Monday, December 24, 2012

Value of professional certifications

On his December blog, Paul Borawski is asking us what we are going to tell our bosses about what we did last year in order to get a raise when the next performance review comes along. So far in my career, I've had the privilege of working in organizations where salary increase depends on employee's yearly performance. I like it when a manager empowers employees to set their own performance targets that align with business goals and objectives and expects them to come back with results at the end of the year. This allows employees to push themselves and continually advance their knowledge and skills. However, meeting business goals may not be enough to get you where you want to be. Companies are looking for individuals who are willing to take the extra step. For example, achieving professional certifications, earning an advanced degree, being a member of professional societies, publishing papers and so on. I strongly believe that these achievements set you apart from everyone else who are competing for the same thing. One of the goals that I always set for myself is to add another valuable certification to my to do list for the upcoming year. When I was a quality engineer intern, I noticed great opportunities to advance in this field. Before I graduated from college, I became an internal auditor. After a year or so, I passed ASQ's exam to become a certified quality engineer. In later years, my passion and strong interest in process improvement led me to achieve six sigma black belt and lean bronze level certifications. These certifications definitely helped me advance in my career and I know that there is much more out there. This year, I can proudly tell my manager that I completed a mini-MBA program and currently working on my master black belt certification. You may ask if all this has anything to do with salary increase or promotion. Well, it did for me and it will help you too. Never hesitate to let your boss know about your career goals and what you need to do to get there. Know where you are heading and take advantage of the opportunities along the way.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beyond Traditional Quality

On his October blog, Paul Borawski writes about going beyond the traditional quality function. Quality is so important that without it, there is no business and no customers. Most organizations see the value of quality as a control function, but they may not necessarily expand beyond that. When I used to work in manufacturing, there were many new product initiatives lacking input from quality during design and development. Project tollgates had a section for sign-off by quality, but it was towards the end during final inspection after product is already designed and manufactured. Quality plan was basically an inspection plan.  As a quality engineer, I had different views about quality's role and its significance. I did a lot of research and tried to learn as much as I can from other quality professionals about quality's involvement throughout product's lifecycle. After hard work and a lot of convincing, we were able to introduce a comprehensive quality plan. There was push back from other departments at first, but as the organization began to see the benefits, there was no going back to the old ways. So far, I've been talking about products. How about process improvement? Does quality have a role beyond just products? Absolutely! Another important role of quality is continuous improvement. Organizations that go beyond traditional quality may employ lean six sigma professionals in order to improve processes and take cost out of the business. This is a great way to establish a quality culture in the organization.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fast Quality

In his latest blog this month, Paul Borawski talks about the change in quality to meet customer's needs faster and faster. In order keep up with the rapid changes in customer needs, companies must be innovative and listen to those needs very carefully. If they are not doing it, somebody else will. As needs change, perception of quality changes as well. Why is that? Because technology is rapidly changing. Products are now more complex with tons of cool features. We are not using cell phones that are only used for talking anymore. As soon as we see that one of the features is not working right, we start looking for something better out there with higher quality and more features. Companies that continually listen to their customers, innovate and pursue perfection before anyone else are the ones that will win us over at the end. All this sounds to me like continuous improvement. Wouldn't you agree? For example, what are the 5 lean principles? Value in the eyes of the customer, elimination of waste, empowered employees, continuously improve in pursuit of perfection.. If an organization adapts these principles and embraces continuous improvement, its products and services will always be top quality which is what customers pay for.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quality Culture and Feelings

