Problem Solving – There is NO Magic Pill

Problem Solving – There is no magic pill

Humans Naturally wired to solve problems:

As long as humans have been in existence we have always attempted and usually succeeded in identifying and most times solving issues that have plagued us. On average, humans are one of the physically least suited to defend ourselves with just our physical tools. We do not have sharp teeth, or claws of a lion, the eyesight of an eagle, the hearing of a dog nor the ability to fly like an eagle. Humans have however, overcome many of these challenges and have made ourselves the ruler of our planet because of our brains.

Decision Making and Problem Solving Flaws:

For all of the prowess of our mental abilities, we humans still make a lot of errors in our decision making and problem solving process. We tend to rely on things that we recall have “worked the last time on this issue”, or would solve an issue based on our education, skill set, or experience.

Often times our brains start working on a solution without having the necessary information. We rely on a number of mental shortcuts known as mental biases or heuristics. I am no psychologist but I have heard, read and experienced firsthand, that there are over 200 different decision-making biases that exist. Going back to the days of our ancestors, we faced life or death every day. This may be from trying to feed our families, or just to prevent being the dinner of another creature. We were forced to make snap decisions based on the facts about a situation that we had instantaneously. This is referred to as fight or flight sometimes.

Though life has gotten much easier for most of our species, our brains are still wired to take in information that is available and make a decision. We rely on the biases or heuristics that I referred to above. Some of the more relevant ones as they pertain to my topic of interest are listed below: (Note – I will get more into these in a later post)

  • Anchoring bias
  • Availability bias
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Representative heuristic
  • Affect heuristic
  • Confirmation bias
  • Expectation bias
  • Blind-spot bias
  • Selective perspective
  • Escalation of commitment
  • Risk aversion

Systems 1 & Systems 2 Thinking:

Our brains also use what is called systems 1 and systems 2 type thinking. Systems 1 thinking can be described as the fast, intuitive thinking that relies on fast, low focus, almost automatic thinking based on our intuition, past experiences, biases and heuristics.

Systems 2 thinking is more focused, in-depth thinking processes. For example, if we are trying to solve a very complex math problem or word problem and we must process and think through the data and facts. I have heard or read that at least 95% of our decisions take pace in the systems 1 thinking realm.

The Role of Managers and Quality Professionals:

The question is, what are managers, and quality professionals to do in trying to overcome these shortcomings in our decision making and problem solving processes?

It is my opinion that we must “slow down” the initial rush to judgement to allow the gathering of necessary information, resources (additional brains, inputs, opinions, experience and knowledge). We must also provide series of different decision making, problem solving tools and processes to our employees. This means training them, and reinforcing the use of them as well as what we measure and reward.

Some steps that I have found useful that we can use to improve our problem solving efforts and overcome some of these hard-wired habits that we have are as follows:

  • Take the emotion out of the discussion/ issue
  • Use, train and reinforce the use of a structured problem solving process to take guessing and jumping to conclusions out of the process
  • As management, reinforce the successes of no repeat root causes to problems experienced
  • Make sure cross-functional problem solving teams are used
  • Use available tools such as 5-why, time-line (when did the issue first become known and what changed), common corrective action templates such as 8D, 5 Principles, etc…
  • Don’t look to determine “who did it”, focus on the problem solving process and facts
  • Ask as many questions as possible about the situation/ issue and prove and disprove the possible causes with facts and data


My next post will delve into more detail on the more common biases and heuristics that are run into as well as details and examples on systems 1 and 2 thinking.

Best of luck.


You Are The Sum Of Your Choices

You Are the Sum of Your Choices
Though we may not want to admit it sometimes, I believe that we all create our lives and attitudes by our choices. We can choose and focus on being optimistic or pessimistic.

I believe that where we are in any area of our lives is a result of our decisions, and actions before this moment. If we choose to be healthy, working in a particular field, having a healthy home life, our relationships, and even the state of our finances is all about our choices. The greatest thing about living in this fine country is that we have many freedoms that most in the world do not. We can work where we want, live where we want, choose to own a home, marry a spouse, have children or own a business. If we choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, that too is a choice and a result of our actions that we take.

