Paradigm Shift in QA? Another View

Jim Wynne

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In this recent thread, Marc shared a post from the misc.industry.quality newsgroup regarding what someone posting there felt might be a "paradigm shift" in industrial quality assurance. In point of fact, the OP on the newsgroup was, imo, misinterpreting a little bit of short-term noise, and his concerns were not supported by the evidence presented. In short, he had a problem with an automotive supply store, and saw it as evidence of the end of the world as we know it. Pffft.

This is not to say that there aren't some disturbing things happening, however. Paradigm shifts are almost always preceded by subtle harbingers which might escape notice unless you're actually looking for them. A product of poor quality might get my dander up, but signs of impending doom seldom come in the form of bombs going off.

My local newspaper publishes the weekly syndicated column of management consultant and author Dale Dauten, who refers to himself as the Corporate Curmudgeon. I usually scan the first paragraph or so of his columns and don't get much further because he rarely has anything interesting to say, which is more a function of the difficulty of writing a weekly column than a reflection on Dauten's abilities and expertise.

An exception came last week, when Dauten's column involved exactly the sort of thing we should be very worried about, both as quality professionals and people concerned about the world going to he11 in a handbasket. Here is (broken link removed), entitled "Quality control is perfectly OK until you have no sales," courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star:

Arizona Daily Star said:
"You know there's a problem with the education system when you realize that out of the three Rs, only one begins with 'R' — Dennis Miller

Today we meet another executive at Mundane Industries, our head of Quality Management, Donald "Zero" Difetto. He's what is known as a "black belt" in Six Sigma, the system for getting an organization to improve its processes, with the goal of zero defects.


DALE: Speaking of belts, Donald, I see you missed a loop.


ZERO: Oh, man, hold on while I write that up. I'm going to have to reprogram my Spousal Unit to include that in the a.m. checklist.


DALE: I invited you to join me because I wanted your opinion on a new study. The folks at QualPro, a research company I wrote about recently, searched for corporations announcing new Six Sigma programs, then looked at what happened to each company's stock price. Of the 58 companies they reviewed, only six had stocks that outperformed the S&P 500, while 52 underperformed. That's 10 percent up and 90 percent down. Could it be possible that quality is to the manufacturing business what health food is to the restaurant business — everybody says they want it, but nobody actually buys it?


ZERO: So are you anti-quality? Pro-defect? We're building the best Mundane Industry products ever, and yes, our stock price is falling, but I don't see how more defects are going to boost the stock price. Take our least-profitable division, our toy business. Not our fault. Our product returns are approaching zero. We are, in effect, making perfect toys.


DALE: Good example. Our lead product this last Christmas season was our "Me, too" competitor to "Tickle Me Elmo," our "Wedgie Me Wayne." Nobody returned it because nobody bought it. So it's flawless production of a product nobody wants.


ZERO: That's Marketing, not Production. The Wall Street Journal had an article on the stock-price research that quoted Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor and Six Sigma advocate, as saying: "You can't do just one little thing. Low cholesterol is just one measure of health. In the same way, quality management is just one piece of the puzzle, but not the answer to the whole puzzle."


DALE: Well, say you make a cholesterol drug — one little thing — and then you look and see how people who take it are doing, overall. And if you see that those on the drug were less healthy, shouldn't you consider that the pill is actually bad for them? And maybe that's true for obsessing about quality. Maybe it makes a company less nimble or less creative. Maybe it helps turn a company inward rather than being focused outward on customers.


ZERO: If you people in Marketing can't figure out what products we should make better, then there's the problem.


DALE: Agreed. A few years back I heard a story about two cell-phone companies. One had virtually eliminated defects, while the other had just ordinary quality control — let's call them the Perfect and Good phones. When customers had problems using the Perfect phone, the company had them box up the phone and send it in, and then the company sent it back, saying it was fine. And it was, because most problems were customers not understanding how to use the thing. On the other hand, if you called the Good phone people, they would work with you to figure out how to use the thing, and if it was a manufacturing problem, it would send someone out with a replacement. The upshot was that the Good phone had higher satisfaction ratings than the Perfect phone. It makes sense, though, doesn't it?