Building a quality culture in an organization involves more than compliance to standards, monitoring and reporting metrics, audits and corrective actions. I agree with ASQ CEO Paul Borawski that feelings are involved as well. This is more evident in organizations that focus on service quality as much as they do on producing quality products (if applicable). As you know that I have been working in a hospital for about 6 months. Hospitals provide patient care and it surely involves feelings, compassion and dedication. It is all about keeping patients comfortable, understanding their needs and show that you care for them while following standards and protocols. This is what patients look for when they seek care from a provider. Besides education level, technical knowledge and experience, hospitals assess the attitude and emotional IQ of candidates while hiring. This is the reason why hiring process may take a while until the right candidate comes along. There is certainly more room for improvement to achieve a strong quality culture in hospitals like everywhere else, but I have definitely witnessed more focus on feelings in a hospital than in manufacturing. I have to admit that it changed me too.. for the better. The more I round on patients, observe their care and talk to the staff members, I learned to focus more on patient experience while working on improvement projects. I ask myself what can I do as an operational & clinical excellence leader to improve patient experience. If every individual asks this question as it relates to the organization they work in and continuously strive for excellence as if it is a natural routine, quality culture will flourish and sustain itself.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Social Responsibility

In his latest blog posted in July, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski is wondering if the world is becoming more responsive to social responsibility. Many organizations work with charities, do outstanding donations or other means to give back to society which makes them look socially responsible. This is all good and it should be that way, but there is more to social responsibility. The question is, what are companies doing to embrace social responsibility in the way they conduct business? For example, we all remember BP's oil spill. BP has always claimed to be the front runner in green fossil fuel production. They were definitely proud of their position as socially responsible which won them a few awards on the side. However, all this could not prevent the disaster from happening. Washington Post's Chrystia Freeland writes on an article in 2010, "...But the gulf oil spill and the financial crisis have taught us, rather brutally, that the heart of the relationship between business and society doesn't lie with the charitable deeds that companies do in their off-hours but whether they are doing their day jobs in ways that help -- or hurt -- the rest of us."
Could the oil spill disaster been prevented? According to investigations, BP workers failed to consult the engineer, who was on the rig, about the results of the pressure test. The test was misread and the decision was to move ahead with temporary abandonment of the site. I wonder if BP conducted FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) on the possible risks associated with the rigs. I would certainly hope so since the possibility of a disaster happening is higher. Why did the workers misread the results? Why wasn't the experienced engineers notified? These are surely after the fact questions to get to the root cause of the problem which is too late. If these questions were asked before and procedures were put in place requiring training and full compliance, disaster could have been prevented. BP is now doing whatever it takes to build back their reputation in society. Certainly, there were many lessons learned and the possibility of this happening again is slim, but is it still socially responsible for BP to claim itself as the greenest fossil fuel producer? It takes more than charitable donations and community hours to run a socially responsible business.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Moving Quality Beyond Product

In his latest blog posted in June, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski is looking for success stories of moving quality beyond product. I have strong views about the necessity of high quality not only in products, but also in service. The reason is that, like many of you, I'm the type of person who looks for quality products, but if the service is not up to par, I may not ever purchase anything from there again.

I started my career in quality in the manufacturing world. Looking at non-conformances, customer complaints, defects, machine capability, etc. All about products basically. As I gained more experience, I was assigned several projects to reduce warranty cost and improve customer service. I saw a lot of inefficiencies and errors in processes caused by the lack of attention to customer service. Personnel were trying to do their best to make customers happy and satisfied, but they were struggling with not having the tools and resources to do their job especially related to technical knowledge and policies.

After I transitioned to healthcare, my focus has been nothing but service improvement. Hospitals are all about patient satisfaction and achieving service excellence is a number one priority. It is quite challenging due to the complexity of the organization, but it can be done. There are numerous project initiatives happening simultaneously and every one of them requires cross-functional involvement, collaboration and commitment. I can give you an example of a project that I'm currently working on. It is called "Patient Satisfaction Improvement Project" involving a Med/Surg unit. Hospitals are measured against each other on patient satisfaction. HCAHPS is a government initiative to provide a standardized survey instrument to measure patients' perspective on hospital care. Besides monetary incentives, the most important goal for hospitals is to continually provide and measure service quality. If this doesn't exist, there won't be any patients and thus, no revenue. There are several factors associated with patient satisfaction such as nurse communication, staff responsiveness, hospital environment and pain management. All of these factors involve people, people and people. It is quite different than machining parts, but same quality and process improvement tools apply, except slightly modified. In order to improve patient experience, I find it useful to utilize root cause analysis techniques, process mapping, observations and a few simple statistical tools. Coaching and mentoring staff on understanding patients' needs, changing behavior and embracing continuous improvement is also very important. Hospital staff is always busy 24-7. People sometimes forget to take a step back and think about how their service has been that day or if they could do anything different. This is the reason why  it is critical to set-up an hour or so every week to get everyone together, assess current state and take advantage of process improvement methodologies. We cannot ignore the fact that patients/customers/clients have the option to choose. Whoever provides quality products as well as excellent service will always be the winner.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Quality & Efficiency in Government...Really??