We are responsible for our lives:

If we want to have a secure financial future when we retire, that means we need to be saving when we are young (unless we plan to work until we die) and making wise decisions with expenses and debts. If we want to own a business, this means we need to investigate the feasibility of the business, perform business planning and take action to make it happen. If we wan to be fit and healthy, that means we need to eat right and exercise now. Where we are is a result of the decisions that we have made up until this time.

There is always time to change:
I believe that anyone can change anything in their lives at any time if they have enough desire to learn what it is they need to do, make a decision to actually do it and get ourselves to take actions needed to make it happen. There are many stories of people that are in, what many would consider their later stages in life, doing things like climbing mountains, starting businesses, going back to school, getting into completely new careers and many other amazing things. The tough part is getting ourselves to take action.
Attitude: Are you optimistic or pessimistic:
I also believe that having a positive attitude is crucial in changing our lives and achieving goals or creating change. This does not mean ignoring problems, or telling yourself that things will be just fine if you do not take steps to make it that way. Working in many fields such as quality assurance, customer service and in law enforcement can mean dealing with nothing but problems, crises, bad news and negativity. It is easy to get drawn down into a negative attitude as a result. You start to find fault with everything, and “lose your joy”. This is why I feel it is very important to take steps to maintain a positive attitude. Here are a few things that I have found to help, working in the field that I have chosen (Quality Assurance):
1) Start the day with something positive like a self-help book or audio. Some of my favorites are Zig Ziglar, Les Brown, Chris Widener, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn and Brian Tracy. Don’t just turn to the news channels that may be filled with the problems that took place the night before, or your recorded soap operas or reality shows.
2) Be thankful. Reflect on the things that you have to be thankful for every day. What is great about your life, job, employer, spouse and children? If you do not reflect on these regularly it is easy forget about them and take them for granted.
3) Review your life goals daily (or at least monthly) and reflect on where you are, what progress have you made and what is the next step? If we do not write these goals down and more importantly “review them regularly”, they will not happen and become more of a “someday I’ll” or a “wish” list.
4) Self Reflection. I find it important to reflect every day (either morning or evening – or both) on what took place over the past day, what you could or should have done differently and how you will make it so the next time. This is how we grow as a person. Otherwise we continue to make the same mistakes.
I have worked in the quality field for 3 decades now and have worked with a lot of different people. Some very positive and some very negative. I have seen folks let the negativity of working in the field of customer complaints and problems take serious effects on their health and the personal lives.
Choose to be positive and take the necessary steps to improve your life in all areas.

Self-Reflection – A Tool For Improvement and A Good Attitude

Self-Reflection – A Tool For Improvement and A Good Attitude

Self reflection is a very useful tool that is not only important for maintenance of a positive attitude but also for plotting your future course and learning from the past mistakes.

Self Reflection
The use of self reflection has been a tool that I have used for many years after I had heard about it. I initially learned of self-reflection while in my early 20’s while searching for my personal path. I have always been an avid fan of many of the self-help, motivational authors and speakers such as Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Les Brown, and the list goes on. Brian Tracy has been one of the authors that I have used as a mentor that goes into great depth as to the uses of and benefits of self-reflection.
I personally feel that if one does not reflect back on their day they are missing out on one of the most effective self improvement tools that exist. The process is very simple and essentially can be used in a number of different ways.
One method is merely the sitting in a quiet environment and walking through your entire days activities and asking what you did in each situation that was done well as well as what could have been done better. I find this to be very important to do this every day at the end of the day while memories are still fresh in our mind.

