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What’s the Value of ISO 9001? January 25, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, strategy.
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Earlier tonight I called in to listen to a presentation given at my local American Society of Quality (ASQ) chapter meeting about some of the changes in the ISO 9001 specification in the new 2015 version. I thought the speaker did a great job. He’s a consultant who makes his living helping companies become ISO 9001 certified and preparing for audits. He highlighted the differences in the new version of ISO 9001, and provided some useful tips about how to prepare for the updated requirements.

I don’t think he intended to do this, but he also made me question the purpose of ISO 9001 certification, and specifically whether it’s worth the time and money and effort.

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The Battle Over Discrepant Material January 19, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, Supply chain.
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Quality issues have been on my mind a lot lately, specifically some of the more frustrating things that I’ve had to deal with during my career as a quality manager. In my last job my team was responsible for managing the discrepant material review (DMR) process for our US-based factory.

For those who are unfamiliar, the DMR process is how most factories deal with raw materials or other inputs that have been identified as possibly defective and unsuitable for use. Incoming materials that don’t pass visual inspection or other testing are supposed to be sequestered so they can’t go into production. Later, the DMR process is used to determine what to do with that material. The choices are usually:

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What Is the Quality Team Responsible For? (Part 2) January 11, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Quality.
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If “everyone is responsible for quality,” then what is the quality team responsible for? This isn’t a trick question. If a team or department (or person) doesn’t have a clear, distinct, and ideally-unique assigned responsibility, then should they continue to exist as a separate entity in the organization? Shouldn’t they be doing something else instead, as part of another team?

Of course many businesses don’t have a separate quality team or department at all, and others have chosen to eliminate the quality department as an independent function. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care about quality. Some of these businesses would probably argue that they have a greater commitment to quality because those principles and tools are fully integrated into all of their functions and processes. Why should all of the Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts be located in one central organization? Why not build local competencies within the functional groups, whether in new product development or marketing or finance?

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“Speaking of Reliability” Podcasts January 2, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, Supply chain.
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My friend and former colleague Fred Schenkelberg has started a regular podcast called Speaking of Reliability (SOR) featuring informal conversations on a variety of topics related to quality and reliability engineering. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this series.

I encourage you to check out the recordings at Fred’s Accendo Reliability web site:

http://accendoreliability.com/series/sor/

So far our conversations have been focused on supply chain issues, including how to get suppliers engaged in failure analysis and reliability improvements. You’ll find me on the following recordings:

  • SOR 013: The Design and the Supplier’s Capability
  • SOR 014: Importance of Clear Communication Across the Supply Chain
  • SOR 015: Dealing with the Drive to the Lowest Cost Supplier
  • SOR 016: Breaking the “Profit in Repair” Dilemma
  • SOR 017: Examples of Great Supplier Relationships
  • SOR 018: How to Build a Valuable Relationship with Your Supplier
  • SOR 027: The Need to Collaborate on System Failure Analysis
  • SOR 028: Failure Analysis Best Practices

You can also find the Speaking of Reliability podcasts on iTunes. Give a listen and let us know what you think.

What Is the Quality Team Responsible For? (Part 1) January 2, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Quality.
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A few weeks ago I had coffee with a quality manager who’s now the president of our local chapter of the American Society of Quality. I’ve made a couple of presentations at the chapter meetings, and I’m helping to manage their web site, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before they asked me to take a leadership position. I declined. My short answer is that I’m “just too busy,” but of course that just means that I’m not willing to make time for it. To quote Bob Dylan: “I used to care, but things have changed.” More on that later.

The chapter president and I shared war stories about our experiences in quality management. His stories are a little more recent, but the underlying themes are the same, and I suspect quality managers one hundred years from now will be experiencing similar frustrations and telling similar stories. Everybody has stories, but I think the unique issues that quality managers face come down to a few fundamental questions:

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“Dare to Know” Reliability Engineering Podcasts January 12, 2015

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Product design, Quality.
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Over the last several months I’ve been working on a project with my friend and former colleague Fred Schenkelberg on a series of podcasts with thought leaders in the world of reliability engineering. Reliability and quality professionals have a tough job, but they’re not alone. There’s a large and growing community of experienced engineers, managers, authors, and other experts who are available to share their practical expertise and insights. Our Dare to Know interviews provide the opportunity to hear from these leaders and learn about the latest developments in analysis techniques, reliability standards, and business processes.

