Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ASQ Influential Voices: Everyday Risk Management

In the ASQ blog this month, Sunil Kaushik writes about how he successfully applied Lean principles when taking a recent trip to Egypt.  It's another reminder of how well business innovation concepts can apply to our everyday life.

One popular management technique is to conduct a "lessons learned" or "postmortem" after key initiatives/projects.  It's a great way to learn from past mistakes - the only problem is that it's done after the project has already "died", so to speak. An even better approach is a "premortem".

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, so the saying goes.  So why not do everything possible to ensure our success in advance.  Whether it's a new diet, a new relationship, a new home project, a new subject, or a new program for your child.  We want to minimize the risk of failure; so let's bravely anticipate it upfront.

That's exactly what a premortem attempts to do... asking us to imagine all the possible obstacles, challenges, or ways that our new initiate might fail.  Imagine yourself looking into the future; what would the newspaper headline read?  By forcing ourselves to anticipate all the potential failure points, it gives us an early-warning system.

Focus on those specific risks that are the most likely and/or most severe - then come up with a couple key mitigation strategies - be creative!  Good risk management goes well beyond the boardroom... we know that obstacles in life are inevitable - so let's anticipate and counteract them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ASQ Influential Voices: Evolving as a Leader

In their annual report on the Future of Quality, the ASQ tackles a variety of topics facing management today.  One of the articles focused on the future of leadership and the need to move from "efficiency to adaptability".

I recommend reading it, especially since the advice goes well beyond the Quality field or even management in general.  The ability to adapt one's skillset to an ever changing world may be the greatest skill of all!

Each of us has formed a unique perspective on the world based on our education, training, relationships, and experiences.  From that, we develop our own approach to analyzing and solving life's problems.  But what happens when our old solutions no longer work on the new problems?

It would be great if life (and business) had perpetual predictability.  But we all know it doesn't - think about all change happening around us... new technologies, customer needs, employee expectations, social landscape, information sharing, generational trends... the list goes on and on.  Our "experience" can sometimes give us a false sense of confidence.  It's a poor assumption to think that any of our old methodologies will work beyond today.  At best, it will leave us frustrated...  at worst, it will leave us obsolete.

"Adaptability" has to become a core skillset for the modern Manager / Quality professional.  Just by acknowledging this, we force ourselves to ask new questions: How can we spot new trends?  How do we keep up with our industry and profession?  How do we stay in touch with the changing needs of customers and employees?  And most importantly, how do we acquire the new skills needed to tackle the problems of tomorrow.  Our ability to evolve as a leader is (and will be) our greatest asset!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Is Problem Solving your Ambition?

In his blog this month, ASQ CEO, Bill Troy asks whether "Quality" is ambitious enough in terms of its goals and aspirations as a business discipline. 

To me, one of the greatest assets in business (and in life for that matter) is the ability to solve problems.  It really doesn't matter what industry you find yourself in or what product you sell... your organization is going to face new challenges on a daily basis.  Problems take many forms: declining revenue, new competitors, scaling for growth, evolving customer behaviors, employee engagement, you name it!

My dad used to always tell me, "as long as you're somebody that can solve problems, you'll always have a place in this world".  And let's not get this confused with what I call "problem finding"... we've all encountered that person with the "PhD" in problem finding... they're the one that can always tell you what's wrong with the world, or why a new idea won't work... with no real clue on what will.  With all due respect, problem finding is the easy part and way overrated.  The true value is finding the root cause, and more importantly, how to solve it.

Fortunately for Quality professionals, this is what we strive to do for a living.  The "Quality" discipline provides a structured set of tools, methodologies, and strategies for tackling virtually any type of complex problem.  But it also takes a certain type of willingness to persevere in the face of endless obstacles. 

So ask yourself, when a new problem emerges... who gets that call?  Is it you?  That should be the "ambition" for all business professionals... be the one that gets the call!  Demonstrate, through your results, that you have the capability and willingness to tackle any challenge, no matter how daunting.

Make problem solving your ambition!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ASQ Influential Voices: Evolution of Quality

In his blog this month, ASQ CEO, Bill Troy writes about the future of Quality, and whether it will be one of evolution or revolution.  To me, a "revolution" is about changing the external environment to better suit one's own needs and interests.  The idea of forcibly altering the current business landscape to conform to our own strengths seems ill-fated.

