'Sick Sigma' Is Mode Of Operation

When I first read the article "Striving for Sick Sigma" (Richard J. Schneider, January 2002, p. 73), I chuckled. Later I shed a couple of tears because I worked for a few companies where this was the mode of operation. Mercifully most of them are no longer in business, and I hope that will be a warning to the rest of us.

I hope Motorola and General Electric will serve as good examples of what can be accomplished by using Six Sigma with appropriate support tools to make lasting improvements.

As an aside, I have observed an interesting difference between high tech companies on the East Coast and the West Coast, having lived in both areas. Back East, the tendency is to integrate research, design and manufacturing in the same firm. On the West Coast, the tendency is to do research and design in one firm and subcontract manufacturing to another specialist company.

This has two advantages. It allows each firm's management to concentrate on its area of competence. It also demands thorough documentation of the product for manufacture, something often lacking when the two functions are integrated. This provides an additional design review by the contract manufacturer, which can be very helpful.

Lexis Graphics Media
Santa Clara, CA


Tongue in Cheek Article Hits the Mark

Though "Striving for Sick Sigma" was written with tongue in cheek, it struck home and shows an attitude that is very much alive and well.

Pretend you're working at General Motors as a Tier One supplier. Say each of the points and attitudes expressed in this article is applied in the design and production of an aluminum welded engine cradle. (What customers don't know won't hurt them.)

Along with the inevitable defects and spills at the customer come the high parts per million ratings and the threats of no new business. What is the solution to this problem? Improved quality systems along with improved processes? First you have to create a corporate quality department that has never existed. Then you have to pay $4.8 million up front before the cost savings are realized and your quality problems suddenly begin to go away.

Yes, the problems go away, but you still inspect 100% for defective welds, missing holes and dirty parts. Reports come in that steering brackets break off. Welds crack when control arms are bolted on. But then again, maybe the quality department should have caught the problems and inspected more quality in. After all, you fired three quality managers in less than four years. It was about time, too, because it was their fault quality never got better.

Auburn, IN


WTC Comments Out Of Place in 'QP'

The American Society for Quality's mission is to " ... advance individual, organizational and community excellence worldwide through learning, quality improvement and knowledge exchange." It is not to expound upon individual political or environmental beliefs. "Sustainability: Enlarging Quality's Mission" (Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard, February 2002, p. 43) has a sidebar about the World Trade Center attack that is inaccurate and self-serving to the authors' political and environmental beliefs.

Too often people with a narrow view of world activities place a highly structured, Western-biased outlook on issues that hide root causes rather than clarify them. While the issues raised by the authors are both interesting and viable, they are not and should not be viewed as the sole elements in a conflict that stretches back almost 1,800 years.

Examination of the political, religious, economic and psychological aspects of the events and mentalities leading to the events of Sept. 11 demonstrates most emphatically that oil, the theory of global warming (recently admitted to be a cyclic, natural event by several prominent environmental researchers) and economic inequality were of faint stimulus in these terrorist atrocities. To fail to examine these events in light of history and radical Islamic tenets is to trivialize them and insult the world at large.

Such comments are out of place in a professional publication of this nature unless they're fully developed and have total adherence to observation, analysis and understanding.

Global IT Consulting Group
Houston, TX

Author's Response: Putting events as horrific as Sept. 11 into perspective is a difficult task and one that should be undertaken with full respect for the victims of that tragedy. I support Harry Nimon's assertion that competition for diminishing resources is not the sole cause of recent terrorist activities. Issues as complex as these warrant examination from several perspectives to assure fully considered, intelligent responses.

So far the events have been examined in terms of ideological differences, cultural disparities and mutually exclusive political positions. The point of our sidebar was to introduce another lens through which to view the situation. While increasing environmental pressures may not be the origin of these disputes, they certainly fan the flames in an already tense and competitive world.

AXIS Performance Advisors
Portland, OR


Claims Not Valid, Based On Insufficient Examples

After reading "Sustainability: Enlarging Quality's Mission," I was tempted to refute, point by point from primary sources, the disingenuous eco-apocalyptic claims given in the sidebar and text. Many of those claims are not valid, statistically or otherwise, and are often based on insufficient samples, faulty analysis or the questionable results of a single study.

Instead, I suggest anyone interested in this subject pick up a copy of Bjorn Lomberg's excellent treatise, The Skeptical Environmentalist (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). The author takes a nonpartisan and scholarly look at the data and analysis behind the many false but popular alarmist myths that currently control the discussion of these issues in the media.

Citing Bill Clinton as some kind of moral authority on the issue of the World Trade Center failed to add any convincing insight as to the importance of environmental sustainability in business.

