# Content By Davis Balestracci

By: Davis Balestracci

When teaching the I-chart, I’m barely done describing the technique (never mind teaching it) when, as if on cue, someone will ask, “When and how often should I recalculate my limits?” I’m at the point where this triggers an internal “fingernails on the blackboard” reaction. So, I smile and once again say, “It depends.” By the way…

… Wrong question!

I made a point in Part 1 of this article that I feel is so important, I’m going to make it again: Do not bog down in calculation minutiae. If you feel the instinct to ask that question, pause and think of how you would answer these from me instead:

1. Could you please show me the data (or describe an actual situation) that are making you ask me this question?

2. Please tell me why this situation is important.

3. Please show me a run chart of these data plotted over time.

4. What ultimate actions would you like to take with these data?

And since writing Part 1, I’ve thought of a fifth question I’d like to add:

5. What “big dot” in the board room are these data and chart going to affect? Or less tactfully,

By: Davis Balestracci

Quality improvement people sure love those tools. A particular favorite, of course, is the control chart, of which, I think, seven are usually taught. Two questions I’m always asked are, “Which chart do I use for which situation?” and “When and how often should I recalculate my limits?”

Wrong questions!

Regarding the first (we’ll deal with second question in part 2), I’ve seen many flowcharts in books to help you determine which chart to use for which situation. I find them far too confusing for the average user. (They even give me sweaty palms.) I don’t even teach this in my work.

As my respected colleague Donald Wheeler likes to say, “The purpose is not to have charts. The purpose is to use the charts…. You get no credit for computing the right number—only for taking the right action. Without the follow-through of taking the right action, the computation of the right number is meaningless.”

By: Davis Balestracci

You know what the third-quarter review meeting means: a packet will be handed out  with bar graphs and, no doubt, trend lines on each of about a zillion “key performance indicators” that show:

• This month vs. last month vs. 12 months ago (maybe year-to-date as well)
• The three months’ performance of the current quarter
• The first three quarters of the year
• This quarter vs. last quarter vs. third quarter a year ago

(Of course, tables are included with red, yellow, and green cells measuring performances and variances from targets, for which you are already preparing your explanations as to why you didn’t achieve them, right?)

### Data insanity as a source of waste

Many of you know me as a statistician, yet I’ve been talking about organizational transformation in my last two articles and the need to take improvement to the next level—“built-in” vs. “bolt on.” And I do feel that a key catalyst to accelerate this process is my “data sanity” concept.

In case you aren’t familiar with my definition of data sanity: It’s the everyday use of data in a process-oriented context so as to react appropriately to its inherent variation and achieve improvement and better prediction.

By: Davis Balestracci

I attended a talk in 2006 given by a world leader in quality that contained a bar graph summary ranking 21 U.S. counties from best to worst (see figure 1). The counties were ranked from 1 to 21 for 10 different indicators, and these ranks were summed to get a total score for each county (e.g., minimum 21, maximum 210, average 110. Smaller score = better). Data presentations such as this usually result in discussions where terms like “above average,” “below average,” and  “who is in what quartile” are bandied about. As W. Edwards Deming would say, “Simple… obvious… and wrong!” Any set of numbers needs a context of variation within which to be interpreted.

By: Davis Balestracci

During my recent travels, I have noticed an increasing tendency toward formalizing organizational quality improvement (QI) efforts into a separate silo. Even more disturbing is an increasing (and excruciating) formality. Expressions such as “saving dark-green dollars” are creeping into justifications for such “programs,” usually referred to as Six Sigma, lean, or lean Six Sigma. As always, Jim Clemmer pinpoints this trend perfectly:

“The quality movement [has given] rise to a new breed of techno-manager—the qualicrat. These support professionals see the world strictly through data and analysis, and their quality improvement tools and techniques. While they work hard to quantify the ‘voice of the customer,’ the face of current customers (and especially potential new customers) is often lost. Having researched, consulted, and written extensively on quality improvement, I am a big convert to, and evangelist for, the cause. But some efforts are getting badly out of balance as customers, partners, and team members are reduced to numbers, charts, and graphs.”

