Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Doing the Right Thing

Recently I was involved in investigating an event where a product had failed to meet its specification. Apart from investigating and determining the root cause and the necessary corrective action, I had to help in determining if the particular batch was still considered suitable for commercial distribution. This led me to thinking about how important it is to ensure that the people in charged of Quality do not report to Production. Although they share the same company's value systems, each functional group is driven by different objectives and this may diverge in the event that the decisions made may cost significant losses in revenues. Quality professionals are charged with ensuring that we are doing the RIGHT thing.
How we make decisions when faced with these situations have always fascinated me. Depending on the motivations I believe that the same person can easily jump from one side of the fence to the other. I remember coming across the terms Cognitive Bias, Confirmation Bias and Belief Bias (a.k.a. Motivated Reasoning) in a recent discussion with a friend. Recently I read an interesting article in Mother Jones Magazine by Chris Mooney entitled The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science. In particular, I found the description of a 1974 experiment where the researchers presented two fake scientific studies with detailed critiques for each; one supporting and one undermining capital punishment as a deterrent for violent crimes. Even though neither fake study were stronger that the other, interestingly, rather then move their position or opinions, advocates for each group strongly criticized the study that opposed their belief and readily accepted the one that supports their belief as more convincing.
In May 2011, the Vatican closed a 4th century Cistercian monastery in Gerusalemme, Italy. The media reports focused on performances by a nun who was once a lap dancer (surprise, surprise) as well as financial and liturgical irregularities. The monastery was associated with Rome’s high society and celebrities, operating a hotel and holding regular concerts. Much ado was made about the unconventional dances by Sister Anna Nobili which can still be viewed on YouTube. I saw the performances as a lyrical dance performed by a member of the congregation to express and celebrate her faith, but I am not a member of the church and not invested in its values. Church officials however considered this and other behavior "behavior not consonant with the monastic life".
In the final analysis, making a professional decision on what the RIGHT thing is still comes back to the declared values and beliefs of the organization and fulfilling the promises it maked to its customers. That decision has to be made after careful review of the facts and supporting evidence.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Yup, if you don’t have a QMS, well, you don’t’ have a QMS

I have often wondered why we put up with the number of consumer devices that fail to consistently perform the functions that they are designed for. The most common ones are computers that freeze up and cell phones or similar wireless devices that are "buggy" or have short battery life, computers that frequently need re-booting, software application that need patches to continue to do what they were originally designed to do. Imagine Boeing and Lockheed selling commercial jets planes need refueling every 200 km and cannot successfully complete a take off and landing without having the entire landing gear replaced every fifth cycle.
I acknowledge that the complexity of these devices have grown, and the greater complexity, the greater the probability of errors and omissions. I do however posit that the philosophy of Quality by Design (QbD) when embraced and properly implemented should show a decrease or elimination of such failures. Included in the QbD tool box should be at least one if not a series of specifications that defines what parameters the production process and the product should meet for the product to conform to the company’s definition of Quality. Its recent problems with connectivity aside, an example is how Research In Motion (RIM), the company that makes the once popular Blackberry devices acquired and used an operating system for the Blackberry Playbook that was originally designed for other mobile environments like automobiles and network equipment. Battery life was not a consideration when the software was designed for those applications. Installing it in the Blackberry Playbook meant that it was a power hog for the size of the battery. No design process or product can be perfect, hence along side these specifications should also be a risk analysis that identifies the risks and the how these are mitigated.
A quick look at the technology news reports and it appears that many of these companies rush to release their next generation of me-too devices before they actually complete their product design and testing phase. Given the high number of consumer complaints with these devices, it appears that with some of the makers of these products, either the companies do not actually have a definition of Quality that matches their consumers’ expectations, do not have a Quality Management System or arrogantly believe that the consumers simply do not have any other choices but to buy their product despite how poorly they are designed and made.
Having a Quality Management System is kind of like being pregnant, you cannot have a partial one. I am reminded of the Apple’s iPhone advertisement where you are shown an interesting array of Apps you can enjoy with your iPhone. The voice over ends with “Yup if you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone”. Similarly, “Yup, if you don’t have a Quality Management System, well, you don’t have a Quality Management System”.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


One of my favourite radio programs is Terry O'Reilly’s Age of Persuasion on CBC. One of the best episode “Do This or Die” was air in November 2008 where Terry O’Reilly discusses the advertisment written by Bob Levenson of Doyle Dane Bernbach in a TIME Inc. advertising contest. Terry regards this as a manifesto for those in marketing. The value? INTEGRITY. Written in the late 60’s, this value is as relevant today for Quality Management professionals as it is to the advertising industry, indeed to any industry.
Judge for yourself:

