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No Slack for American Airlines

Editor's note: We received many letters regarding American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey's response to Jim Harrington's critiques of AA, which have recently appeared in our pages. Most readers felt that Arpey had dodged the point.

I'm gratified that Quality Digest has enough influence to elicit Gerard Arpey to write a response ("Letters," January 2006). It's a doggone shame that this fine publication is powerless to give the guy a clue.

Let me see if I can paraphrase Mr. Arpey's message: "Bummer about your experience. Let's dodge our accountability by foisting some blame on a so-called partner."

The letter said nothing about the slightest effort to understand the root cause, to prevent such a problem from happening again, or to handle the "moment of truth" in a competent or compassionate manner. In other words, it's business as usual for a company that has no idea how much money it's hemorrhaging due to its rampant mediocrity.

If American Airlines were to go the way of Eastern, Braniff and others that have outlived their time, there would indeed be some impact.

The biggest tragedy that would ensue may well be the severance package that Arpey would receive.

--Jonathon Andell


Nowhere in Arpey's response does he say, "I will improve my company's customer service" or, more important, "I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience with my airline, and I as the chairman and CEO will try to do better." The only thing I heard was executive arrogance!

--Russ Fleischman


An Ounce of Prevention

"An Ounce of Prevention" ("Performance Improvement," H. James Harrington, February 2006) is right on the money. Having worked with various U.S. and German upper managers during my years as a quality professional, I saw the same focus on "problem fixers" as opposed to "problem preventers." Even though there was the same ISO 9001 emphasis that most companies have today, the bottom line in the executive staff meetings was just that... an emphasis on quarterly financial performance. In many instances this was driven by the high costs of warranty and service problems, which gave many staff members the opportunity to be the hero and solve that specific problem. The opportunity to attack the root causes of these issues may have been discussed but was never fully implemented. The reason was that most of the solutions took longer than one year to implement, and the quarterly performance requirement was overwhelming.

--Joe Kowalis


A Little Too Lean?

In his article "Measures of Performance Improvement" (www.qualitydigest.com/sixsigma), Praveen Gupta says of companies that use lean tools: "If companies make their operations lean and let some employees go, they sacrifice some functions unnecessarily and put themselves at risk. Lean may even get struggling companies on the path to extinction."

If that's true, then it appears to be a misuse of lean tools and not "pure lean." Lean intends to reduce or eliminate waste. When companies get to the point that "they sacrifice some functions unnecessarily," it no longer appears to be just reducing waste.

--Tom Magee


Future of Quality

Crosby's definition of "meets specifications" has been dead for a long time; some have just been slow to catch on ("Quality Curmudgeon," Scott M. Paton, February 2006). One of the biggest problems with the image of the quality profession is the constant repackaging into new fads. After a while, we lose credibility.

The best place to start for a quality definition might be Taguchi's "loss to society," with his emphasis on the loss-function concept of on target with least variability, and the use of designed experiments to locate the best target for a process and reduce variability.

--Don W. Creger


Registrars: a Match Made in… ?

I felt Craig Cochran's article ("Registrar Search Simplified," February 2006) was very objective and appreciated his comments. However, I do feel there was one aspect in selecting the registrar that could be important. Unfortunately, it's not always a match made in heaven. The question that should be asked is, "If for some reason it is not a match, what penalties, if any, will be incurred if we want to void the agreement?" Although I don't think it's the norm, some registrars do lock their clients in for the full three-year term of the registration.

--Ernie Cumming, ASQ-CQA


Six Sigma Faddish?

Gregory Roth II's article ("Six Sigma: Is It a Fad?" www.qualitydigest.com/sixsigma ) is right on the money. If more people were like Roth and kept their focus on the benefits rather than on the activities, we'd have a lot fewer fads and a lot more progress. Have you noticed that the last several "fads" have all been variations on basic process quality improvement methods that have been around for decades? Maybe this quality thing is finally catching on!

--Tom Pyzdek


The one aspect of Six Sigma I would like to see the author discuss is how it puts a cohesive, sensible framework around problem solving, a framework that most anyone can understand. My experience has been that team members get excited about quality improvement because they can understand where Six Sigma is "going" during a project. When you can get a nonmanagement employee excited about improving a process and saving money (especially in places that resist change, like hospitals), you may have more than a fad.

--Larry Goldman