Enjoyed Article On Uncertainty Managing

All of us at the General Systems Co. read "Managing in Uncertainty: Lessons From the Underground" by Garold R. Spindler (January 2001, p. 83) with great interest.

We have had the pleasure of working with the author in the implementation of the quality management system for Cyprus Amax Coal Co. and find his insightful article provides solid food for thought regarding quality management in mining, as well as in other environments where many variables are not under the direct control of the producer.

The article further confirms what General Systems sees as two critical characteristics for successful quality management systems.

First, in order to be a direct contributor to business results improvement, quality management must comprehensively and systemically drive failure out of all aspects of the business, including the people dimension. Quality management cannot simply address the statistical control of the production process.

Second, quality improvement must be driven by economic payback. The total cost of quality is a powerful management tool that assures the positive economic impact of quality for a company and its customers.

We congratulate Quality Progress for recognizing that, amid the current focus on technology and the Internet, much can still be learned about effective quality management from the basic industries, such as mining.

Vice president, operations
General Systems Co.
Pittsfield, MA 


Management Problem Occurs in Other Industries

I appreciate the frustration expressed by Garold R. Spindler in his quest to manage performance in the face of uncertainty ("Managing in Uncertainty: Lessons From the Underground," January 2001, p. 83). The problem of managing performance in unstable conditions occurs in industries other than mining. The frustration that arises from the desire to manage a chaotic process can be resolved by gaining a clear understanding of the differences among performance evaluation, performance management and the use of performance evaluation tools appropriate for chaotic conditions.

The tools used to evaluate performance under dynamic conditions are probabilistic. These tools are good when you want to get a handle on dynamic systems, and they help make strategic decisions, but they are inappropriate for tactical decisions.

My experience as a pilot and nuclear engineer and my work in performance evaluation lead me to agree with Spindler in his assessment that management cannot be held accountable for safety statistics. Dynamic conditions and chaotic states are unavoidable in many businesses. Thus, it is essential for management to possess performance evaluation tools specifically designed for the dynamic environment, so it can evaluate the effect of change and know whether the change will produce a reduction in risk or an increase in performance.

TevaMetrics, LLC 


Watson Article Echoes Reader's Position

I could not agree more with Gregory H. Watson's "Comments on Quality" in the January 2001 issue of Quality Progress ("We the People ... ," p. 16). His remarks echo the position I have been voicing since election day. Unfortunately, I haven't heard a groundswell of similar sentiment.

I am also discouraged to hear that the Florida courts aren't taking the cases regarding the disenfranchisement of voters seriously. This issue is the foundation of our democracy and needs to be taken seriously by our representatives. I hope Watson and ASQ plan to continue pushing for the sort of reform Watson suggests.

Mentor, OH 


R&D Program Can Fix U.S. Voting Problem

An R&D program to find a better voting mechanism could solve the problem of inaccuracies in voting (Gregory H. Watson, "We the People ... ," January 2001, p. 16).

As an R&D manager for most of my career, I would expect major research organizations to bid on a contract to fix the voting system if a request for proposal were issued on the subject. I envision a multiphase R&D program to fix the voting problem as follows:

Phase I: Gain accurate information on the extent of the problem. This requires access to all the votes--even those that were tossed. Recount the votes, giving consideration to all possible scenarios, including chads, absentee voter applications with retroactive data and the removal of names from voter registration roles. Publish the results of Phase I, including all error bars and an analysis of who won under each scenario. Make this published report available to the public.

Phase II: Invent and develop the conceptual design of a better voting apparatus and a master set of rules to guide its use. Use the report developed in Phase I as a basis.

Phase III: Fabricate a prototype apparatus and test its feasibility on a statistically significant random sample of people.

Phase IV: Engineer, build and test a production model of the apparatus. Assure durability, quality, reliability, verifiability and accuracy.

Phase V: Build a batch of the production models, and test them in the field on a large population, such as during a mayoral race in a large city. Involve the research organization in Phase I for a repeat performance of the error analysis. Make the results public.

Finally, the federal government would require all states to uniformly adopt the new apparatus. Then government bodies would adopt and buy the apparatus in time for the next national election.

Quality Systems Concepts Inc.
New Holland, PA


A National Election Factory Is Not the Answer

I was disgusted with the January 2001 "Comments on Quality" (Gregory H. Watson, "We the People ... ," p. 16). Watson advocates creating a national election factory and calls for standardizing elections at the federal level.

Under his manufacturing analogy, his proposal takes us back to a time when workers were viewed as faceless, unintelligent people, incapable of thinking for themselves. Watson's solution is for upper management or big government to step in and care for these hapless creatures.

Progressive quality management, however, assumes that workers are intelligent and, once empowered, are capable of assuming full responsibility for the quality and productivity of their work stations. This agrees with the libertarian philosophy of our founding fathers who believed in empowered citizens who should possess a strong sense of personal responsibility. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments were written to restrain big government and keep the people free.

Any type of federal control, oversight or standardization of the United States' election process, beyond Congress' determining the time to choose electors and the date to vote, would be unconstitutional. This is a power reserved for individual states and the people.

