Tag Archives: Measurement

Innovation Tips for Strategic Planning

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

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

Over the past 15 years, I’ve helped several organizations with continuous improvement initiatives at the strategic, executive level. There are a lot of themes that keep appearing and reappearing, so the purpose of this post is to call out just a few and provide some insights in how to deal with them! 

These come up when you are engaged in strategic planning and when you are planning operations (to ensure that processes and procedures ultimately satisfy strategic goals), and are especially prominent when you’re trying to develop or use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other metrics or analytics.


1) How do you measure innovation? Before you pick metrics, recognize that the answer to this question depends on how you articulate the strategic goals for your innovation outcomes. Do you want to:

  • Keep up with changing technology?
  • Develop a new product/technology?
  • Lead your industry in developing best practices?
  • Pioneer new business models?
  • Improve quality of life for a particular group of people?

All of these will be measured in different ways! And it’s OK to not strategically innovate in one area or another… for example, you might not want to innovate your business model if technology development is your forte. Innovation is one of those things where you really don’t want to be everything to everyone… by design.


2) Do you distinguish between improving productivity and generating impact?

Improving quality (the ability to satisfy stated and implied needs) is good. Improving productivity (that is, what you can produce given the resources that you use) is also good. Reducing defects, reducing waste, and reducing variation (sometimes) are all very good things to do, and to report on. 

But who really cares about any improvements at all unless they have impact? It’s always necessary to tie your KPIs, which are often measures of outcomes, to metrics or analytics that can tell the story about why a particular improvement was useful — in the short term, and (hopefully also) in the long term.

You also have to balance productivity and impact. For example, maybe you run an ultra-efficient 24/7 Help Desk. Your effectiveness is exemplary… when someone submits a request, it’s always satisfied within 8 hours. But you discover that no tickets come in between Friday at 5pm and Monday at 8am. So all that time you spend staffing that Help Desk on the weekend? It’s non-value-added time, and could be eliminated to improve your productivity… but won’t influence your impact at all.

We just worked on a project where we had to consciously had to think about how all the following interact… and you should too:

  • Organizational Productivity: did your improvement help increase the capacity or capability for part of your organization? If so, then it could contribute to technical productivity or business productivity.
  • Technical Productivity: did the improvement remove a technical barrier to getting work done, or make it faster or less error-prone?
  • Business Productivity: did the improvement help you get the needs of the business satisfied faster or better?
  • Business Impact: Did the improvements that yielded organizational productivity benefits, technical productivity benefits, or business productivity benefits make a difference at the strategic level? (This answers the “so what” question. So you improved your throughput by 83%… so what? Who really cares, and why does this matter to them? Long-term, why does this awesome thing you did really matter?)
  • Educational/Workforce Development Impact: Were the lessons learned captured, fed back into the organization’s processes to close the loop on learning, or maybe even used to educate people who may become part of your workforce pipeline?

All of the categories above are interrelated. I don’t think you can have a comprehensive, innovation-focused analytics approach unless you address all of these.


3) Do you distinguish between participation and engagement?

Participation means you showed up. Engagement means you got involved, you stayed involved, your mission was advanced, or maybe you used this experience to help society. Too often, I see organizations that want to improve engagement, and all the metrics they select are really good at characterizing participation.

I’m writing a paper on this topic right now, but in the meantime (if you want to get a REALLY good sense of the difference between participation and engagement), read The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon. Yes, it is “about museums” — and yes, I know you’re in business or industry — and YES, this book really will provide you with amazing management insights. So read it!

Strategic Planning and To-Do Lists… with EASE

Thompson Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Image Credit: (c) 2008, Nicole Radziwill.

Thompson Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Image Credit: (c) 2008, Nicole Radziwill.

In his September post to the Influential Voices, ASQ CEO Bill Troy discusses principles for effective strategic planning, gleaned from his years of experience with the U.S. Army. He also asks what principles we’ve found useful. Today, I’d like to share a little heuristic that Ron DuPlain and I came up with over lunch several years ago. It’s useful not only for strategic planning, but also for creating your daily or weekly to-do list, or even things like making a good grocery list.

EASE stands for Expectations, Actionability, Sustainability, and Evaluation. Here are some excerpts on EASE from a book I wrote for college students. (Note that several of the examples have to do with setting goals as a student… but these can be easily applied to any work situation.)

