Content By Harish Jose

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By: Harish Jose

After reviewing Mark Graban’s wonderful book, Measures of Success (Constancy, 2018), I started rereading Walter Shewhart’s books, Statistical Method From the Viewpoint of Quality Control (Dover reprint 1986, originally edited by W. Edwards. Deming), and Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product (Martino Fine Books, 2015 reprint). Both are excellent books for any quality professional.

One of the themes that stood out for me while reading the two books was the concept of cybernetics. This column is a result of studying Shewhart’s books as well as articles on cybernetics by Paul Pangaro.

Harish Jose’s picture

By: Harish Jose

I must confess up front that the title of this column is misleading. Similar to the Spoon Boy in the movie, The Matrix, I will say, “There is no lean problem or a Six Sigma problem. All these problems are our mental constructs of a perceived phenomenon.”

A problem statement is a model of the actual phenomenon that we believe is the problem. The problem statement is never the problem! It is a representation of the problem. We form the problem statement based on our vantage point, our mental models, and biases. Such a constructed problem statement is thus incomplete and sometimes incorrect. We don’t always ask for the problem statement to be reframed from the stakeholder’s viewpoint.

A problem statement is an abstraction based on our understanding. Its usefulness lies in the abstraction. A good abstraction ignores and omits unwanted details, while a poor abstraction retains them, or worse, omits valid details. Our own cognitive background hinders our ability to frame the true nature of the problem.

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By: Harish Jose

Today I’m looking at Factory Physics and the Toyota Production System (TPS). My main references for the post are the 1977 paper co-authored by ex-Toyota president Fujio Cho and key ideas from Factory Physics (Waveland Press, 2011).

One of my favorite definitions of lean comes from Wallace J. Hopp and Mark L. Spearman, who wrote Factory Physics. They defined lean as follows: “Lean is fundamentally about minimizing the cost of buffering variability.... Production of goods or services is lean if it is accomplished with minimal buffering costs.”

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By: Harish Jose

Today I’m looking at the profound phrase of Canadian philosopher and a media theorist Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.”

McLuhan noted that: “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects, which are its unique message.... The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale, or pace, or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.... It is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.”1

The simplest understanding of the phrase, “The medium is the message,” is that it doesn’t matter what we say; it matters how we say it. However, this is a simplistic view. McLuhan’s insight was that any medium is an extension of ourselves. For example, the telephone is an environment, and it affects everybody. The smartphone, which is a further advancement of the telephone, has a much larger effect on us and what we do.

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By: Harish Jose

The TV show The Walking Dead, about survival in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, is one of the top-rated currently. I’ve written previously about the show, but today I want to briefly look at the complex adaptive systems (CAS) in the show’s plot structure. A CAS is an open, nonlinear system with heterogeneous and autonomous agents that have the ability to adapt to their environment through interactions between themselves and the environment.

The simplest example of a CAS is an ant colony. Ants are simple creatures with no leader telling each ant what to do. Each ant’s behavior is constrained by a set of behavioral rules that determine how it will interact with others and its environment. Each ant works with local information and interacts with other ants and the environment based on this information. Their tasks include patrolling, foraging, maintaining the nest, and performing midden work. The local information available to each ant comes from the pheromone scent from another ant. As a whole, their interactions result in a collective intelligence that sustains their colony, a complex and intelligent system.

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By: Harish Jose

One of my favorite things to do when I learn new and interesting information is to apply it to a different area to see if I can gain further insight. Here, I am looking at the principle, “Chekhov’s gun,”  named after the famous Russian author, Anton Chekhov (1860–1904), and how it relates to gemba.

Anton Chekhov is regarded as a master short-story writer. In the short story genre, there is a limited amount of resources to tell your story. Chekhov’s gun is a principle that states that everything should have a purpose.

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By: Harish Jose

I am writing today about “bootstrap kaizen.” This is something I have been thinking about for a while. Wikipedia describes bootstrapping as “a self-starting process that is supposed to proceed without external input.” The term was developed from a 19th-century figure of speech—“pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps.” Another description is to start with something small that over time turns into something bigger—a compounding effect from something small and simple.

One part of the output is feedback into the input loop so as to generate a compounding effect. This is akin to the concept of booting computers, where a computer on startup begins with a small code that is run from the BIOS, which loads the full operating system. I liked the idea of bootstrapping when viewed with the concept of kaizen or “change for the better” in lean. Think about how the concept of improvement can start small and eventually, with iterations and feedback loops, can make the entire organization better.

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By: Harish Jose

I am a quality manager by profession. Thus, I think about quality a lot. How would one define “quality?” A simple view of quality is “conformance to requirements.” This simplistic view of quality lacks the complexity that it should have. It assumes that everything is static, the customer will always have the same requirements, and will be happy if the specifications/requirements are met.

However, customer satisfaction is a complex thing. Customers are external to the plant that manufactures the widget. Thus, the plant will always lack the variety that the external world will impose on it. For example, let’s look at a simple thing like a cell phone. Theoretically, the purpose of a cell phone used to be to allow the end user to make a phone call. Think of all the variety of requirements that the end user has for a cell phone these days—internet, camera, ability to play games, ability to use productivity apps, stopwatch, alarms, affordability. Additionally, the competition is always coming out with a newer, faster, and maybe cheaper cell phone. To paraphrase the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland—the manufacturer has to do a lot of running to stay in the same place—to maintain the share of market.

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By: Harish Jose

I came across an interesting phrase recently. I was reading Kozo Saito’s paper, “Hitozukuri and Monozukuri,” and I saw the phrase “kufu eyes.” Kufu is a Japanese word that means “to seek a way out of a dilemma.” This is very well explained in Daisetz T. Suzuki’s wonderful book, Zen and Japanese Culture (Princeton University Press, 1970). Suzuki talks about kufu in three sections of the book, and each time he adds a little more detail.

“Kufu is not just thinking with the head, but the state when the whole body is involved and applied to the solving of a problem,” says Suzuki.

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By: Harish Jose

I have written about sample size calculations many times before. One of the most common questions a statistician is asked is, “How many samples do I need—is a sample size of 30 appropriate?” The appropriate answer to such a question is always, “It depends!”

In today’s column, I have attached a spreadsheet that calculates the reliability based on Bayesian Inference. Ideally, one would want to have some confidence that the widgets being produced is X-percent reliable, or in other words, it is X-percent probable that the widget would function as intended. The ubiquitous 90/90 or 95/95 confidence/reliability sample size table is used for this purpose.