Instead, "evolution" is about changing one's self to better adapt to their world.  In my opinion, this is the type of fundamental change required.  In today's environment, businesses need the ability to:

1) Gather, analyze, and interpret data 
2) Solve complex problems
3) Drive innovation
4) Manage and mitigate risk
5) Foster a healthy culture

In many ways, the discipline of "Quality" is well adapted to help modern organizations.  Competencies like lean six sigma, process analysis, voice of customer, and risk management are all critical traits.  Other traditional strongholds, such as the various ISO9000 disciplines, may need to evolve to become more agile, practical skill-sets based on the specific industry and/or organization.

In terms of evolving new skills, today's 'Quality Professional' must develop and refine skills around product innovation, change management, data mining, and organizational development.  To me, this will be the archetype needed for an organization to consistently delivery high quality products and services that create value.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

ASQ Influential Voices: Start with Vision

In his blog this month, ASQ CEO, Bill Troy writes about organizational vision.  He shares a great example from his recent trip to a Volvo factory, where the vision is on the wall:

"By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo."

The clarity and boldness behind a statement like this is inspiring!  Volvo is taking the idea of "error-proofing" to a whole new dimension.  They've abandoned the notion of managing within their "sphere of control", and have challenged their organization to accomplish something truly grand.  Fail or succeed, Volvo has created a vision for their organization.  Why is that so essential?

Imagine beginning a road trip without a destination, or set of destinations, in mind.  How could you possibly choose the right supplies, vehicle, resources, and/or people to join you?  In the same way, organizations must decide on their "destination" at the onset.  Sure, the course may change along the way as new obstacles and road blocks present themselves.  But having a clear vision of where you want to go, and why is vital.

A vision sets the direction and priority for the organization.  It provides a sense of clarity for all members.  Instantly, decisions become simpler and the necessary tactics come into focus.  It also becomes easier to measure progress and determine if/when you stray off course.

Unfortunately, a lot of management time and energy is spent trying to devise the "road map", when the destination hasn't yet been decided.  Start with vision, and everything else will follow.

Friday, February 28, 2014

ASQ Influential Voices: Smart Operations

In his blog this month, ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski writes about their latest manufacturing outlook survey

An interesting takeaway for me was the idea of Smart Manufacturing which was defined as, “the integration of network-based data and information that provides real-time understanding, reasoning, planning, management and related decision making of all aspects of a manufacturing and supply chain enterprise”.

It sounds like a great systems-based approach to running your business. According to the survey, 82% of those that have implemented this, already acknowledge some level of efficiency gain; 49% have seen fewer defects; and 45% report increased customer satisfaction.

Those are great results – but if I walked in on Monday morning and tried to sell the benefits of applying a “manufacturing” improvement system, I’d have some managers running for the door!  Why narrow our audience by implying that these ideas only work in a factory environment?

The value of managing your processes and supply chain is universally applicable to any type of operation. So let’s call this something different; how about, “Smart Operations”. Every organization has a series of variables that drive the operation: labor, equipment, raw materials, information, physical/digital logistics, and customer inputs.

We begin to see the system as a whole only when we methodically quantify, measure, and correlate all these factors. A smart operation understands all the variables and levers which are vital to making smart management decisions.

In the face of a tough economy and unrelenting competitive pressures, we must find ways to optimize, integrate, and streamline our operations... making them leaner and smarter!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ASQ Influential Voices: Quality is Innovation

In his blog this month, ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski writes about taking quality well beyond its normal definition.

The everyday person might define quality as simply the absence of defects.  While technically correct, this is only a small part of what "quality" practices can and should deliver for organizations.  This narrow definition, while applicable in industries such as manufacturing, does very little to support service industries such as healthcare, athletics, and entertainment.

If we broaden our definition of quality to include: "the delivery of products and services that create value for customers", that immediately gets us thinking differently.  First, quality includes tangible goods as well as intangible services and processes.  Second, it's not enough to be defect-free; our products must create value by enriching the lives of our customers.  And third, quality requires us to be forward thinking - going beyond what customers want today and towards what they'll need in the future (even if they don't know it yet).

Quality is innovation.  It requires creativity, invention, perseverance, and the endless pursuit of perfection.  These types of values are universal across all industries and organizations.