Friday, December 30, 2011
ASQ CEO Paul Borawski's blog mentioned some of the disappointments and successes of the year, most significantly the ending of Federal funding of the Baldridge award. As an aside, I think that that issue shows the lack of understanding of quality and performance excellence in the United States. As I've ranted before and before and before, we've lost something in the U.S., and it's more than just our edge in manufacturing. We've lost the edge in business leadership. Yes we have powerful, innovative companies in the U.S. but they are the exception rather than the rule. Even the most innovative, successful American company (arguably Apple) does their manufacturing in China and was led to such a high level of performance by the personality of one man (look at Apple before Steve Jobs returned to lead it). I'll have more to say about that in 2012....
In the beginning of 2011 I made the following commitment for the year: "For 2011 my goals for quality include learning to listen more closely to my customers, coach my team more effectively and motivate my colleagues to make improvement." I made that commitment while working for an American automotive supplier in rural Georgia. Now, I work for an American electronics company in Shanghai. Needless to say, the dramatic change in my environment (halfway through the year) had an impact on the execution of this plan. However, the overall direction was the same.
Working in Shanghai I've had the experience of listening to my customers, all of whom are either foreign companies or joint-ventures of Chinese and foreign companies. Their needs and expectations are remarkably similar to the U.S. customers with whom I worked in the first half of the year and my Japanese customers from 2007-2010. It seems that the world is becoming smaller in regards to Quality, especially in the automotive world. All of the companies are trending toward a singularity of Quality: zero defects. Companies continue to recognize that quality is more of a competitive advantage in the market, even more than price. Otherwise, how to explain the success of Apple? A company that charges more than its competitors and can still hold such a high market share. Quality is not only reflected in manufacturing (of which Apple's Asian suppliers truly excel) but, more importantly, in the innovation of the customer experience. The design of the product, how it works, how intuitive it is, is as much a reflection of quality as its durability. This is as true for the automotive industry as it is for electronics. Some companies excel in durability (e.g. Toyota) while others in performance (e.g. BMW) while others in exclusivity (e.g. Ferrari). But none excel in all three as Apple does in electronics. There is something to be learned here: quality must be more than product durability and meeting quantitative specifications, it must be about the value of the total user experience. Cost-cutting, reorganization, outsourcing, insourcing, etc. should only be pursued with that idea in mind: keep the goal of increasing the value of the total user experience. Again, Apple is probably the best example of this in the 21st century.
Coaching my team also took a twist when I changed companies, jobs and locations. In my current position I am the ultimate coach. I have no direct reports yet I am responsible for the quality of products produced in six sites in three different countries and indirectly responsible to manage close to a thousand associates through different layers of management. Having no direct authority of the processes yet being responsible for the outputs is truly a learning experience. I have to find ways to coach my site Quality Directors and their direct reports in order to steer the Asia region toward the overall company goals and toward meeting the customer's expectations. I am learning how to leverage my knowledge and experience to do just that, with the support of my colleagues in Asia and other locations. Coaching in this environment involves leadership as much as knowledge and experience. Being a leader is the first step to being a coach. You must have credibility and your subordinates must see your value before they will accept your advice. Bringing value to your subordinates and internal customers is just as important and bringing value to your external customers. If you work in quality then usually the only way that you can truly bring value to your external customers is by helping your internal customers do their jobs better.
Motivating your colleagues is closely related to coaching. Now I work with colleagues in Engineering, Purchasing, Operations and Design; most of them are Chinese. I have to bridge the cultural gap to motivate them to bring more value to the customer (thankfully they all speak English). Motivating people from a different culture is a challenging experience. The key is to find the common ground of understanding and build on that. All of my colleagues want our business to be successful and they also see my value based on my position and experience. Showing your value to your colleagues, what you bring to the table, is just as important for motivating them as it is for motivating and coaching your subordinates.
Honestly, I've met with varied success for each of my goals in 2011. I intend to keep the same goals for 2012 and continue to work on them. How did you do with your 2011 goals? What are your goals for 2012?