Is this ad some kind of trick?
No. But it could have been. And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business. We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people.
Or so we think. But we’re wrong. We can’t fool any of the people any of the time. There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one. We are a nation of smart people. And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people.
Instead we talk to each other. We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message. A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same. And above all, the messages we put on those pages and on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.
Now. The other side of the coin. Telling the truth about a product demands a product that’s worth telling the truth about.
Sadly, so many products aren’t. So many products don’t do anything better. Or anything different. So many don’t work quite right. Or don’t last. Or simply don’t matter.
If we also play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster. No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits.
That’s the lesson to remember. Unless we do, we die. Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel. That day we die.
We’ll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises. Not with a bang. Not with a whimper. But by our own skilled hands.
Doyle Dane Bernbach Incorporated

Great Stuff!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Making Salt

One of the most challenging aspects of implementing a Quality Management System is getting the folks who have to implement the policies and procedures behind the project. Developing the policies and procedures are relatively easy compared to actually getting the organization behind it and actually putting into practice the philosophies and processes captures in the Quality Manual. Any Quality Manager will attest to encountering challenges including skepticism, reluctance to change and apathy. Unfortunately there are no magic bullets.
Successful implementation hinges on finding the right tool to motivate the organization as a whole. I have been fortunate that in many instances enlightened executive management who made it clear that organizational change was expected and necessary to achieve the corporate objectives supported my efforts. At other times, I’ve had to resort to finding ways to present the need for change as not only desirable but also a common objective. To do this I’ve often turned to iconic historical leaders who’ve inspiration change such. One such individual is a man of diminutive stature but a giant of the early civil rights movement, Mohandas Gandhi.
Gandhi was a bit of a paradox for me. While in school, I got the impression that Gandhi was the perfect clear-minded visionary leader. The accounts I read of Gandhi since painted a picture of a person who quite ordinary as a boy, experimented with his values and believes as a young man, self-contradictory in some of his actions, and down right odd with regard to some of his personable habits. In other words, in many ways, he was just as ordinary as we are. A life long vegetarian, he experimented with eating meat as a young man, he had some seemingly racist views while an activist in South Africa, after fathering four sons with his wife Kasturba he became celibate at 36 while still married but would lie naked with other women to “test his resolve”, although well known for his believe in non-violence, in his leaflet titled Appeal for Enlistment he encouraged Indians to join the British Army to “learn the use of arms with the greatest possible dispatch”. In his pursuit of his “Quit India” resolution he was single minded, tireless, inspired and brilliant. The Congress Party was initially a political movement largely composed of the upper caste and dominated by men. Given the centuries-deep social structure and customs of the times, its remarkable that Gandhi was able to create a movement that included the support of Indians that spans across the gender divide and the rigid caste system.
In bridging the gender divide, Gandhi had introduced a swadeshi policy to boycott foreign-made (largely British) goods. Part of this initiative was the exclusive use of khadi (home spun cloth) instead of British-made textiles. To promote the implementation of this practice, Gandhi invented a portable spinning wheel. This initiative not only weeded out the unwilling participants, it recruited and included women in the movement. The event however that galvanized popular support for Gandhi was the Dandi Salt March. On March 12, 1930 Gandhi set out with 79 followers from the Sabarmathi Ashram in Ahmedabad. After walking 388 km they arrived at Dandi on April 6, 1930 gaining thousands of supporters along the way. Early in its history and in its greed, the British East India Company had imposed a punitive Salt Tax supported by salt laws that forced Indians to purchase salt that they could barely afford from the Company. The making and distribution of salt by Indians was illegal except through the monopoly set up by the British Government. On reaching Dandi on the Arabian sea, Gandhi picked up the caked salt and symbolically made salt thus defying the law and proclaiming the end of the British Empire. Thousands including Gandhi were arrested but this bold defiance inspired many more to defy British rule and join his campaign.
To my colleagues charged with implementing Quality Management Systems, Happy Salt Making!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Clean Energy for a Potato Planet

