Light Your Fire

Spark career growth by being a valuable team member

by Jack B. ReVelle

You don’t need to be a chemist to know that a fire can’t be started without a fuel and an oxidizer. But it must be pointed out that it takes the right fuel and a corresponding oxidizer to create the foundation for a really good fire.

Using a similar line of reasoning, it takes the right team members to create an enabled, empowered, motivated, cross functional, self-directed team capable of selecting the most important tasks, and then efficiently and effectively solving the most critical problems. This concept is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1

In nearly every job posting for quality professional positions, there is a reference to the continuing need to be a team-oriented player who works well with others. It’s no longer just enough to be capable of working with limited or no supervision.

Depending on the nature of the project, team members can be drawn or selected from a single functional area, such as finance, quality, manufacturing or HR, or multiple functional areas.

Tools and teams

Virtually every job posting also calls for working knowledge of specific skills and tools. A process improvement team can choose from several tools, including:

  • The seven quality control (basic) tools, including Pareto analysis, cause and effect analysis, and scatter analysis.
  • The seven management and planning (new) tools, such as affinity analysis, prioritization matrix and relations diagrams.
  • The seven team support tools, including forced choice, pair wise ranking and nominal group technique.
  • The seven supplemental tools, such as defect maps, events logs and data stratification.

The most productive teams—those that are most effective and efficient in the achievement of their goals—are:

  1. Cross functional: Team members from multiple functional areas.
  2. Self-directed: Leadership comes from within, so management is neither required nor expected to be involved in a team’s short-term activities.
  3. Enabled: Team members receive timely and appropriate training to help them perform their team-related responsibilities with little or no external direction.
  4. Empowered: Team members are trusted by management to do what’s right in a timely and cost-effective manner. Requests for permission or authorization to act occur in only critical situations.

The task at hand

The task process is known as the Deming cycle or the Shewhart cycle. Many years ago, W. Edwards Deming realized innovation, system improvements, and process and product variation reduction require the use of a problem-solving process.

A key element in the development of such a process is the application of the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) or the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle. The cycle was originated by Walter Shewhart in the 1930s and subsequently passed on to Deming before World War II. Because he learned about it from Shewhart, Deming called it the Shewhart cycle. The name that most completely describes the model is the PDCA cycle, but Shewhart later revised his model to become the PDSA cycle.

Regardless of which name your team chooses to use, this cycle is a repeatable sequence of activities for constant, continuous improvement and innovation, enabling employees and suppliers to efficiently and effectively solve their problems, as well as to be more creative.

In Table 1, you can see how the model of PDCA/PDSA tracks. The PDCA/PDSA model also has been transformed into several easily applied problem-solving cycles, such as the eight-step cycle shown in Figure 2.

Table 1

Figure 2

The ASQ Body of Knowledge (BoK) for several quality professional certifications calls for knowledge of and experience with the Deming or Shewhart cycle. The BoK for each certification is based on the awareness of employers’ expectation for quality professionals.

Choosing the right members and tools to build a team capable of efficient and effective problem solving is critical to a process improvement task.

As employees, it’s important to be familiar with the quality tools and task processes so you’re ready to contribute. It’s not enough to possess mere entry-level capabilities when you aspire to career growth. As with champions in every field, you must keep adding to your existing repertoire if your ambition is to achieve greater and faster career development.

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 and a 2012 recipient of the ASQ Shainin Medal.

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