Tag Archives: manufacturing

Value Propositions for Quality 4.0

In previous articles, we introduced Quality 4.0, the pursuit of performance excellence as an integral part of an organization’s digital transformation. It’s one aspect of Industry 4.0 transformation towards intelligent automation: smart, hyperconnected(*) agents deployed in environments where humans and machines cooperate and leverage data to achieve shared goals.

Automation is a spectrum: an operator can specify a process that a computer or intelligent agent executes, the computer can make decisions for an operator to approve or adjust, or the computer can make and execute all decisions. Similarly, machine intelligence is a spectrum: an algorithm can provide advice, take action with approvals or adjustments, or take action on its own. We have to decide what value is generated when we introduce various degrees of intelligence and automation in our organizations.

How can Quality 4.0 help your organization? How can you improve the performance of your people, projects, products, and entire organizations by implementing technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, and blockchain?

A value proposition is a statement that explains what benefits a product or activity will deliver. Quality 4.0 initiatives have these kinds of value propositions:

  1. Augment (or improve upon) human intelligence
  2. Increase the speed and quality of decision-making
  3. Improve transparency, traceability, and auditability
  4. Anticipate changes, reveal biases, and adapt to new circumstances and knowledge
  5. Evolve relationships and organizational boundaries to reveal opportunities for continuous improvement and new business models
  6. Learn how to learn; cultivate self-awareness and other-awareness as a skill

Quality 4.0 initiatives add intelligence to monitoring and managing operations – for example, predictive maintenance can help you anticipate equipment failures and proactively reduce downtime. They can help you assess supply chain risk on an ongoing basis, or help you decide whether to take corrective action. They can also improve help you improve cybersecurity: documenting and benchmarking processes can provide a basis for detecting anomalies, and understanding expected performance can help you detect potential attacks.


(*) Hyperconnected = (nearly) always on, (nearly) always accessible.

If Japan Can, Why Can’t We? A Retrospective

if-japan-canJune 24, 1980 is kind of like July 4, 1776 for quality management… that’s the pivotal day that NBC News aired its one hour and 16 minute documentary called “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” introducing W. Edwards Deming and his methods to the American public. 

The video has been unavailable for years, but as of 2018, it’s posted on YouTube. So my sophomore undergrads in Production & Operations Management took a step back in time to get a taste of the environment in the manufacturing industry in the late 1970’s, and watched it during class.

The last time I watched it was in 1997, in a graduate industrial engineering class. It didn’t feel quite as dated as it does now, nor did I have the extensive experience in industry as a lens to view the interviews through.

What did surprise me is the challenges they were facing then aren’t that much different than the ones we face today — and the groundbreaking good advice from Deming is still good advice today.

  • Before 1980, it was common practice to produce a whole bunch of stuff and then check and see which ones were bad, and throw them out. The video provides a clear and consistent story around the need to design quality in to products and processes, which then reduces (or eliminates) the need to inspect bad quality out.
  • It was also common to tamper with a process that was just exhibiting random variation. As one of the line workers in the documentary said, “We didn’t know. If we felt like there might be a problem with the process, we would just go fix it.” Deming’s applications of Shewhart’s methods made it clear that there is no need to tamper with a process that’s exhibiting only random variation.
  • Both workers and managers seemed frustrated with the sheer volume of regulations they had to address, and noted that it served to increase costs, decrease the rate of innovation, and disproportionately hurt small businesses. They noted that there was a great need for government and industry to partner to resolve these issues, and that Japan was a model for making these interactions successful.
  • Narrator Lloyd Dobyns remarked that “the Japanese operate by consensus… we, by competition.” He made the point that one reason industrial reforms were so powerful and positive was that Japanese culture naturally supported working together towards shared goals. He cautioned managers that they couldn’t just drop in statistical quality control and expect a rosy outcome: improving quality is a cultural commitment, and the methods are not as useful in the absence of buy-in and engagement.

The video also sheds light on ASQ’s November question to the Influential Voices, which is: “What’s the key to talking quality with the C-Suite?” Typical responses include: think at the strategic level; create compelling arguments using the language of money; learn the art of storytelling and connect your case with what it important to the executives.

But I think the answer is much more subtle. In the 1980 video, workers comment on how amazed their managers were when Deming proclaimed that management was responsible for improving productivity. How could that be??!? Many managers at that time were convinced that if a productivity problem existed, it was because the workers didn’t work fast enough, or with enough skill — or maybe they had attitude problems! Certainly not because the managers were not managing well.

Implementing simple techniques like improving training programs and establishing quality circles (which demonstrated values like increased transparency, considering all ideas, putting executives on the factory floor so they could learn and appreciate the work being done, increasing worker participation and engagement, encouraging work/life balance, and treating workers with respect and integrity) were already demonstrating benefits in some U.S. companies. But surprisingly, these simple techniques were not widespread, and not common sense.