Another method consists of asking a number of predetermined questions (Daum, 2014). Some of these questions are listed below in summary format from the article by Kevin Daum in Inc. Magazine:
1) Am I living up to my core values?
2) Am I living up to my expectations of others?
3) Am I meeting my full capacity, living up to my full talents?
4) Am I engaging in worthy activities?
5) Am I on the path to my preferred future?
I also ask my own questions that center around if I could have planned this task more effectively as well as if I communicated the plans and expectations to my team at work for work related tasks and activities.
I think there are many benefits to using self-reflection in terms of meeting long term goals by assuring that you are in fact working on the sub-tasks and activities that will get you there. I have found that it is easy to get side tracked with the day to day fires and activities both at home and at work and this can cause us to not be working towards our goals.
Another benefit I have personally found for use of self-reflection is that it helps me maintain a more positive attitude than if I were not using it. I reflect on things going on in my life at home, my family and what I can do to be able to be be a better Father, Husband and person. I also find that when we know we are making progress towards our goals I am in a much better mood. Self-reflection allows me to know that I am still working towards them. I keep a journal in which I record (irregularly though only at this point in time) and look back on my previous goals and determine if I achieved them or if I need to keep them on my radar still. Just the other day I was reviewing an older journal entry from 2003 and I found that I had accomplished 4 of the 6 major goals that I had set for myself at that time. I still continue to use goal setting, my journal, and self-reflection to this day. As I mentioned it definitely does help to keep my attitude up. In my career in quality assurance I deal with a lot of negative events such as customer complaints, plant quality issues, and supplier issues. This can take its toll on your mental attitude if you do not take proactive steps such as self-reflection.

There are many tools and techniques that can be learned and used to help one achieve their goals and objectives as ell as keeping a positive attitude. Many people use meditation (myself included), or yoga. Of the different techniques that I have learned of and applied over the past 2o plus years I have found self-reflection to be the best for me. As a matter of fact, The Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists the simple definition of self-reflection as follows:
“Careful thought about your own behavior and beliefs” ( ) .
My favorite self-help author Brian Tracy also talks much about the topic of the use of self-reflection in his book titled “The 21 Success Secrets of Self Made Millionaires” which has been a major career and life influence for me.
Furthermore, self-reflection has been part of religion as well as the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12 step program where the use of a personal and moral inventory is taken. A great article in Psychology Today by Allen R. McConnell, titled “Reflection Critical for Self Improvement” in his September 18, 2010.
As you can see this tool has been around and is referenced in many areas including the field of psychology, religion and self-improvement. It has personally been a life changer for me.

Striving For Perfection: Preventing Defects by Preventing Errors

Striving For Perfection: Preventing Defects by Preventing Errors.

In very simplistic terms, a defect is most instances is caused by the occurrence of an error. This can be human error, such as inserting a component into an assembly jig in the incorrect position, by entering the wrong program number into a PLC, forgetting to include a component into a assembly machine to make an assembly and the list goes on.

A simple example (as I am a simple minded person) would be a manufacturing process where the machine operator places a component into a machine where it can be welded to another component. This sounds simple enough but, the machine operator can put the component in the wrong way, use the wrong component or forget to put the component into the machine before actuating the process. Many (non-defect prevention minded) companies will blame the machine operator for this, write them up, scream at them and tell them what a bad person that they are. This merely means that it will eventually happen again. Good (defect prevention minded) companies will have already thought of these occurring and will devices, fixtures, sensors, etc…. in place to not allow the machine operator to make the error. This is the ideal situation (error prevention). The next level of effectiveness would be to detect the error or the resulting defect at the source where it occurred and prevent it from leaving the operation where it was created. Following this level would be downstream detection through more sensors, or devices, etc… that does prevent the customer from receiving the defect but does nothing to keep the company from absorbing the costs of either scrap or rework.

It stands to reason then, that anything that we can do that prevents errors will result in either zero or very few defects in my view. The question is, how does an organization go about putting in place a culture and process for error or defect prevention? My hallucination is, that this starts at the top of the organization. After all, top management is ultimately accountable for the culture that exists in an organization by what they teach, reinforce, talk about and provide resources for in any company.

There are many great tools for identifying potential sources of defects in a process, such as a PFMEA, suggestion systems and work based improvement teams or Kaizens. If top management however, does not promote, require and reinforce this culture it does not happen on its own.

What does an organization do to promote a defect prevention, quality minded culture? They can do things like training all employees on this concept of “error = defect = dissatisfied customer” chain and have clearly defined duties and roles in this process. This also means that the senior level management needs to have the same beliefs that these efforts and resources to have this sort of a culture are worth the costs (ROI). They can look for the use of and potential new ideas for error-proofing methods in the plant. They can have metrics that reflect these important activities, talk about them to employees, reward employees for coming up with and implementing these methods. They can implement effective pre-launch PFMEA processes and after launch have regular meaningful reviews of them.

