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Document Change/Release Order (MS Word)

Posted by Diane Kulisek on October 6, 2009

DocChangeRelOrdToday, I dug around in my goodie bag and came up with this Document Change/Release Order template.  If you’re in a hurry, you can click on the image to the left to request this Quality Resource, now.  It is a fully-editable MS Word document.  You can add a company logo, delete an approval block, change a document category, or do whatever else best suits your purpose.  This type of document is also often referred to as an Engineering Change Order or Request (ECO or ECR). I prefer to use the term “Document” instead of “Engineering” because not all documents requiring control for an effective Quality Management System are Engineering documents.  It may not be perfect, but it has passed many an audit by ISO 9001 registrars. 

Every company I go to work for seems to struggle with how best to manage the change process for their documents.  All would like a simpler, faster way to do it.  I’ve tried automating the process using the MS Outlook features for collaborative review.  There is a Microsoft Partner application called Workshare that looks pretty good for this.   At one company, we used Carmen, a document control application from another Microsoft Partner, Manedge Software.  That was very affordable and worked well, too.  If you’re in a larger organization, it might be worthwhile to invest in some of the more sophisticated enterprise solutions for document control, such as those provided by MasterControl.  There are certainly more applications available, but these are the ones I’m familiar enough with to tell you about. 

I should probably mention that the ERP modules for document control that I’ve seen do not seem to work very well.  They’re just a bit too easy for the average employee to hack around.  I’m not going to cite ERP application names here.  Suffice it to say I’ve tried several.

As always, if this particular Document Change/Release Order template doesn’t seem to work well for your specific needs, try using Google to do a search for others.  I got 116 MS Word document  hits when I entered this search string:  “ECO, document release OR control OR request “engineering change order”  filetype:doc”.  There also editable Document Control templates/examples available formated as Excel worksheets and as Access-based data entry ‘forms’.  Just change the filetype in the search string to reflect the type of document you prefer.

As always, if you need a particular form or advice on any other quality-related matter, feel free to contact me.  I’ll be happy to do what I can to help.

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Posted in Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Quality Resource – Product Validation Protocol Template (MS Word)

Posted by Diane Kulisek on October 5, 2009

ProdValProtIf you’re in a hurry, you can click on the image to the left to request this post’s Quality Resource, the Product Validation Protocol Template/Example in MS Word.
I realized, as I was getting ready to transfer my work to a new computer, that I have developed, over the years, many, many types of quality assurance tools, templates and examples that I could share.  The tools I’ve developed are typically in MS Word, MS Excel, MS Access, MS PowerPoint, Adobe .pdf and a smattering of other formats.
This will be the first such item I make available through my BLOG.  There are some other downloads that may be available on the CAPAtrak website, as well.

To get to the Quality Resources I’ll be sharing with my BLOG readers, I ask that you please use a Special Request Form.   Pardon the advertisements, please.  The form was able to be created, free to me, via Bravenet.com and I cannot currently justify the expense of subscribing to the form without them making their money via ads.

The good news is, if you use the form just once, you can save the final link to your favorites and just check back at that same URL when you see me mention a new resource here.  You could share the direct link with your friends, as well, but I hope you’ll afford me the courtesy of asking them to please use the form, as well.

By using the request form, I’ll know who cared enough to use my stuff… and I can keep those who do alerted to other new stuff from time to time.  Just so you know, I’m not exactly sure how to do that, yet.  I’m not going to load your inbox up with solicitations, that’s for sure.

Anyway, let’s talk about this particular resource.  As I began working in FDA-regulated companies, I realized that there was a need to structure the means by which new or changed products were ‘validated’.  Just so we’re clear, ‘validation’ means checking to be sure what you’ve got is appropriate for an intended use.  Validation is typically structured against the Product Specification, which will be used to drive labelling and product performance claims.  There are many ways to approach validation and each is uniquely tailored to a specific need… but I thought you might like to see a somewhat standard and simple format for a product validation protocol that has worked for me.  Feel free to use it as a template for your own validation efforts.

