of measure on the Web:

  • any maneuver made as part of progress toward a goal; “the situation called for strong measures”; “the police took steps to reduce crime”
  • how much there is or how many there are of something that you can quantify
  • bill: a statute in draft before it becomes law; “they held a public hearing on the bill”
  • measurement: the act or process of assigning numbers to phenomena according to a rule; “the measurements were carefully done”; “his mental measurings proved remarkably accurate”
  • standard: a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated; “the schools comply with federal standards”; “they set the measure for all subsequent work”
  • determine the measurements of something or somebody, take measurements of; “Measure the length of the wall”
  • meter: (prosody) the accent in a metrical foot of verse
  • quantify: express as a number or measure or quantity; “Can you quantify your results?”
  • musical notation for a repeating pattern of musical beats; “the orchestra omitted the last twelve bars of the song”
  • have certain dimensions; “This table surfaces measures 20inches by 36 inches”
  • measuring stick: measuring instrument having a sequence of marks at regular intervals; used as a reference in making measurements
  • evaluate or estimate the nature, quality, ability, extent, or significance of; “I will have the family jewels appraised by a professional”; “access all the factors when taking a risk”
  • a container of some standard capacity that is used to obtain fixed amounts of a substance
  • Measure is the second album from Matt Pond PA, released in 2000.
  • A jigger or measure is a bartending tool used to measure liquor, which is typically then poured into a cocktail shaker. It is named for the unit of liquid it typically measures, a 1.5 fluid ounce (~44 ml) jigger or shot. …

If we narrow our search for a definition to ‘performance measure’, we’ll find that ‘measure’ and ‘metric’ are terms used interchangeably.  There are subsearches provided for strategic performance measures and for tactical performance measures, however.  Here are the Google-based ‘performance measure’ definitions:

Related phrases:   technical performance measure   strategic performance measure   tactical performance measure   performance measure/indicator

Definitions of performance measure on the Web:

So, for ‘tactical performance measure’ we have the following Google-based definition:

A yardstick or standard used to measure progress toward achieving a tactical objective; a measure of how well we are doing; an output measure or a …

And, for ‘strategic performance measure’ we have this:

A yardstick or standard used to measure progress toward achieving a strategic objective. a measure of how well we are doing; an outcome measure.

Hmmm….. those look…. suspiciously… like the exact same definition.  Let’s see what the Google-based definitions are for ‘metric’:

Related phrases:   metric ton   metric system   metric space   metric structure   metric conversions   metric units   metric tonne   routing metric   euclidean metric

Definitions of metric on the Web:

  • metric function: a function of a topological space that gives, for any two points in the space, a value equal to the distance between them
  • metric unit: a decimal unit of measurement of the metric system (based on meters and kilograms and seconds); “convert all the measurements to metric units”; “it is easier to work in metric”
  • system of measurement: a system of related measures that facilitates the quantification of some particular characteristic
  • measured: the rhythmic arrangement of syllables
  • Metric is a Canadian New Wave/indie rock band. Originally formed in 1998 in New York City, they are currently based in Toronto, Ontario, Montreal …
  • In differential geometry, the notion of a metric tensor can be extended to an arbitrary vector bundle. …
  • In general relativity, the metric tensor (or simply, the metric) is the fundamental object of study. It may loosely be thought of as a generalization of the gravitational field familiar from Newtonian gravitation. …
  • A metric is a standard unit of measure, such as meter or mile for length, or gram or ton for weight, or more generally, part of a system of parameters, or systems of measurement, or a set of ways of quantitatively and periodically measuring, assessing, controlling or selecting a person, process …
  • A measure for something; a means of deriving a quantitative measurement or approximation for otherwise qualitative phenomena (esp. …
  • metrics – prosody: the study of poetic meter and the art of versification
  • Metrics is a property of a route in computer networking, consisting of any value used by routing algorithms to determine whether one route should perform better than another (the route with the lowest metric is the preferred route). …
  • Measurable element of a service, process or function. The real value of metrics is seen in their change over time. Reliance on a single metric is not advised, especially if it has the potential to affect User behaviour in an undesirable way.
  • A standard of measurement. Software metrics are the statistics describing the structure or content of a program. A metric should be a real objective measurement of something such as number of bugs per lines of code.
  • A general term describing a measurable value available from a particular system or service (see also Counters). The metrics that are available depend on the monitor type and configuration of the system. …
  • A standard for measurement.

Defining the word ‘metric’ seems to use the term ‘measure’, a lot.  I dunno.  What do YOU think the differences are between a metric and a measure?

While you’re pondering that, feel free to download copies of my presentation handout about Quality Metrics and Dashboards from the CAPAtrak Website or enjoy the free downloadable Simple Dashboard and Balanced Scorecard Templates.

