Continuous Permanent Improvement

arun-cpiWhat? A book on continuous improvement that would make executives and other managers happy?

Yes, Arun Hariharan has made this happen in Continuous Permanent Improvement, published by the ASQ Quality Press in May 2014. Although there are many references that describe the mindset and philosophy of quality and continuous improvement efforts, it is rare to see one that could meet the needs (and satisfy the interests) of executives as well as operations managers. This book, which reflects on his experiences working with organizations of all sizes over the past three decades, provides a refreshing perspective, aiming to “give you a holistic and strategic approach to quality, rather than the limited view that restricts the benefits to only certain operational or tactical aspects.” These well-written and engaging 236 pages easily meets this primary goal. As part of an interview with Arun on the ASQ blog, Julia McIntosh calls thisa strategic distillation of experiences, anecdotes, stories, case studies, and lessons learned from successes and mistakes in nearly three decades of experience.”

There are several highlights that will also help readers bridge the strategic and operational levels.  For example, in Chapter 4, the author differentiates between SIPOC (Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – Customers) and the “outside-in” COPIS (Customers – Outputs – Processes – Inputs – Suppliers) approach to understanding a process first from the customer’s perspective. He adds that COPIS can be used strategically as well as operationally, and provides a comprehensive case study of how strategic COPIS was applied at one organization. Chapter 5 presents the rationale for standardized processes in the context of an expanding bakery, a story that provides an excellent backdrop for explaining the relationship between standards and innovation. In Chapter 8, the author demonstrates a very straightforward method for value stream mapping, by simply identifying which stages of a process can be considered types of waste. Chapter 9 provides the most comprehensive explanation of “First Time Right” that I have seen in print.

This book is not a manual or reference guide that covers specific techniques for improvement and how to implement them. More significantly, it uses stories to illustrate how the many dimensions of quality and business excellence can be effectively integrated in practice. By taking this approach, the author has provided an excellent resource for practitioners who are looking for new insights, as well as academics who are seeking a more nuanced understanding of how continuous improvement is organized and managed in practice. It would also make an excellent textbook for an advanced undergraduate or graduate course in practical process improvement.

This is draft material for a review that will be published in the October 2014 issue of Quality Management Journal.

Baldrige as a Micro-Framework for Organizational Planning

7737-thumbnailIn his June post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy shares the news that ASQ has recently been awarded the Excellence level of achievement in 2014 for the Wisconsin Forward Award, which is the state’s quality program that reflects the values of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). He asks what experiences others have had with using quality award programs as frameworks for reflection and continuous improvement.

I had a great experience in 2006 using the Baldrige Criteria to develop a Workforce Management Plan for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). We were tasked by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to prepare this report, which was definitely going to require us to dig deep and reflect on how we were managing our workforce, both at the operational level and in service of our strategic priorities. Unfortunately, none of us had ever done this before, so we were pretty much clueless as to what elements such a report would require, and what sorts of questions we might have to answer to ensure that we were approaching the question of workforce management strategically. The NSF wasn’t really able to provide guidance to us other than “you should use best practices from business and industry.” Fortunately, because I had been involved in the quality community for several years, I knew that the Baldrige Criteria might help us accomplish our goal. And it did!

In addition to using the questions in Section 5, Workforce Focus, we also integrated some of the elements of the “P” section of the Criteria to develop our plan. This helped us construct the initial draft in an intense week, rather than the weeks or months it might have taken if we didn’t have the Criteria to guide us. We captured our experience in a paper that was published to an Observatory Operations conference proceedings book in 2006, which you can read here for additional background if you need to construct a Workforce Management Plan. We also included the outline for our report (even though the content itself was confidential). The main point is that you don’t need to use or implement all sections of the Baldrige Criteria for it to yield immediate tangible value for your organization… consider applying the sections when you need them in your continuous improvement journey. I hope you find it useful!

Quality in Education Part 3: Drive Out Fear. Teach Quality Standards.

 

Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

[This is the third article in a three-part series responding to ASQ's May question in "View from the Q". It follows Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed and Quality in Education Part 2: There is Power in Variation.]

What can we do to break out of the “manufacturing system mentality” of education? It’s not like this dilemma is unrecognized… just today, Time published an article with the tagline “Today’s education is training yesterday’s students.” Because of the severe downshift in the economy, the authors argue, the real value is in teaching students how to be entrepreneurial — to identify new opportunities (in every field, really) and be empowered to move forward and realize them.

