Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Six Sigma Features
Donald J. Wheeler
How you sample your process matters
Paul Laughlin
How to think differently about data usage
Donald J. Wheeler
The origin of the error function
Donald J. Wheeler
Using process behavior charts in a clinical setting
Alan Metzel
Introducing the Enhanced Perkin Tracker

More Features

Six Sigma News
How to use Minitab statistical functions to improve business processes
Sept. 28–29, 2022, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, MA
Elsmar Cove is a leading forum for quality and standards compliance
Is the future of quality management actually business management?
Too often process enhancements occur in silos where there is little positive impact on the big picture
Collect measurements, visual defect information, simple Go/No-Go situations from any online device
Good quality is adding an average of 11 percent to organizations’ revenue growth
Floor symbols and decals create a SMART floor environment, adding visual organization to any environment
A guide for practitioners and managers

More News

Davis Balestracci

Six Sigma

A Four-Step Process That Can Change Your Career

From projects to holistic improvement

Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 15:50

TQM, Six Sigma, lean, lean Six Sigma, Toyota Production System—wrong focus! It’s time to move the focus from “method” to “improvement.”

All of these methods are based in the same theory and rely on process thinking, teamwork, disciplined data collection, and a solid problem-solving methodology. My respected statistical colleague Ron Snee expands this to a broader perspective called “holistic improvement,” a system that can successfully create and sustain significant improvements of any type, in any culture for any business. Holistic improvement:
• Works in all areas of the business—all functions and all processes
• Works in all organizational subcultures, providing a common language and tool set
• Embodies all measures of performance (e.g., quality, cost, delivery and customer satisfaction)
• Addresses all aspects of process management (process design and redesign, improvement, and control)
• Encompasses all types of improvement (streamlining, waste and cycle-time reduction, quality improvement, and process robustness)
• Includes management systems for improvement (plans, goals, budgets, and management reviews)
• Focuses on developing an improvement culture (uses improvement as a leadership development tool)

Lessons still not learned

Snee still finds the following common mistakes that continue to be made despite what has been learned the last 30 years:
• Failing to design improvement approaches that require the active involvement of top management
• Focusing on training rather than improvement
• Failing to use top talent to conduct improvement initiatives
• Failing to build the supporting infrastructure, including personnel skilled in improvement and management systems, to guide improvement
• Failing to work on the right projects—those that deliver significant bottom-line results
• Failing to plan for sustaining the improvements at the beginning of the initiative

Isn’t it time for improvement professionals to stop bemoaning these issues and do something about them? If you don’t, who will? No one is better poised; you are indeed the “top talent!” But you must also develop the talents to broaden your job responsibilities to deal with the other five mistakes above.

At a conference 25 years ago, I picked up one of the best capsules of advice I've ever received. To become effective at improvement one must follow these four steps:
1. Have the will to do whatever it takes
2. Have the belief that your organization is capable
3. Have the wherewithal to relentlessly learn
4. Stop talking about it and do it.

A suggested road map

Note the conspicuous absence of mass cultural training. That comes much, much later.

Connecting the dots
• Can you forge a partnership with your management using some form of a balanced scorecard to translate data into intelligent action at the appropriate level?
• Can you convince your management to see improvement as the balanced scorecard, “learning and growth” strategy that will help the organization execute its actual strategy?
• And can you quietly solve a significant longstanding organizational issue to make your case?
• Are there only three to five (no more) strategic initiatives to establish a focus and context—one of which is this road map?
• Are the needed results of these initiatives clear, connected, and cascaded to serve as a rudder to motivate an entrenched culture away from doing what it has always routinely done, as well as establish a results-based management coaching context with which to manage culture?

What you can do:

Use everyday data and meetings to establish the context above, then help management learn it and apply it in everyday work through:
• Process thinking
• Problem-solving tools
• Statistical thinking and “plotting the dots”

If management is resistant (high probability), can you then apply the above to solve a significant ongoing organizational problem? Can you eliminate some routine, silly meetings mired in data insanity through effective use of statistical thinking to solve everyday problems?

Building critical mass
Getting 25–30 percent of management to demonstrate commitment to quality, i.e., visibly changed behavior.
• Are people who are promoted demonstrating commitment to quality and the ability to generate their own run charts and control charts on important numbers, then intelligently present and discuss them?
• Are there fewer meetings accounting for performances as compared against arbitrary numerical goals?
• Is there a cultural process focus developing zero tolerance for blame and victim behavior?

At this point:
• (Only) 20–30 percent of the organization needs to be educated in quality philosophy
• (Only) 10–20 percent of the organization needs to be trained in basic tools for quality improvement
• (Only) 1–2 percent of the organization needs to be trained in advanced tools

One result that tells you you're on the right track: In everyday conversations, you begin to hear frontline stirrings of, “You know, something feels different around here.”

“Process variation affects process flow, product quality, and the ability to sustain process performance,” says Snee. “Reducing variation must be part of the approach. The bottom line is that improvement can be a very profitable business, with enhanced process performance and customer satisfaction resulting in improved financial results.”

Do you have the will and belief to consider this? Then the wherewithal to learn exactly what to do differently? And finally the confidence and courage to actually change your current focus and do it?

Improvement methods may come and go, but the need to improve business performance and the bottom line never goes out of style. Being dogmatic about a single method does not work for all problems. Even innovation and growth will eventually create waste and inefficiencies. There will always be a need for improvement "top talent."


About The Author

Davis Balestracci’s picture

Davis Balestracci

Davis Balestracci is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.


It's only numbers that count?

Nemo propheta in patria est, nobody's a prophet in one's homeland: I'm sayng since decades that before the Number came Word, that numbers are mere tools, output of principles and input to actions. But principles and actions belong to higher decisional levels: like Maslow's priorities, they are basic, instrumental to any process. The magic word - holistic, holism - is now coming to surface: after having had to digest the principle by which an elephant can be eaten by ants bit by bit, we start seeing the ants' swarm holistically. May be that more than ten years drumming on process interaction, ISO 9000's message has got home - who knows? Is a diamond hard when one doesn't touch it? A plaudit to Mr. Balestracci, therefore, and a warning, too: when I read his columns on statistics I cannot but remember that statistics were invented by gamblers. 

Reinforcement for Davis' comments on career and integration

I applaud Davis Balestracci for reminding us that it is not just what we do at the job level that we should be concerned with. Unless our efforts are tied inextricably with the priority outcomes of the organization, we are wasting our time. Often we forget during a Kaizen Blitz or specific LSS project that there is an overall purpose for our company being in business. It is not to "fix" this latest issue, it is to sustain and grow as a competitive entity overall.