Proving Continuous Improvement With Profit Ability

Russ Jones, ASQ Quality Press, 2008, 292 pp., $44 list, $26 member (book).

For the wealth of knowledge and guidance this book provides, it’s a great bargain. And even if it wasn’t, every manager in the manufacturing and service industries—including quality managers, those running continuous improvement projects and even financial managers—should have this book to study and apply the lessons found within.

While return on investment is addressed, the primary focus is return on assets (ROA), which, as Jones states, “is used to measure continuous improvement because it helps determine whether net profit and asset investment are in balance.” With a focus on seven critical business elements, he recommends these goals for project teams:

  1. Increase market coverage to increase sales dollars.
  2. Reduce labor and nonlabor expenses per sales dollar.
  3. Reduce lead times to minimize work-in-process inventory investment.
  4. Minimize product and component inventory investment by reducing manufacturing and purchasing setup costs to reduce lot sizes.
  5. Maximize capital asset utilization.
  6. Control the customer invoice collection period to minimize the accounts receivable investment.
  7. Maximize employee asset utilization by using project teams and training them to identify, evaluate and implement projects.

The author’s argument is that with a systematic investment of people, time and money specifically devoted to continuous improvement initiatives, an organization can double its ROA in three to five years. The book also provides insight, guidance and tools for setting goals and empowering employee teams; techniques for evaluating and ranking projects; and how-to information, forms and charts.

Although this book addresses a number of concepts and methods with which many quality professionals are already familiar, it is unique in its integration of the concepts, techniques and tools, all while focusing on ROA. It is a must-read for serious continuous improvement practitioners.

Reviewed by Russ Westcott
R.T. Westcott & Associates
Old Saybrook, CT

Strategic Error-Proofing

John J. Casey, CRC Press, 2009, 135 pp., $34.95 (book).

John Casey is a veteran of the automotive industry, and this book is the result of his years of experience in the field. The book is clearly biased toward manufacturing, but with a little thought, Casey’s strategy can be applied to processes in other industries.

Casey’s success every time (SET) method is not the traditional approach of identifying and mitigating potential failure modes to avoid defects. He changes the paradigm from error detection and prevention to identifying what needs to go right to produce a good part and assuring that it does.

SET provides a roadmap for breaking down each process step into three levels:

  1. Part—selecting and placing each part.
  2. Setup—orienting and aligning parts using tools and fixtures.
  3. Parameter—monitoring important parameters in which value is added to a part.

Casey advocates replacing failure mode effects analysis with his more proactive SET approach and then strategically applying error proofing at each process level.

Casey provides an excellent comparison of tools and terminology prior to describing SET and suggests numerous tools unique to SET that can help identify and rate error-proofing devices. Identifying what needs to go right and applying error-proofing devices to make sure it does ensures a good part is made every time. For operations, the easiest path becomes the correct path.

Anyone tasked with improving quality will want a copy of this book. Casey’s approach is simple and pragmatic, but it requires a cognitive shift in the traditional approach to quality improvement.

Reviewed by James R. Kotterman
Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center
Plymouth, MI

Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies

Tom DeMarco, Peter Hruschka, Tim Lister, Steve McMenamin, James Robertson and Suzanne Robertson, Dorset House Publishing, 2008, 238 pp., $35.95 (book).

This is an unusual book, in style and in content. While the collaborative effort focuses on software development methods, the authors, who are recognized experts in the discipline, try to emulate the work of architect Christopher Alexander. In his many books, Alexander identified a few hundred architectural patterns. The authors of this book use a similar approach, identifying 86 software development patterns.

In one of the sections, for example, the authors deal with what they call the data quality pattern and describe in two pages how it is not unusual for the quality of database software to exceed the quality of the data it processes. Companies tend to see an aggregate problem of software and data, and because the software is always easier to fix than the data, companies set out to fix or replace the software.

The chapter concludes with an apocalyptic description: “The major cause of declining data quality over time is change. This spoilage in the asset we call ‘corporate data’ can only be repaired by a manual fix. Imagining otherwise puts off the day of reckoning.”

The book is fun to read, although the names of the patterns are a bit too creative and thus require some guessing as to their content and scope. The informal descriptive style makes this good reading, but some readers will find it necessary to organize the material in a different way for future reference.

Overall, this work is a fresh change from formal and structured books on software development. It shows that software development experts can also have fun and write in an accessible and thought-provoking way. Practitioners who want confirmation they are not alone in the trenches and academics interested in real-world applications will find it of interest.

Reviewed by Ron S. Kenett
KPA Ltd.
Raanana, Israel

Collapse of Distinction

Scott McKain, Thomas Nelson (publisher), 2009, 224 pp., $24.95 (book).

In this book, McKain, chair of the consulting firm McKain Performance Group Inc. and of holding company Obsidian Enterprises, provides a pragmatic guide to helping businesses differentiate from their competition.

McKain examines how many American companies have found themselves in a market of sameness, exemplified by his view of the customer experience in today’s big-box retail, fast-food and insurance industries. He explains his cornerstones of distinction that will help businesses separate from the rest of the market.

These cornerstones include developing clarity of purpose and identity with customers, stimulating and steering creativity within an organization, effectively communicating what a business is about and what it stands for, and focusing on the experience of the customer.

McKain integrates useful, practical suggestions that help connect the concepts with his target audience, which is senior-level executives and board leadership. In doing so, he eschews the glib tone commonly found in so many management guides.

McKain adds situational examples of how firms he has worked with have succeeded by using his ideas. The suggested supplemental readings and website resources further enhance this work, which rises to the top of the heavily saturated management and leadership genre.

Reviewed by Dale Farris
Groves, TX

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