Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - April 2000 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - April 2000


The SPC Troubleshooting Guide

Ronald Blank. 1998. New York: Quality Resources. 69 pages.

Reviewed by William Kohnen University of Phoenix

The SPC Troubleshooting Guide is a concise and well-thought-out guideline for evaluating a SPC system. Initially it may appear to be a simple handbook to assist operators, technicians, and new practitioners; however, because of the author’s ability to clearly state potential issues, why issues need to be fixed, and root causes, the book also is an excellent tool for the experienced SPC guru or consultant.

In the book’s introduction, “What SPC Is Supposed To Do?” in less than three pages, without statistical jargon that would turn off most potential clients or high-level managers, Blank gets to the bottom of what SPC is trying to achieve–reduced variation and keeping the process capable of meeting the customer requirements that will result in higher profits (p. 2). Improving the profitability of a company’s performance certainly is the bottom line for a commercial organization’s existence, and, therefore, improving or fixing an SPC process supports the most important organizational goal.

Having established the importance of improving or fixing an organization’s SPC system, a very good system-level audit checklist is provided as well as a checklist for evaluating chart-level performance. A very good list of symptoms that should prompt an audit and would need to be addressed is provided–again in straightforward terms.

  • The defect rate is highly variable.
  • Productivity is highly variable.
  • Frequent errors in SPC calculations or procedures occur.
  • The cost of doing SPC is unusually high.
  • Customer representatives or quality auditors find noncompliances when examining the SPC system.
  • Employees frequently complain about having to do SPC.
  • The process capability is frequently too low.
  • The control charts are frequently out of control.
  • Process adjustments are very frequent.

On a more detailed chart level many sample distribution charts are provided that would indicate specific process problems. Along with providing a quick guide for identifying and naming problems, suggested solutions are provided as well.

The third chapter “When The Process Does Not Stay In Control,” contains the most technical information, although it continues to remain well balanced in providing sources and solutions to problems. A good level of detail is given to identifying and describing five universal principles that, if violated, will result in chronically uncontrolled processes.

The final chapter “Effective Corrective Actions,” is perhaps the most useful of all, as it provides three tables that provide symptom and root cause information for a total SPC system, excessive variation, and average related symptoms. Best of all is the final summarized table of causes and corrective actions. While the details of problems would, of course, vary from industry to industry the overall causes and corrective actions provided appear to be fairly universal.

In summary, what this book provides is an excellent overview for troubleshooting SPC systems. Written in a concise, user-friendly format, this guide is an excellent tool for operators and technicians who must understand why prior corrective actions may have not worked. However, perhaps the best potential users of this guide would be consultants or corporate quality representatives of large organizations, both of whom frequently are asked to solve problems in many different types of facilities producing a variety of products. This guide provides approaches and solutions that are universal enough to result in improvements in any industry.

The Biology of Business: Decoding the Natural Laws of Enterprise

John Henry Clippinger III, Editor. 1999. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 304 pages.

The Biology of Business is an anthology designed to describe what it means to manage today’s business using the concepts derived from the science of complex adaptive systems (CAS). The premise for CAS is attributed to the works of Stuart Kauffman (1933), John Holland (1992, 1995), and others who study artificial life (Langton 1992) (p. 8). CAS is derived from the biological concept that things organize themselves at a point called the “sweet spot” between excessive order and excessive disorder. Holland (1995) described seven basic elements of this self-organizing behavior, which include four properties-aggregation, nonlinearity, flows, and diversity, and three mechanisms-tagging, building blocks, and internal models (p. 10).

Clippinger introduces the work with an explanation of CAS in chapter 1, “Order from the Bottom Up: Complex Adaptive Systems and Their Management.” This is probably a more descriptive title for the book than The Biology of Business: Decoding the Natural Laws of Enterprise. He does an excellent job of showing that nature is more than a metaphor for organizations but is, in fact, a dynamic model for them. Nature consistently evolves robust organizations that are able to cope with the stress of both past and future environments in which they survive and reproduce. The structure that these organizations take is not dictated by a central authority nor are they clearly defined prior to their emergence. Clippinger finishes this piece with a brief description of Holland’s seven basic elements of this self-organizing behavior, which the authors of the nine other pieces that constitute the book are built upon. Clippinger also contributed chapter 3, “Tags: The Power of Labels in Shaping Markets and Organizations.”

One piece in the anthology “Heterarchy: Distributing Authority and Organizing Diversity” by David Stark, presents a new logic of organizing based on neither the market nor hierarchy. He further defines the concept by saying: “Whereas hierarchies involve relations of dependence and markets involve relations of independence, heterarchies involve relations of interdependence” (p. 159). He supports his concept with observations of the transformation taking place in the societies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He shows how the people of these regions are moving toward capitalism by creating networks of informal ties that cut across former organizations that thwarted free trade the redefined markets require. Although Stark acknowledges that these diverse networks may be discordant, he justifies it under the CAS concept of adaptability that contributes to the robustness of the economy that is evolving.