If this particular validation approach doesn’t seem to resonate well with your specific needs, try searching Google for others.  I got 474 MS Word document  hits when I entered this search string:  “validation protocol” filetype:doc .

As always, if you need a particular form or advice on any other quality-related matter, feel free to contact me.

Posted in Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | 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 (www.rxresearchstaffing.com).  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 (www.qualitywarrior.com).

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:  http://www.guerrillaconsulting.com/newsletter/2009/issue59-sep-09.html .  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 »

Retail Market Quality – Customer Service Wins, AGAIN

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 25, 2007

TraderJoesSince beginning to post on this blog, I’ve realized that I tend to do more complaining about lack of quality in my world than congratulating of those accountable for situations where I DO find great quality… and there is certainly lots of great quality around that people deserve congratulations for. Perhaps that is why quality practitioners get such a bad rap. We do tend to focus on what needs fixing as opposed to what ain’t broken. I think that wanting to fix things that are broken is human but, in this regard, perhaps quality practitioners skew the normal curve. Well, here’s another attempt by me to somewhat turn that tide.

The best way for me to let you know how much quality impacts each of our lives is to look for examples in my own. I’m talking about everyday examples, things that you might also encounter but take for granted. Because this tends to be in public places, and many people are in public places to attend to needed purchases, you are probably going to hear a lot about retail institutions and my experiences with them.

Today is not an exception to that, but what I’m going to describe to you is. I suppose that just about all of us need to shop for groceries pretty regularly. Last night, after the temperatures in Southern California cooled down a bit, I finally roused myself from the comfort of my home to make a milk and egg run. I headed for my favorite grocer, Trader Joe’s, at about 8:30 PM (TJ’s closes at 9:00 PM on Sundays). As I dashed into the store, one of the first things that always comes into view is the fresh produce section. One of the employees was busily re-stocking the tomatoes and some Romas caught my eye… but… when I looked for a price, the tag was missing. I pointed at the tomatoes I was interested in, because there were at least a half dozen varieties there, and asked the employee if he could tell me how much they were. With a lopsided smile he said “Sure!” and from his position straddled bow-legged over a crate of tomatoes, he swiveled around to read the price off of the…. missing…. shelf tag. He swiveled back around to meet my eyes and said…. “Well, I’m not going to get the price off of the tag, am I?” I smiled with amusement and waggled my eyebrows. He enthusiastically (despite it being the end of the work day) hopped off of the crate, snatched a carton of the Romas and said: “Be right back!”…. while he dashed to the nearest open register to scan the bar code and get my price for me. That was halfway across the rather large store. When he returned, still smiling (albeit a bit out of breath), the first words out of his mouth were the price. I thanked him, almost as enthusiastically (ah, the energy of youth). As I reached for one of the cartons on the shelf, the employee stopped me and said… “Here, take this, it’s fresher.” and handed me a carton from his flat.

Congratulations to Trader Joe’s for this superior customer service.

Now, I sometimes find it necessary to shop at another large supermarket, which is actually closer to my home, but I’ll tell you what… when the union employees start stocking the shelves THERE in the evening, you’d better stay out of their way… or you’ll get run over. I’ve had my ankle nipped by their flying pallet jacks more than once. They either glare at or ignore the patrons who their attitude conveys are “interfering” with their ability to do their jobs. Unlike the neatly groomed and cheerful TJ’s employee, the “other” grocer’s employees look and smell like they either just got out of their favorite bar or are headed there as soon as they can get their unpleasant job completed. I’ve actually had union shelf stockers pull pallets of product directly into my path and tell me: “You’ll have to go around.” If I were to ask one of them for a price on something that there was no tag for on the shelf, I’d fear for my subsequent safety and that of my family.