Saturday, November 26, 2011
So, what is QUALITY? There are various definitions, from the metaphysical (Persig) to the practical (Juran, et. al.) to the casual. For our discussion I want to consider two aspects of quality, subjective and objective. Ask someone, "does this have good quality?" and point to anything in your environment. If you ask several people, you might get different answers based on their experience, education and field of work. This is known as subjective quality. On the other hand, if you have a specification and you measure a product against it (e.g. an ink pen with plastic barrel OD of 4 +/- 0.1mm) and it is within the specification then you can say that it also has good quality. This is objective quality. Our business, our life, is a combination of these two aspects of quality and there are endless books, articles and lectures available to explore either or both aspects. I think that the subjective aspect, measured qualitatively, gets short shrift in business as the inane mindsets of "you can't manage what you can't measure" and "if you don't have data you only have an opinion" rule the business world. Life is more than quantitative measures and business--as part of life--is also more than quantitative measures. Qualitative/subjective quality is a big part of our lives, so the better question is not "what is quality?" but "what is quality to you?".
For me, it means adding value to the world, to society. Making people's lives better, in even tiny ways. I've worked in manufacturing for almost 14 years with most of that time in some kind of "Quality" function in the automotive industry, arguably one of the most regulated and competitive industries in the world. My role in the Quality department has changed over time with changing business conditions and the responsibilities of my specific positions. My thinking also changed for those reasons and due to my experience and education. Now I see that even though I play a large role in a large company the direction that I give and the actions that I take influence only a tiny part of the world. My sphere of influence includes several dozen people directly, and my audience includes several thousand through this blog and my postings on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The results of my work affect the drivers of certain automobiles in global markets and the patients in some hospitals. All of this influence, added together, is but a small drop in the ocean of the world. However, I know that it does make people's lives better and, for now, it is the limit of my influence and voice. I will never stop trying to add value and improve the condition of the world, in big or small ways.
What about you? What does quality mean, from your heart? What do you do about it? What do you want to do?
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The more that I worked in Quality the more I was able to apply my reasoning and creativity to causes further up the manufacturing stream, into Purchasing and eventually Design. I found that it was much easier and cheaper to fix a problem in the Design phase rather than in the Production phase. After I was trained as a Six Sigma Black Belt I learned that statistical tools could not only be applied to manufacturing processes but also could be applied to product and process design. In fact, it made more sense to apply them there rather than in production. This also sharpened my thinking about problem solving and led to looking for ways to prevent problems. During this time my passion for Quality continued to grow.
Working in Japan for more than three years, as Head of Quality for an automotive supplier, really refocused my attention on meeting customer expectations. The automotive customers in Japan are the most demanding in the world, and it took a lot of effort for me to learn their unique style of working and also to adapt my thinking to the Japanese style. The effort was worthwhile and I can say that my thinking about Quality, and many other things, was permanently altered by my experience there. The Japan office was also a Design center so I could directly influence the design of the products with my ideas about Quality. I also better understood the challenges of the Design group. I came to see Quality with a greater passion than before, seeing how it truly linked with all aspects of the company.
Now I am in China working with a new team and with new challenges. I see the tremendous opportunities in this country and I see the tremendous difficulties. I will work here in Shanghai for the next three years and I am sure that my thinking will be influenced again by this new culture. Starting in Michigan and then working through Japan and now China, I continue to learn; now I can teach others based on my education and experience. I think that learning and teaching will help me to continue to grow my passion for Quality now and in the future.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
- Adversaries that need to be outwitted or strong-armed.
- Dupes to be tricked into accepting something that they shouldn’t.
- Interlopers who try to interfere with the company’s business.
- Unreasonable, unknowable strangers (usually Japanese customers).
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
This post is the second part of a two part series about revisiting lean manufacturing and six sigma in the 21st century. Before reading this post, I encourage you to read the post immediately below which is part one in the series. In this post I will discuss six sigma and my recommendations for management.
Six Sigma™ as a brand is simply the repackaging of several statistical tools that have been developed over decades; the only difference being the sequence with which they are deployed. The marketing of six sigma over the past fifteen years has been phenomenal. Huge companies like GE and Motorola trumpeted their success with six sigma and the business world scrambled for it. Books were written by the truckload, consultants hired and people trained by the boatload and a huge revolution in improvement was started. At least that's the story that most people want to believe and most consultants and authors sell. There are several problems with this story; I'll highlight two big ones: the deployment and the results.