Each contributor has developed an equally unique insight into the use of the CAS concept to support the changing business environment. From law to what things are called (tags), the concepts are well developed, fully supported by documented research, and consistent with the seven basic elements of this self-organizing behavior.

Works cited

Holland, J. H. 1992. Adaptation in natural and artificial systems. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

––. 1995. Hidden order: How adaptations build complexity. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Kauffman, S. A. 1993. The origin of order: Self-organization and selection in evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Langton, C. G., C. Taylor, J. D. Farmer, and S. Rasnussen. Editors. 1992. Artificial life II: Proceedings of the Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, vol. 10. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Total Quality in Purchasing and Supplier Management

Ricardo Fernandez. 1995. Boca Raton, Fla.: St. Lucie Press. 327 pages.

Reviewed by William J. Kohnen University of Phoenix

Total Quality in Purchasing and Supplier Management is part of a series on total quality that has the goal of publishing subject-specific books on total quality with specific how-to examples for the fields of education, human resources, R&D, marketing, information systems, and purchasing. One of the things common to all these titles is that they reference and contain abstracts of many articles published in trade magazines such as Quality Progress, Human Resources Management, and The TQM Magazine. While certainly these publications are well known, there are a number of problems with this approach. One problem is that most information in these magazines is anecdotal; therefore, it is difficult to make the leap to basing programs, and perhaps millions of dollars, on individual conclusions resulting from uncontrolled experience. A second problem is that the abstracts are all dated even before the books were first published. In the case of Total Quality in Purchasing and Supplier Management, the articles abstracted are from 1992 and earlier, and the book was first published in 1995.

Fernandez gained his experience with Florida Power and Light, where he was involved with preparation of audit material for the Deming Quality Prize. In this capacity he served as a presenter to the Deming Quality Prize auditors for the procurement unit. While this book does provide some good benchmark information about supplier certification and performance evaluation it is not really a resource that covers total quality for the entire purchasing function. The book describes total quality as covering every process, job, and person (p. 16), yet it does not extend this concept by providing a complete guide to purchasing. The book spends virtually no time addressing a key concern of purchasing–price. The only mention given to materials pricing is from pages 8-10 to acknowledge it has an effect on a company’s profitability. Fernandez suggests that the only way to improve profitability is to improve performance of suppliers by using a supplier rating system. Even the scope of this suggestion is limited because of the author’s public utility background.

There are three worthwhile chapters in the book: “Supplier Certification,” “Supplier Measurement and Feedback,” and “Strategy for Implementation” (of a supplier quality management program). Unfortunately the remaining eight chapters are not particularly helpful for either purchasing or quality professionals. For purchasing professionals there is no information given on many key processes such as pricing, negotiations, or logistics issues. For quality professionals the large amount of basic information regarding items such as “What is total quality?” The “Deming Prize vs. The Baldrige Award,” ISO, and the plan-do-check-act cycle are not very helpful.

This would have been a far better offering if the subject had been focused on supplier certification in the public utility industry. When the book sticks to this area it provides good information. Unfortunately it contains much additional information that is not helpful.

Implementing Your Strategic Plan: How to Turn “Intent” into Effective Action for Sustainable Change.

C. Davis Fogg. 1999. New York: American Management Association. 433 pages.

C. Davis Fogg presents a comprehensive look at change management techniques used in support of an organization’s strategic plan. He unfolds his approach as 18 tasks that he derived from his management experience and interviews with a small sample of senior executives from a wide variety of organizations. The result is an informative how-to book that links a variety of contemporary organization development concepts, conservative management theory ideas, and anecdotal observations to articulate Fogg’s ideas for successful change in any organization.

One of the underlying concepts that Fogg purports is “No pain, no change” (p. 353). While this quote appears in the key called “Communicate to Everyone, All the Time,” it is indicative of the draconian methods he suggests throughout his model. He strongly recommends that senior management paint vivid pictures of the painful things that have to be done to solve the hideous problems that are eroding the very existence of the organization during the first 6 to 24 months of any plan for change. These actions are specifically addressed in the keys described under the heading of “Fixing the Organization.” The titles of the keys in this section provide a good idea of their content: “5: Change the Organizational Structure–Fast;” “6: Change the People–Fast;” “7: Foster Creative Leadership and Mental Toughness;” and “8: Remove Resistance.”

The keys presented under the heading of “Providing an Environment in Which People Can Excel” entitled “Select, Train, and Develop for the Future–Now” and “Fix Broken Core Processes” are noteworthy. A strong case is made for making a continuing investment in training at all levels to support the long-term goals of the organization. Fogg makes the point that the organization is “better off, in terms of both cost and future effectiveness, if you develop talent from within” (p. 287). To do this, he suggests that each individual identified as having potential for growth in a managerial or functional expert position have a specific training plan to prepare them for increased responsibility in the organization. The plans should include opportunities for continuous development in what he calls “executional skills, long-term skills, and leadership development.” The material that supports his notion of training and development is well presented and detailed to the point of including specific training course outlines.