Medina, OH


Author's Response: We did not intend to stir up the debate over the rate at which we are depleting the earth's resources. While Miles Free is sure to find data that differ from our examples, it will be difficult if not impossible to find credible sources that deny there is a general downward trend in all living systems.

Arguing over whether the rate of this trend is "apocalyptic" or not distracts us from the real issue. Our thesis is that any business serious about customer satisfaction, quality and long-term viability is being dangerously naïve if it chooses to ignore what is shaping up to be the defining competitive issue of the 21st century.

AXIS Performance Advisors
Portland, OR


Will the ACSI Survey Get Something Going?

I know a lot of folks at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who are very good at what they do and have a deep sense of responsibility for the safety of our industry ("ASQ News: IRS No Longer Rated Worst in Customer Service," February 2002, p. 13). But the bureaucracy these people must deal with is a challenge. Many layers of management in the FAA are primarily concerned with protecting their turf and funding, and it is sometimes difficult to get a clear interpretation of the rules.

Another challenge is the lack of funding, which Congress promises but does not provide, even while holding hearings blaming the FAA for things it did not have the resources to address. The compensation for the technical positions within the FAA has also not kept pace with the industry, so many less experienced or technically deficient people are hired because the best and brightest go somewhere else.

The FAA occasionally pokes fun at itself, telling us its motto is "We're not happy until you're not happy." Perhaps the survey will get something going.

Tulsa, OK


Can Note 1 Be Waived In ISO/TS 16949?

The article "Automotive Quality Management System Evolves" (R. Dan Reid, "Standards Outlook," January 2002, p. 98) was insightful and beneficial, but I have two questions I hope you can help me with. In the 2002 edition of ISO/TS 16949, Note 2 of clause seems to indicate Note 1 can be waived if the customer has an alternative requirement:

1. Can a customer mandate a requirement that would cause Note 1 to be waived?

2. Are there any interpretation guidelines for this clause?

Any information that you can provide is greatly appreciated.

Jabil Automotive Group
Elsie, MI

Author's Response: You ask a question that was of concern to Technical Committee (TC) 176 during the vote. The International Automotive Task Force met in January to discuss comments received, even though TS 16949:2002 was approved.

An updated draft that no longer contains the Note 1 text of that clause is being circulated internally for approval. It looks as if third-party registration to ISO 9001:2000 will be required unless otherwise specified by the customer. As this is still in draft form, it is not possible to state with certainty until TS 16949:2002 is released.

GM Powertrain
Waterford, MI


Course Content Should Be Designed by Businesses

Most of "Quality in the Classroom" (Peggy Brewer, Terri Friel, William Davig and Judith Spain, January 2002, p. 67) seemed to be about the organization and content of the course. I'm not sure how this article links to benchmarking and quality assurance. It isn't clear why the speakers were asked to do an evaluation in Table 1 and how the results were used.

The introduction implied that businesses should be regarded as customers of higher education and, in particular, quality business courses. Businesses should guide the program and course design.

That's why it's surprising to find the course content was designed by the educators and not by business; no businesses or speakers evaluated the course. How relevant were the modules to ensure students would acquire the skills and abilities businesses need?

Carterton, New Zealand


Quality Professionals Can Go Anywhere

In a broad sense, I think the steps in "Eight Steps to a New Performance Measurement System" (Bjørn Andersen and Tom Fagerhaug, "One Good Idea," February 2002, p. 112) encompass every step you have to go through to set up a new measurement system. However, I would mostly focus on the first step, because this is where you can get more people involved in the game. The more people are involved in the early steps, the more successful your project will be in terms of any changes made to the actual system or the creation of a new one.

I work for a manufacturing company where the most important and challenging steps deal with people's understanding of and involvement in the new system. But once this stage is successfully completed, the system grows like a snowball: It gets bigger and stronger even though it will be modified. Articles like this make me believe quality professionals can go anywhere so long as we understand the basics.

Potomac, MD


A Spelling Error On February's Cover?

I received the February 2002 issue of Quality Progress in today's mail. While looking at the front cover, I became curious about the "HAACP and Food Safety" article and sought the article in the magazine. But on the "Table of Contents," I found a listing for an article that discussed HACCP (James J. Rooney and Jenny Kilkelly, "On Today's Menu: Quality," p. 25). After reading the article, I realized HACCP, not HAACP must be the correct acronym.

Are you trying to see if we're alert?

Beaverton, OR

Editor's Note: Thank you for catching our error on the cover. The correct acronym is indeed HACCP (for hazard analysis and critical control points). We apologize for the mistake.

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