Posted in Blogroll, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology, Websites | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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.

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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 »

“Quality” – Is it a Four-Letter Word?

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 11, 2007

No QualityThis past weekend I found myself in Palm Springs at the annual Regional Leadership Training for American Society for Quality (ASQ) volunteers (a.k.a. “member leaders”). One of the things that we did at this event was to brainstorm about what we, as member leaders, could do to bring more value to our fellow ASQ members and to our communities. Sitting at a round table with approximately a half dozen other seasoned professionals, I was immediately stricken by two things: 1.) the declaration by one participant that he did not consider himself to be a “quality” manager and that he did not like having the word “quality” associated with what he did for his company and 2.) the emphasis upon needing to do more to reach out to fellow employees outside of “our” profession with “lean six sigma” resources and to purposely avoid using the word “quality”, because it put people off. Good heavens! These were supposedly “quality” professionals… or at least “quality” practitioners! We were THERE because we were members of the American Society FOR “Quality“….. and these people had a problem with using the word “quality”?! Since when had “quality” become a four letter word?!

Some increasingly heated discussion took place about how “quality” was everybody’s job these days (to which I say, “If its everybody’s job, it is nobody’s job.”), how the best “quality” managers work themselves out of a job by making quality a way of doing business for everybody in the organization and eliminating the need for a “quality” manager (true, perhaps… with many qualifiers required), and how many organizations are, in fact, eliminating separate “quality” departments or personnel, transferring accountability for quality instead to operations, customer service, legal and/or information systems departments (again, this may be fine… but there should be many prerequisites).

I had actually written an article earlier this year about how one company’s top manager started a meeting with me by telling me how he had nothing nice to say about “quality”, how bad his experiences with “quality” had been and how “quality” always seemed to get in the way of other (apparently more worthwhile) business objectives. My point is that this was not my first exposure to this weird anti-“quality” mentality.

Anyway, back at the training meeting round table … we ended our discussion with my asking what the point was to being part of a society dedicated to “quality” if “quality” was no longer (as a minimum) our common interest. We did not have time to address that question, unfortunately.

From my perspective, it comes down to this. If we don’t use the word “quality” to describe what it is a customer requires or is willing to pay for…. what other word (or words) should we use? Without customers… why would it matter what a business does? If a customer requires “quality”, and organizations are no longer willing to provide it, how can those organizations expect to stay around? What would they be providing… and to whom? Perhaps more importantly…. why would anybody want it?

Earlier this year, there was an indication that the word “quality” might be dropped from the title of the “Baldrige National Quality Program”, replacing the word “quality” with “excellence”, instead (which, by the way, will require a congressional act). The rationale was that “quality” was no longer a popular term among top business executives and was diminishing participation in the award process. But … not all customers expect “excellence”… and, even if they did, “excellence” in relation to what? In order to “excel”, one must at least have a point of reference… a minimum level of requirement. You can have “excellent quality”, “excellent price”, “excellent responsiveness”… but.. “excellence” cannot stand alone. It has to be attached to something. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this nasty business, though.

Some might argue that the word “quality” cannot stand alone, as well. To an extent this is true because quality is always inherent to something else…. a thing or a service, a deliverable. Nonetheless, “quality”, in my humble opinion, has always been most simply defined as “that which makes something that which it is supposed to be… according to the customer”. I define customers here, loosely, as those willing to exchange something of value for something else of value. Customers therefore require, as a minimum, “quality”. Customers may prefer excellent quality, that is, customers may be willing to pay more for goods and services that exceed their minimum expectations… but still, as a minimum, quality is required.

So… how many other ways could one simply describe this fundamental requirement? How many other ways could one simply express the need for something to be what it is supposed to be? “Quality” is really the only word that sums it up nicely… for me.

There is no denying that the word “quality” has fallen from grace with some, even with many. Perhaps this is because of how the word “quality” has been abused by those who clumsily or in a self-serving manner hooked it up with abstractions and distractions and used it to sell all manner of unpleasantness.

Let me make this more clear. “Quality” is NOT the same thing as “Lean Six Sigma”. “Quality” is NOT the same thing as “a management system”. “Quality” is not the same thing as “regulatory compliance”. While it is true that the tools and methods of “Lean Six Sigma” can be used to enhance processes that may lead to a better quality deliverable, those tools and methods are a means to an end… not the end itself. While it is true that an effective “management system” can better assure the adequacy of processes that impact the quality of deliverables, the system is again, a means to an end, not the end itself. While it is true that a customer may expect compliance with applicable regulations as part of “what makes something that which it is supposed to be”, there are many other expectations that go beyond regulatory compliance in order for all of a customer’s minimum needs to be satisfied. This is also why “compliance with specifications” falls short of adequately defining “quality”.

