Keep Your Toolbox Full
Be aware of all the tools at your disposal and excel at your job
by Jack B. ReVelle
When defense attorneys enter courtrooms, their clients justifiably expect to be well-defended because the attorneys have been educated, graduated from accredited law schools, passed their state’s bar exams and are experienced in offering their clients appropriate representation. The attorneys know the law, the court system and the judges—they know their way around their chosen profession.
This pattern of thinking can extend to other professions, including doctors, dentists, accountants, financial advisors, architects and engineers, and skilled trades, such as plumbers, electricians, gardeners and handymen.
What all of these careers have in common is that the ability to apply knowledge and experience in dealing with the variety of challenges faced in each respective job is vital to success. The same idea holds true for careers in quality. Quality professionals have their own set of tools to select from to solve quality-related problems.
As a quality professional, are you aware of all the continuous improvement tools, such as kaizen, total quality management and lean Six Sigma?
You are likely aware of some or most, but it’s also likely you are sometimes faced with challenges that demand the use of specific quality tools with which you are unfamiliar. Yet as a quality professional, your boss, your coworkers, and your internal and external customers expect you to be aware of and know when to employ the necessary tools of your profession.
Think about all those careers we noted earlier. How would you feel if those professionals faced situations they were unable to handle due to a lack of education, training and experience?
For example, what if you discovered your doctor or dentist was unaware of new medical or dental discoveries? Or, your certified public accountant was not knowledgeable about recent IRS rulings? Or, your financial advisor was not up to speed on trends in the stock market? As a customer of these professionals’ services, I suspect you would not react well to those shortcomings.
Take a few minutes to think about all the quality tools available for you to use in quality-oriented problem solving, the continuous improvement of products and services, and your understanding of the various needs and wants of your internal and external customers. Which tools are you aware of? Do you already know when and how to use those tools? At least to some extent, your career as a quality professional depends on your ability to recall a specific quality tool and apply it when necessary.
You might be surprised to hear that in addition to the old tried-and-true quality tools you learned as your career progressed, there are a variety of new tools that are worth all quality professionals’ attention. My goal for the remainder of this column and in future columns is to update you on quality tools you may not already be using simply because you are unaware they exist.
Many of the quality tools, old and new, have been bundled because of the commonality or purpose of their applications. The initial collection was brought together in 1985 by Kaoru Ishikawa as the quantitatively oriented Seven Quality Control (7-QC) tools. These tools include:
- Data tables (check sheets or tally sheets).
- Cause-and-effect analysis (the Ishikawa or fishbone diagram).
- Pareto analysis.
- Scatter analysis.
- Trend analysis (graphs or run charts).
- Control charts (X-bar and R charts).
In 1988, a few years after Ishikawa packaged the 7-QC tools, Shigeru Mizuno introduced the qualitatively oriented Seven Management and Planning (7-MP) tools:
- Affinity diagrams.
- Interrelationship digraphs.
- Tree diagrams.
- Prioritization matrixes.
- Matrix diagrams.
- Process decision program charts.
- Activity network diagrams.
The 7-QC tools and the 7-MP tools both were introduced in the United States by GOAL/QPC in its Memory Jogger series of publications.1 In 1998, GOAL/QPC introduced the Seven Creativity (7-CREAT) tools, which enable organizations to develop a systematic approach to creativity and innovation. These tools include:
- Heuristic redefinition.
- Classical brainstorming.
- Brainstorming 635.
- Imaginary brainstorming.
- Word and picture association.
- Transformation of ideal solution elements through associations (TILMAG).
- Morphological boxes.
In 2004, I further advocated bundling related quality tools with the Seven Supplemental (7-SUPP) tools and the Seven Team Support (7-TEAM) tools.2 The 7-SUPP tools were bundled to bring together specific tools that directly supplement the 7-QC tools. These tools include:
- Defect maps.
- Events logs.
- Data stratification.
- Process flowcharts or maps.
- Progress center.
- Statistical sampling.
The 7-TEAM tools were brought together at the same time because of their common intent to provide teams with tools to facilitate their decision-making efforts. These include:
- Forced choice.
- Pairwise ranking.
- List reduction.
- Nominal group technique.
- Mind mapping
- Delphi method.
In the 2010 ASQ webcast "Seven Lean Six Sigma Tools (7-LSS)," I discussed bundling the seven lean Six Sigma (7-LSS) tools. These tools include:
- 5S system.
- Seven wastes.
- Value stream mapping.
- Visual workplace.
- Voice of the customer.
Together, these tools facilitate process improvement efforts by quality professionals challenged to streamline processes and make them more responsive to customer expectations.
As you might expect, there are many more tools not identified in this column. You should anticipate reading about them in forthcoming columns.
The best way to get a job done is to select and use the right tools for the job at hand. Too often, quality professionals with only a limited number of tools at their disposal perform the task suboptimally, giving themselves—and the tools they’ve used—a bad name.
- GOAL/QPC, Memory Jogger series, www.goalqpc.com/shop_products.cfm?productshopby=7.
- Jack B. ReVelle, Quality Essentials, ASQ Quality Press, 2004.
Jack B. Revelle is a consulting statistician at ReVelle Solutions LLC in Santa Ana, CA. He earned a doctorate in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. ReVelle is the author of several books, including Home Builder’s Guide to Continuous Improvement (CRC Press, 2010). ReVelle is an ASQ fellow.