Fortunately, during a strike by these same filthy nasty union employees that lasted several months, and during which anybody crossing their picket line was, at least, verbally harrassed and, on occasion, physically assaulted, Trader Joe’s doors were open. The TJ’s employees (non-union) remained cheerful despite the sudden mass of unexpected patrons and stepped up to the formidable challenge of providing food for the community during the strike, including stocking items they would not normally want to carry (Trader Joes leans toward healthier foods). I know for a fact that the large supermarkets lost more than the revenue and union concessions they may have suffered during the strike. They lost a BUNCH of customers, permanently, to Trader Joe’s. I am one of them… and I know there are others, because I used to see them at the big supermarket before the strike… and now I see them at Trader Joe’s.

But the story doesn’t end there. While it is true that Trader Joe’s experienced a windfall of business due to the strike, many people DID return to the other supermarket. Trader Joe’s has never let it’s guard down in communicating value to those who visit. One of the things that has always impressed me is a wall display in which a typical grocery order is mounted from each of the two competing stores (milk, bread, butter, eggs, pasta, cereal, soup, etc.)… almost identical in content. The Trader Joe’s cost is magnificently lower than that of the competitor. And you can verify it by looking at the grocery receipts printed out and posted by the display… with recent dates…. or by simply visiting both stores and checking the prices of the items… if you don’t mind risking life and limb to interface with the possibly dangerous union shelf stockers at the supermarket. Personally, I’d rather let the TJ’s “mystery shoppers” do that for me. I trust the posted receipts.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see the difference in quality between the two stores. I’m going to have to apologize for letting a little bit of quality grousing slip in… and hope that you recognize my praise for where quality actually is (i.e. at Trader Joe’s), despite it.

Now, again, a summary for what to do versus what not to do regarding retail grocery customer service:

1. DO: Make sure you are open for business in every respect as long as your doors are posted to be open… and a little longer (if a customer needs you to be and is already in the store). Do NOT: Allow a store environment in which the customers are deterred from shopping in some parts of your establishment as much as two hours before the posted “close of business”.

2. DO: Provide a “safe” shopping environment. Do NOT: Allow behavior by your personnel that says they view customers as physically “expendable”. For goodness sake… do NOT cause injury to or allow harm to come to your customers. Some might eventually be inclined to sue you. If you think a union strike was expensive, wait until you get THAT bill.

3. DO: Make sure your employees present an image that people trust with regard to who is handling their food. Be clean, be neat, be organized, be respectful. Do NOT: Think that long dirty hair, dirt encrusted fingernails, three days worth of beard growth, a t-shirt that says something across the front you wouldn’t want your kids to read and a body odor that reminds people of what wafts out of corner bars conveys this message: “I really care about health.”

4. DO: Be courteous toward, respectful of and accommodate for customers. Smile, acknowledge, protect and even go a little out of your way for customers. Do NOT: neglect, demean or inconvenience customers. Glaring at a customer will alienate one. Make a customer feel like they are a problem and you’ll become theirs. You might also want to consider explaining to your employees that they get a paycheck because of your customers and that they should make some room for them, as opposed to telling them to get out of the way.

5. DO: Pay attention to what the competition is doing, both in practice and in price. If you are better than they are, make sure your customers know about it. Be obvious. Do NOT: ever assume that you can disregard your competition, no matter how bad you may think they are. If you cannot demonstrate why people should shop at your store over another, they may decide not to shop at your store anymore. Either address the issue of competitive advantage or plan your “exit strategy”…. because you’ll need one pretty soon.

Have you had good or bad experiences worthy of acknowledging from a quality perspective with regard to grocers? Share it here. Are you a grocer that would like to point out a few “inside” tidbits about quality management in your unique industry? Have a say. Let us know how you handle quality, from an insider’s perspective. Even if you aren’t a grocer or a grocery buyer… did this article relate to another retail experience for you? Do tell.

All the best,

Diane Kulisek

President, CAPAtrak LLC

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

The Great Stove Swap – Quality in Service

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 22, 2007

the gas companySome of you may take your utility services for granted. Others of you may even think utilities should be entitlements, especially when being warm in winter or cool in summer can mean the difference between life and death.