So… again… I struggle with the question…. if not “quality”…. how else can we describe: “that which makes something that which it is supposed to be for the customer”? I need to know… because, while customers know VERY well what they mean when they say “I require a quality product (or service)” it appears that our business engineers, managers and executives do not, have become confused… or, at the very least, are irrationally and stubbornly, refusing to use “THAT WORD“.

Now that so many former “quality” professionals and practitioners are becoming unwilling to use “THAT WORD“, …. what should they call themselves? Is this truly an identity crisis… or have they just lost their way?

Well, I haven’t lost MY way. Until I hear of another word (or brief, simple, easy to remember and consistently repeat phrase) to describe what it is that I do…. that being: “assure things are what they are supposed to be for customers”…. I’m sticking with “quality”. I am a “quality” professional, “quality” practitioner, “quality” advocate and I am passionate about “quality”. I’m open, of course, to other suggestions…. from my customers.


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Process Control for Sports Enthusiasts

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 4, 2007

Hit the TargetDo your eyes glaze over when somebody starts talking about Standard Deviation, Control Limits, Frequency Distribution, Histograms or <gasp> Six Sigma? You’re not alone. Statistics are probably among the most despised business tools in the business bucket. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) has been quoted as having said: “There are liars, DAMNED liars…. and…. Statisticians.” Has anybody ever really had anything nice to say about statistics… or those who use them?

Well, fear not. All one need do to relieve the pain of statistics is turn to the sports world. You may not be a baseball card enthusiast but player stats are prominent features on the back of each card. You might have been handling statistics with gleeful abandon since you were a kid. Team and player statistics are flashed at us from television screens during every sports event I’ve ever observed, as well. Sitting behind home base at a recent Dodger game (yes, I’m a Dodger fan), the scoreboard was one of my favorite diversions while waiting for things to sort themselves out otherwise on the playing field. What was there? Statistics!

There are some other great games that each of us may pursue on a sporting level that bring home the whole concept of process control and statistics for what may offer a much more personal understanding. Do you bowl? Play for the company soccer team or baseball league? How about golf? Play that? My personal favorite, lately, is archery. Because I know not too many people “do” archery, I’ll use that as my example (so as to avoid too much undue criticism from fellow enthusiasts).

I studied archery for about three years as an undergrad in college… which was too long ago for me to admit publicly. While recently chatting with a friend, another engineer, we agreed that he would exchange his fencing lessons for my archery lessons and we would both be able to enjoy these old and new diversions together. His enthusiasm for archery proved to outweigh mine for fencing, however, so archery is what we’ve done the most of (so far).

I’ve been enjoying the outdoor setting for target practice and the diverse group of intelligent people pursuing archery as their sport. An added plus is the fact that more national archery champions have come from our community than any other in the United States (you can check out my club at When I say that the instructors involved with this sport have turned it into a process with parameters as carefully defined and controlled as one might expect for manufacture of a precision aircraft or life-saving medical device, it might be an understatement.

While I have been participating in archery sport for a pleasantly healthful break from my mind-bending weekday work, my companion is there to WIN. I have been watching as he learns which eye is dominant for his best aim, how many inches between arrows constitute an effective grouping, how high to hold his elbow, how far back to move his scapula, where to put his feet relative to the firing line, how far apart and what angle the feet should be at relative to his shoulders, what angle to tilt his head at, and at what point on his face to anchor the bow string when he pulls it back with his arrow. And this was just the beginning. Then came which type of bow to buy (long bow, recurve, compound, take down recurve), a few progressive changes in what arrows to use (straight or helical fletchings, aluminum or carbon shaft, variations in length), what poundage pull to strive for (30 lbs, 35 lbs, 40 lbs), what attachments to consider for the bow (plunger, scope, stabilizer), how to hone the arrow rest most effectively to avoid deflection of the arrow as it passes through it, whether or not to use a bow sling, what type of arm guard, finger tab and quiver to use, how many inches should be between the bow riser and the string, how many twists to put into the string before attaching it to each end of the bow, the benefits of waxing the string…. you get the idea. This isn’t a hobby. This is science predicated upon process parametric trial and error that might most effectively be optimized by design of experiments and analysis of variance. In fact, that’s what I’ve been observing happen, although none of those doing it probably realizes that is what they’re doing. The reward is continually improving process control with reduced variation at performance levels that optimizes outcome. In other words, the target gets hit correctly more often. I’ve been tempted to whip out an X-bar and R chart a few times.

