Based in Dallas, TX, Ponmurugarajan Thiyagarajan (Rajan) is a business development manager for Digital Enterprise at Tata Consultancy Services and a senior member of ASQ. He is passionate about quality, digital reimagination solutions and is a “Mac head.”
He blogs at Quality Matters, http://pmr-blog.blogspot.com/
Were you pleasantly surprised when the receptionist at a hotel proactively identified you with a greeting as you were about to check-in? Did a relevant coupon pop-up in your smartphone when you were shopping at a retail store recently? Did you receive a reply to your tweet in social media from your telephone company with an apology note for the service inconvenience caused? If you could answer “Yes” to any of these questions, then big data is mostly that magical element that helped those companies to manage and deliver this customer experience for you. Big data has evolved as an effective tool that can be used by companies to continuously improve aspects such as customer experience, product quality, business processes etc.
Big data is in play when data size is huge (Volume), moves in high speeds (Velocity), comes in variety of forms (Variety) and in varied quality (Veracity) which conventional database systems cannot efficiently process.
Analytics built over big data enable organizations to process structured and unstructured data to derive useful intelligence and provide actionable insights for end-users. The advent of high-speed network connectivity, commodity computer hardware, and open source software such as Hadoop and Non-Hadoop (for example: NoSQL) technologies have made big data a popular technology choice.
There are interesting use cases of big data that can help organizations that are committed to differentiate, innovate, and embrace disruption of conventional processes. For example, wearables (watches, bands, etc.) and connected devices (Internet-of-Things glucometers, connected cars, connected homes, etc.) utilize big data technologies to collect and process huge amounts of real-time data from machines (logs), people (social), and other sensors (internet of things). From these data, organizations get to understand customers’ 360 degree view and derive the ability to contextualize and deliver a personalized experience.
That being said, big data is still a buzzword for many and often perceived as a misused terminology. While some organizations have tested it to work, to a good extent, other companies are still researching it, and some are even hesitant to adopt it at all. One of the key challenges that I can think of is the accuracy and uncertainty around the quality of data that is gathered and processed.
Lack of good data governance is a major cause for this challenge. Also, outliers and incorrect data misdirect users during the decision-making process. Business users demand high quality of data to derive actionable insights. Being an emerging technology area, I believe that big data has to be further researched from a quality point of view. I have these questions for the quality professionals:
All of this has interesting implications for quality professionals who may become involved with big data efforts. Assurance of quality is key in such projects: data clean-up must happen in an automated fashion and reconciliation reports to be produced in real-time to track quality parameters. Thus, relevant tools needs to be built for quality assurance. It will be interesting to see how quality tools such as Plan-Do-Check-Act, the 7 quality tools (Fishbone diagram, Check sheets, Control charts, Histogram, Pareto Charts, Scatter Diagrams, Flow Charts) etc., can be customized for a big data project.
I believe there’s a lot of possibility in this area for quality professionals, as I’ve yet to see any concrete maturity models around big data. This is a potential topic for future research.
To conclude, let me state an example of a large corporation that probably is making the best use of big data. It is Google that really attempts to help users, like me, to plan vacation or business travel in a modern digital way. Right before a recent trip, Google provided relevant notifications and guidance to my smartphone on when to start to the airport, the best route to take to avoid delays, the status of the flight with gate information, hotel booking information, etc.
Google seems to collect a lot of information from users’ mobile devices, emails, internet browsing history etc., to derive and offer useful analytics. It is interesting to note that users, like me, are ready to slightly compromise on privacy (by opt-in) for the benefits we can enjoy. I think this is another good example to demonstrate big data in action.
This is a guest post by Luciana Paulise, the founder of Biztorming Training & Consulting. She is a speaker, author, and examiner for the National Quality Award and Team Excellence Award in Argentina. She is also a columnist for Infobae, Destino Negocio, and a blogger for ASQ Influential Voices. You can visit Luciana’s blog at: http://www.biztorming.com.ar/en/news.