I was intrigued by a 2011 report stating that China invested more on clean energy (not including nuclear power) in 2010 than any other nation. As the same time, I also recalled reading in the paper that a molecular geneticist at the University of Western Ontario, found that maternal twins were not genetically identical. While researching the role of genetics in schizophrenia, Shiva Singh has sequenced and compared the DNA make up of the parents and the identical twins. He found significant differences between the DNA make up in the identical twins thus upsetting our perception and assumption that maternal twins are identical. This led me to thinking again about the assumptions we all make when we take information at face value.
I decide to look at the information presented by the article on investments clean energy differently. I recreated the information reported in the article in a spreadsheet (Table 1). The report listed the top nations by the amount invested and pointed out that the UK had slipped out of the top 10 into thirteenth place. Personally I was pleased to see the three most populous nations China, India and the US in the top 10. I was however pleasantly surprised to see Brazil and Spain in this group. I rationalized that how much a nation invests in its energy future should be influenced by how much it consumes to support its industries and population. With the lesson on making assumptions in mind, I thought it worthwhile to look at these rankings from a different perspective. Relying solely on information easily found on the Internet to estimate the population of each of the nations on the list (excluding the unlisted 27 EU nations), when viewed from an Investment/Capita basis, the picture changes significantly (Table 2). China longer leads the pack, surpringly Canada is among the top 3 and the UK is back in the top 10 list. I suspect that if I had included the numbers for the  original 11th and 12th rank spots, India’s spot in number 10 on both charts would have been usurped. Now, if we look at industry or the nation’s productivity (GDP) into account, the picture changes quite dramatically. Again I depended on information on the Internet to calculate each nation’s GDP and the rankings tell a new story (Table 3). In all three charts, Germany emerges as a responsible citizen of the world. China and Italy also emerge as leaders in our effort to harness clean energy. Most telling however is that the two nations, US and UK who often most often lead the pack in declaring that the world must move to cleaner energy sources are at the bottom of the list.
So, the lesson learned here is that, often if we were to take any information presented on faith alone, the we may not be getting the whole picture. This reminds me of a funny quote although I cannot remember who first said it: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”. What will they tell us next, that the earth is not flat? Indeed, it is not round, if the shape of the earth is plotted according to the gravitational pull at different places it resembles a potato in space!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Journey of a Thousand Li….

On June 15, 2011, Canadians all over the world were ashamed of and embarrassed by the wonton destruction and hooliganism broadcast into our living rooms and all over the globe via the internet. Loosing the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins after 7 hard fought games, disappointed Vancouver Canucks fans rioted through the streets of downtown Vancouver in contract to the moment of pride where less than 16 months before the same streets hosted the peaceful and jubilant crowns following Team Canada’s win in the 2010 Winter Olympics. More disappointing is the revelation that perhaps much of this could have been avoided had the Vancouver Police implemented the more than 100 recommendations from the B.C. Police commissioned report by Bob Whitelaw after a similar riot following the Canucks’ loss to the New York Rangers in 1994.
Adopting Lao Tzu’s “A Journey of a Thousand Li begins with a Single Step”, one would like to think that had the Vancouver Police Department adopted one recommendation a month since the report was released in 1994, by June of 2011, there should have been sufficient time to develop the processes and procedures to implement at least 165 initiatives to prevent a repeat of the 1994 riots.
In parallel to the above incident, I have observed that In the course of my career as a quality professional, on numerous occasions I encountered similar situations where my client organizations found themselves facing a long list of non-compliant findings after being audited by a client, a potential client or a regulator that had to be addressed immediately. As is often the case, many of these findings were previously identified in their own internal audits. The most common reason given for having ignored these findings is “I don’t have the time or resources to implemented any of these corrective actions”. Yet when faced with the prospect of the imminent cancellation of an order, loss of a potential contract or regulatory action, the same organizations suddenly finds the resources to deploy a team of experts at several times the cost in order to remedy the situation. The real tragedy is that so many organizations fail to understand the most significant phrase in Lao Tzu’s proverb is not the “Journey of a Thousand Li” but the “Single Step”. In Quality Management philosophy, taking that single step involves the implementation of a process for proactively identifying areas of improvements, ensuring that they are diligently acted on and followed-up to ensure that there are no recurrences. Hence, regardless of the complexity or magnitude of the task at hand, i.e. the proverbial “Thousand Li” (360 miles), the emphasis is on the “Single Step”.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Don’t break it