When you face a challenging problem, examine your scenario through the lens of EASE. Usually, you’ll find that you have a “failure” in only one or two of the EASE letters, and when you remedy that issue, all of a sudden your problem becomes easier to solve. Make sure all four elements are addressed when tackling a challenge that involves people (including you!) and obligations (such as meeting due dates, completing exams, and satisfying learning objectives).

E: Expectations. Did you ever ask your parents to borrow their car so you could go out with your friends? Chances are, unless you have the kind of parents I wished I’d had growing up, they set some expectations with you up front. When are you going to be home? Is anyone else going to be riding in the car with you? Are you going to pay for your own gas? Expectations like these help two people establish a shared situation that won’t get either of them mad or upset. You will need to set expectations with your stakeholders (in college, that primarily means your professors) and yourself about what you would want to get out of a particular class. Make sure everyone knows what the expectations are!! Check out the learning objectives that are outlined in the syllabus, and decide how you want to achieve them. (This means you need to set clear, specific, and reasonable goals.) Expectation setting ALWAYS beats surprises.

A: Actionability. Once you set your own clear goals, you need to figure out what actions to take to achieve those goals, and the actions must be actionable. I know this sounds funny, but I have seen way too many to-do lists where the doer has no hope to actually get the stuff done. Example: I had an item on my to-do list this morning that said “Tax Woman.” (What? I’m supposed to do the tax woman? OMG.) That task is not actionable, but if I’d said “Look up tax woman’s address, write and send payment” then… all of a sudden… I can get that job done. Making tasks actionable means figuring out how you are going to be an active and informed participant in achieving your goals. Figure out what you NEED for items on your to-do list to actually get done. All too often, you will have some tasks on your to-do list that you have no clue how to begin, and those items are not actionable. If you do not have all the resources, help, confidence, information, time, and skills to knock a task off your list, that task is not actionable. Don’t even try to start a task that’s not actionable, because you’ll end up sad or confused. You could potentially even start a downward spiral or fuel a pre-existing spiral with vigor and reckless abandon, if you dare to spend time on a task that’s not actionable.

S: Sustainability. Figure out how you are going to sustain the effort and the semblance of mind throughout the duration of your efforts… so that you can actually make your goal happen. Before the semester begins, figure out how you’re going to balance work life and school life so that you’re not maxing out your waking hours on the stressful pursuit of progress. (For example: if you are working at three jobs a total of 45 hours a week and taking 21 semester hours, this is not sustainable. However, you probably won’t know that until 70% of the way through the term when you catch pneumonia due to exhaustion, lose two of your three jobs, and miss so many classes and so much homework that you have to withdraw from one class and take an incomplete on another. What? You say that’s a completely unbelievable story? Answer: you’re wrong. This was my personal story the second semester of my sophomore year.)

E: Evaluation. Figure out how you’re going to measure whether you are on track or off track – and what you’re going to do as a corrective action if you find out you’re off track. Similarly, identify up front how often you are going to take a critical look at your progress. For coursework, you might want to check and see whether you’re allowing enough time to do your assignments. You may want to take a look at the grades and feedback you’re getting. Most of the time, just gauging how you feel about a situation or a problem is the most useful way to evaluate whether you’re progressing. If you feel nervous, anxious, or unsettled, chances are you’re not responding and reacting to that situation in a positive way. If you feel calm, peaceful, in control, paced, and you are enjoying yourself, chances are you are visualizing your desired goals constructively, detaching from outcomes (especially grades), and appreciating the journey towards your goals.

When you examine a strategy using EASE, oftentimes, you’ll find that you have a major failure on one or two of the four points. Simply by addressing those points, you will strengthen your ability to realize your strategy. Here are four types of “EASE failures”:

  • Expectation Gap – One or more stakeholders in your situation has no expectations or ill-defined expectations, or different players have conflicting expectations which sets up an expectation gap. The solution here is to set expectations through conversations and by recording points you agree on, or alternatively, to close expectation gaps through conversation and consensus.
  • Limited or No Actionability – You’ve got stuff to do and tasks defined, but you don’t have the time, resources, skills or clarity required to do them. Fix this by making sure you have everything you need to get started on each to-do list item, and you can launch into them with confidence.
  • Inability to Sustain – You’ve bit off more than you can chew or are working at a pace that will exhaust your time, resources, emotions, or well-being. Scope down and set more reasonable expectations. Figure out how to work at a comfortable pace where you can make more regular, steady progress.
  • Lack of Assessment or Evaluation – You’ve set expectations and have actionable tasks, but you aren’t revisiting the expectations to make sure that they remain relevant, or perhaps you’re just not doing it frequently enough. Also check your emotional barometer.