If people are dissatisfied with their local election processes, they should talk to the proper local/county officials. They should volunteer to work as precinct inspectors or work with local government to form an ad hoc committee to determine the necessary corrections and improvements to the process.

It is the people's election, and they should take responsibility for it. If you have a defect at the end of the production line, you don't install a final inspection. You take the defect back to its source and solve the problem there.

RedSpark Inc.
Royal Oak, MI 

Author's Response: The problems during the election occurred because there was too much freedom in the electoral process--freedom for error and corruption. The issue I addressed had nothing to do with the capability of workers and everything to do with process capability. Every process has inherent error, and as W. Edwards Deming liked to point out, just telling a worker to do better or work harder will never cure a bad process.

A process mentality is needed in our election system. To date, there have been too many local solutions, each with its own economic investment based on local capacity to spend tax money on counting machines. We have more than six different processes, each with its own inherent variation. None of these processes meets the requirements of all the interested parties to the electoral process.

In order to improve the process, it is essential to have a technological solution that is uniformly available for all U.S. citizens, not just those from a district that is able to afford the best election system. Today, these voting machines are provided by private enterprises on a free rental basis. The machines are not owned by local groups, but are provided as a service. This was the focus of my comments: improving the design of these machines.

Remember that the implementation of the election factory is entirely different from the design and development of it. Local officials should implement the capability that I discussed.

We must remember that one of the basic tenets of the quality profession is that you cannot inspect quality into any process, including the electoral process. Quality must be designed into the process in order to have the most robust process.

My proposal is to do exactly what is implied in Sjoberg's last sentence: Take the defects back to the source, vote counting machines, and solve the problem by providing Six Sigma quality levels in the vote counting processes administered by local officials. This will significantly reduce the margin of error and prevent mishaps in the voting process. Precinct inspectors will still be needed, and I hope many of our members volunteer for this duty, because it helps assure objective administration of our election process.

ASQ President


What About Those Who Are Colorblind?

I would like to point out a drawback when relying on the use of red, yellow and green colors in traffic lights and quality charts (Paul Palady, "Exploiting the World's Most Recognized Standard," February 2001, p. 54). A significant portion of the population is colorblind.

Palady states that the traffic light's color coding can "significantly reduce the interpretation errors inherent with numerical and text coded rating systems." On the contrary, the use of colors can increase the risk of error and confusion for individuals who are unable to discern colors. Much of the impact of color coding is lost when the information is passed through machines such as faxes and black and white copiers.

I am surprised that there has not been more pressure from road safety organizations to address the potential traffic hazards when designing traffic lights. My son is colorblind and has to rely on the position of the light to interpret the signal; however, single, flashing red and yellow lights can be particularly confusing.

The widespread use of color computer monitors, printers and copiers has resulted in an explosion of color in charts, instructions and presentations. While color can be a useful tool, all quality professionals should consider that some colleagues may be colorblind. They should attempt to combine color coding with appropriate symbols, crosshatching or written codes that can be effectively interpreted by those who cannot see colors.

United Aluminum, North Haven, CT 


What's Happening To Quality's Reality?

In boardrooms across the country, framed vision statements proclaim the importance of quality products and services. The rhetoric of quality is reinforced in slogans, printed on sales receipts and reiterated in the "please hold" phone messages. Popular literature explains that quality is now integrated into all parts of an organization and its activities. Performance excellence is everyone's job.

But are we deluding ourselves? The rhetoric and vision statements about quality are there, but what's become of the reality they promise? Each of the following occurred in well-known businesses that vigorously promote a commitment to quality:

  • A call placed to a cell phone company to report a lost phone required 45 minutes on hold before making contact with a person who could take down the necessary information.
  • Hundreds of frustrated passengers from four flights pushed and shoved past one another to get to the carousel with their luggage, while adjacent carousels operated by the same airline sat idle.
  • Customers waited in a long line to check out, while clerks engaged in a side conversation about their personal plans for the evening.

In the political arena, words and phrases are spun and abused to the point where they are eventually stripped of their meaning. Must this also be the ultimate fate of the rhetoric of excellence?

For those who are dedicated to service improvement in the public sector, the situation is particularly troubling. Detractors and cynics point to vignettes like the three I mentioned to argue that even leading businesses no longer walk the talk.

I believe the fate of the quality promise and the credibility of quality professionals hang in the balance. We need to identify, challenge and motivate action to address rhetoric reality gaps wherever we find them. What more important contributions can we make to our organizations and to one another?

Rutgers University 
New Brunswick, NJ 

We welcome your letters. Send them to EDITOR, ASQ/QUALITY PROGRESS, 600 N. PLANKINTON AVE., PO BOX 3005, MILWAUKEE, WI 53201-3005; or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.  Please include address, daytime phone number and e-mail address. Whenever possible, the e-mail addresses will be included with published letters. Due to space restrictions, Quality Progress will publish a selection of letters in the magazine. All letters will be published on QP Forum, or you can post your comment on QP Forum directly at www.asqnet.org. We reserve the right to edit letters for space and clarity.

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