How many times have we heard “It’s a problem, we have to fix it”. Thinking along the lines of organizational behaviour, why did wait for it to become a problem? We’ve all be taught to be proactive and deal with an issue before it becomes a problem. Most organizations set lofty goals and mission statements and along the way get a little lost or side tracked by the process. Perhaps this quote from the American author, poet, abolitionist Henry David Thoreau; “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them”.
So, I asked myself, as a Quality professional, from the perspective of organizational behaviour what tools would offer a process that is proactive and helps to build those foundations and identify the issues and deal with them before they become a problem? Two key elements come to mind, Risk Management, the other Knowledge Management.
As stated in a previous blog, the concept of Risk Management is simple, define and understand the product and the processes needed to deliver the product, identify and develop the processes needed to be in place to meet the objective and identify the risks involved in the process and how best to mitigate those risks. Risk Management involves the use of any number of tools including; the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) Cycle (or Deming Cycle). Ishikawa (or Fishbone) Diagram, Trend Charts, Pareto Analysis, Fault Tree Analysis, Failure Mode and Effects and Analysis. To demonstrate the power of deploying these tools. Below is a brief description of the PDCA Cycle and the Ishikawa Diagram.
The PDCA Cycle starts with the PLAN phase by focusing on the expected out put and identifying and establishing objectives and processes including the accuracy and specifications necessary to deliver results. The DO phase is the implementation often as a pilot to identify any deviation, the CHECK phase from the expected out put. ACT by analyzing the out put and correct and improve as necessary.
I like the Ishikawa Diagram because its easy to get up on a board and involve the entire team in an iterative process. This is one of the 7 quality tools inspired by the 7 famous weapons of the legendary Japanese Warrior Monk, Benkei. The diagram also known as a cause and effect is used product design and quality defect prevention. All possible cause and reasons that can contribute to the effect are listed along each of five arms on the fishbone representing Methods (and/or Process), Machinery, Management, Materials and Manpower. Each can be successively broken down in additional layers to identify the potential root cause or causes.
Although emerged as a scientific discipline in early 1900 Knowledge Management (KM) did not catch on as a tool in Quality Management until recently. Each organization has a wealth knowledge ranging from organization or institutional memory, process data, publications by the organization and others in the associated industry as well as acquired though new hires. This wealth of information is often lost for lack of a systematic effort to organize it. There’s growing appreciation to harness this knowledge through a formal KM program. One model involves the following steps a) Acquisition of Knowledge including tacit (implicit or internalized knowledge) and explicit (data), b) Evaluation of Data to ensure that its relevant and accurate, c) Filtering and Extraction of Information that contributes to the understanding of the product or process and d) Storage, Sharing and Retrieval of the Knowledge. IT Systems are often employed to facilitate KM.
In deploying some resources and employing these tools, organizations will find that there will be fewer incidences of tings to fix. Having built the foundation to support their dreams they will have more opportunities to actually sail their charted course. Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy influenced the thinking of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. If its good enough for Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., its good enough for me.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Ghost of Henry Ford

According to the JD Powers Initial Quality Survey (IQS), in June 2010, Ford climbed to the top of the quality heap among non-luxury automobile manufacturers! Is that right? After decades of lemons, Ford finally squeezed some lemon juice to rock your taste buds! The JD Powers IQS study watched closely by the industry and consumers is based on a 128 question survey of auto owners after the first 90 days of ownership. It is indicative of initial quality. The IQS rating is significant for the Ford Motor Company in that Ford vehicles show the least amount of defects in 24 years. Indeed since mid 2000, Ford had steadily climbed in the IQS rating.

What changed? Perhaps the following videoclip at Ford’s assembly plant in Chicago may provide a clue.

In this clip from August 2006, the popular TV series Dirty Job with Mike Rowe featured the assembly of the instrument panel on a moving assembly line. The use of technology for process control, the Instrument Station Process Control (ISPC) is one of many quality tools that can be deployed to ensure that the job gets done right. Doing the right thing at the right time is a simple way of viewing how quality is achieved. Because we live in an imperfect world, we make mistakes, tools ware out and break, etc. doing the right thing at the right time and knowing that the right thing was done at the right time is key to Quality Assurance. The display on the Assembly Information Control (AIS) box displays the ISPC readout for that assembly. Assuming that Ford diligently marries such technology with the Quality Assurance philosophy for each job and sub-assembly it should continue to maintain its lofty IQS rating.