By examining your intended strategy or activity through the lens of EASE, you can identify and remove potential blocks before they become problematic. Good luck!

Analyzing Monthly Expenses with a Pareto Chart

andy-duong-picThis month, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski encourages us to share stories about “quality solutions in unexpected places.” This is such a fun question, because now I’ll be noticing these unexpected gems all month – and probably beyond! 

Today’s gem comes from my former student Andy, who has heard me get excited about quality tools and continuous improvement – and the R statistical software – a LOT over the past few years! Even though he graduated in the spring of 2012, he’s still applying quality solutions to his own life – and this was a very unexpected place for me to find such a thing! I can’t hold back my own personal excitement for improvement and the pursuit of excellence, even as my standards for excellence evolve, and it’s so heartwarming to see how this has influenced Andy’s life.

A couple months ago, Andy posted about how he used a Pareto chart to explore his own monthly expenses, and brainstorm ways to improve his financial situation as a recent college graduate. Want to explore your own finances? Andy’s post can help you… and can also help you use R to produce nice charts and graphs to tell your story. Check it out!!

Top 20 Data Visualization Tools

Every researcher or practitioner of quality (or pretty much any other subject, for that matter) needs a great toolbox packed with flexible visualization tools. I am very happy to see this list of “Top 20 Data Visualization Tools” that came out last week. For me, it’s like a TO DO list! Although I am THRILLED to see #18 (R) and #19 (Weka) on the list, I’m also happy to get some new ideas for what to learn next. I’m thinking #16 (Processing) and #20 (Gephi) and next, it’s a toss up between #7 (Visual.ly) and #9 (Tangle). Preeeeeety.

Quality Feels Like Being in Love

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

I love Paul Borawski’s August discussion topic on ASQ’s View from the Q. Among other questions, he asks:

When you’re in a culture of quality, how does it feel? Or, how do you feel? At the moment I’m intrigued by feelings and think more organizations are turning their attention to feelings. Feelings, after all, are at the heart of experience and emotional attachment, which we all understand to drive loyalty and success.


I totally agree with Paul that we are upon a revolution of feelings in the workplace, and understanding the critical role our individual well-being plays in the success of defining and carrying out a shared vision – so this question of how does quality feel really resonates with me. Of course many of us know of Garvin’s definitions of quality, outlined in the mid-80’s, which include transcendent quality – we know it when we see it!

I believe that it goes a little deeper than this – that we know quality when we feel it.

And to me, the feeling of quality is the same feeling as being in love. Everything is sparkly and optimistic. Music sounds better… food tastes better… time flows with ease and contentment when you are around your beloved. You feel inspired and alive and on fire. You have hope for the future! You feel supported and appreciated! You have energy, and interest, and enthusiasm! It feels warm and inviting and fluttery and all your needs are satisfied! It feels like someone got into your head and your heart and totally understands you – cares about you – and continues to try to understand you day by day (it’s starting to sound a lot like Voice of the Customer, huh)?

I’m reminded of Simon Sinek’s keynote at WCQI 2012 in Anaheim – where he told us the cute story about people with their Mac computers. How Mac owners shine and polish their machines… how they always have them open in airports… how they share “secret glances” with other knowing Mac users. What unites them? They are all in love with their technology. The shared feeling of love breeds a camaraderie and interest and sense of community and understanding. And a whole lot of motivation and inspiration.

The ultimate measure of quality, in my opinion, is how much in love you are with something – and it can be a product, a process, a person, or even an idea. And how do you know when you’re in love? You know it when you feel it.


I have some research coming out in the October 2012 Quality Management Journal outlining the most significant articles in that journal since its inception in 1993, so I looked to my results first to see what references are the most influential in terms of quality culture. I found these two, which I’ll follow up on to see if they shed light on the feelings question. For now, you can peruse them on your own.

  • Kujala, J. & Lillrank, P. (2004). Total Quality Management as a Cultural Phenomenon. QMJ, 11(4), 43-55.
  • Cameron, K. & Sine, W., (1999). A Framework for Organizational Quality Culture. QMJ, 6(4), 7-25.

An Easy Trick to Reduce Your Resistance to Losing Weight

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

Measurement is an important aspect of assuring and improving quality(*). As a result, I think about it often, especially in the context of maintaining and losing weight. My BMI is not bad (23.5) but I don’t like to exercise, so I try to eat without reckless abandon. But I have one little tiny problem.