Some might think that the local archery club wins so many championships because it has more “natural talent” than other groups. Others might think that, by divine intervention, some of the local archers were just born to be champions. I would take another position and say… it helps that a bunch of the members are computer scientists and engineers with a pretty firm grasp of scientific method, if nothing else…. and that most are system-level thinkers.

Now…. how many of you have played with process control in relation to your sports? Golf game improving? Is it your skill that is improving or your understanding of the process? Did you identify and control a few new parameters for that great game… or was it just dumb luck? Does practice make perfect… or does it take a bit of thought to figure out what needs to change, as well? Are you focused on optimizing the long term inherent causes for process variation (like your height or vision, for instance) or mitigating the near term assignable causes for variation (where DID that wind come from, anyway)? Chances are, you are probably doing both.

SO… next time your eyes start to glaze over while considering what statistics to apply for optimization of a process within your organization…. think of golf, or archery, or any other sport…. go for the goal… aim for that mark….. and SCORE! May the force (of process control) be with you.

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

Fresh… or Stale? Does it really matter?

Posted by Diane Kulisek on May 31, 2007

stale-breadHave you ever munched into a slice of stale bread…. you know… the type that just doesn’t show the mold yet? How about fresh bread? Have you ever delighted in that melt-in-your-mouth softness of a slice of bread just moments after it emerged from the bakery oven? Do you notice the differences? Do they matter to you? Would you knowingly buy stale bread? Would you pay a bit more for fresh bread? If you are like me, at all…. you prefer your bread fresh. I think most people do. The importance of freshness is pretty obvious when bread is the topic of consideration… but what about freshness in business?

Last evening I attended a social event at my Alma Mater to honor newly-graduated engineers. It was sad to see so few graduating…. but there was something equally disturbing noticeable at the event. There we all were: a group of maybe 100 people composed of a few graduates, fewer professors, about as many alumni as there were professors, family members from as far away as South Africa, and catering attendants, standing in a patio area and appreciating the warmth of Southern California in late spring. On one side of the patio was a showcase that ran almost the length of the patio. The showcase belonged to the College of Engineering and was intended to display evidence of the academic prowess thereof. At the far right end of the showcase, the Civil Engineering Department showed off it’s stuff. The poster paper had faded. The duct tape that had been holding the poster to the back wall of the cabinet had given up the ghost and the document was draped diagonally away from the wall so that I had to turn my head sideways to read it… where I noticed the 2005 date. The display was certainly not a great tribute to “construction”. There were a few small trophies scattered about and some undecipherable photo images of various sorts… all dated prior to 2005. Moving down the line I found further images from 2005… a robot competition (replete with a dusty and obviously long-abandoned robot sporting a NASA label), photographs of a 2005 commencement speaker…. all in all… it was a 25 foot long, 8 foot high declaration of years of continued self-neglect. Granted, people usually have more important things to do than showcase their achievements, including college professors, administrators, department chairs and students. Considering how few alumni were at the event, apparently the alumni are pretty busy folks, too. But this very large, difficult to miss, display…. sent a message. For me, the message was that the college was stale and complacent. Those associated with it didn’t care enough about themselves to brush their teeth, comb their hair or shower (analogous for two years of neglect to a highly visible aspect of the college’s appearance). Enough about that. I’ll call the Dean in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I considered a couple of other “stale” things that rubbed me wrong, recently. Standing in a small aerospace company’s lobby…. the “Employee Contributor of the Year” plaque had failed to be maintained for several years. Things that ran through my mind included: “Maybe this recognition program is no longer happening… but why didn’t they take the plaque down when it ended? Or…. perhaps, despite what looked to be about 10 consecutive years of names being added to the plaque, no employee had contributed anything “valuable” lately. Or… maybe the company has been running low on resources and couldn’t afford to post the last few years’ new names on the plaque. As a potential supplier to that company…. could I trust them to pay me? As a potential customer of that company…. could I trust them to pay attention to my details? As a potential employee of that company…. could I trust them to value my contributions?” All of this ran through my thoughts in an instant… when I noticed that the company had failed to maintain a single plaque on their lobby wall.

I also visited a website just yesterday, touting the skills of a web developer/maintainer I was considering hiring. As I went to check out various pages within his website, I found that many of the hyperlinks were broken. I run a free site analyzer on my own website’s links every week to be sure they are still working. I don’t understand why a professional web developer would not do the same on a site he uses to promote his expertise…. unless he doesn’t know how… which would say to me that he’s probably dumber than I am … or he doesn’t care enough to maintain it… in which case, why would he care about maintaining mine?

I think that spring is a time when freshness is in the air. The phrase “spring cleaning” is used all through the year (in California, anyway) , but…. spring is almost over. Have you done your cleaning? I’m looking around here and… I need to get busy! Staleness matters… and freshness matters. Which are you? Which is your organization?

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