If the employees in the plant do not see that this is important and not a priority of top management, they will feel that they must just “do their best with what they have”, which is a formula for a low morale, low quality culture type of an organization and eventually the customers will also feel this.

Who’s Job Is It?

This is subject to how an organization is setup, but there are some very common roles that I have encountered over the years. I will lay these out below by typical position in a typical manufacturing organization:

Operator/ Line Worker:

  • Study the process they are running and try to identify ways that they can do it incorrectly.
  • Make suggestions on how to make the process better.

Foreman/ Area Lead:

  • Conduct audits of the error-proofing process.
  • Provide training on error-proofing/ mistake proofing.
  • Talk about it (individually and at dept meetings)

Manager/ Senior Management

  • Establish targets and goals centered around these activities.
  • Hold everyone accountable.
  • Talk about it, (individually and at company meetings).

Here is to prevention!


Root Cause Analysis Pitfalls: Trying to fix the wrong thing.

Root Cause Analysis Pitfalls: Trying to fix the wrong thing.

Solving problems in a quality environment is much like pulling weeds in a garden. If you do not get to the true roots of the weed, it will continue to resurface. It is easier in the short term to merely grab that pesky weed at the surface and tear off the visible portions without getting down to and removing the roots. In the long term however, the weed will actually cost you more time and effort because you will continue to do this again and again.

It is my sincere belief that doing a good job in your permanent corrective action (PCA) process typically means that the majority of your time should be spent focusing on data gathering and root cause analysis. In my estimation the 70/ 30 rule applies most of the time. This simply means that 70 percent of the time of the team will be spent in these areas.

Ask questions (a lot of them)

Before you start defining “potential” root causes to investigate you need to make sure that you have clearly defined the details of the problem. One of my favorite tools for this process is the IS/ IS NOT questioning technique. As the name implies this means asking the questions of where, and when the problem is being experienced and where it is not being experienced. This becomes extremely important in defining the problem. Let’s say for example that your company produces widgets for numerous global customers. One specific product that you supply is the same used in over 30 customer plants around the world, but only one is experiencing an issue. Using the IS/ IS NOT questioning technique will help your team to realize this and will force a different set of questions and cause you to ask why only this facility? Is there something different in how they use the product? Did they change their process? This line of thinking can change your list of potential root causes that need to be investigated instead of jumping right into brainstorming a list of potential causes.

Example of IS/ IS NOT questions:

IS (where is the problem)

  • Who (is seeing the problem)
  • When (did they start seing the problem)
  • Where (on the product or process is the problem being seen/ experienced)
  • How (often/ frequent is the problem being seen)
  • Why (is this truly a problem)

IS NOT (Where is the problem not being seen but could or should be)

  • Who (is not seeing the problem – plant/ area/ etc…Why)
  • When (could the problem have first been experienced but was not/ why)
  • Where (else could/ should the problem be but is not/ why)
  • How (often/ frequent is the problem not being seen but could be/ why)
  • Why (is this not really a problem)

The goal of this exercise is merely to make the team ask more questions at the outset not to ask a bunch of useless questions. If the question does not make sense for the issue, move on.

Root cause Analysis – my favorite tool to identify “Potential” root causes:

The fishbone diagram is in my opinion on of the best techniques to help teams identify potential root causes. The fishbone diagram is a tool that forces the root cause team to look in compartments or categories that could either be a cause or a contributing cause. The name “fishbone” is merely because the shape of the diagram looks like the head of a fish with the “bones” being the compartments/ categories to look at. Typical categories are the 5M/1E which is simply:

  • Machine

  • Methods

  • Material

  • Manpower

  • Measurement

  • Environment

There are others that work well in which the categories might be steps in the process that is experiencing the problem, departments, etc… The possibilities are endless and the creativity of the team will allow more ways to use the tool effectively.