ZERO: No. Nothing you've said today makes any sense.


DALE: Here's the logic: The corporate brain can absorb only one big idea a year. Having fewer defects is a good idea, but it isn't "The Idea" because consumers don't get excited about what didn't go wrong.


ZERO: You're making my brain hurt. Besides, I can't think about it because I'm late for the task force on punctuality. (STANDING UP) As Venkman says to the librarian in "Ghostbusters": "We'll get back to you."

I would like to hear the comments of my fellow Covers on this piece, and in particular whether anyone finds anything particularly unsettling about it. I'll return to the thread later to tell why I think it's important, but until then, talk amongst yourselves.
 

BradM

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Re: Paradigm Shift in QA?--Another View

Hmmmm... try to guess what Professor Jim is thinking... No good, I give up. I'll just go down my own dumb path.

IMO, the unsettling part of this radio-interview with Dilbert's quality alter-ego is like Dilbert himself- there is an unsettling, haunting truth to it.

Since I have one drum, I must beat that drum all the time. So, if this sound is familar, it is because you have heard it before.

#1 We are still struggling with operational measures of quality, and it's success.

#2 There is a vast disparity of how people interpret the word "Quality". In the example, the perfect company had perfect quality. Because it was just measuring one dimension-defects of phone. Part of the customer's perception of quality does not have to do with the actual defect; the quality was perceive as poor, because it did not meet their expectations (perceived defect). Yes? But that was not measured, was it? Which one of the companies will have more repeat business??

That's my initial stab. Very interesting topic.
 

Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
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Re: Paradigm Shift in QA?--Another View

It's interesting all right, and has a lot of thruth to it.

The article reminds me of why I like the Baldrige, which after all is the packaged version of TQM. While it asks us to address defects as quality of our offerings, it also asks us to be customer centered (both internal and external customers). It asks us to recognize the results of what we do and ask each other how we can help each other perform better.

The article is unsettling because it shows how 6S could become an enabler--could provide an "out" for managers who don't want the trouble of asking the uncomfortable questions and really accepting honest answers. It describes an emerging pattern of seeking a simplistic approach to a complex problem.

When done right, the Baldrige method should help reduce defects and improve profitability as well as market share if that's what we want. No method can address everything though, and it's possible to circumvent/undermine any of them in one way or other.
 
C

Craig H.

Re: Paradigm Shift in QA?--Another View

Jim, this is an interesting question. Thanks for starting the thread.

I agree with Brad. What gets measures is what gets done, and in this case the company was perfectly measuring answers to the wrong question.

Having something work correctly right out of the box is a factor of many things, quality of build and components among those. If the user cannot use a "perfect" contraption correctly right out of the box, it is a result of a different type of defect, a defect of design. Understanding the end user, their level of expertise, and comparing these with the simplicity of operation is an important part of the satisfaction equation. I have heard it said that one way that the Japanese managed to get such a foothold in the international market is not only the quality of build and components, but also the quality of design, both for reliability and also, importantly, for comfort and ease-of-use features.

Now, for the semantics. Is this type of design really a part of Quality (big Q)? I doubt that all of the activities involved in bringing the customers' spoken and unspoken desires into the design process fall under the purview of Quality Managers, but the processes are, to me, quality related nonetheless.
 

Jim Wynne

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Some interesting responses so far. I'm a little surprised that there are so few thus far, but maybe I can spark some interest. I think it's an important topic.

What initially struck me--and held my interest--in the Dauten column was the shot he took at Six Sigma early on. While the point of the column--that money spent on product quality must be proportionate to the value received (duh) is well taken, I see an undercurrent here of the initial stages of scapegoat-hunting, and the vacuity of SS is an easy target (CEOs love their strawmen).

It seems to underscore something that many of us have been saying for a long time--the selling of SS as a quality panacea is bound to have undesirable results, and its inevitable failure makes for an easy target for executives uninterested in anything but short-term results.