So how do we teach students to be entrepreneurial now… without waiting for the system to change and broadly support it? I’m sure there are many ideas, but in addition to the Burning Mind Project, here are two things that I aim to build into all of my courses – supporting the shift to new modalities of education, while still supporting the institution within which I am embedded.

#3.1: Drive out fear. In addition to being one of Deming’s famed 14 Points, this (to me) is also the key to innovation. Everyone must be given permission to explore, to attempt, to fail, to wildly succeed. It seems almost like a cliche, but we have been cultured into a world dominated by fear, and so the landscape of fear is so endemic it is nearly invisible. We, like our students, tend to behave like free range chickens… and we have to shift that dynamic so that our gifts and talents can emerge and be used to benefit society.

#3.2: Teach students to identify and pursue high standards for quality. What does it mean to be excellent? Who decides what is excellent? What should you be able to do if you want to be recognized as excellent? These are questions students should be able to answer for themselves… and we need to help them figure out how to do it. For example, when you write your Master’s thesis or work on a dissertation, there’s no such thing as “getting a passing grade”. You basically commit to work, and work, and work… until you “get it” and everyone on your committee is happy… but then there are always a few more things that need to be improved before you’re totally done and can graduate.

Here are some brief examples of people and organizations that are working to redefine the meaning of education. Each of them, in my opinion, seeks to drive out fear AND help students critically examine, and then work to meet, quality standards.:

  • Mycelium: This North-Carolina based school recognizes that not everyone has four (or more) years to dedicate to a traditional university experience. Their program is structured in terms of 12-week learning journeys, where a “living laboratory” is created between thought leaders, mentors, and students.
  • The Minerva Project: This school aims to reinvent the university experience from the ground up, by focusing on the habits of mind and leadership competencies that can help students (of ANY age!) be successful in any field. It’s still a four year experience: the first year is in San Francisco, the second in either Berlin or Buenos Aires, the third in Hong Kong or Mumbai, and the final year in London or New York.
  • The BIF Student Experience Lab‘s “Students Design for Education” (SD4E) project: What if 24 students got together and designed what they feel would be the perfect school? BIF is going to find out soon.
  • SF Brightworks: This San Francisco-based primary school provides a theme-based and open-ended educational experience that encourages young students to explore, collaborate, and solve practical problems. Instead of assuming that everyone must learn exactly the same thing, Brightworks focuses more on what groups can create by combining their knowledge and experience… an analog of what happens in the real world, after traditional schooling is “complete”.

And our discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Nikhil Goyal, who has bravely become the outspoken voice of the oppressed masses populating primary and secondary schools all over the U.S. Although he has recently graduated from Syosset High School, there’s no doubt that he’ll continue to catalyze driving out fear — both for students, and for the institutions that fear change.

What are YOUR ideas? What can individuals and small groups do to transform the quality of education?

Getting Deep With Value Creation

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In his November post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?”

He notes that although the tradition of quality assurance, control, and improvement emerged from manufacturing, the techniques are now widely acknowledged and applied in many fields such as healthcare, education, and service. So what’s next?

One of the things I like to do when I’m trying to be a futurist is to go back to first principles. Explore the basis for why we do what we do… what makes us tick… why we like improving quality and making processes more effective, more efficient. And in doing so, while reflecting on Paul’s question, I think what’s next is…

Getting Deep with Value Creation.

As quality professionals we spend most of our time and energy figuring out how to create value. Either we’re improving the systems we work with to tweak out additional value, or we’re working with customers and stakeholders to figure out how to provide them with more value, or we’re focusing on innovation – figuring out how to create value for the future — reliably, consistently, and according to new and unexpected business models.

To me, this starts with me. How can I improve myself so that I’m a kickass vessel for the delivery of value? How can I use quality principles and quality tools to find – and align myself – with what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time? How can I become most productive in terms of the deep, meaningful value I add to those around me?

I know that others feel the same way. Marc Kelemen, a member of the ASQ Board of Directors, is leading a charge to develop a Body of Knowledge for Social Responsibility. He recognizes that the personal element is crucial if we’re trying to become socially responsible as teams, and organizations, and communities. So we’ll be working on this over the next few months… figuring out how to get deep with the notion of value creation, and how we can do it within ourselves so that we are better positioned to help others do it too.