“Weigh Yourself Often” is a commonly reported success strategy for losing weight. But what if you’re too scared to step on the scale???  That kind of gets in the way of being able to weigh yourself a lot.

I hadn’t stepped on the scale to weigh myself in about… well… a year. I admit, I’m scared of it. In fact, every time I go to the doctor I specifically tell them NOT to tell me what I weigh – unless it’s REALLY GOOD. (Usually they say nothing, which I’ve never been able to interpret. I’m hoping that they just don’t want to speculate what I would consider “good”.) I don’t want to hop on the scale and see a number that makes me feel lousy about myself all day (and maybe the next day… and the next).

I just know that it’s an invitation to disaster to see those HUGE numbers upon which I’ll allow an entire coral reef of self-loathing to grow uninhibited, attracting the slithery fish of dismay.

But a few days ago, I put on a pair of dress pants that I hadn’t worn in a while, and they almost fell off. I had to make sure I didn’t stand up too straight or accidentally suck in my gut while I was wearing them, otherwise they would have fallen off. (I have to wear them again next Friday and I’m going to safety pin them together to be safe.) As you can imagine, this made me feel pretty good, and stirred belligerence in the face of the bathroom scale!! So I climbed on the scale this morning in optimistic defiance and saw a number that was pretty darn good. If I lose 10 lbs, I will weigh the same as I did in junior high. So I think I’m pretty motivated to bump off those extra 10 just to say “I did it”.

I did have a contingency plan, though. I realized that the thing holding me back from actively monitoring and reducing my weight was the NEGATIVE EMOTION associated with getting on the scale.

The key is to MEASURE in a way that doesn’t stimulate those negative emotions. So if you live in the US and want to lose POUNDS, set your scale to KILOGRAMS. Start weighing yourself using a measurement scale that you have no psychological or emotional attachment (or resistance) to. The first number you see will mean nothing to you, and as you actively work to reduce your weight, that number will go down. You will not be scared of the scale any more. After you start feeling good, then feel free to convert your new weight back into the measurement scale you’re more familiar with. The new number you weigh might not be your target weight, but at least you will know it’s a weight at which you feel good.

And isn’t that the point?

(*) “Measurements provide critical data and information about key processes, outputs, and results. When supported by sound analytical approaches that project trends and infer cause-and-effect relationships, measurement provide an objective foundation for learning, leading to better customer, operational, and financial performance.” – Evans & Dean, “Total Quality: 3rd Ed.”

Process Improvement to Improve Your Life

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

Sunday afternoon, as I sat at my kitchen table drinking tea and flipping through the Sunday Washington Post, I came across an article about using process improvement principles in everyday life.  Aha!  My first thought was that I need to share this article with Nicole, followed immediately by another thought – I really need to share this with the students in our HON 300/ISAT 680 process improvement class!

I’m not sure of the exact date when Nicole and I hatched the idea of a process improvement course.  Since we both arrived at JMU in the fall of 2009, we have had numerous conversations about all the cool things we would love to share with students about quality and process improvement.  Those conversations inspire me, and honestly, sometimes they leave me feeling a little overwhelmed.

Whenever it was that we hatched the idea of this course, I definitely had some concerns about the reality of fitting a process improvement project into the time limitations of a single semester.  My concerns were heightened when we decided to structure the course using the DMAIC approach.  All the Six Sigma projects I led as a Black Belt certainly took longer than the approximately 15 weeks allowed for a semester, and I was a full-time Black Belt who (supposedly) knew what I was doing!

Wouldn’t the data collection and analysis overwhelm our students?  Shouldn’t we require some background in statistics as a prerequisite for enrollment in the course?  How would the relationships work with our clients?  Would the students really be able to deliver results in one semester?

Yet here we are, in early February with four outstanding project teams that are quickly moving into the Measure phase.  What’s all that got to do with the Post article?

Process improvement doesn’t have to require mountains of data and highly sophisticated statistical analysis.  The basic principles of process improvement can be used to effect change by anyone, and in almost any situation.  That is really what our course is all about, and the Post article just provided an example we can all relate to.  Who doesn’t wish for more time in their day?

I think we have an outstanding group of students enrolled in our course.  Nicole and I want them to learn, understand, and apply process improvement principles, but not just within the confines of this specific course.  The continuous pursuit of improvement is a lifestyle, and today I was reminded of just how true that can be.

Rebecca Simmons

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