"Root Causes" Article Helps Teacher
Your timing was perfect! Davis R. Bothe's article "Use Run Charts To Confirm Root Causes" (February 2001, p. 104) showed up just a few days before my most recent root causes analysis class.
My students always nod knowingly when I ask how often improper training gets cited as the root cause of practically everything. They also have no trouble with the concept of verifying root causes. However, they struggle with putting the two together and understanding the concept of how to use root cause analysis in real life.
Providing my students with plenty of examples is one of the best ways to help them, so I want to thank QP for giving me such an excellent addition to my collection of examples.
The Sawyer Partnership
San Jose, CA
Can't Put Accounting, Quality Auditing Together
I am a quality assurance auditor/trainer at Fresenius Medical Care-North America, a medical device manufacturer of kidney dialysis equipment and disposables and an owner of hundreds of hemodialysis clinics in the U.S. and the world.
Greg Hutchins' article "The State of Quality Auditing" (March 2001, p. 25) was disconcerting because it lacked a scope statement, focus or disclaimer indicating what industries were being addressed by the message about management audits, value-added audits and internal audits.
For non-FDA regulated industries, I might agree that corporate bottom liners not interested in Six Sigma would possibly demand a quantified payback from their quality or ISO 9001 internal auditors. However, in a General Electric, AlliedSignal, Motorola, medical device, drug or biologic company, quality auditing (and specifically compliance auditing to the good manufacturing practices regulations of the FDA) is a critical, mandated subset of auditing that will probably never go away unless the Republicans abolish the FDA.
Why do Hutchins and the other quality gurus fail to take notice of U.S. regulated industries in all their doomsday and "wake up and smell the money" articles? It is probably high time for a rebuttal article that distinguishes our industries or those with Six Sigma from the penny pinching companies that think they can squeeze accounting and quality auditing together.
I travel 42% of the time to all seven of our manufacturing sites, distribution centers, suppliers and contract manufacturers. How can I add environmental health and safety and internal accounting auditing to my current duties as a quality auditor? Those other two classes of auditors uniquely exist at Fresenius Medical Care-North America and are not about to be combined. As I alluded to before, all three of our functions have full plates.
Fresenius Medical Care-North America
Author's Response: Thank you for your feedback. I would like to try and address your points.
The Republicans won't abolish the FDA. So you're right--compliance auditing won't disappear. Why? It provides a number of important services:
- Adds value for statutory and regulatory compliance.
- Forms a baseline for any process/ product improvement.
- Defines a standard or basis of design.
- Ensures consistency through proceduralization.
- Establishes stable systems.
- Provides the right level of confidence for a life/health/safety related product.
Many of us who write on quality or business subjects address the cutting or bleeding edge issues. Frankly, compliance auditing is an essential, verifying and validating activity that is fairly well-known.
Was my piece "doomsday"? I hope not. My intent was to warn, educate and induce action among quality auditors.
You are right. Quality, safety/health, environmental and internal auditing are all discrete and coexist happily. I was trying to make the point that internal auditing is expanding its organizational purview into effectiveness and risk management. It will collide or cooperate with the other audit teams. How this eventually plays out was the "heads up" point in my piece.
All companies are trying to get the most from their internal investments. Auditors of all stripes will be asked to help their organization weed out inefficiencies, nonconformances and so forth. This is good because it will give us more visibility and authority.
Working It LLC
"Mr. Pareto Head"
Or "Mr. Histogram Head"?
Each month I really look forward to seeing the adventures of Mr. Pareto Head, though I am a little confused. Sometimes Mr. Pareto Head looks more like Mr. Histogram Head.
Using humor to share some of the trials and tribulations of quality professionals is a great concept, and "Mr. Pareto Head" does it wonderfully. However, visual images are powerful because people quickly associate them with ideas, products and services. That's why it is important for Mr. Pareto Head to look like a Pareto diagram and not a histogram.
