H. James Harrington’s picture

By H. James Harrington

As I’m writing this column, the U.S. government is debating the approval of a trillion-dollar-plus stimulation package, the Dow Jones average has dipped into the 7,000 range, hundreds of thousands of people were laid off work last week, and poor-performing companies throughout the United States are looking to the government to take money from the well-managed companies so they can continue to perform poorly.

Our new president hasn’t learned from the mistakes made in the last stimulation package as he pushes for approval to spend the trillion-plus dollars of our money without a well-defined plan on how the money will be spent (i.e., given away). The Bush stimulus package went to the banks, many of which didn’t need or even ask for the money.

Jack E. West’s picture

By Jack E. West

ISO 9001’s subclause 8.3 is intended to prevent inadvertent use or installation of nonconforming product. A primary requirement of this subclause is to ensure effective implementation of processes that prevent unintended use or delivery of product that doesn’t conform to requirements. This simple requirement makes business sense because one of the worst things an organization can do is unwittingly provide its customers with product that doesn’t meet requirements. Organization must devise processes to accomplish this objective in a way that encourages personnel to address product nonconformity rather than find ways to avoid identifying and controlling such product.

Heero Hacquebord’s default image

By Heero Hacquebord


Decision-making with respect to improving performance is a matter of prediction. So is leadership. For example, was the energy crisis a rational, predictive event 30 years ago? Or was it random, unpredictable, and unpreventable? If it’s the latter, then we must believe that we are morons with no theory, knowledge, or predictive capability, and are powerless to influence our environment or future. No reasonable person accepts that.

People in business, education, and government make decisions to create positive outcomes for themselves and their organizations. There are basically three categories of decisions:

1. Decide to take some form of action. (We can cause a positive result.)

2. Decide to take no action. (The status quo is just fine, thank you.)

3. Decide not to decide. (i.e., management by paralysis)

To make better decisions and improve future performance, we need to understand what drives performance. There can only be two major components that affect performance independently, or interactively, and those are the systems that are being used in the creation of the business outcomes and the performance of people working in and around these systems. The diagrams in figures 1 and 2 show the possible basis of performance.

H. James Harrington’s picture

By H. James Harrington

There’s so much information in the world today that letting people recreate their own databases is a luxury we can’t afford. If we were all allowed to create our own basic concepts without any standardization, we couldn’t effectively interact with each other. Imagine trying to communicate if each person spoke a unique language, or how hard it would be to pay a bill if every individual used a different numbering system.

Often, our education keeps us from conceiving truly creative solutions. It’s important to realize that education doesn’t make an individual creative. In fact, it often has the opposite effect because there’s less need to use creativity on a continuous basis. Someone else is always supplying the answers. Of course, having an education doesn’t prohibit an individual from being creative, either. Highly creative, educated individuals don’t rely on their education to solve their problems. They use it to develop improved solutions.

We begin reducing a child’s natural creative urges early in life by saying, “Don’t try to be creative. We already have an answer that’s better than anything you can create.” Here is an example:

H. James Harrington’s picture

By H. James Harrington

In the early 1980s, Matsushita’s Japanese management team bought the Quasar division from Motorola, and through the use of sound industrial-management techniques, significantly cut defect rates and cycle times.

At that time, Motorola was having major problems. Shortly thereafter, the company launched its Six Sigma program, which offered a huge opportunity for extremely high returns on investment. In addition to Six Sigma, Motorola also initiated active process redesigning activities focused primarily on cycle-time reduction. For the next five years, Motorola’s problem-solving approach was Walter A. Shewhart’s plan-do-check-act model. Motorola had no formal training to measure, analyze, improve, and control (MAIC); however, in 1991, Motorola developed the concepts of Black Belt and Master Black Belt training using the MAIC methodology, which was a slight modification of Shewhart’s model.

Motorola’s Six Sigma program consisted of the following:

Record hard savings

Focus on measurements

Statistical analysis

Process mapping

Process capability analysis

Statistical process control

Scott Paton’s picture

By Scott Paton

Quality professionals obsess about processes. We are so focused on processes that we sometimes forget that people who aren’t directly involved in quality don’t understand the importance of them. When we see process failure or processes that don’t make sense, they stick out like sore thumbs. Everything that gets done is the result of some sort of a process. There are, however, poorly designed processes, poorly implemented processes, inefficient processes. . . you get the idea.