The Ford Motor Company despite its poor performance in recent history is no stranger to quality or innovation. Founder Henry Ford revolutionized not just the auto-industry but triggered an industrial revolution by introducing the moving assembly line at the Highland Park (MI) plant in 1913. This single innovation changed the paradigm in manufacturing by orders of magnitude. Where it took 728 minutes (about 12 hours and 7 minutes) to assemble one car, the moving assembly line accelerated the production rate to 93 minutes (1 hour and 33 minutes)! A Ford Model T that cost $950 in 1908 cost only $360 in 1916 fulfilling Henry Ford’s vision “I will a car for the great multitude”. Henry Ford and his partners instinctively understood the application of quality processes and tools. In 1914 Ford raised the wages of its employees from $2.34 to $5.00 a day and introduced an 8 hour work in 6 day week which eventually evolved to a 5 day work week. Ford also introduced profit sharing with its employees. Not only was Ford able to retain its’ trained workers but was luring employees including engineers and designers from its competitors. To manage its Supply Chain, the plant in Dearborn, Michigan encompassed all the steps the manufacturing process from refining raw materials to final assembly of the automobile and included a steel mill, glass factory, and the automobile assembly line. By 1918, Ford Model Ts represented half of all cars in America. In the spirit of continuous improvement, Henry Ford was not satisfied with the status quo and experimented with plastics made from soybean which was incorporated into Ford automobiles such as horns and body paint and in 1942 patented an automobile made almost entirely of plastic, attached to a tubular welded frame that ran on ethanol produced from gain.

Perhaps the ghost of Henry Ford has returned to stalk the corridors of the Ford Motor Company.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Of Sponge Scrubs and Space Shuttles

I suspect that like me, you often come across items that you’ve purchased that failed to meet your expectations. At best they are a source of irritation and at worse true frustration because you really needed the item to work and it had not been a cheap purchase. A personal (though seemly trivial) example is the Scrub Sponges we buy for washing pots and pans in our kitchen. I like these sponges because they have a soft spongy side for washing dishes with an abrasive surface on the opposite side for scrubbing stubborn cooked-on or dried-on food. I used to buy the ones made by the 3M subsidiary, Scotch, but recently thought I’d try the generic brand offered by the local supermarket. Where the 3M product used to last a few months before they started to wear out, the generic ones lasted only a few weeks before the sponge started curl to and separate from the scrubbing pad which had also started to pill and tear away in layers. Although the 3M product was almost twice as expensive at the generic brand, it lasted many months longer than the generic brand. There’s obviously a flaw in the design process for the generic brand likely in the choice of material, quality and durability of the components, adhesion process, and finally testing to see if the product actually did what it was supposed to do.
Given the number of times I’d encountered products of inferior quality I was thinking about the process failures that lead to products that fail in the field or market place. The concept of Quality by Design, which also encompasses Risk Management, obviously escapes many of these companies. It reminded me of an article I read in the paper in March 2011 about how a contract guard at a US federal building in Detroit found a package and due to some break-down in the process, the package was not screened until 3 weeks later. It was discovered at that time that there was a bomb in it! The article did not give much detail but stated that the guard had since been dismissed. If that’s all the entity responsible for security in this building did in response to this obvious failure, then I’m not optimistic that a similar failure will not happen in the future. I am also reminded of the space shuttle Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986 where the risk of failure of the O-ring was known as early as 1977 to the engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center and manufacturer of the booster rocket, Morton Thiokol. The failures leading to this disaster are detailed in the report and findings of the Roger’s Commission. In this case, I see distinct failures in at least 2 places costing the lives of the seven crew members of the Challenger Space Shuttle. Morton Thiokol’s product that failed was the solid rocket booster (SRB) and NASA’s processes failed to ensure a safe and successful launch.
Granted, the consequences of a scrub sponge falling apart are absolutely orders of magnitude apart from the space shuttle’s SRB falling apart. I believe that they do however share their failures in a break down in their quality processes such as Quality by Design, process control, Corrective and Preventative Action (CAPA) and continuous improvement.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim……….

