Drucker Article Was Refreshing To See

After seeing far too many Six Sigma promotions and too much ISO 9000 nonsense in QP, it was refreshing to see "Peter F. Drucker: Delivering Value to Customers" (Gregory H. Watson, May 2002, p. 55). If only the same issue didn't have more Six Sigma and ISO 9000 articles. Readers' interest in those topics is not surprising, just unfortunate. Companies such as Motorola should serve as an example of how to incorrectly use these initiatives.

Racine, WI

People Shouldn't Cram For Certification Exams

I appreciate Quality Progress and always manage to find interesting articles each month.

I found Debbie Phillips-Donaldson's editorial in the May 2002 issue especially interesting ("Up Front; My Road to Certification," p. 6). Comments similar to hers have been made by others who have taken the ASQ certification tests. Why do people admit to guessing on a number of questions or to having lucked upon answers in books brought to the exam?

When I hear these comments from Phillips-Donaldson and others, I get the impression they shouldn't have passed the test. Being ASQ certified should mean you are proficient in the areas tested. It's a shame when people can cram for a test, pass it on luck and then use their certification as a means to promote themselves.

ASQ certified quality technician
Pella, IA

Where's the Value In a CQIA Certification?
Apparently all we need to pass the certified quality improvement associate (CQIA) exam is a day away from work, a box of doughnuts and Juran's Quality Control Handbook. Where is the value in the CQIA certification if this is all it takes to pass?

CQA, CQE and certified quality manager
Traverse City, MI

Editor's Response: I'm sorry my attempt at humor obscured my basic message that an ASQ certification is worth pursuing and holding. I believe--and ASQ's certification experts back this up--that one of the reasons I and others have passed exams without preparing well is that we've gained knowledge and proficiency on the job.

In my case, I was seeking to become certified as a quality improvement associate (CQIA). The CQIA body of knowledge (BOK) is very basic. Though I came into the editor position without a background in quality, I had been on the job for 10 months by the time I sat for the exam. Through reviewing manuscripts, editing and proofing the magazine each month, talking with a number of members and other quality experts, passing the Quality 101 course and simply being part of the ASQ culture, I think I absorbed quite a few basic quality concepts--certainly not enough to be considered an expert, but enough to gain proficiency at a basic level.

Similarly, in Don Cochrane's and Praveen Gupta's article, "ASQ's Black Belt Certification--A Personal Experience" (p. 33), Gupta said that through working for General Electric and several other corporations known for their Six Sigma programs, he believed he had a significant level of proficiency with the Black Belt BOK. He felt he needed only to refresh himself on the BOK before sitting for the exam. Cochrane, on the other hand, believed he had gaps in his knowledge in certain areas and studied diligently for those.

The other factor that may be at play here is the cut-score grading process of the exams. According to Sheila Connolly, ASQ's psychometrician, "Cut score is a rather complex process of gathering input from subject matter experts about the expected performance of minimally qualified candidates. A written summary of these expectations serves as a guide for these same experts to use when estimating the difficulty of each question on the exam for these candidates. The results of this two-day meeting are used to develop the minimum score required to pass the exam."

If you have any other questions, you can e-mail Connolly at sconnolly@asq.org.

Editor, Quality Progress

Black Belt Certification Seems Too Easy

I was perplexed after reading "ASQ's Black Belt Certification--A Personal Experience" (Don Cochrane and Praveen Gupta, May 2002, p. 33). I recently completed a Black Belt program sponsored by the Becton Dickinson Co. in alliance with the Juran Institute. To achieve a Black Belt certification, candidates had to be selected and approved by management and complete a preparation course that included a skills assessment, a review of company expectations and selection of a training project.

We then had to complete four weeks of training spread over a four-month period. Each week of training was followed by three weeks of working on the training project. At the end of the course we had to demonstrate an understanding of the principles and tools needed to be an effective Black Belt. After we finished our training project, it was reviewed by cost accounting and the business leadership team.

Each candidate then had eight months to complete a certification project and submit it to the training committee to review for skills assessment. This project also had to be verified by the business leadership team and cost accounting. In addition all projects had to be mission critical or provide a minimum savings of $80,000.

This article implied that all one needs to do to become an effective, certified Black Belt is to register with ASQ, pay a nominal fee and take a test. That is insulting. Anyone with a reasonably good understanding of the scope, knowledge and skill base required for a Black Belt would question the true value of the other certifications offered by ASQ.

Becton Dickinson
Baltimore, MD

Editor's Response: ASQ certification is simply one program or tool Black Belts or their organizations can use to recognize proficiency in a standardized body of knowledge (BOK). Comparing your company's program with the ASQ certification is not an apples to apples comparison.

According to ASQ's certification manager and other experts, Six Sigma programs and their selection and recognition processes vary dramatically from one company to the next. One of the reasons to develop a standardized program is that each company trains and uses its Black Belts differently; and each training company trains differently.

The idea behind the ASQ certification was to come up with a standardized BOK--using Six Sigma Black Belts from a variety of backgrounds and organizations as subject matter experts--that most everyone could agree on, develop an exam around that BOK, require at least one completed project and, finally, have candidates pass the exam. Requiring completion of at least one Black Belt project ensures the candidate does indeed understand and can apply the knowledge.

The article may not have completely covered all the requirements and aspects of the ASQ certification; it was simply intended to reflect the personal experience of two professionals who decided to add the certification to their quality and Black Belt credentials.

