Rama Shankar, managing partner, Delta Management Associates
Rama Shankar, an ASQ member since 1991, is a managing partner at Delta Management Associates in Glenview, IL. The consulting firm specializes in quality, process improvement, problem solving, auditing, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and training.
In her position, Shankar has implemented projects for various organizations, including:
- Mentoring Six Sigma projects in various industries.
- Conducting public and in-house seminars on topics such as Six Sigma, lean for service, root cause analysis and supplier quality.
- Setting up a performance dashboard system.
- Conducting gap analyses.
- Process mapping current and future states.
Shankar has acted as a judge for the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association for the State Team Excellence Award, as an examiner for the State of Illinois Lincoln Quality Award and is a two-term Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award examiner.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Madras, India, and two master’s degrees: one in engineering management from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and one in materials management from the Indian Institute of Materials Management. Shankar is an ASQ-certified quality auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt (BB). She is also certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for training in lean manufacturing, cellular manufacturing, value stream mapping and set-up time reduction. Additionally, Shankar is an ASQ-certified trainer for the Six Sigma BB and Six Sigma Green Belt courses. She is also a lead auditor in ISO 9000 and aerospace quality management systems, AS 9100.
Shankar recently answered questions about her introduction to quality and the importance of Six Sigma.
What do you think is most important in implementing a Six Sigma project?
Follow the define, measure, analyze, improve and control phases step by step and do not get distracted. Most people tend to get hung up on the analysis. The focus should be on solving the problem with ideas generated with the help of a cross-functional team. Once an idea is implemented, go back and collect data, perform the analysis, let the numbers tell you the story and learn whether the idea worked or not. Don’t be afraid to try again if a particular solution did not work. Chalk it up to lessons learned—we now know what will not work in a given situation.
Why do you think Six Sigma is important?
It is a robust way to solve a problem in such a way that it does not happen again. The process of arriving at that stage is longer in comparison to other improvement techniques, such as plan-do-check-act and lean, but the Six Sigma way leads to innovation.
Why do you think quality is important?
Gone are the days when throughput was king and the buyer was not discriminatory. With the global economy, computers and transportation, needs and desires can be fulfilled by a variety of suppliers, all clamoring for a piece of your business. The buyer is in the driver’s seat. The only way suppliers can now differentiate themselves from the rest is through providing quality products with minimum variation.
What's your favorite benefit of quality?
The happiness derived from doing a job well and the elegance of the solution.
Why did you choose to go into the quality field?
When I was in the middle of my master’s program, I was offered a job as a quality engineer. The company said they would pay the tuition for the remaining courses, so I accepted. Initially, my intent was to be a design engineer, but after working as a quality engineer for one year, the problem solving nature of the job had me hooked. Every day was different—it was an adventure in the workplace to see what was going to happen next. Interaction with the people and learning about various processes, such as how things were made, was a side benefit of problem solving. Another aspect of the quality profession was that the job offered a complete picture of how the organization worked—tentacles spread out into various departments and across organization chart boundaries. After some years in the quality field, I was offered a position as a manufacturing engineer, but found it restrictive in that I did not have a holistic picture of the workings in the organization. Within a few months, I transferred back to quality, and I am here to stay.
What's your best advice to someone new to quality?
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It is OK to ask for help—other people have been in the organization for a long time and know the (unwritten) history. Please approach with humility and put aside textbook knowledge and really listen to the experts. Volunteer if you have the time and find a mentor. I will be happy to be one.
Rama Shankar is the author of “Lean Drug Development in R&D,” an article that was published in Drug Discovery & Development Magazine. Shankar also wrote the Quality Press book, Process Improvement Using Six Sigma: A DMAIC Guide.