Another tool that works well and can be used with the fishbone is the 5 Why questioning technique. This simply means that instead of accepting the stated potential root cause we ask “why” until it makes no more sense to the team or leads to a fix that is out of their control.

Example of 5 Whys:

Issue – I was late for work

Why 1 – I got up late

Why 2 – My alarm clock did not go off

Why 3 – Stopped running

Why 4 – Power went out

Why 5 – storm knocked the transformer our in my neighborhood

As I mentioned above this question could likely continue but we are already at a point that is out of my control. I cannot prevent storms or transformers from being knocked out but I can get a battery operated clock as an action to fix my issue. There are others as well such as back up power methods, etc… but I think you see my point.

The more we use these tools and techniques the more comfortable our teams become with them and more effective at using them which will result in less repeat issues.

Happy Problem Solving.


The Three “I”s to Improving Organizational Performance

The Three “I”s to improving organizational performance

In these challenging times it is imperative that companies are focusing on how to improve their operations. This means looking for more effective and less wasteful ways of doing all things. I have an acronym consisting of three easy to remember “I”s. They are as follows:

  • Information
  • Involvement
  • Improvement


I will go into more detail on each of these points below.



–          Provide clear roles, goals, and expectations for everyone. Fuzzy expectations means fuzzy results.

–          Provide clear and candid feedback on an individual level as well as performance of the organization. This is in the form of metrics, personal work goals/ targets, customer complaints, scorecards, awards, etc… Do not make the mistake of only providing feedback on the negative. Employees need to hear the positive as well.

–          Provide clear instructions on how to perform work as well as any additional information or resources needed to effectively perform the work.



–          Involvement of the workforce is probably the biggest factor in creating effective culture changes, improvements and developing an effective quality system. When these are created and implemented in a vacuum they will be far less effective and supported.

–          I am a firm believer in involving the workforce in as much as possible. Some examples include internal auditing, layer process audits, problem solving, improvement initiatives, QMS/ process development, process development (where feasible and value added), customer visits, presentations, setting goals & targets, etc…

–          An involved and engaged workforce also reduces resistance to change.



–          If we are not improving both as individuals and as a organizations we are falling behind. Those that are maintaining the status quo will soon find themselves behind their competition who is improving.

–          Improvement teams and individual improvement programs can be a great way to improve quality, improve safety, reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction and make for a better work environment.

–          For those that are certified to ISO 9001, TS 16949 and other ISO based systems, improvement is a requirement. Many companies have reaped huge rewards and savings by the implementation of improvement initiatives as described above. Once we have implemented a good “process based QMS” with objectives that are measured, we can then use these measurements to improve the way that we manage our company and our quality system.

–          In addition and related to the 2nd “I” (involvement) it is a great way to engage the workforce as well.


Here is to improvement!


Performance: You get what you expect and accept

Performance: You get what you expect and accept

I will start with a fitting quote:


“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.”
author – Ralph Marston


Undoubtedly we have all seen this in action and experienced it in different areas of our lives. Parents that fail to hold their child accountable for poor grades, and bad behaviors. Bosses or managers  that do not provide feedback and guidance on not achieving goals (or worse not setting goals/ objectives).  The examples are widespread.


In regards to quality management and operational excellence, the same applies. If we as management do not set the bar high enough to provide challenging objectives, performance may actually decrease to the expected levels. If management “settles” and accepts product quality, personnel performance, operational performance (example – productivity, delivery, scrap, rework, etc…) and even personal performance that is low, that is precisely what we may get. If we provide objectives and goals that are challenging, yet achievable we stimulate the interest. Most people in my experience like a challenge. If we do not provide this in the work environment, people may just “get through the day” to get home to do the “mentally stimulating” things that they enjoy.


Having said this however, we as management need to make sure that we also provide the following to employees and staff:

–          Clear objectives/ goals that are a stretch yet achievable

–          Clear explanation/ communication and understanding of the objectives

–          Resources to be able to achieve the objectives (tools, equipment, data, personnel, time, etc…)

–          Competency (knowledge, training, experiences) to achieve the objectives

–          Feedback. We need to make sure that employees know that there is a process to evaluate progress and to provide positive and 

           negative feedback on how the process is going.

