Minitab LLC’s picture

By: Minitab LLC

A $1 billion annual budget may sound ample, but a few years ago, the costs of services ranging from law enforcement to cleaning county buildings had squeezed the government of Erie County, New York, to its limit. Residents faced a painful choice: raise taxes or slash services. But Chris Collins, who has extensive experience using lean Six Sigma to analyze and solve business problems, believed the same methods could save county dollars and enhance local services.

Voters gave him the chance to prove it by electing him to the county’s top position, County Executive,  in 2007. Collins made lean Six Sigma the cornerstone of his administration. Today, Erie County is saving money and delivering services more effectively, thanks to county employees who have dedicated themselves to quality improvement.

Erie County’s first class of Six Sigma trainees used their
knowledge of quality improvement and Minitab Statistical
Software to save taxpayers more than $2 million in 2008.


Joseph A. De Feo and Matthew Pachniuk’s default image

By: Joseph A. De Feo and Matthew Pachniuk

The emergence of green technology and increased environmental awareness has prompted a paradigm shift in the way companies think about the design of their products. Because robust designs mean creating products to meet customer and societal needs, it is important that all enterprises rethink these needs in a broader sense. Efforts to alter conventional design and manufacturing processes to construct more eco-friendly products are already viable and will continue to drive results, not only for the environment but also for an enterprise’s bottom line.

In a majority of cases, the implementation of a "green design" for cleaner, greener production has led to an overall reduction in total costs, improvement in efficiency, and a decrease in costly waste.

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

By: Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

In his book Data Sanity: A Quantum Leap to Unprecedented Results (Medical Group Management Association, 2009) author Davis Balestracci passionately teaches a new way of thinking about improvement and integrating quality into the fabric of your organization. 

How often do you find an expert who has spent 25 years mastering a category of knowledge who can successfully relate to novices, intermediates, and experts of quality improvement? Balestracci does it in Data Sanity, and does it with wit, humor, and memorable examples that make the book, not only useful, but a thoroughly enjoyable read. By the way, Quality Digest readers will immediately recognize Balestracci’s no-nonsense, no-one-is-safe approach whenever he discusses how statistics are mishandled in the workplace.

Dale Hershfield’s picture

By: Dale Hershfield

Twitter is the latest new thing. Want to follow John McCain or Al Gore throughout their day? Easy. Just sign up to receive their tweets. While their tweets may provide insights, or just entertainment (Ashton Kutcher and 50 Cent also tweet), does Twitter have value for business management?

The idea may not be far fetched—remember that instant messaging initially met with disdain by corporate IT types but has now become nearly as mainstream in corporations as e-mail.

Like all new technologies before them, the newest communication technologies will open new possibilities for enhancing business performance and enabling value-adding capabilities. The most compelling uses may not be the most obvious. Where will we see the biggest impact? The internet did transform the sale of music (thanks, iTunes) but it didn’t wipe out the neighborhood grocery store (sorry, Webvan).

Some early trends are emerging and they promise to transform today’s best practice standards for knowledge management and customer interaction. New communication tools parallel (foster?) growing social and cultural changes (in most parts of the world) toward greater transparency and democratization. These changes are also playing out within individual businesses and non-profit organizations.

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

By: Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

“You can put your clothes back on,” the doctor says as he walks out. Before you know it, he’s back and you’re still hopping around the cold floor, aiming for your pant leg and with your sweater on backward. There’s no time for embarrassment, because the doctor declares that you need surgery. You don’t remember finishing dressing or half of what the doctor told you, and now it’s too late to ask, “Can you run that by me again?”

If you can relate to this scenario, here’s something you can do. Get off the couch and onto the internet, type “hospital compare” in your web search field, and you’ll find a web site of the same name , Hospital Compare ( ), with quality performance information regarding selected clinical topics from more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals. The information on this web site is intended to help you when you talk with your health care provider and to enable you to make informed decisions.

Although the web site is provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Hospital Compare was created through the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) to provide credible information to the public regarding the quality of care in hospitals and to encourage efforts for improvement.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

When I first got into quality, I really hated verifying the effectiveness of actions taken to correct a problem. After all, I was young and inexperienced. All of the people whose actions I was verifying were older, wiser, and more experienced than I was. Who was I to say that their actions were effective or ineffective? My assumptions were as follows:

  • If they said they did something, then they certainly did it.
  • Whatever they did was directly related to the problem causes, or they wouldn’t have done it.
  • The action must have been effective; they would have told me otherwise.


All of these assumptions had to be correct, because I was working with seasoned professionals, right? Ha! Boy, did I learn a lesson.

People just want to get paperwork off their desks or out of their in-boxes as quickly as possible. Taking actions on problems is one of many responsibilities that people have and, unfortunately, it's not always top priority. That’s why it’s crucial that action be carefully verified. Verification is not an act of suspicion or disrespect; it’s simply a necessary part of problem solving.

Barbara A. Cleary’s picture

By: Barbara A. Cleary

Specific techniques for data collection, fundamental to accurate analysis, are sometimes overlooked in the need to see outcomes or trends in data. The lowly check sheet represents a critical tool in effective data collection if it is used correctly.

Because check sheets are such simple tools, they are sometimes associated with quick-and-dirty, penciled notations that record data as it is collected. But creating an effective check sheet involves thinking, understanding why the data is being collected, how it will be used, who will gather it, where it will be gathered, and when it will be gathered. It is, fundamentally, a matter of design. By designing the data collection process rather than simply barging into it, one assures that the data itself will be useful and accurate.

Almost everyone, after all, uses check sheets. Teachers record grades, hospitals list infection types, cooks make grocery lists, families record children’s behaviors, inspectors identify defects in products—all with check sheets in various forms. To be sure that a check sheet will be truly useful, it’s important to go back to that thinking process:

Mark Symonds’s picture

By: Mark Symonds

It’s no secret to anyone, anywhere, that we’re experiencing a global business challenge, especially in manufacturing.

One could argue that for too long, manufacturers in the United States have been complacent and indifferent to signs of market change, steadily losing market share to offshore businesses that were more productive and efficient.

The automobile industry could be considered the poster child for this trend. Where once U.S. automobile manufacturers were the preeminent brands, they’ve now been overtaken by competitors that adopted—and improved upon—the manufacturing processes developed in the United States.

Geoff Bilau’s picture

By: Geoff Bilau

Geoff Bilau, senior writer for the International Association for Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) Group, was awarded first place for his paper by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for describing the importants of quality standards and accreditation.


Steve Daum’s picture

By: Steve Daum

With several generations of statistical process control (SPC) technology under our belts, it may be time to rethink how we apply SPC in the 21st century.  Basic techniques have been practiced since the 1930s.  Some companies will soon be able to say, “we’ve been practicing SPC for 100 years.” Since the time Walter Shewhart first proposed the techniques, they have been widely deployed. 

Over the years, there have been improvements in how SPC is used. Some of this can be attributed to technological changes. When personal computers and software arrived, the tedium of manual calculations was reduced. When databases came into the picture, it became easier to organize and find data gathered for SPC. When the Internet arrived, it became easier to share and publish SPC information.

Despite the improvements, our current approach to SPC is ripe for an overhaul. A combination of technology improvements, organizational changes, and a more systems-based mindset among companies has set the stage for the next leap forward.

Before thinking about that leap, it is instructive to consider how SPC usage has evolved. While none of this information may be new, it is important to view the sometimes small changes to understand the “big picture” of statistical process control.

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