Are You Experienced?

Modified Ishikawa diagram provides career self-assessment tool, helps achieve goals

by Lance B. Coleman Sr.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received during my career was: "Look above, behind and beside you as you travel along your career path." In other words, cultivate relationships with those who have traveled the path that you’re aspiring to experience. Seek their counsel when needed, use their success as an inspiration, and take advantage of positive peer pressure.

It’s important to have people in your professional life who are at or near the same point in their careers as you, and are striving to move forward. These relationships can provide support, inspiration, counsel and a positive competitiveness.

You also should try to help people who are following your path. Mentoring benefits mentors as well as those being mentored. Mentoring, teaching or otherwise sharing knowledge helps develop a more profound understanding of your own expertise. Sharing lessons learned from your experiences prompts valuable reflection on your past triumphs, lessons learned and professional growth. Additionally, helping people is just a good thing to do. Make known your willingness and ability to assist, and provide assistance when asked. You can offer help, but don’t force it on anyone even if they seem to truly need your help.

What and who you know

A popular piece of wisdom shared in the professional world is: "It’s not what you know. It’s who you know." Not true—it’s both who and what you know that counts. In an increasingly competitive global market, instances of obvious nepotism are not as prevalent as in the past. Having the right skills and credentials are the most important factors in securing the job of your dreams.

The first step in moving your career forward is conducting a realistic assessment of your abilities and credentials. This is an important distinction to make because you may not always be allowed to attempt everything you are capable of doing. If your credentials don’t tell your current or potential employer that there is minimal risk in assigning you the job or project, you won’t get the opportunity. So, the keys to success are to deepen and broaden your levels of expertise, and ensure your credentials reflect your ability.

Networking is still incredibly important, though. Being recognized individually or as part of a respected and recognized organization can give job candidates a leg up on their competition. Without an accurate assessment of the gap between your current abilities and the position you desire, you won’t know which resources you need or how your contacts could assist you.

Generally speaking

Here are some general tips I’ve practiced and benefited from during my career:

  1. Master your job function: Become excellent at it. This builds good habits and is the first step in getting noticed positively by management.
  2. Become the best at some aspect of your job: to the point that people come to you for help or training; management will take notice.
  3. Acquire knowledge and learn a skill pertaining to the position that you desire.
  4. Learn to do something outside of your job function that will make your manager’s life easier: Even being helpful in a small way when you don’t have to will be remembered and can provide great returns.
  5. At each stage of your career, look for help: This could include mentors and upwardly mobile peers along with those aggressively progressing the career ladder behind you.
  6. Avoid the naysayers and complainers: Typically, no good will come of these conversations.
  7. Embrace continuous improvement: Continually strive to expand your knowledge and skill set. Don’t be afraid to look to unconventional sources for learning opportunities.

Practical application

My tips sound nice in theory, but you must know how to successfully put them into practice. I’ll use a real-life example to explain how to do this.

Start by using the tools of your profession to help advance your career. Figure 1 illustrates what I call an inverse Ishikawa diagram (IID). Instead of identifying possible root causes of an adverse event, the IID’s head represents a desired event, and the bones are inputs needed to drive toward the desired future state. The name is an intentional misnomer because the Ishikawa diagram was always meant to be both a planning and root cause analysis aid; it’s just predominantly used to determine root causes.

Figure 1

To learn about actions and resources needed to advance your career, read the online sidebar article, "Determining Career Action and Resource Needs," on this column’s webpage at www.qualityprogress.com.

Case study: Career reset

The case study in Figure 1 was a situation in which a quality professional was hired for a job as a quality control inspector after spending years away from the industry and his or her last job was a quality manager. The person had to restart his or her quality career from scratch. The initial goals set were to become a quality engineer within 18 months and double his or her starting salary in 36.

A critical assessment was conducted to identify how the person rated in each category. A table was created that listed key quality engineer attributes, and it included a column for rating the person’s ability and another column to document his or her credentials (see Table 1). The key quality engineer attributes were determined by reviewing the employer’s job description for the quality engineer as well as the body of knowledge for ASQ’s quality engineer certification.

Table 1

The key attributes along with the associated assessment ratings were used to label the bones of the IID. For each branch, actions were identified that needed to be taken and the resources needed or available to improve the self- assessment rating in that area. The goal was to have a self- assessment rating of three or higher in each category. Table 1 shows a listing of eight identified critical quality engineer attributes, plus the columns for the self-assessment ratings and credentials.

You can use the self-assessment for any position. Start by rating yourself in each of the critical attributes of the position you hope to attain on a scale of one to five based on these five definitions:


Two—Some experience, confident in the basics.

Three—Experienced and competent, might provide novices on-the-job training.

Four—Highly skilled, could train others in a formal setting.

Five—Expert, could serve as external consultant or expert trainer.

The next step is to plug into your IID, and use the plan-do-check-act cycle to go through an iterative process.


  • Determine the IID categories.
  • Populate the IID with actions and resources.
  • Identify any failure risks that must be addressed.


  • Put in place any needed risk mitigations.
  • Implement the plan.


  • Reassess your skills every six months.
  • Check and plan milestones.

Act (based on check-phase results):

  • Revise the plan if it’s not working appropriately.
  • If the plan is working as planned, continue forward.
  • If the plan is complete and successful, identify new goals.

Charting your path

A combination of experience, training and education is needed for a successful quality professional to gain expertise. Credentials are what lend credence to that expertise in the professional world. Take into account the advice and experiences of others, but only as inputs to your own decision making.

Always chart your own path, and find a good work-life balance. Understand that at some point in your life, one may take precedence over the other due to shifting priorities. Life is ever-changing and you must remain flexible. The key is that your work-life schedule must return to a balanced state, and it shouldn’t take years to do so.

Knowledge can come from many sources—such as formal education, classroom training, on-the-job training, knowledge from networking and mentoring, volunteer experience or industry research. Expanding and applying that knowledge is crucial to successful career advancement. I will conclude with the following wish for all of you: May the boundaries of your potential never be framed by the limits of your knowledge.

Lance B. Coleman Sr. is quality audit program manager at Ultradent Products Inc., South Jordan, UT. He earned an associate degree in electrical engineering technology from Southern Polytechnical University in Marietta, GA. A senior member of ASQ, Coleman holds the following ASQ certifications: quality auditor, biomedical auditor, quality engineer and Six Sigma Green Belt, along with the Exemplar Global quality management systems principle auditor certification. He is the author of Advanced Quality Auditing: An Auditor’s Review of Risk Management, Lean Improvement and Data Analysis (ASQ Quality Press, 2015).

Determining Career Action and Resource Needs

Details for actions and resources needed to advance your career are outside of the scope of this article, but let’s take a look at the process used to determine them. A friend of mine said that any consultant worth his or her salt always has a handy two-by-two matrix they can pull out as needed, so for this column, mine is illustrated in Online Tables 1 and 2.

Online Table 1

Online Table 2

The matrix is meant to reflect the reality that resources for promoting career advancement are found in your organization (internal), outside the organization (external) or a combination of both (see Online Table 2). The matrix key in Online Table 1 provides the rationale for the placement of items in Online Table 2’s two-by-two career advancement matrix.

The two-by-two career advancement matrix refers to career influencers in and outside your organization, and it can be used as a guide to determine the action that must be taken and the resources needed to accomplish your goals (see Online Table 2).

It should, however, be understood that the grid’s content and placement is dependent on your individual goals. For example, if your goal is to advance in your organization, networking would be internal as priority and external in addition (quadrant IV). Conversely, if your goal is to leave your organization or change careers, networking would move to be external primarily and internal secondarily (quadrant I). —L.B.C.

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