Thrivability: A Sneaky Awesome Little Book About Innovation

thrivabilityI just got done reading Jean Russell’s new book, Thrivability, from Triarchy Press. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most compelling book about innovation that’s been written in the past few years – and it’s not even expressly about innovation. But it can help you think about all the assumptions you make about society and the environment in which you’re embedded – assumptions that, when relaxed, can open up new ways of thinking that will help you more effectively innovate.

Here’s the review that I’ll be publishing in the January 2014 issue of the Quality Management Journal. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Jean’s book — and please share your comments below! I want to know what you think about it.

               “Thrivability,” or the “ability to thrive,” suggests strength, grace, health, growth, and sustainable value creation – all in one word. In this book, Jean Russell articulates over 20 years of knowledge and insights she’s gleaned from delving into this one concept from the perspective of multiple disciplines. The end result is a book that is unique, richly textured, and achieves its stated goal: “to equip you with tools to see and act in ways that enrich your life, your community, your business, and our world.” As a result, this book contributes indirectly (yet profoundly) to the expanding body of knowledge on innovation.

               The book is structured in three Parts: Perceiving, Understanding, and Doing.  The first chapters encourage the reader to critically examine his or her external environment, the assumptions that are inherent to the economic and political systems within which we are embedded, and the individual stories that we use to construct our expectations about ourselves, our capabilities, and others around us. It does this by emphasizing the importance of storytelling and narrative – to imagine ourselves in the context of a story that inspires us about our world, rather than fills us with fear. To be successful at this, we must first learn how to look at our world and the people around us with compassion and acceptance. This, according to the author, will help us generate new perspectives on existing situations, and open us to new possibilities for improvement.

               Part II, on Understanding, explores how we can shift our beliefs to help create more positive, productive, connected environments and organizations. A large part of this section reflects on the psychological influences of social media and how this is changing the ways we identify opportunities and even the definition of “success” itself. For example, in education, grades are losing their significance as society recognizes that complex creations are more effective measures of accomplishment than passing tests. Part III, on Doing, focuses on tools and techniques to enliven creativity, enhance trust, and break through limiting beliefs and blocking situations.

               This book has essential insights for both academics and practitioners in quality-related fields. Most significantly, Russell’s work can help us envision the new world in which we might soon find ourselves, where the search for meaning and compassion for others (and our environment) take precedence over profit and capturing or creating new markets.

Expressing Your Needs

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

Achieving quality (re: ISO 9000 para 3.1.5) is all about meeting stated and implied needs.

But our society has conditioned us not to freely express our needs to friends, family, and others; after all, if we need something, the marketing should have worked already, and we should know where we can go to willingly exchange currency for the means to satisfy that need. And Google is always happy to help us find new places to buy things.

But in a gift economy, open expression of needs is critical. When I was at Burning Man, it became habit to express my needs at any given time. After all, if I needed something, I relied on my network to pass the message along – and ultimately connect me with the people who could help me out with the resources that I needed. (I found a great pair of knee socks this way. I gave away a beautiful black jingly bra, several rolls of toilet paper, several gallons of water, and a giant canister of naphtha gas this way.)

Steve Pavlina points out that there is probably a vast audience of potential partners and co-creators who, at any time, are ready and willing (and happy!) to meet your needs. It’s just that you haven’t broadcast those needs and so the people who would be happy to help you meet them are still in the dark. No one knows you have those needs, so no one can say hey! I’ve got gifts that will help you meet those needs.

How often do you have genuine needs in your workplace, or your life – and it’s very likely that others could help you meet those needs – but you just have NO clue how to find people that can help out? Or maybe you just don’t know how to start the conversations? Or maybe you’d like to ask, but you get into self-defeating spirals where the voice on the inside of your head is telling you they probably don’t have the time… you don’t want to be an inconvenience… you don’t want anyone to feel taken advantage of… you don’t want to impose on anyone.

It feels very awkward to express that you would really like help or support from someone else. It feels weak, maybe. But that default feeling of weakness or not-enough-ness is NOT REAL. It’s just what we’re conditioned to believe is true because of the effect marketing — and the consumer-driven economy — has had on us since birth.