Something was not going well at an organization we’ll call Company ABC, a small business within the automotive industry in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some improvements were being made, many procedures were being followed, and employees were adopting new control processes.
Still, turnover was high, as well as frustration with certain processes that had not shown any improvements at all—while profitability was decreasing. Managers said that line employees were the problem; they were generating issues and not solving them. On the other side, employees were convinced the problem was in the communication channel to top management.
Even though it was a small business, communication from the bottom up was as difficult as in a larger corporation. The owners were asking for feedback on issues, but they were not providing ways to actually receiving the feedback. E-mails to leaders were not being replied to, approvals took longer than expected, and meetings were almost impossible to schedule.
What went wrong in this organization? How could managers and employees bring issues forward as required by a quality culture? How could they strengthen the culture of quality in this environment? What were the main barriers?
Experts says that the employees’ behavior is based on company culture, but what is organizational culture, exactly? As per Wikipedia, “Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits.” But who determines these factors in organizations so as to define the culture?
Usually top management defines which habits or behaviors are right by rewarding or punishing them. Therefore, company culture is modeled upon top management behavior.
That was my “a-ha” moment. The main cultural barrier to making this company a better place was actually the top management. They thought the problem in the organization was their people, but they had not considered themselves as part of the problem. They were not “walking the talk.” And people were noticing it.
Then I recalled Gandhi’s quote: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Leaders needed to take the first step, and needed to be trained to do so. So now the question was, how best to train them?
Edwards Deming developed a leadership model that could be really useful here to train the top. The “System of profound knowledge” that he introduced in his last book, The New Economics, has four interrelated areas: appreciation for a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge, and psychology. Managers were probably not going to get this theory easily, but an analogy could help.
I compared the four areas with four human types of intelligence, so that leaders could understand that they needed to manage their behavior in an integral way so as to solve all the problems at the same time:
- Spiritual: understanding the company in a holistic way, as a system, is appreciating the business as a network of interdependent components that work together to accomplish the same aim. These components includes planning, context, competition, processes, shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, the community, and the environment. Like an orchestra, it’s not enough to have great players. They need to play well together. Leadership needs to focus on all the parts that affect the organization and how they work. The leaders wanted their middle managers to work together, but they didn’t have common objectives, so each of them just focused on their part of the game.
- Intellectual: In any business there are always variations, like defects, errors, and delays. Leaders have to focus on understanding these variations. Are they caused by the system or by the employees? Usually employees are blamed for the errors, but 95% of them are really caused by the company system. Distinguishing the difference between variations by using data and statistical methods, as well as understanding its causes, is key to management’s ability to properly remove barriers to profitability. At company ABC in this case study, leaders were focused on the people, while many delays were due to late approvals, lack of the right tools, and lack of training, which the people (i.e. employees) couldn’t handle.
- Physical: Leaders assert opinions as facts based on hunches, theories, or beliefs, but they don’t always test those opinions against the data before making a decision. Leadership needs to focus on contrasting their ideas with real data from the operations. The automotive shop started to use daily physical scorecards on the walls to capture and communicate real performance numbers, so that leaders and operators could act on them together.
- Emotional: Finally, in order to get real data from the operations, leaders need to work with their people. The problem is that people perform based on how they feel. They are primarily motivated by intrinsic needs, including respect and working with others to achieve common goals, in contrast to simply being motivated by monetary reward. So leadership has to focus on understanding and respecting people so that they can all work together to solve issues. One of the managers used to push a lot on his employees because his monthly payment was based on performance. When his salary was moved to a flat rate, he started to work much better with his team, they all were motivated and happy at work. Turnover decreased sharply.
So my “a-ha” moment in regards to strengthening a culture of quality was that leaders need to change their behavior first if they want to change the entire company culture—and they have to do it through a systemic model considering four types of intelligence.
What about your company? How is leadership helping to develop a quality culture?