Six sigma is typically deployed in a company in the following way:
l Hire a consultant to do training
l Train people as follows:
n Upper management - introduction only, maybe two hours.
n Middle management - Champion training, maybe four hours.
n Master Black Belts/Black Belts (MMBs/BBs) - full-blown 6+ weeks of training in all of the details of six sigma, including leading projects and mentoring other "belts".
n Green Belts (GBs) - 2-4 weeks of training, not as involved as MBB/BB but still pretty deep.
n White Belts/Yellow Belts - some exposure, maybe the same as introduction or Champion training but meant for the remainder of the workforce.
l Define some projects (usually done in parallel with the training so that the trainees have a "real-world" application during their learning)
l Track the projects
l Complete the projects and start counting the money
This deployment plan leads to several problems; let's look at some of them.
BBs and MBBs are dedicated full-time to implementing six sigma and leading projects. GBs and Champions are expected to dedicate a certain amount of their existing work time for their projects. This is the first problem with the deployment of six sigma: GBs and Champions are expected to take time to work on six sigma but there is no subsequent increase in overall resources. The thinking is: "they can take 10% of their time and work on six sigma projects" but that translates into an additional half-day of work per week (or more). For someone who is already working in a downsized department this 10% more work can be a deal breaker. Something has to give and it's usually the six sigma project, especially if their manager is interested in something else.
And that's the second problem with the deployment: the Champions do not have the same level of knowledge about six sigma as their GBs (fours hours of training vs. four weeks of training). In the worst case, the manager is unaware of the importance of this activity (due to poor top-down communication) and doggedly assigns the GB to work on other things, like their "real" job. Who can effectively mentor GBs?
The BBs/MBBs can mentor GBs but their main work is leading multiple six sigma projects per year (usually in parallel). They are measured by the number of projects completed and the amount of cost savings that they "produce", not the number of GB hands that they hold. This means that they are more focused on doing their main job and less on mentoring other people.
What does all of this mean? Unlike lean manufacturing, where there may be only one dedicated person and no part-timers, almost everyone is expected to participate in six sigma. Lean likes to have "Kaizen events" where they recruit some people, do an activity and then let the people get back to work. Six sigma, on the other hand, must have a virtual army of specialists available for any and all projects all of the time. This thinking causes the biggest burden of implementation to fall on the GBs and their Champions, already adding to their workload. And when (if) the projects are completed, what are the actual results?
Results of Deployment
Most companies are able to actually complete several six sigma projects; especially if they've hired several top gun BBs/MBBs to support their deployment. They get all of the way through the DMAIC process, get approval from their Champion and close the project. What happens after that? It all falls apart. The "C" at the end of DMAIC stands for "Control". In this phase of six sigma, the improvements made during the project are documented, stabilized and handed over to the owners of the process. Out of all of the phases of six sigma, I think that this one is the weakest (followed closely by the Define phase). I think that it's the weakest because from my own experience, and the experience of other BBs, I know that many projects soon fail after being handed over to the process owners. This may be for several reasons but most of the time the owners don't really understand what the GB/BB did to their process and revert to old methods. This leads to the interesting phenomenon of multiple projects for the same problem. I don't know how many times I've heard "oh, we had a six sigma project on that last year" when discussing some significant manufacturing problem. What is so wrong with a philosophy/method/system that can allow so much effort to simply evaporate within a short time period? Obviously, measuring immediate cost savings or other metrics and then walking away is not the answer.
Recommendations and Conclusion
So what can management do to really make lasting improvement in their company? I have to admit that there are many valuable tools embedded in lean six sigma and the manager who wishes to ignore them in their entirety places his/her company at an extreme competitive disadvantage. It's not the tools themselves that are the problem; it's the mindset that tries to implement them. I think that companies that are truly successful with lean six sigma are simply successful companies in general. Their management had the correct mindset for improvement, lean six sigma just happened to be the vehicle that they used to implement their thinking. And that's the key: the mindset of the management. Is the direction to cut costs or, even worse, pretend to cut costs by playing with numbers? Or is the direction to be competitive in a global marketplace? And how do these lean six sigma tools help with that direction?
I believe that the core lean tools (pull, kanban, jidoka, poka-yoke, SMED, TPM, etc.) should be taught to all of the manufacturing engineers and manufacturing supervisors. The manufacturing engineers are responsible for planning and installing the manufacturing process. Their understanding of lean tools is crucial so that they can set up a production line using the best methods available, from the beginning. Why set up a line, run for a few years and then decide to do a kaizen event to streamline it? Just set it up that way in the first place. The supervisors face the daily challenges of pulling everything together, they have to manage and use the tools given to them from the engineers to create value for the company. Their understanding of lean tools, equal to the engineers, will guarantee that they will properly supervise the manufacturing operation. As for the existing lean group, make them a manufacturing engineer, manufacturing supervisor or manufacturing manager. Take the knowledge that they have and allow them to implement it every day, instead of when there is a kaizen event.