You can access the interviews at Fred’s Accendo Reliability web site: http://www.fmsreliability.com/accendo/dare-to-know/

Let me know what you think, or if you’re interested in joining us for a future interview.

Check Out “Document Center” December 11, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, Supply chain.
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I don’t typically use this forum for recommendations, but here’s something I can support enthusiastically. My friends at Document Center manage and sell a comprehensive collection of industry and government standards from around the world. Customers who want to clearly express their requirements and quality expectations should be referencing standards in their communications with suppliers. Standards are developed through the cooperative efforts of experienced teams with deep understanding of their respective industries. While your specific product may have unique requirements, it’s important to use standards as a starting point rather than creating something from scratch. Your suppliers should already be familiar with them, and you should be as well.

If you’re looking for standards that are appropriate for your industry, or the most recent version of a standard that you’re currently using, go to Document Center. While you’re there, take a look at the guest blog that I contributed to the site last month at: Does Anyone In China Pay Attention to Standards?.

Suspending My Job Search November 30, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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In my last post I wrote about my frustrating year doing everything you’re supposed to do in order to find a job, and nevertheless failing to find a job. I think it’s time to try the one thing I haven’t tried so far. I’m going to stop looking for a job, and I’m going to stop applying for jobs.

I’ve turned off all those automated web crawlers that are supposed to find jobs to fit my profile. I’m not going to waste my time tweaking my resume or my LinkedIn profile any more. I’m not going to quit LinkedIn, but I’ve cut back on my contributions to the group discussions, some of which felt like shameless self-promotion. I’ll continue writing and networking, but I’m going to try not to think about whether it helps or hurts my job search.

I’m tired of the daily rejection. I’m tired of people telling me that I’m overqualified. I’m tired of other people telling me that I have a great background and that any company would be lucky to have me. I’m tired of worrying about age discrimination, or how long it’s been since I had a full-time job. I’m tired of hearing the same advice over and over again.

I’ve been waking up every day and actively looking for a job for over a year, so this isn’t going to be easy. I know I’m going to worry that the “ideal job” will be posted somewhere tomorrow, and they’re not going to find me because I didn’t find the job and apply for it. If there’s a job out there for me, the recruiter is going to have to find me on their own. Maybe playing “hard to get” is the better strategy right now.

I still want a job. Starting in January I’m going to be teaching classes in project management and supply chain management as an adjunct professor at two local universities, so I’ll be busy. I love teaching, and it’s always been my plan to transition into an adjunct role after retirement. However, I’m too young to retire, and I can’t afford to retire (or, I’m not ready to make the changes I would need to make in order to retire). I’m not ready (yet) to give up on the idea that there’s a team out there somewhere that can benefit from my experience, skills, and talents.

Just about everything good that’s ever happened to me has come unexpectedly. Maybe it’s time to relax and let things happen for a change. This isn’t my comfort zone. I prefer to make things happen. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.

My Year in Job Search November 8, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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I was laid off a little over a year ago, and I’ve spent part of every day since then looking for a job. In the last year I’ve had 1-on-1 meetings with over 150 people at coffee shops all over northern Colorado. Some of these folks I knew already, but most of them were people I found on LinkedIn or through referrals. Some people I’ve met just by walking up and saying hello. I’ve attended almost 100 networking events, including local chapter meetings of national professional organizations and job search workgroups. I’ve applied to at least five jobs every week. I’ve had 23 phone screenings, 6 on-site interviews, and zero job offers.