Fogg’s uses a market-driven approach to identify the core processes of an organization, beginning with the customer. Here he says, “Core processes are the most important work of the organization-producing the goods and services that meet customer needs” (p. 318). He stresses the importance of using continuous improvement teams to assure the output of the organization keeps its processes ahead of the competition in terms of quality and cost.

As a how-to book, Implementing Your Strategic Plan provides a wide array of illustrations, charts, and lists of activities needed to implement change in an organization. The material is easy to grasp and the keys are not necessarily sequential; so information in any of the keys can be used alone. In the last chapter of the book Fogg shows how the entire strategic and implementation planning process he presents can be executed as a multiyear change effort.

The Intelligent Organization: Engaging the Talent and Initiative of Everyone in the Workplace

Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot. 1996. San Francisco: Perrett-Koehler Publishing. 399 pages.

The Intelligent Organization provides a fresh view of what organizations can be if they overcome the bureaucratic framework upon which they were built. Using documented examples of firms that have evolved to a higher level of structure, the Pinchots show how organizational freedom, creativity, and collaboration can be used to effectively respond to the demands of today’s business environment. The ideas they present are inspirational as well as practical in providing a model for coping with the demands of the business world today.

The Pinchots have developed a model for the intelligent organization that consists of seven essentials. These are divided into two groups of three, named “freedom of choice” and “responsibility for the whole.” These two groups are set on a foundation essential called “limited corporate government” following Thomas Jefferson’s adage “That government is best which governs least,” which they quote (p. 309).

Freedom of choice deals with information, authority, and the use of teams to make decisions. Formation of teams is depicted as more than having a group of individuals meet regularly to address a common issue. “Liberated teams,” as the Pinchots call them, need a “shared purpose that energizes everyone and gives them adequate reason to abandon self-aggrandizement, self-protection, and destructive internal politics” (p. 202). The idea is to unify to contribute to the survival of the organization in the marketplace. Following on this concept, liberated teams do create meaningful goals, realistic deadlines, and personalized criteria for success that satisfy both the customer’s expectations and organization’s needs. A challenge to the concept of liberated teams is how to coordinate the work of the various teams without inhibiting them or allowing wasteful duplication of effort when different teams enter into one another’s territories.

Responsibility for the whole deals with coordination from a broader perspective by identifying the conditions for productive collaborative relationships between organizational members and others they work with and serve. The issues here are framed by the ideas of equality and diversity, voluntary learning networks, and democratic self-rule. Voluntary learning networks are based on the concept of systems thinking, which is said to “focus on the relationship among parts rather than on detailed analysis of each part” (p. 282). In this way a variety of networks can be established that can more effectively transmit vital information throughout the organization than the traditional hierarchical one, which tends to filter communication that travels both up and down its formalized conduits.

The Intelligent Organization is very compelling case for moving from the bureaucratic structure of organizations defined by Max Weber in the early 1900s to one that is better suited to cope with the demands of the marketplace. The material presented and the rational behind it have the potential to become the foundation for organizations that succeed in the twenty-first century. Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot have done a excellent job in developing a solid concept of the future in this book.

The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management

Eric Verzuh. 1999. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 332 pages.

Project management has developed into a valued managerial ability in all organizations. Verzuh has made a significant contribution to The Fast Forward MBA Series of books by preparing a comprehensive, well-documented, and practical presentation of the essence of both the art and science of this important managerial skill. The book provides more than a broad bush review of the tools and techniques of planning, conducting, and evaluating a project in that it gives specific case studies that demonstrate the importance of knowing both the theory and practice involved in managing a successful project.

The opening part of the book provides an excellent overview of the history of project management. It stresses the relationship between cost, schedule, and quality dubbed as the “quality equilibrium” (p.19). Philip Crosby is cited repeatedly in the book to reinforce the fact that quality is an integral part of any project in all its phases.

In the second part of the book, maintenance of the proper relationship of these three factors is shown to be critical in assuring that overall success of the project in the eyes of all its stakeholders. Here the importance of clearly defining who the stakeholders are and identifying their expectations is made clear. The specific document that contributes to effective management of the project at this stage is the statement of work because it defines what is to be done during the life of the project.

After the specifications have been established, Verzuh provides the tools and techniques to plan how the project is to proceed. Here, Steve McConnell is cited to support the importance for planning for quality (p. 114). The importance of detecting and fixing errors in the planning process is quantified under the standard quality cost adage that each hour spent in quality assurance activities during planning will save 10 hours downstream. This is reinforced by additional material from Crosby cited in the final chapter on planning, which is based on the premise that the cost of doing things twice is far greater than doing them right the first time (p. 203).

Given clear objectives and a solid plan the work of the project manager moves to actually doing the project. During this phase Verzuh stresses that communication and measurement are the keys to success. He provides specific guidance to assure that the project remains focused, on schedule, and within budget, and backs it up with flexible tools that can be used to monitor and control the project to completion.

The final part of the book summarizes the presentation by showing how a project can be organized and how to apply the art of project management to solve problems. An appendix illustrates the process by presenting a detailed planning model of a project that employs the tools and techniques presented in the book.

The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management is a well-written book that includes documented illustrations and case studies that support the concepts presented.

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