In his latest blog posted in May, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski shares his thoughts on "The Government/Quality Puzzle". It is a puzzle in deed. As a lean six sigma practitioner, I have always thought of governments in general as being full of waste, errors and inefficiencies. I used to tell people that if government actually allows improvements to happen, we would be out of debt by now! Why is it so difficult then? Well, there are plenty of reasons. Check out this article posted on Industry Week website in 2011.
ASQ conducted a survey and "Survey respondents identified the biggest obstacle to implementing Lean Six Sigma in U.S. government is the very structure of the U.S. federal government, which they say can be a barrier to comprehensive evaluation." It also goes on to say that obstacles such as "conflicting strategies, goals, and priorities", "a lack of familiarity with Lean Six Sigma" and "ongoing political partisanship" hurt the advancement of performance improvement in government. When someone new comes into office, he/she may put a stop on years of effort because they have the power to do so. Unfortunately, politics and personal interests may get in the way. The following article by Thomas Pyzdek is a great example of successful improvement efforts by current office and the discouraging plans of the incoming executive. I guess the good news is that there was some success to reduce waste even though it wouldn't last long. Thinking back a few years, I remember the discussions that took place in my six sigma black belt class. There were a few candidates sent from government agencies and their stories were similar to the above. Challenges facing quality and performance improvement exist in almost all industries, but they are more pressing in government. We read about ad hoc improvement projects, awarded agencies, successful efforts that are encouraging at times, but in order for the government to embrace quality and performance improvement, there must be a commitment to long-term transformation. Do you think it is possible?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Job Satisfaction in Quality

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks the question on April's blog: "Are quality professionals happy on the job?" I have asked this question to myself many times while working as a quality engineer, later as a continuous improvement leader and now as a lean/six sigma black belt. I must say that my happiness increased as my knowledge and skills developed further, but it also depended upon the organization I worked in and its management. At times, it was a roller coaster ride. If an organization does not appreciate quality much and asks quality dept to fix all of their problems, employees may find themselves in a difficult position that creates a lot of stress and frustration. On the other hand, in organizations with embedded quality culture and systems, employees seem to be more satisfied and happy because their role is well-understood and valued within the organization and they can be more proactive rather than being reactive all the time. Quality professionals who are involved in all stages of product development as well as continuous improvement projects are most likely to enjoy what they do and be more satisfied with their contribution. I'm personally going through this stage. In the early years of my career in quality, I was much more stressed because of the feeling like the only person who is willing to solve the problems and no one seemed to care as much as I did. Management was supportive when it comes to training and certification, but they lacked in establishing an effective strategy for quality. There was no vision or a good structure that eventually led to the collapse of the quality organization. I needed a change. When I made the transition to continuous improvement, I noticed the difference. I had the opportunity to focus on improvement initiatives and lead teams to make a difference. The vision was clear and the structure was good. I had excellent mentors who stood by me and coached me along the way. As I became more experienced, I looked for opportunities where I know quality and continuous improvement are valued. Thankfully, I still feel the same way about my current position. So, here is my view on happiness on the job. Working with a group of people who share the same views on quality and an organization that embraces continuous improvement are must-haves for job satisfaction in quality.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thoughts on "selling" quality