The Problem With Selling Quality

For a long time, I have been concerned that upper management, the group that must be convinced to pay for the introduction of quality control, does not have a good idea of what it is. The potential client is presented with a philosophy that undergoes a name change nearly every decade. Some of the names include zero defects, total quality management and, most recently, Six Sigma.

Instead of buying these programs on the basis of what they can do and provide, potential clients are almost totally influenced by what similar businesses have already adopted. I think the underlying problem is the word "quality." Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary devotes approximately 1,300 words to its definition of "quality." So when two people talk about quality, they may not be talking about the same concept.

Consider trying to sell what we think of as a quality program to the president of a cookie manufacturer. You wax enthusiastic about controlling, and thus improving, the quality of the product, but he thinks the quality of the product is a design feature. To improve quality, he imagines changing the recipe by using whole milk instead of skim. He thinks it's optimum the way it is. Unfortunately, you two are not talking about the same thing.

Improvement in the control of manufacturing processes is a concept that ought to be fairly easy to sell. Its payback is straightforward and quantitative. An improvement in quality, on the contrary, can be difficult to talk about and sometimes impossible to quantify, therefore making it difficult to sell. Maybe an understanding of the situation will help us do better than using "quality" to mean a variety of things our customers find hard to understand.

Quality is an amorphous concept. Process control is a major aspect of quality. It is structured and easy to explain. It could be the foot in the door for the later introduction of the broader, and no less important, aspects of quality. I think it is important to initially focus on the concept of a process and its control when trying to introduce a quality program to people who know little about the subject.

ASQ Distinguished Service Medalist
ASQ Fellow
Londonderry, NH

Metric Serves Auto Industry Well

Are the authors of "Don't Measure Customer Satisfaction" (David C. Swaddling and Charles Miller, May 2002, p. 62) saying the customer satisfaction metric should be eliminated? I hope not, because it has served the automotive industry well for many years.

The key question decision makers must answer is, "Would customers purchase this service or product from a group of competitive services and products if they had a free choice?" That is where best in class studies (including customer satisfaction) provide a company valuable information. Benchmarking studies are a great tool, but only if a company studies everything down to the smallest element or part.

Engineers who stand out with the best service or product generally formulate comprehensive matrices that reflect the quality, cost, functionality, investment, reliability, customer satisfaction and weight for all parts they are responsible for. Engineers will also include similar information in the matrix for all their competitors. This is the quickest and best way for them to find opportunities for improvement and leapfrog their competition.

Along the same lines, the perceived value tool served Ford's product planners for over a quarter of a century. Ford used perceived value market research to help gather quantifiable data that supported its financial profit models and product decisions long before the product was introduced to the market.

Ford's perceived value market research on inventions, surprise and delight features, potential dealership services, functional improvements and appearance modifications was conducted around the country. Respondents were asked to evaluate new designs. They were then asked a number of probing questions to get a sense of their like or dislike of the commodity at various prices. In the end, respondents were given a market basket of commodities to select from to determine whether they would really purchase that commodity.

Perceived market research gave Ford high confidence volume figures that were used to calculate pricing strategy and formulate profit models. I assumed the entire industry was aware of the perceived value methodology and used that approach to make fundamental business decisions.

Founder and president
International Institute for Strategic Studies
Livonia, MI
ASQ Senior Member

A Balanced Scorecard Can Work Wonders

Many people, including consultants, don't realize Six Sigma is a whole business strategy and not just a quality methodology. Six Sigma is not separate from business (Tom Taormina, "From Quality to Business Success," April 2002, p. 40, and A.V. Feigenbaum, "The Power Behind Consumer Buying and Productivity," April 2002, p. 49).

Is ASQ familiar with the concept of the balanced scorecard? This concept, which I learned at General Electric Appliances, says Six Sigma is a complete business platform that keeps track of your organization's main critical to quality points as they relate to customer satisfaction, financial impact, process improvement, and employee learning and innovation. It uses different metrics depending on a particular area or department and links each of them to an interface to determine the status of the whole business, including the internal and external worlds.

You can use the balanced scorecard concept to measure sigma quality levels, stock behavior and employee progress related to business culture, for example. The main idea is to allow you to develop effective measurement systems for both continuous data and discrete or noncontinuous data. Remember, you cannot improve what you cannot measure. If you think about the big picture, you will realize Six Sigma is worth it.

Another great thing about the balanced scorecard is the idea of transfer function. We need to develop effective transfer functions that predict the behavior of our processes, financial impact and innovation. We work with many mathematical models. Many are wrong but appear to work well in many fields. If that's the case, why don't we put them in the scorecard to see if they're really working?

Independent Six Sigma consultant
and Master Black Belt
Querétaro, México


Navin Dedhia, Kymm Hockman, Gary Johnson and Chuck Miller were elected to the ASQ Board of Directors by the divisions. In the May issue (p. 14) we incorrectly reported they were elected to the Division Affairs Council.

We welcome your letters. Send them to EDITOR, ASQ/QUALITY PROGRESS, 600 N. PLANKINTON AVE., MILWAUKEE, WI 53203-3005; or e-mail them to editor@asq.org. Please include address, daytime phone number and e-mail address. All letters will be published on the QP Discussion Board, or you can post your comment on the QP Discussion Board directly at www.asqnet.org. We reserve the right to edit letters for space and clarity.

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