I had lunch with a couple of colleagues other day and we were comparing notes on some of the challenges we encountered in Quality Management when working in the regulated industry. As it turned out, we share one very common challenge where we’ve been engaged to assist an organization in addressing adverse inspection or audit findings. We’ve all at one point encountered an executive officer from that company say “Just get all the documents done as quickly as possible and get it in the system” or similar words to that effect.
That phrase alone speaks volumes on how misguided some organizations are on what Quality Management is about. In such organizations, many of the executive team mistakenly believes that Quality Management is all about the volume of paper it generates and do not appreciate what the documents represent to their business. They see it as a necessary evil for conducting business in a regulated industry. Those beliefs and values percolates down through the organization and often result in the hiring and appointment of Quality Managers who are powerless to create a quality culture – Paper Tigers. These quality groups often approach deploying Quality Management Systems with a “box checker” mentality. By that I mean they try to embed in their quality programs, each element and tool from a checklist without attempting to understand the philosophy, integrate the systems or facilitate culture change. In these instances, quality is managed in a reactive ‘catch-as-catch-can” mode. Its easy to identify the “WHAT” of these elements, a quick web-search will direct you to any number of websites, literally an alphabet soup of abbreviations! For the regulated industry they include; ICH, FDA, EMEA, HPFB, etc. and for industry standards; ISO, PICs, ASTM, ISPE, etc. It is more challenging to know the “HOW” in implementing these elements with an integrated approach.
A more insidious result of such a dysfunctional approach to Quality Management is a never-ending cycle of quality processes. In this scenario, the Quality Manager is unable to impress on executive management the benefits and importance of embracing a quality culture. The Quality Manager’s role is boxed into a very defined space delineated by the operations directly affecting the production process and the quality processes that are specifically mandated by the applicable regulations. Within the organization, the quality processes are viewed as excessive, generates too much paper, and unnecessarily costly. As a result the quality processes are ineffectively deployed, poorly understood and unsupported. The Quality Unit focuses on the execution of the processes like so many hamsters on their wheels but none of these are linked to the larger objective of increasing efficiency, reducing and eliminating scraps, preventing process drifts, identifying and correcting sources of errors etc. Some common symptoms are; Quality Manual and Policies are not signed or read by executive management, personnel training programs cover only what is mandated for the industry, high rate of product returns and complaints, high rate of reworks or rejects, repeated adverse audit and inspection findings, and an understaffed quality unit. In one particularly egregious instance, where I had alerted the organization that a product did not conform to the manufacturing specifications and that there was no data to support its ability to meet its intended function in the field, I was asked if I’d approve the release of that batch if the Vice President and Director issued a memo indicating that they acknowledged my concerns with regard to that batch! Sadly such organizations do not reap the benefits from the cost of all the effort in implementing a Quality Unit and deploying a Quality Management System. This is akin to; buying a cannon, loading the cannon, aiming the cannon…aiming the cannon…..aiming the cannon… aiming the cannon…

Saturday, 9 April 2011

If you build it (RIGHT), they will come

My wife and I were quite excited that one of our favourite restaurants decided to open a location in our neighbourhood. We were a bit disappointed by our experience. Was food was not quite as good as I had hoped? Nope, that wasn’t it, I think it probably was as good but some how it did not measure up because the d├ęcor was kind of stark, the tables were so close I could taste the food on the next table! The waiter had too many tables and although we could see that he was busy all the time, it was a long time between his visits to each of his tables From anywhere in the room you could see all 15 or so tables in the roughly square room in a sort of a cafeteria-like way. It was more of an overall experience. I was reflecting on this a little and decided to apply some of my Quality Management thinking to it. Purely from a diner’s perspective, I did sort of an informal Gap Analysis. I needed to contrast that experience with one we’ve had at the opposite end of the spectrum. You know the feeling when you’ve by chance stumbled on to a hidden gem of a restaurant? The food was delightfully well prepared, complex in texture and taste. The wait staff were attentive but not overbearingly so. The music was just loud enough to hear over a quite conversation and the tables spaced sufficiently apart that you know you are not alone but sufficiently separated to create an intimate space. The wine list is long enough to provide a variety of choices but not so large to be intimidating. The timing between courses were just right that you did not feel rushed nor do you remember sitting back and thinking “I wonder what’s taking them so long?”. I could probably make a long list to contrast the two experiences.
It occurred to me that most of us probably have similar experiences either with services and products we’ve purchased and that there’s an underlying concept of Quality Management involved. The menus of restaurants like the hidden gem above do not cover the entire spectrum of what each of us consider tasty and desirable, yet they command a loyal clientele. There are other examples of similar customer loyalty. Owners of Apple Computers and other Apple products like the iPhone, iPod, etc are fiercely loyal to Apple. The Disney Corporation captured our hearts as children and continues to enjoy our patronage as adults!
Given the diversity of society and desires, regardless of whether it’s a restaurant, resort, or an electronic device the company cannot predict nor hope to anticipate our every need. Its an imperfect world we live in and my favourite restaurant, Disney and Apple will and do make mistakes and on occasion, fumble a pass. We not only forgive them, we come back for more. Is there a secret ingredient? I’m sure the marketing experts will have lots to say, throwing in phrases like selling to the need, selling the sizzle not the stake, managing the expectation etc. Some or probably all true. What is also true is that they understand their product and in that understanding are able to identify the key parameters that help them provide a consistent quality. I believe that this not by accident but by design. Indeed in Quality Management parlance, it called Quality by Design (QbD). QbD was first introduced by Joseph Juran and has been adopted by a number of industries notably the automotive industry and more recently by the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed in the past few years the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) in collaboration with and their European (EMEA) and Japanese counter parts issues a guidance on QbD through the International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH) of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use. The concept is simple, define and understand the product and the processes needed to deliver the product, identify and develop the processes needed to be in place to meet the objective and identify the risks involved in the process and how best to mitigate those risks.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Toyota Way