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski writes in March's blog: "How do you "sell" quality?" This is a great question and I wish I had a simple answer for it. As a professional in quality and performance improvement, like many of you, I do my best to promote quality and coach organizations in building a quality culture. Were my efforts successful at all times? Not necessarily. For instance, when there is a quality issue with products or service, everyone seems to agree and loudly say that "we need to do a better job", "quality must be our no.1 priority", and so on. After the meeting is adjourned, people are back to their business and usual ways. In the end, not much has changed and problems reoccur. I have often witnessed situations like this and I always asked myself why organizations "do not always do what they say they do". If quality is not built into an organization's culture, one or two people in quality department who are trying to make a difference will not be enough. Top management must commit to quality and build a culture where there is accountability, motivation and strong understanding of expectations. It may take years for an organization to reach the summit. There should be more emphasis on hiring senior executives who understands quality along with an excellent track record. Managers and employees should be encouraged to exceed expectations by providing incentives and on-going training. Performance scorecards should tie into this so that quality is not only perceived as quality department's job. Most importantly, organization's vision, mission and values must represent the commitment to quality and operational excellence. I believe and hope that this commitment will be much more necessary for companies to survive in a highly competitive global market. Today's buyers have the option to compare products and services online. They are not only looking at the price, but also for brands and names that are known to have excellent quality. Ratings and customer reviews influence buyers' decisions. So, who will be the winner here? The one that sells high quality at low prices..

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on Lean..

When I watched the video "Toast" for the first time, I realized that the way my house is set to function is exactly that, "Lean at Home". Toaster next to the fridge, bread by the toaster, washing dishes while waiting on the toaster, etc.. People sometimes think that lean principles are out of this world, but many of us already follow them at home. I enjoy watching HGTV and always appreciate how they organize cluttered spaces. Designers are thinking lean while creating a more organized and eye-pleasing rooms. I'm sure many of you do the same. While there is so much lean surrounding us in many ways, why is it such a challenge to implement it in office or shop floor? Doesn't it seem like common sense? Well, common sense is not as common. If it was, everything would makes sense to everyone the same way. This becomes much more difficult when a group of people from various backgrounds and experience are assigned to come up with improvements. People have different ideas on organizing a workspace, for example. As a lean leader, how do you get people to agree on improvement ideas when you are assigned to get the job done and make a difference in a short period of time? I see lean leaders/facilitators/implementers like designers on HGTV. A designer must listen to the client, learn about the current state and client's desires/requirements in order to develop the future state. This is similar to what lean leaders do. Learn about the current state/process by conversing with process experts. On the day of the lean event, the leader who is already familiar with the current state has most likely formulated some ideas to improve the process. During brainstorming sessions, the leader/facilitator asks a lot of questions to team members and directs everyone to think about lean principles while developing ideas. The goal is to reach the future state by getting the team involved and making sure that the team own those ideas. Surely, a lot of back and forth and tweaking happens after that, but eventually, the leader's job is to reach the goals as well as satisfy the team similar to what a designer would have to do in order to please the client. As a lean leader myself, I strongly believe in initiating valuable discussions among team members during an event and ask questions in a way that the right answers will eventually come out of team members. I prefer them saying it rather than me enforcing it on them. By doing so, people eventually agree on what makes sense, that is, lean thinking...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Theory of Constraints for Healthcare Improvement

Understanding the system and identifying the weakest link to focus improvement efforts is a sensible approach for healthcare improvement. If anyone has any experience in this methodology in healthcare, feel free to reply to this blog and share your experience.
Here is a link that caught my interest today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

