Share the Wealth

The quality cup runneth over into everyday use

by Carol E. Marchetti

When I received my doctorate in statistics in 1997, I had never heard of quality control in a statistical context.

But by 2002, I was teaching statistical quality control (SQC) at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, a course in which the curriculum consisted mostly of control charts, gauge repeatability and reproducibility, and acceptance sampling. The math was easy enough, and the basic ideas followed those of traditional statistical concepts.

Discussions with family and friends working in the quality field made me realize there was much more to the topics in this course than what appeared in the textbook. At that time, overarching quality methods and strategies had not yet made it into text.

I invited several of these people to be guest lecturers in my course. They presented the tools they used—such as process maps, failure mode and effects analysis, and poka-yoke—as part of methods that were accepted standards at their companies. These methods included define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC); lean Six Sigma; and kaizen.

Learning from others

I saw there was a great deal more I could bring to my classroom and my students. So, in 2008, I wrote a sabbatical proposal for the 2009-2010 academic year. I wanted to learn how people in industry train in and implement quality techniques. I planned to visit another university where a vibrant quality program was already in place. My proposal also included studying intently to obtain an ASQ certification.

I’m currently finishing my sabbatical year, which has included many wonderful experiences. I visited the office of planning and institutional assessment at Pennsylvania State University, where I met with staff members who run the continuous quality improvement programs and faculty members who have participated in projects facilitated by the office.

I worked with the operations excellence director at Ametek Power Instruments in Rochester to better understand change management and the importance of direct employee involvement in quality initiatives.

I collaborated with the corporate lean Six Sigma group at Xerox Corp. to train in lean Six Sigma methods and to gain experience by participating in several quality improvement projects. Additionally, I became an ASQ-certified quality engineer.

Taking quality home

What surprised me most throughout the course of the year was how I started thinking about quality tools in non-business settings.

When a friend’s child accidentally got into the dog’s medication instead of his own (resulting in a trip to the emergency room, that, fortunately, ended well), I thought to myself, "This process needs some error-proofing." Additionally, when a teacher at my child’s school talked about the enormous task of cleaning out the supply room, I found myself giving tips, and even handouts, on the 5S method for storing items and maintaining order.

I was also surprised at how the quality language can be a common communication factor in some situations but an effective progress blocker in others. Many people get glassy-eyed at the mere mention of quality tools.

When I observed a Master Black Belt successfully running an improvement project in a local doctor’s office—and carefully explaining the process and using only the tools and terminology necessary—I realized that, just like in my introductory statistics classroom, new language and new ideas need to be introduced carefully and nurtured to take hold.

I intend to take my new data-based, process-focused way of thinking back to campus when I return. I’ll be better prepared to teach my SQC course. I also plan to improve student learning in all my courses using DMAIC and to apply quality tools to contain the scope and generate, evaluate and select solutions in my committee work. I’ll continue to look for ways to do what I do better and more efficiently through quality thinking.

Carol E. Marchetti is as associate statistics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Mathematical Sciences in New York. She earned a doctorate in statistics from the University of Rochester. Marchetti is a member of ASQ and an ASQ-certified quality engineer.

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