Monday, April 25, 2011

Educational Quality and Global Competition

Any organization can benefit from disciplined thinking, data-driven discussions (note I said "discussions" not "decision-making") and a process-based structure. In his blog Paul Borawski lauded the pioneering efforts of Dr. JoAnn Sternke, the Superintendent of the Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin, and her instilling of quality-thinking in her organization's activities.

In Georgia there are state requirements for education and regular evaluation of students. I am familiar with one part of Atlanta, the northeast suburbs, where there is a high Asian population including Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Indians. These groups are well-known for their strong educational systems and family support of education. A Chinese friend whose daughter attends one of the premier elementary schools in the area laments the very simplistic course program and she supplements her daughter's education with several hours of home study every night. Even her daughter complains that she is bored most of the time in class compared to her school in China; mathematics is one area that is significantly weaker.

I applaud this district for their effort to document their strategies. The majority of school districts (and even many companies) fail to do even what they did here. However, just like the majority of companies in the U.S. that will find that they will be unable to compete with the global market place of the next 20 years our educational system simply cannot compete with them today. And since the educational system of our country is an input into the business competition of the future, even more responsibility is needed to develop effective thinking here. Considering that significant educational change today would not be fully implemented until the third generation (the students of today's students) with the competitive advantage being felt in the fourth generation and considering that today's competitors are already ahead educationally and will also continue to advance....80 years from today is far too late to win the global competition. We are way past implementing what was done in business 20 years ago into schools today, we need schools today to be even more innovative than the business world since the impact of their improvement will not be felt for decades...and even then it might be too late.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Fallacy of PPM

10 and 20,000. What are those numbers? They are the goals for Customer PPM and Manufacturing PPM (2% reject rate) at a typical automotive Tier 1 supplier. If Engineering is allowed to design and Manufacturing is allowed to build to a 20,000 PPM Quality level then how can a company reach the goal of 10 PPM toward the Customer?

I think that companies kid themselves into believing that there is a difference between what Engineering and Manufacturing do and what the Customer receives. They wrongly assume that the problems CREATED in Engineering and Manufacturing will magically disappear as the product moves through the process. They usually assume, even subconsciously, that Quality will find the problems. Unfortunately, Quality ran out of magic pixie dust a long time ago, if it even existed at all. Nobody can inspect Quality into a product.

When are the managers of these companies, C-level managers, going to wake up and see this particular fallacy for what it is and do something about it? I don’t ask these questions from the normal, hum-drum “there goes the Quality guy again, spouting off about PPM” level. I ask these questions from the competitive survival level. What do you think the Chinese and Indian companies are doing right now? Learning from the best and ignoring the rest. When they rise up to the global stage with innovative, inexpensive and infallible products, where will you be? Chasing PPM or some “Zero Defect Program”? Awarding each other Black Belts and counting the phantom cost savings from continuous improvement? Worried about Cpk and Gage R&R numbers? Wake up…or you will see that the past few years have been a walk in the park compared to what’s coming. The previous American and European automotive recession was driven primarily by financial and marketing-related issues. The next one will be driven by Quality; there will be no recovery.