ASQ Influential Voices - Raising interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski writes in February's blog: "How can we, those who understand, use, and love science and technology, pass it along? For those outside of the U.S., how is STEM taught and encouraged in your country?". When I was in elementary school, math and science were not my favorite subjects. I had a hard time understanding the logic. I have always been a top student throughout my school years, but something had to happen to change my views on math and science in order to keep it that way. My parents did a great job in encouraging me and my sister to do well in school without enforcing it on us. My father graduated from the top rated technical university in Turkey so he definitely loved math and science. He is one of those people who can hold hundreds of phone numbers in his memory for years! In 6th grade, I was challenged even more in math class as it was getting harder to comprehend. I was feeling upset about this so I approached my parents for some help. My father said to me, "If you give me an hour of your time, I guarantee you will get it", and that's exactly what happened.  That "one hour" changed everything for me. I was also lucky to have great math teachers in later years. My father's love and passion for math and science led the way for me to become an engineer and I thank him for that. His teachings were simple and easy to understand. There is no benefit in complicating math in early stages of education. If children get the basics right, everything else will make more sense.

I had the opportunity to attend senior year in high school in the U.S. and I witnessed the challenge students were facing in math and science. I asked myself why there is a lack of interest. Again, the answer that I found was that students were missing the basics. What I decided to do was to help students and start tutoring on basics. I pretty much continued to do this throughout my college years. Remembering the past, one of my friends ended up getting A's in college algebra after a couple math sessions. I strongly believe that if teachers can simplify math for students, there will be more interest. Also, showing students the magic of math surrounding our lives, will encourage them to pass it along to their classmates. If a student is good in math and science, why not ask him/her to volunteer in tutoring other students? That way, passion and knowledge is shared and students' confidence elevates.

University of North Texas, where I graduated as an engineer, hosted a great program called DC BEST during my undergrad years. Students from different schools in the area compete against each other by showing off their creations "robots". You won't believe the level of teamwork, excitement, passion and creativity coming out of these young students. As their website states, " Engineers and other technical professionals from local industries serve as team mentors who advise and guide students through the design and construction of their machines". Isn't it a great way of encouraging younger generations in math and science and preparing them to become the next superstars of engineering and technology?

The future of STEM is promising. As parents, teachers, mentors and professionals, we can do better in developing technical skills among younger generations by focusing on the basics and keeping it fun!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The effectiveness of pre- and post-decision analysis while making major organizational changes. This is a great case study that can benefit all improvement professionals. The importance of stakeholder involvement for or against the change and validating the results by quantitative metrics is emphasized.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Effective communication

From manufacturing to healthcare..

Soon, I will be transitioning from manufacturing to healthcare. I've been interested in healthcare for a while due to its growth and improvement potential. All of us are patients at some point in our lives (may be multiple times) and we all look for an excellent patient care in hospitals, clinics, doctor's office, etc. Whenever I visit a healthcare provider, my eyes notice the areas of improvement and I sometimes suggest some ideas to the personnel. Do you do the same too? There is definitely a competition between hospitals and they all want to be the best healthcare provider. In order to achieve this and stay that way, strong emphasis on continuous improvement is put in place across all levels of the organizations. The environment is much different than in manufacturing, but regardless of where it is, a process is a process and it can be improved. Improvement tools developed for manufacturing are now widely utilized in other industries. The challenge is to find the right tools for the right application. I usually favor an integrated approach where different methods and analysis tools are available and applied interchangeably depending on the situation. Whatever works mentality. However, at a higher level, it is a must to have a defined strategy and structure to the continuous improvement approach. I'm looking forward to the new chapter in my career and continue to "lead the change" for the better.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Greetings to all ASQ Influential Voices!

As a proud senior member of this organization, I have been looking for ways to connect with other members and people who are passionate about quality in an online environment other than Linked In or Facebook.  This is a great opportunity to share ideas, knowledge, opinions and experience. My vision for starting this program is to raise the voice of quality among younger members of ASQ who are willing to lead the change for many years to come.  I was named to one of the "40 New Voices of Quality" by QP magazine in November 2011. ASQ does an excellent job in encouraging younger professionals pursue their dreams and become strong voices of quality globally. I'm very excited about Influential Voices! Looking forward to a fantastic year of blogging with all of you!