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.

H. James Harrington’s picture

By H. James Harrington

Given all the campaigning by Barack Obama and John McCain, including the many promises they’re making that I believe won’t be kept, I recall my own predictions and visionary assurances a decade ago concerning the quality profession in the 21st century. When I was asked during the mid-1990s, “How do you see the quality profession changing to meet the needs of the 21st century?”, this is how I responded:

Tom Pyzdek’s picture

By Tom Pyzdek

John, Acme Corp.’s new CEO, just heard a brilliant idea for making his numbers this quarter. He needed it. During a conference call with the financial press last month, he made certain promises. If he couldn’t keep them, the company’s stock would surely take a hit. The trouble is, John’s estimates assumed that Acme’s biggest customer, We Be Widgets, would place its usual large order for widget subassemblies. However, due to the sluggish economy, the order was smaller than expected. The result: revenues amiss and earnings below expectations for the quarter.

Fiona, Acme’s chief financial officer, had a suggestion that could save the day. “We have that order from Widget International for next quarter,” she observed. “If we fill and ship it early, we could make this quarter’s numbers.”

John smiled. “Let’s do it.”

Jack E. West’s picture

By Jack E. West

Perhaps no concepts have been more abused than those related to controlling measurements. For decades it was common in many industries to calibrate measuring and test equipment to ensure it met its own specifications for accuracy and precision. Complex and expensive systems were developed to do the calibrations as scheduled. There was little emphasis on controlling the relationship between the requirements being measured and the precision, accuracy, and stability of the overall measurement system. I’ve seen many situations where measuring devices had tolerances that were looser than the tolerances of the characteristic being measured, and caused the entire control loops to behave erratically--and the managers all wondered why.

By the time ISO 9001 was first issued in 1987, this had begun to change. Some industries had begun to emphasize what should be measured so that appropriate measurement equipment was selected. Still, even today it’s not uncommon to see the wrong equipment being used for a measurement. The most important focus in this area is to establish controls to ensure that measurement capability exists. In other words, the measurement system must be accurate and precise enough to ensure that measurements meet measurement requirements.

Denise Robitaille’s picture

By Denise Robitaille

On several occasions while conducting a third-party surveillance audit, I’ve gotten the following query--or a variation thereof: “One of our customers called us last week and wants to come in to do an audit in three weeks. Why can’t they just accept the results of the audit that you’re doing? After all, they’re auditing us to the same requirements. Isn’t registration to ISO 9001 supposed to stop these multiple customer audits?”

It does seem to be a dreadful waste of time. When any auditor comes in, there’s the need to have staff available for interviews. There’s at least one individual--usually the quality manager--who loses one or more days escorting the auditor throughout the facility. Schedules are disrupted; important tasks get sidelined.

Tom Pyzdek’s picture

By Tom Pyzdek

Recently I called a friend, Ethan, to catch up on things. Ethan is a former student of mine who now holds a senior leadership position. He has been “tainted” by process excellence in the sense that because he understands the importance of processes, he can no longer practice traditional management by results. When an employee announces that he intends to reduce costs, Ethan wants to know the specific process that will be followed to accomplish the goal. In an effort to understand how this improvement will be achieved without causing harm elsewhere, Ethan asks such questions as, “What are the high-cost areas?” or “What are the major drivers of costs in these areas?” or “What are the root causes underlying these drivers?”

During an all-hands meeting at Ethan’s company, the new CEO was asked about his views on Six Sigma. The CEO responded he was in favor of Six Sigma’s emphasis on continuous improvement, but he wasn’t too keen on the “Belts.” In fact, he didn’t see a need for them.

I beg to differ.

Scott Paton’s picture

By Scott Paton

If you’ve been paying attention, it’s probably no surprise to many of you that magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive. Daily newspapers are getting smaller and smaller; magazines are getting thinner and thinner. This issue of Quality Digest is the smallest we’ve ever produced. The long-predicted “end of print” seems to have finally materialized. The recession, the high price of fuel last year, and the popularity of the internet have all radically changed the balance sheet for traditional print media.

U.S. News & World Report will cease publication this year and be available only online. The Christian Science Monitor and PC Week will do the same. Even Entertainment Weekly is mulling a move to a strictly online presence. Many daily newspapers, including both Detroit newspapers, are moving to a mostly online presence. The New York Times is rumored to be in serious financial condition and may run out of cash as early as May.