I’d like to share an example of a process problem that illustrates the importance of having, understanding, and implementing an effective and efficient process.

My wife and I have long wanted to remodel our kitchen. We decided we wanted to replace our 1980s-style tile countertops with granite.

I’m not handy and granite countertops aren’t something easily done by the do-it-yourselfer, anyway. It just so happens that a manufacturer of kitchen countertop surfaces is located right here in Chico. It advertises a one-stop solution for your new or remodeling needs. We also checked with the Big Box stores--Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

We decided to go with the local company, which offered a very good price and had a reputation for good quality products.

Scott Paton’s picture

By Scott Paton

Barack Obama is only one month into his presidency and he’s facing some serious challenges, primarily the economy. What began as a distant rumble early last year has hit like a tsunami. Banks are failing, millions of people have been laid off, GM and Chrysler are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, tens of millions of homeowners face foreclosure, and it looks like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

It’s the kind of economy that most of us have never faced before. We’ve had recessions before, but this is getting awfully close to a depression. According to a February 9 article in The Wall Street Journal, the world’s advanced economies--the United States, Western Europe, and Japan--are already in a depression, says International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Although most of us have never lived through this before, we’ve all heard the stories of the Great Depression from our parents or grandparents. My mother tells stories of wearing flour-sack dresses that her mother sewed, tending a huge garden, canning vegetables, and watching as her mother made extra plates of beans and cornbread to feed the poor folk who showed up on the back porch.

Scott Paton’s picture

By Scott Paton

If you’re like me, you probably call the customer service department at several major companies a few times a month. Even though I have the ominous title of “Quality Curmudgeon,” I don’t really complain as much as you might expect. My calls to customer service are usually related to updating an address or fixing a minor problem. For example, Anthem Blue Cross of California simply refused to acknowledge that my daughter, Bronwyn, is a female. This caused problems when trying to get her prescriptions filled, and it required several phone calls over a period of two years.

Also if you’re like me, you’ve probably had enough of the average customer service experience. In desperation, I drafted the letter below to the customer service managers of Corporate America. Please feel free to pass it along.

Dear Customer Service Manager:
I just wanted to write you a note to tell you of my recent experience with your organization. First of all, thank you for taking the time to record my recent telephone conversation with your customer service representative. Your automated attendant assured me that my call would be “recorded for quality and training purposes.” I’m happy to know that you care enough about your customers to record all of their conversations.

Tom Pyzdek’s picture

By Tom Pyzdek

Steve McDowell, CEO of TechDyno, looked quizzically at the smiling young woman standing at the front of the room. Lorraine Whitcombe finished her presentation by enthusiastically declaring, “That’s how my group will ‘Go for the O!’” That’s when Steve’s expression changed from interested to something resembling a layman at a particle physics convention.

Mary Scott, director of the contact center, cringed. This was Lorraine’s first day back at the contact center from her maternity leave. The day her leave began was the very day Steve McDowell took over as TechDyno’s new CEO. Lorraine had no way of knowing how completely the world of TechDyno had changed in her absence. Steve had deployed Quality 2.0, which was as different from the traditional way of managing a business as night was from day.

Denise Robitaille’s picture

By Denise Robitaille

One of the most interesting books I’ve read is Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon and Schuster, 2006). It’s a historical narrative of Lincoln’s administration, focusing on the dynamics of his cabinet.

Lincoln was dedicated to preserving the Union. At the time of the Civil War, the United States was less than 100 years old. The system of government “… of the people, for the people, by the people…” was unique in the world. Lincoln perceived that if our nation was dissolved, the great experiment of self-governance would have failed. The notion that common people, leading everyday lives, could make a difference would have been invalidated.

Implicit in Lincoln’s stance is an unerring comprehension of the importance of people to any organization, community, or enterprise. This attitude is echoed in the words of Carl Sandburg in his book, The People, Yes. Later, W. Edwards Deming added, “Drive out fear…,” which is No. 8 of his 14 points for management. These are the steps we walk in.

The voice of the people is a big deal. People matter. The work they do has value.