ASQ Section 622 Chair
Cartoonist's Response: I am glad you enjoy the comic strip. Your observation is correct. Mr. Pareto Head will be sporting a new hairstyle when he returns from Six Sigma training.
U.S. Should Benchmark Brazil's Election Process
In his January 2001 article "We the People ... " (p. 16) Gregory Watson states that "convening a team to study and correct or reengineer the (election) process" would be helpful. Another useful quality tool in this situation is benchmarking.
The Brazilian computerized election process ran flawlessly last year with results known the same day. In São Paulo, the difference between mayoral candidates was just a few thousand votes out of several million. The same success was achieved two years ago in the presidential election, with no doubt raised by the parties on the results. As you can see, benchmarking the U.S. election process against that of Brazil would be beneficial.
ASQ Fellow, CQE, CQA
Qualifactory Quality Services International
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
No One System Will Produce Optimum Results
As with most things, no one system will produce optimum results (Joseph F. Castellano and Harper A. Roehm, "The Problems With Managing by Objectives and Results," March 2001, p. 39). The authors qualified the article by referring to accounting driven management by objectives or management by results standards. In that framework, I agree. Such numbers are often arbitrary and used only to increase performance. When too high, they also cause stress and poor quality.
However, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. In my organization, we use targets in our operations. These are derived from discussions with an engineer, team leader and machine or process operator. Measuring performance against these targets helps us identify problems and make changes. Most important, we do a better job of bidding new work because we have accurate targets, the backbone of estimating.
Inaccurate targets could cause us to bid too high and lose jobs. If the bids are too low, we could get the work and lose money.
We strive to hit our targets, plus or minus 5 to 10%, and implement the changes that are a result of our continuous improvement programs. The changes give us new targets.
With respect to the accountant who was fired for not making the quota on collection calls, I have this to offer. The accountant and the authors made more serious mistakes than the company did. This is as controllable an event as is selling the products or services. The accountant absolutely could influence payments. By applying good customer service skills and selling techniques, the individual could have improved collection rates. She should have recognized this, as should have the authors.
The company is at fault for not providing the training needed for her to be successful, but the accountant should have thought more about how to accomplish the result and not about how it was beyond control. Maybe the authors were looking for a story to prove a point, but the point is not so easily proven. All of us can influence the outcome of everything we do, and we better not stop trying.
ARTHUR S. CONSOLI
Executive Vice President and COO
Author's Response: We would like to thank Arthur Consoli for taking the time to respond to our article. He is correct in noting that the general tenor of our article was directed at the use of arbitrary goals and targets to control people and processes and to motivate behavior.
As to Consoli's comment that we should not "throw the baby out with the bath water," we would certainly have no disagreement with his view that performance targets can be used to identify problems and effect change. In fact, we believe performance measurement systems used in the context of some improvement methodology such as Walter A. Shewhart's plan, do, study, act cycle are necessary in order to assess whether the improvement theory (the planned change) is producing the desired result.
However, we do not agree with Consoli that the accountant in the story "absolutely could influence payments" by applying good customer service skills and selling techniques. As the story notes, customers frequently did not pay because they had not placed orders or because the equipment had not been properly installed. It is highly unlikely payments would be forthcoming in these circumstances.
What the story illustrates, however, is a more telling point. There was significant variation month to month not only for our accountant but for others as well. If management was not happy with this variation, then it needed to take responsibility for analyzing the collection process instead of blaming the collection staff. Had management done this, it might have been able to determine the real reasons some customers were not paying, such as bogus sales, faulty installation or poor service.
Best efforts and hard work cannot achieve goals and targets beyond the capability of a process or system without risking the distortion of the figures or the system. W. Edwards Deming warned us about the danger of believing we can separate the contribution of an individual to some result from the effects of the system on the result. These last two points capture the message we attempted to communicate in our article.
University of Dayton
The IAF or International Accreditation Forum was misidentified as the Internal Accreditation Forum in the March issue.
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 email@example.com. 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.