Getting Loud in Milwaukee

What do a Harley, the popes’ jewels and a marching band have in common? They were all part of ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement last month in Milwaukee. I’m able to sneak in a brief overview before this issue goes to press; watch for more coverage in July.

Overall, I’d call the conference eclectic and diverse—much like quality itself. The opening reception at the Milwaukee Public Museum featured an exhibit on the Vatican and popes. TrizCon 2006, held in conjunction with the conference, highlighted TRIZ (a Russian acronym for the theory of inventive problem solving) and other creative tools for left-brain thinkers.

The Harley roaring through the convention center at 8 a.m. generated buzz, literally and figuratively. It was ridden by James McCaslin, president and COO of the motorcycle company, who spoke about experiential quality. The next day members of the University of Wisconsin’s marching band led attendees through the exhibit hall and down to the ballroom to hear John Jones, executive VP and COO of the Green Bay Packers, explain how the team uses quality control coaches and statistics to drive decisions. (Add in a jazz band from a local high school, and you could call the conference loud, too.)

Conference sessions covered a wide variety of topics and industries, proving again how quality is spreading into all areas of the economy and society, including government and the military. Diane Ditzler and Sandi Strohmeier described the Transportation Security Administration’s systems approach to problem solving. Kathryn Szymanski, executive deputy of the Army Materiel Command, discussed the quality and change management methodologies used by the huge organization to serve soldiers.

The approximately 2,300 attendees represented more than 30 countries. Reflecting this international flavor, Bernard Amadei, professor of engineering at the University of Colorado-Boulder and co-founder of Engineers Without Borders, talked movingly about how a little money—combined with engineering expertise—can make a major impact in poor regions of the world.

The 2006 International Team Competition reinforced the diversity theme. Besides several manufacturing industries, the 27 finalists came from sectors such as healthcare, financial services and government. Their projects saved a total of $49 million for their organizations. While only five countries besides the United States were represented, the three winners came from three different countries: India, the United States and Mexico. (For more information, see

The enthusiasm the teams added to the conference was infectious. I noticed even normally reserved quality professionals cheering on the teams as they marched into the closing session. And yes, it was, appropriately, loud.

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