Tag Archives: improvement

There Is No Process Until It Is Observed

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

I realized today that there’s a little bit of a quantum effect in quality management:

There is no process until it is observed.

Here’s what I mean. In the August 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Lynne Hare writes about how simple flow charts can be useful diagnostic tools. Just ask multiple team members to describe or characterize a process they’re familiar with… and see if they come up with the same thing! He says:

“My opening gambit was to ask each of the six team members to separately draw a process flow diagram. How many of you think I got six different flow diagrams? In fact, I got seven: One person wasn’t sure, so she drew two.

Clearly, the flow diagram exercise underscored the fact there had been no common understanding of the process; therefore, there could be no process control, no variation reduction opportunity and no path to improvement.”

I’ve seen this first hand! Most recently, it happened in our Spring 2012 “Quality and Process Improvement in Action” class at JMU. One student team was trying to document the process used by a community agency to link small businesses with resource providers who could help them develop their products, services, and marketing. After interviewing each of three stakeholders, the team ended up with exactly three vastly different process flow diagrams!

They were confused and dismayed. “What can we possibly do now?!?! We’re stuck!”

Fortunately, we (their professors) had seen this sort of thing before. When all of the stakeholders have a different sense of the process, this provides a pretty strong clue that they have never contemplated the steps of the process before, and how those steps are interrelated. More significantly, they have never shared an understanding of the process. Even though they have all been doing work, playing their roles, and serving a purpose, they have not been working together as part of a process – even if it seemed like they were!

Because the process has not yet been consciously observed by the group of participants, there is no process!

And as Lynne Hare points out in his article, without a common understanding of the process there can be NO process control — NO opportunity to reduce variation — and NO way to improve. If you find yourself in this situation, make it a point to get those participants and stakeholders together and consciously observe the process.

Once you do this, you make it real, and end up with a basis for moving forward.

Pareto Charts in R

A Pareto Chart is a sorted bar chart that displays the frequency (or count) of occurrences that fall in different categories, from greatest frequency on the left to least frequency on the right, with an overlaid line chart that plots the cumulative percentage of occurrences. The vertical axis on the left of the chart shows frequency (or count), and the vertical axis on the right of the chart shows the cumulative percentage. A Pareto Chart is typically used to visualize:

  • Primary types or sources of defects
  • Most frequent reasons for customer complaints
  • Amount of some variable (e.g. money, energy usage, time) that can be attributed to or classified according to a certain category

The Pareto Chart is typically used to separate the “vital few” from the “trivial many” using the Pareto principle, also called the 80/20 Rule, which asserts that approximately 80% of effects come from 20% of causes for many systems. Pareto analysis can thus be used to find, for example, the most critical types or sources of defects, the most common complaints that customers have, or the most essential categories within which to focus problem-solving efforts.

To find out how to implement a Pareto Chart in R, download this PDF: Radziwill_Pareto 

Your Password as a Mantra to Improve Quality Consciousness

How many times a day do you type in your password? Is it a good password? Is it a password that’s helping you focus the attention of your unconscious on the stuff you want to attract into your business or your life?

A password is essentially a mantra – a “word or sound repeated to aid concentration” – according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Typically, it’s just a word or string of characters repeated so that we can access the computing resources we need. People often pick passwords or pass phrases that are already memorable – your dog’s name, your kid’s birthday, a secret inside joke – but since the password is already technically a mantra, I think it can be much better used to create something memorable for your future, or to take advantage of an upcoming opportunity! And if you’re required to change your password so frequently at work (like me, every 90 days) this technique helps you remember your password more easily too.

ISO 9000 p. 3.1.5 (formerly ISO 8402:1994) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” In industry, we usually think of a product or a process as the entity, and then we work on improving the product’s quality or improving the effectiveness or efficiency of the process. So why don’t we turn it inside out and think of ourselves as the entity?

That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish by proposing the notion of quality consciousness, which asks the question: “What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon your ability to satisfy the stated and implied needs of yourself, your communities, and the organizations where you contribute your talent?”

The three aspects of quality consciousness are AWARENESS of what quality means in a particular context, ALIGNMENT of you and your talents with the problem to be solved and the environment in which the problem and its solution are embedded, and the ability to focus your ATTENTION on the problem or situation that needs to be improved.

ATTENTION is a tricky one, though. Not only do you have to tame the distractions that are gnawing at your conscious mind, but your unconscious mind can grab your attention as well. There are plenty of techniques out there for getting your conscious mind to focus, such as David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) methodology. But there aren’t that many techniques that help you focus the attention of your unconscious mind, which is why password-as-mantra is such a useful approach.

Choosing a password-as-mantra can help you focus your unconscious mind on the things you want to achieve in the near term. Why? Because after a while, you don’t even think about entering your password… it’s just part of you… and that’s when your unconscious is actively working with it.

(I’ve been using my password as a mantra for a few years with great results. Other people have apparently figured this out too and are doing it.  I brought the idea up in one of Jeannette Maw’s GVU discussion groups, and it turns out lots of other people are doing it – we just haven’t been talking about it!)

Recent Entries »