Douglas C. Fair’s picture

By: Douglas C. Fair

I was hiking in the Smoky Mountains National Park with a colleague, and we happened upon fellow hikers. Being the friendly sorts that we are, we stopped to take a breather and chat with our new female friends. We enjoyed resting and speaking with the women until my friend Bob smiled and asked one of them, “So when is your baby due?” The second woman’s eyes went wide, her hand covered her mouth and she slowly, carefully stepped away. Then, dead silence. The trickle of a nearby stream and the calls of birds miles away seemed deafening.

I looked at the woman who was the recipient of Bob’s query. Eyes had narrowed and jaws were clenched. She stared at Bob like a grizzly ready to attack. If you have ever made this mistake, you know “the stare.” Bob, still smiling and clueless, waited for a response. He never got one. After a few awkward moments, I grabbed him protectively by the elbow and tugged him down the trail path. “It was nice meeting you, but we really gotta go. See you down the trail!”

She wasn’t pregnant. And in case any of you aren’t sure, know this: Never ask a woman if she is pregnant. Not even if she’s in the obstetrics unit of a hospital looking like she’s hiding an oversized basketball under her gown.

Bill Kalmar’s picture

By: Bill Kalmar

When finalizing my plans for a new year, it’s always gratifying to realize that all previous plans have been completed. As I recently went through this annual process, I noticed several issues affecting customer service and quality that I’d inadvertently left on the back burner. Consider this an early spring cleaning. With 10 inches of snow on the ground here in Michigan, it also prompts me to dream of warm weather and green, luscious golf courses.

Maybe it’s symptomatic of my being a senior citizen, but little things are beginning to aggravate me. As a starter, traipsing through the whole Medicare registration process is a calamitous journey that isn’t for the faint of heart. One needs a cadre of physicians, pharmacists, and legal beagles to assist in the navigation. It’s similar to a take-home exam, except most of the answers are not in the book. One can only hope that when the complicated package is completed, the road taken is a clear path to reduced health care costs and not some side road to confusion and refusal to provide reimbursement. Evidently meeting and exceeding the expectations of customers has yet to reach the Medicare process.

Mike Micklewright’s picture

By: Mike Micklewright

Question:How did the quality consultant always exceed the expectations of his customers?

Answer:By exceeding the number of invoiced days quoted on his proposal.

¯ I’m so excited! ¯ And I just can’t hide it! ¯

Many of us still refer to ISO 9001:2000 as the “new” standard. Also, many of us know that the ISO 9001 standard is subject to revision every five years. There was the original version of ISO 9001:1987, then ISO 9001:1994 (seven years later), and then ISO 9001:2000 (six years later), and now ISO 9001:2008 (eight years later).

It took eight long years to revise the new standard coming out this year. It must be really cool and full of new requirements to drive improvement, one might think. The $50 cost of the draft version should be well worth it, one would think. The following are some examples of the drastic improvements that will no doubt reshape your quality management system (QMS) and help you further improve your processes:

 

Bill Kalmar’s picture

By: Bill Kalmar

In the last couple of months, two topics have become particularly vexing to me. First, how can we be environmentally responsible by purchasing E85 fuel when there are few service stations that provide this new elixir? Second—even more difficult to comprehend—why do companies eliminate products and services before surveying customers?

To address this latter oversight, customer service representatives and wait staff at restaurants seem to be reading from the same script when they say, “Yes, everyone is asking about that item. Maybe you should contact the management.” Permit me to tackle the E85 conundrum first.

When our 2001 Buick LeSabre’s odometer registered 130,000 miles I figured it was a good time to go into debt again and purchase one of those gas-sipping automobiles that burns alternative fuel. Not that I’m overly concerned about the polar bears in the Arctic, I’m just a frugal individual, and I assumed that exhibiting some semblance of being environmentally friendly and filling my tank with alternative fuel would placate the environmentalists. To that end, my wife Mary and I set out on our quest.

Bill Kalmar’s picture

By: Bill Kalmar

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. This year I will enter a very special age group, namely, those people eligible for Medicare. The magical age of 65 provides one with certain mystical rights—Medicare benefits, of course, which means we’ll be swimming in extra disposable income. Yeah, right! And how about another increase in social security benefits without having to endure a performance review! And most importantly, the removal of all vestiges of political correctness, as if that ever encumbered me!

An added benefit is moving into the 65–69 age group for competing in sporting events or, as it’s sometimes referred to as “65 to death.” For those of you who may be runners you know that I will now be the youngest in a group of runners vying for prizes given only to the first three finishers in each age group. Not that this makes for a significant advantage because in my last 10K (6.2 mi) race, I was roundly beaten by a 72-year-old. I wonder if he passed the drug test.

