Get on the train

Q: Quality training can be expensive. How do I get my employer to pay for it?

A: A common complaint heard from quality professionals and managers revolves around technical training, or the lack thereof.

Training has obvious benefits for any organization. Far too often, however, training winds up being a casualty during difficult times or is indefinitely postponed because of cutbacks. Any trainer will tell you an investment in training is an investment in people, which is bound to benefit the employer.

Your job in submitting a justification for training is to show how the training will benefit your employer, rather than just indicating how much it will cost for you to attend the training. For example, if a training class costs $1,000, you’re not likely to get approval if you can identify only $500 in benefits. The benefit must be several times the cost, and the benefit must be achieved quickly.

This is a classic example of an employee needing to prove return on investment (ROI). You’re asking your employer to invest a certain amount of money in something it cannot regard as a tangible asset—something it cannot lock up, see or touch. The employer is investing in your knowledge.

Whether the employer does so depends on if the decision-makers trust you to be around long enough for the company to achieve the benefit—the ROI—of your increased knowledge and if those same people think you have the drive, energy and mental capacity to implement the knowledge you gain as a result of the expense.

If you present the justification and are told the money for the training isn’t there, you haven’t stated your case well enough. If you’ve made a good, solid and believable case that your attendance at the training will reap benefits greater than the cost, then it should be a no-brainer. Any money spent will be returned to the bottom line again and again. If your request has been denied, then something else is causing your boss not to approve training that has great potential benefits for the company. In that case, check for unspoken reasons, because it isn’t about the money anymore; you’ve handled that part of it.

Make sure you understand how the management system for training approval works at your place of employment. My employer requests that we complete an annual training plan. This plan focuses on training that is relevant to my current position or probable next position. I can easily get approval for a course that is part of my training plan, because my supervisor has already approved the plan. It is very difficult to get approval for training that is not part of the plan unless there is a current, pressing need for the skills or knowledge imparted by the training.

James Rooney
Director, Quality and Lean Six Sigma Services
ABS Consulting

A number of options

Q: I’d like to know which process is better controlled: a three-sigma process or a six-sigma process. Why is one better?

Subrata Chakrabarti
Indian Space Research Organization
Trivandrum, India

A: The answer to your question depends on the context. At first glance, it would seem like a six-sigma process would be worse than a three-sigma process because the spread is twice as wide. Most people, however, talk about six-sigma processes within the context of process capability, which is an assessment of whether the process output consistently meets the specifications.

Consider the three-sigma case. Let’s assume the process is properly centered so the average output is equal to the process target. If you calculate the process standard deviation, you can see that if you subtract three standard deviations from the average, you reach the lower specification limit. Likewise, if you add three standard deviations to the average, you reach the upper specification limit. This is frequently called a three-sigma process because plus-or-minus three sigma fits within the specifications.

Now consider the six-sigma case. Again, assuming the process is centered at the target, you can calculate the standard deviation and discover the average is at least six standard deviations away from the minimum and maximum specifications. This is a six-sigma process because plus-or-minus six sigma fits within the tolerance.

If the process output is from a normal distribution, then the probability of observing a point beyond the three-sigma limits is approximately 0.0027. This is equivalent to about 2,700 parts per million defective. The probability of observing a point beyond the limits of plus-or-minus six sigma is extremely small and corresponds to about two parts per billion defective. Therefore, within the context of process capability, a six-sigma process is superior because it will produce fewer defects.

If the context of your question relates to statistical process control (SPC), then a six-sigma process is better controlled. Almost all processes, regardless of the underlying distribution, will produce output that consistently falls within the limits of plus-or-minus three sigma, as long as the process is in a state of statistical control.

A process that is in control is stable and predictable over time. If the control chart has points that fall outside the three-sigma limits, then the process is said to be out of control. Points that fall as far as plus-or-minus six standard deviations from the mean would indicate an extreme lack of control. Therefore, within the context of SPC, a three-sigma process is better controlled.

Andy Barnett
Principal consultant, Master Black Belt
Quintiles Consulting

For more information

  1. Marie A. Gaudard and Philip J. Ramsey, "Expert Answers," Quality Progress, Vol. 41, No. 7, pp. 14–15.

Standardizing SR

Q: Will the new ISO 26000 standard include the environmental social responsibility requirements found in ISO 14001, or would it be ISO 14001 complementary?

Jimena Calfa
La Jolla, CA

A: ISO 26000, which is targeted for publication in late 2008, will be a guidance standard intended to help organizations understand societal expectations for all aspects of social responsibility, which will include the environment. It will not be a specification standard and will not be certifiable.

ISO 26000 will describe many of the environmental issues that should be considered by an organization, such as pollution prevention and resource conservation. But it will not provide a management system for addressing environmental issues. ISO 14001 will most likely be included in the ISO 26000 standard as one of many reference documents that could be a resource to users of the standard, but its use will not be required.

We expect ISO 26000 to be fully compatible with ISO 14001 and that the two standards will be complementary in their use.

Dorothy Bowers
VP, Environment (ret.), Merck and Co.
Whitehouse Station, NJ

Susan Briggs
Director, Environment, Health and Safety
Textron Systems Inc.
Providence, RI

For more information

  1. Dorothy Bowers, "Making Social Responsibility the Standard," Quality Progress, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 35–38.
  2. Denis Leonard, "Strong Foundation, Solid Future," Quality Progress, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 30–35.

Starting point

Q: When starting at a new company without a supplier quality program, would it be better to start with an audit of the company or an audit of the defects?

A: This is a tricky question. I presume you are faced with the issue of auditing your new company in the light of some problems you have encountered. Not having a supplier quality program in place makes things worse. Because you are just starting on this company, and unless it has done a recent audit, it would be better to start with an audit of the overall company to get the full picture. If these defects are affecting production, however, then you need to get these issues straightened out first.

David Bonyuet, CQA, PMP
Watertown, MA

For more information

  1. Joe Kausek, "10 Auditing Basics," Quality Progress, Vol. 41, No. 7, pp. 44–49.

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