As a Quality Management professional, Toyota was my poster child! I upheld Toyota as my shining example of an organization who “get it”, hence terms like the Toyota Way and the Toyota Production Systems. This philosophy gave birth to a lexicon of additional terms and practices related to Quality Management Systems; LEAN, KANBAN, KAISEN, Just-In-Time, PDCA, etc. and more recently Six Sigma. In 2009-2010, I followed with disbelieve and disappointment the product complaints followed by the recalls that plagued Toyota that resulted in a total of 14 million cars recalled globally by the beginning of 2011. Toyota, my icon for Quality fell and shattered into 14 million pieces!
Well the dust is settling and in early 2011, Toyota announced a goal to reach a sales target of 10 million cars a year by 2015. Can I dust off this icon and put it back in my tool kit? Does Toyota deserve it or was Toyota’s Quality just a myth?
A review of the news reports between November 2009 and February 2011 highlights for me several interesting facts. Working on the premise that the accelerator is indeed faulty, the question is; would a faulty accelerator lead to sudden unintended acceleration resulting in death and injury? To address this question I broke it down into the following elements.
  1. Would a faulty accelerator pedal result in sudden unintended acceleration?
  2. Can any sudden unintended acceleration be negated by the vehicle’s braking system?
In simplistic terms, a sticky accelerator pedal would not in itself cause sudden unintended acceleration. It may cause the vehicle to continue to maintain the cruising speed even after the driver has ceased applying pressure on the pedal. A faulty electronic throttle control system coupled to the accelerator pedal function may indeed cause sudden unintended acceleration. A joint investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and NASA found no electronic defects in Toyota vehicles after a 10 month investigation (report released in February 2011). This addresses question 1.
Investigations and studies conducted by credible entities in the US as well as Germany all demonstrated that the braking system can over come the acceleration in all instances. This addresses question 2.
So what of the 58 reported cases investigated by the NHTSA? Of the 58, 18 were dismissed, 39 were found to have no cause and 1 attributed to “pedal entrapment”. According to the news article, one investigator said that most of the cases were the result of “pedal misapplication”.  “Pedal misapplication” in other words mean driver error where the driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal or both.
The statistics surrounding this issue does not justify the resultant disproportionate response in the number of US law suits, a congressional hearing and the media circus. Car and Driver pointed out in 2010 that the risk of fatality is about 1 in 20,000 recalled Toyotas while the risk of fatality in a car accident is 1 in 8,000 in any car in the US. There were numerous reports of media bias and verifiable fraudulent claims resulting in charges being laid. It is also significant that the majority of cases of sudden unintended acceleration resulting in an accident were in the US. Similar accidents as result of a “stuck pedal” rarely occurred outside of the US. In all instances of unintended acceleration reported in Germany, all drivers successfully slowed their vehicles with their brakes.
From my perspective, perhaps Toyota indeed had a product defect – an accelerator pedal that was prone to sticking. More profoundly, Toyota may have been the victim of; opportunistic ambulance chasers, irresponsible media coverage and a less than impartial US Congress who after all is the majority share-holder of GM. In short, a dearth of personal integrity.
How Toyota dealt with the faulty accelerator pedal provides a clue into the company and its philosophy. Generally, auto manufacturers do not actually manufacture the cars. They design and engineer the car and out source the manufacturing of the various parts. The auto manufacturers assemble the cars. Toyota is no exception. The accelerator pedals are made by CTS Corp, a US company. During the height of the crisis, Toyota worked with CTS to address the problem. Not once did Toyota deflect responsibility to CTS as evident in a public apology by Akio Toyoda, the president of CEO of Toyota where Toyota accepted full responsibility. In contrast, during the 2000 Ford-Firestone recall involving Ford Explorer SUVs and Firestone Widerness tires, each company vociferously blamed each other. Perhaps due to its frenetic pace of growth, Toyota may have lost sight of its product – Quality. It indeed lost sight of one key concept in the Quality Tool Box – Quality by Design. For this Quality professional, the indications however are that its back in focus and its time to dust off my trusty poster!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Lessons from Sendai