### “Doing” QI vs. transforming an organization

Contrast Clemmer’s description with my view of how a quality focus should transform an organization:

By: Davis Balestracci

Customer satisfaction data resulting in various quality indexes abound. The airline industry is particularly watched. The April 10 Quality Digest Daily had an article with the title "Study: Airline Performance Improves" and the subtitle "Better on-time performance, baggage handling, and customer complaints."

The analysis method? In essence, a bunch of professors pored over some tables of data and concluded that some numbers were bigger than others...and gave profound explanations for the (alleged) differences. If I’m not mistaken, W. Edwards Deming called this “tampering:” They treated all differences (variation) as special cause.

How much information like this gets published and how much of this type of (alleged) “analysis” are we subjected to in meeting after meeting…everyday?

“Released during a news conference at the National Press Club, the rankings show that of the 17 carriers rated in 2008 and 2009, all but Alaska Airlines had improved AQR scores for 2009.”

So, given 17 carriers, 16 had numbers bigger than last year. It sounds pretty impressive.

By: Davis Balestracci

Almost everyone celebrates something during the winter solstice—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.—which inevitably includes gift exchanging. Following are some suggestions that run the gamut from technical to personal growth to just plain entertainment.

### Videos/DVDs

There is a “quality” undercurrent in all of these—could also be useful for retreat entertainment.

• Mindwalk—A “systems’ thinking” version of My Dinner with Andre. It never fails to blow me away.

• Tampopo—A “spaghetti western” with a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood taking a noodle-soup chef on a quality journey (Honestly!). It's funny and insightful… and highly recommended. [In Japanese with subtitles]

• The Mozart Brothers—For those of you with an artsy streak: Mozart meets the Marx Brothers. A film for showing what “thinking outside the box” truly means. It’s way out there!

### Statistics books/improvement references

General/service industry/health care

By: Davis Balestracci

The economy has become a convenient excuse on which to pin the blame for everything—especially job losses. Well, in the case of quality positions, yes… and no.

A sobering thought: Will the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) inevitably apply to the quality profession? I think so. It’s time to “connect the dots” for executives regarding the integration of quality improvement into organizational culture. How much longer can we as a quality profession wait?

I did a seminar recently for a state health care agency, and the cuts they had experienced were nothing short of incredible—with quality improvement budgets and personnel bearing the brunt. Think about it, what message does this send to the quality profession about how they’re perceived? Do most executives still see “quality” as an annoying add-on that isn’t needed any more because tough standards with draconian enforcement and old-fashioned individual accountability should do it?

Hey! What about all that statistics and “belt” training I shelled out for?

By: Davis Balestracci

Remember my previous article on the quality pyramid where the very top element emphasizes the concept of “process?” One of the most powerful points to get across in any quality improvement effort is that your current processes are perfectly designed to get the results they are already getting. Most of us are familiar with the fact that 85 percent of the problems in any organization are due to bad processes (and Deming, toward the end of his life, thought it was closer to 97%).

Don’t believe me? Here is the absolute best paragraph I have ever seen to explain it. This is from Jim Clemmer’s seminal book Firing on All Cylinders, published in 1992 (Business One Irwin) and still worth a read or listening to on CD:

By: Davis Balestracci

Why do major change initiatives fail? It seems obvious: major change will not happen easily for a long list of reasons. However, if you feel your organization is overmanaged and underled with tendencies toward an inwardly focused culture, paralyzing bureaucracy, parochial politics, a low level of trust, lack of teamwork, arrogant attitudes, a lack of leadership in middle management, and the general human fear of the unknown, then John Kotter's book Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996) might be for you.

The methods managers have used in the attempt to transform their companies into stronger competitors—total quality management, reengineering, right sizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnarounds—routinely fall short because they fail to alter behavior. This book identifies an eight-step process that every company must go through to achieve its goals and shows where and how people—good people—often derail. The author reveals what he has seen, heard, experienced, and concluded in many years of working with companies to create lasting transformation. The advice is very practical.