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Posts Tagged ‘Six Sigma’

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.

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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 »

Simple CAPA Status by Manager Metric Template

Posted by Diane Kulisek on October 12, 2009

simplecapastatusToday’s template is one I created for use in reporting Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) status (opened, closed, backlog) by manager.  If you’re in a hurry, you can click on the image to the left to request this Quality Resource, now.

The availability of sophisticated, enterprise-level, CAPA tracking and performance reporting systems is great … if you can afford them … and if you can afford to maintain them.  Unfortunately, that appears to be getting more difficult to do and, in my experience, has not often been the case.  A poorly maintained system can be (and often has been) worse than no system at all.

What to do?  Well, start small and work with tools that are familiar and easily accessible to everybody… like MS Excel.  Get the biggest bang you can for your buck. 

I have found that heightening personal accountability for timely completion of assigned corrective or preventive actions, by publishing the status of CAPA’s assigned to each person in an organization, can result in some pretty impressive returns on investment. 

For a small to medium sized company, this isn’t too hard to do using an MS Excel spreadsheet, such as the one provided here.  You can customize the reporting frequency interval to work best for you, but tracking by month has been a pretty effective way for most companies I’ve worked with to go.  If you’ve got a relatively high volume of CAPA activity, try weekly status updates.  If you hardly ever need to improve anything (because you’re just THAT good), go with a quarterly report.  You might even be able to get away with generating only a twice yearly or annual report for use in your Management Reviews.

If identifying people by name or title on a performance chart seems as though it may not be suitable for your organization, try using department names or product names, instead.

For each reporting interval, the template provided will empower you to graphically display the level of CAPA’s initiated to, closed by or in the backlog for each assigned person or group. 

There are as many ways to do this as there are people wanting to do it, of course.  You may prefer to switch to a classic Six Sigma Dashboard style and, if that’s the case, Dashboard Spy has a nifty example for you (click here).  If you’d like the software to do what you see on Dashboard Spy using Excel, consider QI Macros, one of my favorite salt-of-the-earth applications.  I’ve created a template for a Simple Quality Dashboard  using QI Macros.  The Simple Quality Dashboard template is always available for download on the CAPAtrak Website and I’ve seen it in use in many companies I’ve visited. 

If this particular “Simple CAPA Status by Manager Template” doesn’t seem to work well for your specific needs, try using Google to do a search for others.  I got 25 MS Excel spreadsheet hits when I entered this search string:  “capa status dashboard filetype: xls“.  

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.

Posted in Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »