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How Much Quality Training Do You Need? July 18, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Operations, Quality.
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OK, not everyone needs to be a Six Sigma Black Belt, but what elements of quality training should be provided to everyone in the organization?

When I worked at Hewlett-Packard in the early 1990s, senior leadership in our business unit attended a week-long series of six sigma classes at Xerox. When these HP folks returned they were provided with training materials and required to teach their direct reports about six sigma, and those direct reports were required to teach their direct reports, and so on all the way down the organization to people like me.

At the time, quality was not really part of my official responsibilities. I worked at a desk, creating product marketing programs for an internal supplier. The six sigma training was interesting to me, but I didn’t see the relevance to my daily work. What I remember most about those classes was how we were supposed to organize routine meetings, including assigning roles during the meeting and being clear about the objectives for the meeting. I don’t remember anything that seemed directly applicable to the quality of our output as a business unit, or the quality of the work artifacts that we produced as part of our daily responsibilities. It just didn’t seem relevant.

The plan seems pretty smart in hindsight: training from your manager to implicitly connect job performance expectations to six sigma lessons. However, the lessons were diluted along the way. I’d be surprised if our business unit achieved any improvement in quality or quality-related costs as a result.

If “everyone is responsible for quality,” then what should we teach everyone about quality, especially people who don’t see themselves as having a role to play in making quality possible? Does everyone need to understand how to calculate control limits for a c-chart? Here are my suggestions for a one-day workshop on “Quality for Everyone:”

  • Special vs. common causes: the difference between the random variation that’s inherent in any process vs. variation due to special causes that leads to inconsistent and unpredictable outcomes.
  • The value of consistency in processes: why businesses use processes to help ensure consistent outcomes, and the benefits of eliminating special causes of variation and minimizing the effects of common causes.
  • The cost of poor quality: mistakes cost money, and why it’s better to eliminate the causes of defects instead of relying on testing and inspection.
  • Statistically significant sample size: understand the limitations of small samples, and the dangers of seeing trends that aren’t there.
  • Correlations vs. causations: again, the dangers of seeing relationships between variables that aren’t there, including fallacies such as post hoc ergo propter hoc.
  • Prioritization and focus: why it’s important to work on the most common and most influential causes of defects and poor quality (from a Pareto chart).
  • Using data to measure performance and improvement, and the importance of continuous improvement cycles.

Everyone does have a role in managing quality, and they need some knowledge and understanding of six sigma concepts to fulfill that responsibility. Let’s not overwhelm them with a lot of statistics and jargon that they don’t need.

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