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Top Three Small Business Quality Problems

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

So, the top three problems are:

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

(although, not necessarily in that order).

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript from Diane:

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

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

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

Curing Lean Six Sigma Weak Points

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 14, 2009

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

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

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

I think two things need to change:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • Measure is the second album from Matt Pond PA, released in 2000.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measure_(album)
  • 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. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measure_(bartending)

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 …
www.blackerbyassoc.com/SPGloss.html

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.
www.blackerbyassoc.com/SPGloss.html

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
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • 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 …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_(band)
  • In differential geometry, the notion of a metric tensor can be extended to an arbitrary vector bundle. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_(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. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_(general_relativity)
  • 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 …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_(unit)
  • A measure for something; a means of deriving a quantitative measurement or approximation for otherwise qualitative phenomena (esp. …
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/metric
  • metrics – prosody: the study of poetic meter and the art of versification
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • 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). …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrics_(networking)
  • 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.
    www.infodiv.unimelb.edu.au/knowledgebase/itservices/a-z/m.html
  • 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.
    www.software-testing-outsourcing.com/glossary.html
  • 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. …
    mon15ny450.doubleclick.net/SiteScope/docs/SiteScopeTerms.htm
  • A standard for measurement.
    www.icaa.cc/member_wellnessworkgroups/benchmarks_workgroup/Benchmarks%20Definitions%20Worksheet.doc

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 »

What Are the Benefits of Healthcare Business Process Management (BPM)?

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 1, 2009

This question (a collection of questions, actually) was posted on LinkedIn by Yousef Mahmoud, PMP, a business process management consultant with EJADA Systems in Saudi Arabia. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/yousefmahd ):

What are the added values to health care organizations gained through Business Process Management with respect to incorporating standards and Quality means?  What are the standards and certificates available for health care org?  ISO?  What GCI for health care institutes?  How can BPM initiatives help health care org apply these standards efficiently?

Diane Kulisek’s Answer (selected as the ‘best’ of two ‘good’ answers posted on LinkedIn):

Quality Management is, in my opinion, at it’s most effective when managed as a system of interrelated processes. Standards are helpful in establishing a Quality Management System (QMS) because, typically, those who develop the standards are world class experts within the industries they represent and for whom the standards are intended to be effective. The standards such people develop take into consideration practicality as well as intangible values (which may matter most to customers and stakeholders).

The value of a Quality Management System, regardless of what standard or criterion might be used, is that it provides a basis for determining the overall effectiveness of multiple processes critical to effective provision of customer (patient) care and while strategically, proactively, addressing the needs of stakeholders (financial resources). Having a quality management system in place better assures that anticipated potential but unplanned expenses related to poor quality have been effectively mitigated (i.e. to prevent or reduce the potential for malpractice and liability related expenses).

I have found that there is also value with regard to improved employee retention and morale by having the solid foundation of a top management supported system to inspire continual process and service improvement on a company-wide (or health care facility-wide) basis.

With regard to what standards or certificates might be available for health care, I recommend you contact the American Society for Quality’s Healthcare Division (http://www.asq.org/health/ ) for the latest developments. Another source of guidance that may be of value to you is the Baldrige National Quality Program’s “Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence”.   A .pdf copy of these guidelines is available from the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) at http://www.baldrige.nist.gov/HealthCare_Criteria.htm . You may also request that a hardcopy be mailed to you from that website.

I believe these resources could be helpful to any nation’s health care improvement efforts and they are certainly available to you via the internet.

Posted in Blogroll, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 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.”

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