–          An action plan/ process and or resources if there are roadblocks or progress is stalling


One problem that I have seen in the past is that the objectives/ goals are lowered to meet the performance. An example might be increasing plant scrap levels to match that of the current performance level instead of developing a plan or project to improve this.


Another example occurs on the personal side as well. People that do not like to exercise or monitor what they eat, accept their current health levels as “that’s just the way I am”, instead of devising an action plan to change it.



Establishment of the targets

I would like to elaborate on the setting of these objectives. Many times these expectations are set from the management team. Other times they are set by department managers, or leaders. In my experience we achieve the best scenario when we involve the employees, staff, etc… in developing and understanding the process and the objectives. Not only does this help reduce resistance and obtain “buy in” from employees but it makes them part of the process and creates ownership of the objective.  To reiterate: the objectives must be challenging and achievable.


Clear Communication of expectations and specific feedback   

As managers we must ensure that we have clearly stated the objectives in language that the targeted employees will understand as well. Posting objectives in the plant or work areas in a terminology not used or understood is a surefire way to set them up to fail. We must also make sure that we talk about the process, objectives with the employees so that it is known that these objectives are important. For example – Hanging a trend chart on the wall with results of scrap levels is great but if there is no interaction or discussion of what the results mean and what is to be done to change then not much will happen many times.  These results and actions should be discussed in meetings, even written about in company newsletters, or websites/ blogs. If we do not show that the objectives are important then the excitement of the initial discussions will wear down and everyone will go back to business as usual.


In short – if we are not getting better we are falling behind the competition. In order to get better we must understand the processes, measure the processes and hold people accountable to the results and goals.  If we do not involve our employees in the planning, and setting of goals they become bystanders and do not “own” the process or objectives. It is management’s job to clearly communicate these and provide for removing of roadblocks beyond the employees control.


Here is to improvement!


Organizational Excellence

Organizational Excellence Consists of Doing MANY Right Things Correctly.    


Let’s face it there are no shortcuts when it comes to organizational excellence. It is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. If you are missing just one piece you miss completing the big picture. If you have the wrong piece in the wrong place you also will not achieve your best performance.

With the myriad of different management techniques and quality improvement tools/ methods that we see and hear about it is easy to think that there is a “magic pill” that will cure our ills. Unfortunately cherry picking a “tool of the month” for implementation in itself does not guarantee improvement in terms of making large improvements in overall performance. Why you ask? In my experience there are many great tools and techniques out there but there are usually many contributing factors that lead to poor organizational performance. It is usually not just one factor (again for overall organizational performance).


It is very similar to good health and fitness. Many folks want the magic diet pill or exercise equipment that will cure our weight or health problems. To be effective we typically must attack it from many different areas. For example: to use a health related example (since most can relate) of needing to lose a few pounds, decrease our body fat to lean tissue ratio. Merely cutting back on caloric intake by itself is not the most effective means. We should also look at weight bearing and cardiovascular exercise, improving what we eat and in some cases working on our mental processes of how we view diet and exercise. In my experience and opinion improving organizational excellence/ performance must be handled in an approach as well that looks at the many involved factors.


Here is a brief list (not all inclusive by any means as much depends on the organization) of some typical areas that must be looked at:


1)      Goal Alignment. Review or develop your driving vision and top level goals for the organization. All other goals and objectives that you have must be in support of this. Many times we may have conflicting goals. Goal alignment is crucial.

2)      Define the areas where performance is not meeting expectations. Do not adjust the goal to meet performance. This happens often where management lowers expectations after numerous attempts to reach specific goals unsuccessfully. Example – raising product scrap percentage generated to xx % after not being able to solve the process issues causing them. Performance expectations will drive performance. Example – if we expect and accept that we will be overweight, then we will)  

3)      Use true root cause analysis to determine why the performance gaps exist. Do not assume that it will be just one cause. As with product quality issues, there are typically many related/ contributing causes. There are many root cause methods and the intent of this blog article is not to get into them as there are many good books on the market for this. I am a firm believer however that most of your time spent should be on the data gathering portion. This will ensure that your team has a thorough understanding of the problems. It also prevents working on the wrong problem.