I think I’ve done everything that the job search experts say you’re supposed to do, although I’m always open to new suggestions. I’ve got a list of over 20 target companies in the area, and I’ve got good connections at all of them. I received outplacement services, and at this point I’m sure I could teach others how to look for a job. I’ve been posting regularly to my blog on WordPress, and I’ve been participating in on-line discussions on LinkedIn, and I opened a site on ScoopIt to highlight news items from my field of expertise, all intended to establish and maintain professional credibility. I started a personal web site to provide some details about my work accomplishments and methods. I’ve given talks at professional meetings, and I was a guest lecturer at the local university before becoming an adjunct professor, teaching project management, strategic planning, and supply chain management.

I joined a volunteer committee to help new job seekers get started with LinkedIn. I was asked to write five chapters for the ninth edition of a technical handbook that will be published next year. I’ve been a guest blogger for two other sites. I’m working with a former colleague to record podcast interviews with authors and industry leaders in reliability and quality. I spent a year studying Spanish, and now I’m working on Mandarin Chinese.

While my focus has been on finding a full-time job, I’ve let everyone know that I’m also open to temporary contract positions and consulting. I’m willing to commute long distances, and I would consider relocation. Despite my considerable experience and training, I’ve lowered my salary expectations. I’ve been told that I’m over-qualified. No one has told me that I’m too old, but I worry about age discrimination. I worry about the stigma that goes with long-term unemployment: the longer this goes on, the more likely hiring managers will assume that there’s something really wrong with me.

I’ve been told that my resume is the problem, and I tweak it regularly. I send cover letters and follow-up with my connections (almost 1500 people on LinkedIn). I’ve sent Pain Letters to help companies imagine how I could help them solve their problems. I’ve been told that the red background on my photo in LinkedIn is the problem. I’ve gotten a lot of conflicting advice from folks who mean well. I’ve just about run out of ideas, and I’m not sure if doing the same things over and over again will lead to a different result.

I keep plugging away, but I’m beginning to wonder whether corporate America has a place for me. I’m busy and optimistic most days, and I try not to let myself be defined by my unemployed status. We’ll see what happens next.

Can Business Process Variability Be a Good Thing? October 6, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Product design, Quality.
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At least once a month I see an on-line discussion that starts with someone taking the position that companies who focus on operational excellence using six-sigma or lean techniques are doomed because they can’t possibly be innovative at the same time. There seem to be several assumptions in this argument: (1) all companies must innovate in order to compete, (2) innovation in operations management somehow doesn’t count, (3) application of six-sigma or lean in one area of the business means that you can’t innovate elsewhere, and (4) innovation is inherently incompatible with six-sigma or lean. As you can probably guess, I don’t agree with all of those assumptions, and I’ve written about this previously in the context of design and product development processes (see Innovative Design vs. Lean Product Development).

I’d like to explore this a little further. We can quibble about definitions, but let’s assume that six-sigma is about reducing variability and lean is about eliminating waste. In the world of business processes, strict application of these techniques would mean strict adherence to standard processes, measuring the performance of these processes, and continuously improving them by finding and eliminating sources of variability and non-value-added activities. Should lean and six-sigma be universally applied to all business processes? Can some variability and “waste” actually be good for the business?

I think it is. Look, if you care about the result, and you need the result to be predictable and consistent, then you need a process. Innovation, however, isn’t predictable, by definition, and I can’t imagine constraining creativity with a process. If you’re not open to consider different ways of doing things, then you’re not going to be very good at anticipating or responding to disruptive changes in the market or competitive environment. You’ll be constrained by the current process and business model. Continuous improvement is good and necessary, but sometimes you have to throw out the old to make room for something new and better. There are many, many examples of businesses that became irrelevant because they focused entirely on improving a process that proved to be outdated and inflexible. The businesses that thrive are the ones who balance process improvement with process innovation.

Where does process innovation come from? Often it comes from people who are modifying existing processes to meet their needs, perhaps without any authorization. Instead of stamping out variability and enforcing conformity, we should be trying to understand why these changes are being made and why the existing process isn’t working. I’m not saying that we should allow everyone to do whatever they please, but we should recognize that innovation requires experimentation, and that means allowing for differences and variability.

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