I am personally amazed at how unchanged utility programs are in Southern California. Maybe it’s just because I live in an “older” neighborhood (is 30 years “old”?). I don’t know…. but what I do know is that I appreciate the responsiveness of my Gas Company. That’s right. The good ol’ Southern California Gas Company. When it comes to stove swapping… they’ve got their act together. Customer service with high quality.

Let me explain.

Firstly, when I moved into my home about six years ago, I noticed that the space for the stove was unfinished on both sides. Obviously, there had once been a taller stove unit where the one I “inherited” was now located. You know… one of those things with the microwave on top. Everytime I winced at the scruffy exposed press board I longed for veneer… or a taller stove. It has not, however, ever been much of a priority.

Well, it took the universe just about six years to deal with my stove issue. There, sitting like a pearl in an oyster, glowing in the sunset, across the street…. sat the stove of my dreams! My neighbors had hauled one out to the curb for “bulk collection” by the waste management service in association with their in-progress kitchen remodel. Swallowing my pride (a BIG pill, by the way), I hopped across the street and knocked on their door. Pointing to the object of my desire, I asked if it was still working. Well… not ONLY was it still working… but my neighbor offered to help haul it over to my home with me. SUCH a deal! We parked it in the garage.

I knew that paying a handyman to swap the old stove out with the “new” stove was going to be pricey… and possibly unreliable. When dealing with a substance as explosive as gas, I didn’t feel confident in going that route. When you’re worried about gas, I say, call a gas expert. So when I got my monthly gas bill a few days later, the service number in big font at the top of the bill caught my attention. What harm could there be in calling, right? So I did. I called the Gas Company.

The operator was on the line in a flash. No long drill down menu in their digital phone system. I loved that. She didn’t ask me to hold. She didn’t ask who she could transfer me to. She was just THERE. She was humble (imagine that… a customer service representative that was not annoyed without even knowing what I was calling about). She asked how she could help me. OH MY GOD. I was experiencing a flashback to customer service I hadn’t experienced since the 70’s! Maybe not changing, in this respect, is a GOOD thing for a utility.

I explained my situation and asked if she could recommend somebody to come help me swap stoves and deal with the gas line disconnection/reconnection. “Well,” she said, “that could be expensive.” Having dealt with a $150. handyman charge (not including materials) to install a new garbage disposal recently (and not very effectively, by the way), I was prepared for the worst. “How much?” I said with trepidation. “Well,” she said, “it could run anywhere from about $32. to $56.” OH MY GOD. “Sold!” I said, “Where do I find this incredibly affordable service?” “When would you like us to come out?” Wait a minute… “Us”? I couldn’t believe it. The Gas Company helps people swap stoves?! You’ve GOT to be kidding… a big utility like that? Millions of people to support? They could send somebody out for about a third of what it would cost me to hire a handyman to do this incredibly difficult thing for little ol’ me? YES! The service representative went on to say… “Would you like us to come on a day of your choosing or would the next available day be okay?” Good grief. I was expecting a two week backlog when I said: “The next available day would be fine.” Imagine my shock when she said: “We could come out tomorrow. Would you prefer a morning, afternoon or … [GASP!] evening appointment?” I opted for evening and was given a convenient 3 hour window of service. Then, with further concern, I asked what hardware I should procure to support the procedure. “Our representative will have everything he needs with him.” “REALLY?! Everything?” “Yes, really. Please be sure to confine your dogs if you have any to assure the safety of our representative.” WOW. Not only were they a full-service, incredibly responsive and affordable solution… but they CARED about their employees. I was, to say the least, impressed.

Later that evening, I received an automated phone call from the Gas Company, confirming my appointment was scheduled for the next evening, reminding me to confine my pets if I had any to assure the safety of their personnel (that must be quite a problem for them), and [GASP!], thanking me for an opportunity to be of service. Amazing.