I have needs too, and I don’t know how to find people that will help me meet my needs. I am VERY happy to help them meet THEIR needs. So the first step is for me to start getting comfortable with expressing my needs – and being open to the people who will show up to help meet them. For starters, here are some of my needs:

  • I need someone to cut my hair across the back every month or two – straight across! – which I don’t think merits the $30 fee most salons charge. It takes 5 minutes from anyone who has a steady hand and a pair of scissors. (I can provide the scissors). Usually I get my mom to do it, but she’s several hours’ drive away. And I desperately need a cut. I would love to trade anything – or help with your statistics homework – for a straight-across cut.
  • On the same thread, I’d like to find someone who will henna the underside of my hair. My friends and I used to henna each other all the time in high school and college. Now, I have no henna friends… and a head in need of rainbow flavors about every 3 months.
  • I need non-aloof “girlfriends” (can be any gender) to share mutually beneficial great ideas, pointless and short-lived whining, and happy hours with. This is not to imply that my current suite of friends and confidants is inadequate in any way – I just want to make sure the supply of these people is large and diverse enough so that I can tap into it whenever I need to.
  • I need a photographer (preferably in consultation with “girlfriends” who can dress me up) to take headshots for blog + future journal articles. Preferably including dragons and/or some sort of flame throwing or fire breathing (which is why I can’t get the creative services department at work to do it – no dragons, no fire). Because, you know, I like things like that.
  • I need artsy Burner-type friends in Harrisonburg who want to create a “virtual commune” with me. We can share resources and moral support. If you have a venue where we can all get together and spin fire occasionally, that would not be bad either.
  • I need a regular Wednesday afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old. Must be totally trusted source (so I need to have known you for a while).
  • I need an occasional Monday afternoon/evening and random wildcard afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old.
  • I need someone in Harrisonburg to refer me to a great family physician or osteopath who will give me what I need to manage chronic sciatica – the result of a injury from surgery over 10 years ago. I’ve been to my old family doctor and several chiropractors already. No one has a solution – the doctor says I’m too young to be feeling like this (you’re right!! I AM!!) and the chiropractors swear they can fix me, but so far, they have only made it worse. As a result I live in almost constant background pain, and it interferes with my ability to think.
  • It would be great to have someone to massage my sore right foot. I have at least one person who will do it, but I feel bad asking, and he’s always working. I say “massage” – but what I really mean is “press that spot on the top of my right foot that releases the pain in my head really hard“. 
  • I need someone to help me grocery shop, cook, and eat healthy. In exchange, I’ll support your grocery-purchasing needs (after all, if you’re cooking for me, you might as well be cooking for YOU too!) I just need instructions, because I am helpless at the grocery store (the site of many panic attacks) and overwhelmed by the entire prospect of eating – which is why, when left to my own devices, I just don’t eat. There are too many possibilities. Note: Cooking partner has probably been identified – within hours of expressing this need.
  • I need someone to force me to go to Bikram Yoga Harrisonburg at least several times a week. Note: This will depend on getting adequate and reliable childcare. Maybe you need someone to force you to go to yoga too. Want to team up and make it happen???

Help??

And more importantly – how I can help YOU?

Sustaining Excellence for the Long Term

In September’s question to the ASQ Influential Voices, CEO Paul Borawski asks how an established organization can maintain a record of excellence over the long term:

Let’s say you’ve reached the “holy grail” of quality and excellence. You make a great product. Your service is top-notch. You innovate. You’ve developed a culture of quality where employees and leaders are empowered. Now, how do you sustain all this…for years, decades, centuries? Everyone can name once-excellent companies that had trouble sustaining the very things that took them to the top.

I’m not going to summarize the messages of Jim Collins’ excellent summaries of research in Built to Last or Great by Choice, even though I think there are many important insights in both books. I want to focus on a new perspective on this question that I heard from Coca-Cola’s VP of Innovation, David Butler, at last week’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF-9) Summit in Providence, Rhode Island.

Butler acknowledges that startups are inherently great at launching new ideas and bringing them to fruition, whereas organizations like Coca-Coca are unparalleled in their ability to leverage their substantial assets (resources, skills, and networks) to scale ideas and broaden their impact.

This essential interplay between starting and scaling was what Butler wanted to capture within his organization.

By supporting the energy and enthusiasm within the maker movement, Coca-Cola is now participating in Startup Weekends that bring together Coca-Cola employees with community members to collaborate and explore possibilities for rapid innovation and a quick transition to commercialization. By providing the platform for entrepreneurs to explore new ideas alongside Coca-Cola employees who know the business, Coca-Cola is essentially acting as a hands-on Venture Capitalist who hops on board as idea generation is flourishing into actionable opportunity.

By inserting themselves into a unique slot in the value chain, Coca-Cola has found a novel way to sustain excellence for the long term.