I know we have some earnest SS apologists here, and a few of them have used the strategy to good advantage. The problem is that the ratio of earnest devotees to empty-headed bandwagon jumpers is, unfortunately, such that the latter category, who have no data to back up their often outlandish claims of success, have become most visible. For this reason, I believe that even those who practice SS with some measure of verifiable success are tacitly supporting and promoting the know-nothings.

The other disturbing thing about the column (which is related to the SS problem) is that Dauten is promoting the idea that short-term gains are better than long-term survival. What he's saying is that if our customers are happy now, who cares about what happens next year? We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it. And when we come to it, and customers are complaining, some "new" and wonderful "strategy" will surface, and the bandwagon jumpers will have a new vehicle. It's a vicious circle, but it can't keep spinning forever.

This column highlights the reasons that when someone starts talking about having saved millions of dollars via SS projects I have a tendency to get angry. I go back often to the quote from Dr. Deming that came in answer to the question, "How would you like to be remembered?" Deming's response was that he would like to be remembered as someone who had spent his life trying to keep American manufacturing from committing suicide. Right now, American manufacturing is holding a gun to its own head, and the gun is loaded with Six Sigma bullets.
 

Jen Kirley

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When I read the article I actually got the opposite sense, that the parody was intended to show the weakness in Zero's thinking.
 

Jim Wynne

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When I read the article I actually got the opposite sense, that the parody was intended to show the weakness in Zero's thinking.

Well, yes. That's the problem. It's the fact that the empty suits who have jumped on the latest bandwagon have gained some measure of ascendancy that's the subject of the (rather lame) satire. It's not a good thing when the most visible quality professionals--and right now, SS devotees are the most visible--are being parodied by a noted management guru. The problem is that empty-headedness is being characterized as typical of quality professionals, and I'm not altogether sure that the characterization isn't fitting and accurate.
 

Jen Kirley

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Well Jim, you make a good point that the parody can do some damage, especially among people who don't know better. Then they can look at the thing in a superficial sense, yuk-yuk-yuk at the quality person's foolishness, perhaps without bothering to learn what better approach should be used.

I do agree that the article doesn't help to educate about the better approach; it just makes fun of a current approach. People can read it and conclude "quality doesn't work" based on what amounts to a cartoon.

At the risk of becomeing a 6S apologist, I want to say that the method isn't flawed as much as its application. If there's a good sense of whole-system balance involved and how the 6S projects play into its various parts, I believe 6S methods can help (though I still disapprove of the sense of elitism it can promote--a different subject).

In short, the article makes fun of a quality hack and calls into fault a method that could work if it's used right--but doesn't talk about what right means.

Does the author know his subject very well?
 

Jim Wynne

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Does the author know his subject very well?

The author's subject is management, not quality. He does know his subject well, but probably knows little about quality methods. The whole point is that the most visible--and the most vulnerable--target is being fired at, and part of the reason that the target is so appealing is that the vast majority of sensible quality professionals don't seem to understand the danger, and keep saying that it's not SS per se, but poor implementations that are the problem. But the real problem is that SS is a "strategy" that has its doors wide open to abuse and empty claims of grand success--just the sort of thing that appeals to executives who want to go to heaven without dying first.

Let me put it bluntly--SS is slowly strangling the life out of the quality profession, and damaging, perhaps irreparably, the credibility of the profession as a whole.
 

Jen Kirley

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But the real problem is that SS is a "strategy" that has its doors wide open to abuse and empty claims of grand success--just the sort of thing that appeals to executives who want to go to heaven without dying first.
I agree. I submit it's not actually a strategy. In my view, strategic solutions have a wider focus than 6S is designed to provide. That's a major weakness.
Let me put it bluntly--SS is slowly strangling the life out of the quality profession, and damaging, perhaps irreparably, the credibility of the profession as a whole.
I'm afraid you're right there too.

However, I'd like to think optimistically and believe the desire to do robust right will prevail. Consider TQM. Some people say "TQM is dead" but that isn't so. It just went underground in a sense. It pretty much shed its identity with the acronym. The method is being used more quietly now, resisting the damage done by people trying to superficially implement the method in a system with an unsuited culture.

I suppose the 6S method suits the current upper management culture, where quick results are desired and stardom is appropriate.
 
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