Sure enough, the next day, within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time for the 3-hour service window, the representative was on my doorstep, Gas Company issue truck just a few steps away, well-appointed, hefty tool bag in hand, in a neat clean uniform with the Gas Company logo and his name on the pocket, cheerful smile firmly on his face and a humble “can do” attitude VERY apparent. I was incredibly impressed. Wouldn’t you be? This was a NO FEAR approach to customer service that, again, I had not experienced since the ’70’s.

This hero strode in, complimented my well-behaved dogs on the other side of the patio door. Looked at the clunker of a stove that needed swapping out with the other (frankly) clunker of a stove and, with a puzzled look, asked what was wrong with the “in place” stove. I pointed out the unfinished side panels on the cupboards and explained that the “new” old stove is what the house was designed for. Understanding spread on his features. “They both work?” he said. “That’s what my neighbor told me.” says I. “They were just disposing of it (the “new” old stove) to remodel.” He looked around to be sure the grates and burner covers were available for the “new” stove before setting to work.

He commented (cheerfully) on the “oldness” of the fixtures and fittings, but quickly, safely and still cheerfully found solutions to every obstacle he encountered (which required a few quick hops out to his trusty truck). This was obviously a very competent stove swapper!

When he was done, per my request, he left the “new” stove just slightly askew to enable me to scrape up and clean the 20+ years of muck that had gathered under the old stove, showed me that every burner and the oven of the “new” stove were working just fine. Handed me a slip of paper to sign for the services rendered showing a total of only $49. and explained that the charge would be on my next bill from the Gas Company. No credit card or check required! How NEAT! And the slip was only about the size of a check. He had filled out everything, neatly, in his own handwriting… himself…. including my name, address and account number, the date, what hardware he used (a single connector), and his name. It was very personal. I really liked that. The entire process seemed to take only about 20 minutes. Either that, or time flew by because it was so fascinating to watch this master at work.

So…. the Great Stove Swap has been accomplished.

The things that I observed about quality in customer service from the amazing Southern California Gas Company were classic and well worth noting for ANY customer service endeavor:

1. Highly responsive and personable human being on call desk.

2. Humble, unassuming, confidence of all service personnel.

3. Service prices that exceeded customer expectations.

4. Service scheduling that exceeded customer expectations.

5. Concern for employee safety implies concern for customer safety, as well.

6. Proactive reminders and questions to avoid downstream problems by all service processes and personnel.

7. Cheerfulness. LOTS of cheerfulness. In fact, CONTAGIOUS cheerfulness.

8. Competence at the mastery level.

9. Personal touches.

10. Simplicity of required transactions (documentation, payment).

I don’t think I’ve even experienced service this startlingly wonderful in luxury hotels. If only more companies could learn from what the Gas Company does with regard to Customer Service! I am not just satisfied with the service I received from MY Gas Company. I am DELIGHTED. Thank you, Southern California Gas Company… and congratulations. I am a tough customer to please (as might be expected). You went way past pleasing me.

So, CAPAtrak community, what does YOUR company do with regard to Customer Service? Do you have another story about great customer service to share? How about one about Customer service gone wrong? Please post your responses to this story and share it with us.

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The HIGH Cost of Lying to Customers – Are You Paying It?

Posted by Diane Kulisek on June 19, 2007

fruitskewersAs is often the case for many people who do a lot of public speaking for a cause such as quality assurance and regulatory affairs, I am the owner of many generous gift cards from the grateful recipients of my public presentations. Among them, were two for a well-known gourmet restaurant. Not one to waste such stipends, I invited a pal to join me for a high end lunch.

It is not that I really expected the experience to be worth the money the meal would otherwise have cost, but I do expect that it not be of lesser quality than the corner coffee shop or, at least, than a fast food drive through window. More specifically, I expect the people I am dealing with to be polite and honest.