On March 11, 2011, life changed forever for many who living in the north-eastern part of the island of Honshu, Japan. The 8.9 earthquake and resulting tidal wave wreak unimaginable devastation and tragedy in a land and to a people who are considered the most prepared in the world for such a disaster. The traditional media and on-line reports in the following days and weeks told of tremendous loss and suffering. I am however struck by the stories that tell us of the character of the people of Japan. Below are some translations of Twitter postings taken off the internet from the Japanese public demonstrating the innate kindness, bravery, compassion, steadfastness and the calm, disciplined, orderly, methodical approaches of a people in their worst of times.
  •  (http://twitter.com/micakom/status/46264887281848320) - Cars were moving at the rate of maybe one every green light, but everyone was letting each other go first with a warm look and a smile. At a complicated intersection, the traffic was at a complete standstill for 5 minutes, but I listened for 10 minutes and didn’t hear a single beep or honk except for an occasional one thanking someone for giving way. It was a terrifying day, but scenes like this warmed me and made me love my country even more.
  • (http://twitter.com/gj_neko26/statuses/46394706481004544) - We’ve all been trained to immediately open the doors and establish an escape route when there is an earthquake. In the middle of the quake while the building was shaking crazily and things falling everywhere, a man made his way to the entrance and held it open. Honestly, the chandelier could have crashed down any minute … that was a brave man!
  • (http://twitter.com/VietL/status/46376383592677376) - This earthquake has reminded me of that Japanese goodness that had recently become harder and harder to see. Today I see no crime or looting: I am reminded once again of the good Japanese spirit of helping one another, of propriety, and of gentleness. I had recently begun to regard my modern countrymen as cold people … but this earthquake has revived and given back to all of us the spirit of “kizuna” (bond, trust, sharing, the human connection). I am very touched. I am brought to tears.
  • (http://twitter.com/aquarius_rabbit/s...13254376210432) - It was cold and I was getting very weary waiting forever for the train to come. Some homeless people saw me, gave me some of their own cardboard boxes and saying “you’ll be warmer if you sit on these!” I have always walked by homeless people pretending I didn’t see them, and yet here they were offering me warmth. Such warm people.
  • (http://twitter.com/s_hayatsuki/status/46386255767937024) - We live in an area that was not directly hit. When my father came downstairs and heard the news saying that our area had begun allocating electricity to the hard-hit areas, he quietly led by example, turning off the power around the house and pulling the plugs out of their sockets. I was touched. He usually NEVER turns off the lights or the AC or the TV or anything!
  • (http://twitter.com/n_yum/statuses/46388003706380288) - I spoke with an old taxi driver and some elderly staff at the train stations. All of them had been working non-stop and had not been able to go home for a long time. They were visibly very tired, but never once did they show any sign of impatience; they were gentle and very caring. They told me “… because all of us are in this together.” I was touched at what the notion of “all of us” meant to these elderly people. It is a value I will treasure and carry on to my generation.
  • (http://twitter.com/masa_kisshie/stat...23838316843008) - The Oedo Subway Line for Hikarigaoka is very congested. On the platform and at the gate there are just crowds and crowds of people waiting for the train. But in all the confusion, every last person is neatly lined up waiting his or her turn while managing to keep a passage of space open for staff and people going the other way. Everyone is listening to the instructions from the staff and everyone acts accordingly. And amazingly … there isn’t even a rope or anything in sight to keep people in queue or open space for staff to pass, they just do! I am so impressed at this almost unnatural orderliness! I have nothing but praise for these people!
Nothing tells me more about the character of people than how they conduct themselves in the face of adversity. Then Japanese posses a unique national consciousness, a collective ethos of taking personal responsibility and putting into actions what they have been taught in a methodical determination, understanding and awareness of the undertaking at hand.
This is the nation who embraced the teachings and concepts of Quality Management by Edward Demming and Joseph Juran when in post-war Europe and North America, they were considered voices in the wilderness. Demming and Juran spoke of deliberate and consistent application of process coupled with the application of technology and investment in the training and development of skills of the work force in the use of quality tools. The above stories provide some clues to why it was believed that the successes of post-war Japan’s manufacturing industry often represented by the dominance of the Japanese auto-industry was unique to the Japanese culture and the post-war economy of the world. In embracing that believe, I think we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Organizations that fail to recognize that wastages, reworks, high scrap rates, recalls, customer complaints, employee turn over, poor employee morale promote a culture that is the diametrical opposite of the values reflected here. They lack the discipline to implement the quality processes that pave the road to instilling a culture of excellence, and pride in the work they do to provide the products and services that represent their organizations. The most amazing thing is that most of these companies have as few as a few hundred to a few thousand employees. Japan has a population of more that 126,800,000!