Just like Deming advocated, quality belongs to everyone. You can’t go to a CEO and suggest that there are quality issues that he or she does not care about. More likely, the CEO believes that he or she is paying a lot of attention to quality. They won’t like it if you accuse them of not caring, or not having the technical background to improve quality. The C-Suite is in a powerful position where they can, through policies and governance, influence not only the actions and operating procedures of the system, but also its values and core competencies — through business model selection and implementation. 

What you can do, as a quality professional, is acknowledge and affirm their commitment to quality. Communicate quickly, clearly, and concisely when you do. Executives have to find the quickest ways to decompose and understand complex problems in rapidly changing external environments, and then make decisions that affect thousands (and sometimes, millions!) of people. Find examples and stories from other organizations who have created huge ripples of impact using quality tools and technologies, and relate them concretely to your company.

Let the C-Suite know that you can help them leverage their organization’s talent to achieve their goals, then continually build their trust.

The key to talking quality with the C-suite is empathy.

You may also be interested in “Are Deming’s 14 Points Still Valid?” from Nov 19, 2012.

Is the Manufacturing Outlook Sufficiently Far-Reaching?

view-from-qIn his January post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski discusses the results from ASQ’s 2013 manufacturing outlook survey. Although the majority of manufacturers reported revenue growth in 2013, many are still very concerned about the state of the economy. Paul was inquiring whether this “optimistic but guarded” perspective was a good assessment, and asked for examples from manufacturers that might shed some more light on the situation.

I’ve alluded over Twitter that my relationship with quality – as a concept – has been changing over the past few months. That’s the main reason that I haven’t been posting as frequently on this blog… I’m trying to sort out my feelings. (It’s almost like what happens when you’ve been in a relationship for years, but then gradually discover that you’ve changed, and the relationship is no longer meeting your deepest needs.)

Paul’s January post has helped me clarify some of these feelings.

If we focus on revenue growth as a measure of “the health of manufacturing”, we’re all missing the point. Current trends in production indicate that the locus of power is increasingly shifting from large manufacturing companies to individuals and small groups. Examples such as the Maker movement, the success of online platforms like Etsy to support craftspeople, and the increasing availability of new technologies like 3D printing at reasonable costs are shifting the environmental dynamism of what has traditionally been a slowly evolving arena:

“with the Maker movement we will be increasingly surprised at what seemed small and local and small‑scale, now will continue to grow…”  —http://techonomy.com/conf/13-detroit/the-new-techonomy/can-the-maker-movement-re-make-america/

I was reminded of Clayton Christensen’s landmark 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. By successfully satisfying current needs, we are potentially blinded to the ability to satisfy future needs. We are so accustomed to the model of manufacturing working so well, over so many decades, that we may fail to recognize when the centralized approach is losing ground.

How are manufacturers addressing these shifts? Are they re-examining the core assumptions upon which their industries are based? I think this should be the focus, rather than continued revenue growth and “concern” about the state of the economy.

Authenticity for Quality

In Good Business, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses some insights from Robert Shapiro, CEO of the chemical company Monsanto about authenticity and job design:

The notion of job implies that there’s been some supreme architect who designed this system so that a lot of parts fit together and produce whatever the desired output is. No one in a job can see the whole. When we ask you to join us, we are saying, “Do you have the skills and the willingness to shape yourself in this way so you will fit into this big machine? Because somebody did this job for you, somebody who was different from you. Someone will do it after you. Those parts of you that aren’t relevant to that job, please just forget about. Those shortcomings that you have that really don’t enable you to fill this job, please at least try to fake, so that we can all have the impression that you’re doing this job.”… We ought to be saying, “What can you bring to this that’s going to help?” Not, “Here’s the job, just do it.”

Later in the book, this concept of authenticity – the ability to be real, and get connected to your intrinsic motivation – is broken down into two distinct parts:

Differentiation – How and why are you unique? What can you alone bring to the workplace? What skills and talents are you dedicated to developing so that you can contribute those aspects of yourself to the team? Does the team know what specialized contributions each individual is there to bring, and do they value the contributions that are expected?

Integration – How well are you connected with the needs of others? Can you relate to – and empathize with – your manager’s needs? How well, and how honestly, do you hear the voice of the customer?  Do you have the willingness and the attitude to respond to it?

Authenticity within an organization can influence quality in many ways: people will feel more comfortable recommending and implementing changes, products and services will be tailored meet customer needs and demands more effectively, egos will be tempered, and teamwork will become natural.

Although Shapiro’s example considers differentiation and integration with respect to an individual, the concept also applies to teams in the workplace, and companies and how they relate to their customers and the external environment.