The selection I coveted included a glopping side serving of mashed potatoes. Despite my robust figure, the thought of sucking down a half pound of mashed potatoes on the dining patio in 80+ degrees F weather did not sit well. What would have, was a garden salad… except I have a bit of a problem digesting certain common raw vegetables. Fruit goes down better. So… I asked if the gloppy side dish could be replaced with some seasonal fresh fruit. Mind you… this is not an uncommon request for Southern Californians and, in particular, I have met with great success in requesting this substitution at many other eateries, including all corner coffee shops. Despite this, the young waitress looked me straight in the eye and said: “Sorry, we don’t have fresh fruit.” I was aghast. I looked her straight back in the eye and said… “You’ve got to be kidding…. NO fresh fruit?!” “None.”, she declared, without a moment’s hesitation.

Imagine my irritation when the self same waitress appeared about 5 minutes later with a garnish of one huge plump ripe strawberry and one juicy slice of pineapple perched nicely on my peach smoothie. Before she zipped away…. I caused her to pause. I said: “Is this fruit safe to eat?” She gave me a puzzled look… to which I responded: “Well, you said you had no fresh fruit so, in that this is fruit, I am assuming it is not fresh…. “. She said… “Well, I meant that we do not serve fresh fruit as a side dish. THAT… is a garnish.” I said: “It looks a lot like fresh fruit to me. Why couldn’t you have thrown a few pieces on my plate? I don’t care whether you call it a side dish or a garnish.” With a piercing look of utter disdain, she spun around on her heels and left, tossing a phrase filled with finality: “Because we DON’T.” over her shoulder on the way out.

My lunch partner looked at me with mild disdain, as well. “A bit harsh, weren’t you?” Now my ire was UP. I had just been LIED to and unceremoniously DISSED by a person in the “hospitality” profession…. and I was the one at fault?! I was tempted to make the rest of her service to me as miserable an experience for both of us as possible, just out of principle…. but I decided to have mercy on my lunch partner… and (thus) on the misguided serving wench.

So…. what WAS the cost of that little fib? Well…. let me TELL you! Privately (or to anybody who emails me to ask), whenever the conversation turns to the service quality of restaurants, I WILL share the name of the restaurant chain that tolerates personnel who are dishonest and disrespectful to customers and, more specifically, who tolerated an employee who was dishonest and disrespectful to ME. I WILL go into details. I will state the specific location. I WILL NOT… patronize that establishment again, despite their arrogant claims of superiority.

Frankly, a so-called “high quality” restaurant that makes so little profit selling food that it has to sell advertising in it’s menu just to make up the difference probably isn’t long for this world, anyway. A few of the less tasteful advertisements in the menu had a negative impact on my appetite, anyway (pun intended). I wonder if the managers realize that the ads are at cross-purpose to selling food. Probably not. Come to think of it, they probably wouldn’t listen to their customers even if one tried to tell them.

Anyway, for those of you in the service and hospitality businesses, or even just serving customers from within another type of organization… if you don’t think honesty and respect for customers matters today…. it will… tomorrow. Think about this little story before you insincerely say: “Sorry, we don’t have fruit.” while looking at a truckload of it sitting just far enough behind the scenes to not be immediately apparent to the customer. Sure, it may not be on your menu… it may not be an authorized “option”…. you may not have been taught how to “deal with it”…. your decision makers may be too busy to offer guidance….. you might even have been given a procedure that clearly discourages the use of “fresh fruit” but…. if its there…. and you don’t at least acknowledge it when a customer asks about it… it could cost you and your company a lot more than a few moments of inconvenience or <gasp> the burden of having to figure out something new or different. Customers have a way of figuring things out. Especially when you slap them in the face with it.

My waitress probably didn’t think it mattered that she boldly declared there was no fresh fruit five minutes before she served me fresh fruit in a “slightly different context”. It did. It always does. Learn from her mistake… and that of the company that employs her. There is ALWAYS a high cost for lying to a customer. They’ll pay theirs. In fact, they’ve already started to pay, haven’t they? Send me an email for the name of this famous restaurant chain and the location of the restaurant where this happened.  I can be reached through the CAPAtrak “contact us” page.  Just be sure to put: “Tell me the name of the restaurant” in the subject line.

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