Edwin Garro is an ASQ Fellow and founding member of ASQ Section 6000, Costa Rica. He pioneered ASQ certifications in Central America. Currently he serves in ASQ’s awards board. He is an ASQ CQE, CQM/OE, CQI, CQA, CSSGB and CSSBB. He is the CEO of PXS, a leading consulting firm with offices in Costa Rica and Colombia. He has a B.Sc. in Industrial Engineering from the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, and a M.S. in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
In August of this year, I visited a junior high school class at the San Rafael de Poás Technical High School, in the mountains of Alajuela, Costa Rica. This is not a typical junior class; these 15- and 16- year olds will graduate in 2017 with a technical degree in Quality and Productivity.
It was not my first visit to the class. Ever since I discovered this new Quality and Productivity program, I have been fascinated by it. These remarkable teens will certainly play a role in the future of our profession.
The Quality and Productivity Technical Program
As a whole, the cluster of medical devices companies is the largest exporter in Costa Rica. All the big names are here, Baxter, Boston Scientific, Abbott, Hospira, Hologic, Moog, just to name a few. Over the years, many Costa Rican professionals have specialized in “all things FDA,” and being ASQ certified is a formal requirement in many of these firms.
One area in which there is still a shortage of manpower is quality technicians. The Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE) took the concerns of the customer (general managers of the medical devices cluster) and worked with the National Education Ministry (MEP, Ministerio de Educación Pública in Spanish) to create this very innovative program.
Instead of reinforcing the existing associate degrees, they decided to create a high school technical degree in Quality and Productivity. Over a three-year period, students will receive 2,880 hours of education in management fundamentals, process improvement, quality control, quality enterprises and English. Five technical high schools started the pilot deployment last year; Colegio Técnico de Poás started this academic year. Seven more schools will start in the next two years.
Take a look at the objectives of the program, and keep in mind that the students will still be teenagers when they graduate:
1. Prepare technicians in accordance with the demands of current and future markets.
2. Promote the values and attitudes of quality.
3. Encourage the development of creative and critical thinking structures, which will allow students to deal with the continuous changes in social and economic systems.
4. Stimulate a quality and productivity mindset.
5. Promote quality through Statistical Process Control, local and international standards, the study of waste and the effective use of raw materials, seeking sustainable development with the environment.
I myself am the product of a technical high school, having studied graphics arts and printing at Don Bosco Technical High School in the early 1980s. I know the impact of this kind of education. My printing background led me my first general manager position, and for the last 16 years, I have owned a successful lithography business.
Every time I arrive at the school, I tell the students and their teacher, Yesenia Alvarado, an industrial engineer by profession and high school teacher by vocation, how much I admire them. They are part of the first truly global generation. When they enter the job market, their quality knowledge will be a great advantage, even if, as many of them have told me, they go on to college and study something completely different.
During my August visit, I honored a promise I had made last time I came to the school. I told them I would bring all kinds of souvenirs from WQCI in Tennessee. They took my “loot” coming from the booths at exhibit hall, everything from pens to USB memories.
Second I gave them a quick lecture on the future of quality, which is kind of a paradox because they are the future of quality.
Third, and here comes the important part, I made an exercise with them. I asked them about their worries, about how they see the future. We made an affinity diagram exercise (see picture left) and after that a multi-voting session. These teenagers, many of them the sons and daughters of coffee production families, are already thinking about their future jobs and their opportunities in life.
Their three main concerns were:
Lack of good English language skills for the global market
At age 15, they are more worried about the global job market than about prom night or first dates.
To encourage them, I told them that it is precisely their quality education and near future technical degree that will guarantee their full employment and market rate salaries, plus I urged them to pursue full college degrees. It was uplifting to see the students demanding better English classes because they know the current four hours per week is not enough to master a second language.
I don’t know what the future will be for these teens, but I do know that their odds are better with such a good education this early in life. The Costa Rican quality and productivity teenagers give hope to our profession. I view their generation with a lot of optimism and I would be interested to know if there are similar project in other countries.