Six sigma also offers a lot of valuable tools that can aid in manufacturing. Like lean, the tools should be trained to a more general audience such as the quality engineers and manufacturing engineers. Don't bother with Define and Control; just teach the core tools in Measure, Analyze and Improve. Make a "six sigma project" out of one of your new product development activities. Just like lean, use the tools to analyze and improve the manufacturing process before it even exists. You have plenty of time and resources, that's what APQP is all about. And as for your existing BBs and MBBs: quality engineers and manufacturing engineers. Their deep knowledge of statistics and analysis will be invaluable in those roles.
In conclusion, you need to embed the core improvement tools of lean six sigma into your company; don't separate them into a special group with colorful job titles and ambiguous responsibilities. Dispense with internal marketing and exhortations for change. Change yourself and lead others by example. And let your competitors chase the end of the lean six sigma rainbow.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
So how do we develop a quality culture at a company, in an overall fashion? Quality is about strategy and execution, just like every other important aspect of an organization. That's right, quality must be a strategy, a way to differentiate an organization from its competitors (speaking about for-profit organizations). That's the first step. If quality is not a strategy, discussed at the top of the company, then further discussions are almost pointless. It is a main strategy, but not the only strategy, various market-related and technology-related strategies are just as important (quality isn't everything in any organization). However, for quality, if you lose it, one of your competitors will pass you and they will beat you. Cost-cutting is not a way to grow a company, it is not a way to compete. Focusing on the "bottom line" is pointless if you do not focus on your "top line". Quality grows the top line through customer satisfaction. Quality also helps with the bottom line, but that is secondary to its main purpose of satisfying the customer. So, quality must be a STRATEGY.
The second question is that even if we have defined quality as a strategy, how do we implement it? The other key activity of business, EXECUTION, is just as important as strategy. Top management must communicate the strategy (all of it) to all layers of the company all of the time. The people at lower levels of the organization are responsible to implement it. But if they don't know what it is or how it relates to their job, how can they do that? Especially the "lowest" people in the company as they are often (surprisingly) the main interface to the customer. Think about it. If you work in a manufacturing company the people actually making the parts are probably at the "lowest" level of the organization but their activities directly impact your customer, every minute of every day. How important is it that those people fully understand and can implement the strategy of the company? It's the MOST IMPORTANT thing. The function of management, starting with the first-level supervisor up to the CEO, is to support THEM. Communicate the strategy and give them the tools to implement it, all the way down the org chart. That is the key to EXECUTION. Without that, you can start down a slippery slope and not even realize it, especially if you only focus on costs.
To close, quality must be a key strategy for an organization, one of the best examples is shown in a motto from Newport News shipyards: "We shall build good ships here. At a profit - if we can. At a loss - if we must. But always good ships." This is a clear statement of quality as a strategy. However, strategy is not enough, execution must be done with the proper mindset from management. Together, this overall culture of quality can lead to higher customer satisfaction and business success.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
While the questions and answers were interesting in themselves I was more curious about Mr. Fowler's role at Ford, and similar roles at other companies. I noted above that Mr. Fowler was the Group VP of Quality and blah blah blah. Why, oh why, do so many companies feel that if they have a high-level person in Quality (and many don't even have an executive or higher level position with "Quality" in the title at all) that they have to make them in charge of Quality and something else? Isn't Quality enough of a job to have an executive level position responsible for it and only it? In my experience the highest "Quality only" role that I've seen is some kind of regional role. Anything higher (Director, Executive Director, Senior Executive Director, VP, Group VP, etc.) is always Quality AND New Product Launch or Quality AND Program Management or Quality AND Health, Safety, and Environment (!!!). WHY? Why is Quality always delegated to share a seat with some other function in a company? How can Quality remain relevant in this way?
I propose that companies that are serious about Quality create a C-level position dedicated to Quality in their organization. A Chief Quality Officer, responsible only for Quality, would be a strong message in any industry but in particular in the automotive industry. Toyota comes close (of course) with their regional Chief Quality Officers but I would like to see someone sitting at a table of a major, global company (preferably automotive) who has the title and responsibility and authority of Chief Quality Officer for the company. Until that happens, how can Quality ever rise above the status of "Head of Quality and....."?