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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 »

Quality and Memories

Posted by Diane Kulisek on May 28, 2007

Memorial DayMemorial Day, in the United States, has an interesting and controversial background. Fundamentally, it appears to have been founded to honor the memory of those who fell fighting in America’s Civil War. Subsequently, the holiday has expanded to honor the memory of all who have fought for and fallen to defend the American way of life. There are a number of references on the internet about the extent to which people have forgotten the purpose for this holiday and no longer observe it in the intended manner.

It also marks the calendar end of spring and the beginning of summer in the United States. For many families it is the first long weekend during which to entertain around a pool and enjoy a barbeque, take a picnic trip to the beach or embark upon the first weekend camping expedition of the season.

In reflecting upon memories as they relate to quality there are two perspectives that seem worthy of discussion. Firstly, there is the quality of what is actually being remembered. Secondly, there is the quality of the process by which something is being remembered.

The concept of ‘quality of what is being remembered’ struck me very hard while being present throughout the struggles of my beloved grandparents with senile dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease… a disease that negatively affects one’s ability to remember. I think we all tend to define much of who we are by our memories and when those memories are slipping away we lose bits and pieces of ourselves with them. I suppose it should have come as no surprise to me when, as my loved ones’ memories were disappearing, the memories that endured longest were those upon which all other memories were built… childhood memories…. and those which changed the way in which even childhood memories operated, those being incredibly significant (to them) events, experiences and relationships. My grandfather spoke tirelessly about his service as a U.S. Marine in WWII… and about his frustration with a single manager while he was a union employee working on the Apollo space program. My grandmother did two things that had brought her the most private comfort after my grandfather had passed away but just before her memory began to betray her: she watched television and read romance novels. I would walk into a room to find her hypnotized on the edge of her seat by the television screen, even though it was tuned to a Spanish-speaking broadcast and she had never learned to speak that language. Each day, she would sit, smiling, as she read twenty or so pages of a romance novel until she tired and needed a nap… not recalling that she had read the same twenty or so pages of the same novel every day for the past six months.

In reflecting upon this it occurred to me how many of the organizations I’ve worked with did not have a formal hierarchy of events or relationships in corporate memory. If you were to ask any employee which events were most important in the company’s history… or which relationships had mattered most… they wouldn’t know. How could they function? All memory is “tribal knowledge” in such organizations and, as each employee retired or otherwise left the organization, a bit of that organization’s memory left with them… as did classification criteria for what constituted “significance”. If one were to strive for emulation of natural systems, wouldn’t it make sense to better capture and maintain more of the significant organizational memory for effective retrieval? How can an organization learn from or even value current events in relation to past events if it has no “memory” of them?

With regard to the process by which memory was retained, it was obvious that reliance upon human physiology was not up to the long term task… at least not in the case of my grandparents. I longed to have a photo album or journal from each of them to consult after they had gone from this world, but neither of them were very diligent about writing things down. With the loss of my grandparents, I not only lost their warm hugs, great senses of humor, boundless optimism and encouragement… but I also lost the comfort of their wise, hard won, experience-based thoughts and guidance. How many organizations abandon the value of such wisdom by not documenting it, also?

If your company or organization does not yet have a historian and access to “lessons learned”, perhaps Memorial Day is a good reason to reconsider the potential value of creating such knowledge repositories.

Meanwhile, I wish all of you and your families a great holiday. I also give thanks for all of the fellow citizens who have put their lives on the line to protect the way of life enjoyed by me and the millions of other Americans over the decades. Blessings to you all.

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