In any event, I no longer have to make any New Year’s resolutions because changes to my lifestyle at this juncture could be injurious to my health, well being, and mental acuity. For me to make any personal resolutions would be a waste of time and thus I’m making them for all of you. Just chalk it up to senility.

Douglas C. Fair’s picture

By: Douglas C. Fair

I don’t believe in ghosts. Yet quality professionals chase them every day. Why? Because erroneous control limits tell them to. Control limits should be statistically based, 100-percent reliable, and reveal natural process variability. Hence, they should help to uncover unnatural events. Yet when I work with companies that are using SPC, I continue to encounter control limits that are not statistically based. In case it isn’t obvious, control charts are statistical tools and should therefore be based upon process data and statistical information. Doing so ensures that control limits can be trusted and that quality professionals aren’t wasting their energy by chasing erroneous, statistically insignificant events whereby an assignable cause is simply nonexistent.

My last column recounted a phone call wherein the caller misunderstands the role of control limits and control charts. This column highlights the first of three things that one should never allow when creating or calculating control limits. Those bimonthly callers I discussed last month usually believe that it’s bad when a plot point falls outside control limits. Therefore, they try to manipulate control limits to be something they weren’t designed to be.

Bill Kalmar’s picture

By: Bill Kalmar

Sitting in my home office contemplating the upcoming holidays reminds me that I have yet to submit my wish list to Santa. It’s a long list, crammed with lots of items for me, and I have included some requests for you, the readers. Of course it’s also an opportunity for me to rant about some situations that have been troubling me all year. I know Santa will understand. He’s a good listener.

In previous years, I might have included on my list a Lionel train that was so elusive to me in my formative years, but with 11 grandchildren I can just play with their Thomas the Tank Engine layout. This brings me to my first wish—Please Santa, no more toys manufactured in China that contain lead paint!

Products from China should be boycotted. First, it was contaminated pet food followed by toothpaste containing antifreeze. On the heels of those catastrophes, we discovered that tires from China were faulty and that seafood was tainted. We then learned that Thomas the Tank Engine and other toys contained paint with high amounts of lead.

Mike Micklewright’s picture

By: Mike Micklewright

Question: How is lean like making whoopee?

Answer: I don’t know. I just wanted you to open the article. However …

Send me your funny answer. I’ll choose the best answer, that’s not too dirty or offensive, and perhaps it’ll be published in my next article two months from now. You’ll be famous! The winner will also receive a free copy of my new video “BATCHIN’ Why Something So Wrong Can Seem So Right,” a $195 value. (For more information, visit www.mikemick.com/video_main.htm)

This article will take a different twist. (Of course, all of my articles take a different twist, so if they are all different, I guess they are all the same.)

The purpose of this article is to ask you questions about how well you and your company truly live lean. Is it a farce or do you really believe in it and live it?

Lean at work

Bill Kalmar’s picture

By: Bill Kalmar

An old saying has guided me through the years—“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.” A recent article in the Wall Street Journal in the Cubicle Corner section was written by a good friend of mine, Jared Sandberg. In “Bad At Complying? You Might Just Be a Very Bad Listener,” Jared describes a two-day course in the power of listening that he attended. These soft-skill courses—I call them behavioral interventions—have plagued my career for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been trained beyond my intelligence. One of the advantages of my retirement is being removed from those mind-bending courses.

In the above article, Jared describes a situation where the boss is trying to fix someone with training. “There’s fluorescent lighting, stain-resistant carpet, and motivational posters with puppies, elephants, or monkeys.” Is it coming back to you now? Are you having the same heart palpitations I had when I recalled a similar setting?

Douglas C. Fair’s picture

By: Douglas C. Fair

I’ve been privileged to work in the statistical-software industry for the last 10 years, and frequently I receive phone calls from professionals who need information or guidance on statistical methods. Overwhelmingly, they call with excellent questions. Their interest and enthusiasm are exciting, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them.

I receive painful, distressing phone calls as well. In fact, I get the same inquiring phone call on a frighteningly consistent basis. It’s a frustrating discussion, but at the same time it is curious and (in a statistically macabre way) a bit funny. When they ask the question, I usually tilt my head and squint my uncomprehending eyes like a dog who has just heard a strange sound. That phone call goes something like this:

Caller: “Hi, Doug. Thanks for taking my call. I have some questions about control charts and control limits.”

Doug: “Great! I’m glad you called. What’s your question?”

Caller: “Well, sometimes those dratted plot points fall outside of my chart’s control limits. We hate it when that happens. Windows pop up in our software, charts turn red, and operators gotta enter some kinda codes. Our operators don’t like it when their charts turn red. That sure is bothersome.”

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