4)      Make sure that the right team is in place to achieve organizational excellence. This means all levels of the company. You can have a great shop floor employee population, but if the management team is not right for the task and does not have the vision, drive and perseverance then it will still not happen. The opposite is also true. If you have a top notch management team but your hiring practice for non-management personnel is lacking you will likely fail as well. Managers must review each and every position in the company for the ideal traits, experience and background. At that point we can either hire the ideal candidate or elect to hire a candidate that can be developed to the desire level. The problem that I have seen in some organizations is that the ideal candidates are not brought in and then they also are not developed. To add to this, the expectations are then lowered for the employees and the organization.

5)      Correct and improve in an ongoing basis. Do not lose the desire to improve once a few of the low hanging fruit have been corrected with some success. We must instill a culture where all employees are constantly looking to fix issues and improve to the next level in all areas of the organization. This is one of the main reasons that I absolutely love the “process based approach” that ISO based systems drive when done correctly. The PDCA loop is key to this. To maintain this however (as stated above) requires the right mix of management and employees that have the drive and hunger to make the organization better.             


Here is to improvement.


Structure – Important in quality and life

Structure – The key to almost everything

“Why is structure so important?”

In my attempt to try to find relationships and consistent concepts that apply across many areas of life and quality I found myself analyzing my fitness program that I am doing with some friends currently.

Approximately 6 weeks ago, three friends and I decided to go through a cycle of a very popular home exercise (DVD based) program by Tony Horton. After six weeks into the program all four of us are getting the results that we intended. I started to analyze the program, our motivations, etc… to determine why that was. As other quality professionals well know, developing and implementing a new quality initiative, quality process or even a quality system may not always take us where we planned. I started to analyze the approach of this particular exercise program to look for clues. Here is what I came up with:

1) Clear Goal – There is a defined goal and a measurement of success. In the case of the exercise program, my objective was to reduce my body fat percentage, waist circumference and lose a little bit of weight.
2) Starting measurement (base line) – We all took specific measures prior to starting so that we were able to determine if what we were doing was effective. This is equally applicable in quality and in business as it relates to improvement projects or initiatives.
3) A strong enough purpose or “why” – As a motivational speaker once said, with a strong enough “why” the how becomes easy. In this case my “why” was to improve my health, which is a very strong motivator for me personally. I want to live a very long time. As managers we have to determine the “why” for any initiative that we are looking to implement.
4) A clearly defined process – In the case of the exercise program every day in the 90 day program is clearly defined as to which body parts, how many repetitions, how many sets, which days you have a rest day, cardio, stretching, etc… As a matter of fact, there is even a daily eating guide.
5) Removal of the “hassles” or hurdles – Our group set a specific time every day that we met for our exercise session which took the guessing out of it, and allowed us to make a long term schedule that our sessions fit into. Because we were working out at a friend’s house, we did not have to worry about gym hours or crowds either.
6) Ongoing measurement of the process – We took weekly (and even more frequent) measurements of our measures on some weeks. This allowed us to take action if we needed to quickly. This also reinforces the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle as well.
7) Correction – If we were not getting the results that we planned and measured weekly, we modified our approach. This took the form of more cardio, cutting back on certain foods, or amounts of foods. This is also crucial in our jobs/ roles as quality professionals. This reinforces why measuring our projects, processes, etc… is so important.
8) Reinforce the program/ objective – This is very important in any initiative, not just exercise programs. We used social media messages, posts, etc… to continuously talk about what we were doing, share interesting information, video clips, etc… related to the goal and process. This can also be accomplished in our quality roles by spending time out in the work areas, talking to the employees as to how their jobs are going, results of customer feedback (good and bad), posting, scorecards, etc… That which gets talked about and measured gets done.
9) Make it a habit/ standardize it – This is challenging in exercise programs, health and in improvements in general. It is easy to back slide into what we were doing before. Regarding the fitness program, we already have our next 2 programs scheduled. You have to make health and quality a permanent process. In the manufacturing/ quality world this can take the form of audits (LPAs), internal audits, error-proofing, mistake-proofing, 5S, control plans, procedures, etc…

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, there are many related areas in life and being a quality professional I am always looking to bridge the two. This area just reinforces this concept.

Here is to improvement.

The Value of Teams at Work

The Value of Teams at Work
And first a quote:
Teamwork is the ability to work as a group toward a common vision, even if that vision becomes blurry.
Author unknown
“Why use teams?” The use of teams in the work environment is definitely not a new concept. It still surprises me the extent of companies that do not utilize teams in many of the situations in which much value can be obtained. It is common sense (to me) that the combined brainpower of a work team made up of the right people will be many times more than that of any individual. This is true regardless of whether this person is the company President, Lead Engineer, Plant Manager or Quality Manager.
There is a simple team exercise that I use in some of the problem solving and refresher classes to illustrate this point. It consists of a box of numerous unrelated items (example – paper clips, thread taps, end mills, pencils, post-it pads, etc…) that is first shown to each individual where they record as many as they can remember after viewing the items. Next, I form “teams’ where they review each of the individual lists and compile a “team” total. In every instance of using this exercise the team always has a larger list. Why is this? It is because each of us have different backgrounds, knowledge, experiences, fields of study, etc… that allows us to recognize the items that fall within those boundaries. Others in the team have different experiences, backgrounds, etc…As a team however, we are able to capture all of these different experiences, backgrounds, knowledge, etc… and benefit from them. A very simple but great way to illustrate this point.

Potential Uses of Teams at Work:Below is a list of typical situations in the work environment that I believe the use of teams is justified and of great benefit:
a) Problem Solving
b) Advanced Quality Product Planning (APQP)
c) Planning a Quality System
d) Continuous Improvement Projects
e) Brainstorming Sessions
This list is not exclusive but just a starting point.

Why Teams Work So Well:Besides combining the total brainpower of the group, teams also satisfy many basic human needs.
a) Social Needs (Belonging) – the sense of belonging and being part of a larger group is filled when on a team that works well together. This is very similar to the reason that tribes have and are formed. The group is working towards a common goal (survival for example),
b) Esteem Needs – The feeling of having improved something in the work area, etc… is a great feeling of achievement. Many firms will openly post the achievements of teams as well which also falls into the area by rewarding those on the teams and reinforcing their use.
c) Self-Actualization – Solving problems is a natural human trait in my opinion.
d) Safety – Many times the teams may be fighting for the survival of the organization. Possibly solving a problem or issue that could result in the closure of the company, loss of a customer, etc… This is one of the more basic level needs of people which is to be employed, have a roof over your head, etc….

Infrastructure/ Support Systems/ Starting Steps:
Deciding to use teams in the work place is a decision that has to be made by management. The management team makes the commitment of freeing personnel from daily duties to participate on the team.

Most people do not naturally start out of the gate being able to work effectively and efficiently on a team. There are well known stages of teams that progress from the initial stages and continue until they are a well functioning team. These steps are as follows:
– Forming – early stages in which cohesiveness is not there yet.
– Storming – members are learning their roles and may be somewhat confrontational at times.
– Norming – members start to function as a team and work towards the goals of the team.
– Performing – members are versed in team dynamics, are achieving goals of team, operate smoothly.
Some things that a company can do to help alleviate the early stages of team ineffectiveness is training, assigning a good facilitator, providing clear goals, making sure that middle management, supervisors, etc… are supportive of their employees being empowered and willing to turn over some of that decision making authority.

Team Roles: Another important early step is to make sure that the team members know their roles and responsibilities in participating on the team. This can and should be covered in the preparatory training. I personally find it very beneficial to have a strong facilitator on the team, especially in the early stages of the team development. In the early stages the team members are normally more dependent on a facilitator to help keep the team process going, encourage input from everyone, keep the momentum positive, etc…
You will also need to make sure responsibilities for taking notes, action items, etc… are assigned and understood. I have seen a number of meeting where the meeting is held and there are no notes/ minutes taken and typically nothing comes out of it. Avoid this with careful planning.

Here is to improvement.