Tag Archives: ASQ Influential Voices

The Value of Professional Conferences. Also Why Has There Been So Little Innovation?

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Julia McIntosh takes a look at the costs and benefits of professionals attending conferences.

I still remember being in high school and George Box talking about the primary value of conferences was talking to colleagues in the hallway. This seemed very odd to me, as it seemed that the reason for going to a conference was to learn from the talks.

I also didn’t really understand the value in catching up with people in person. I could see it would be somewhat useful but I didn’t really understand the benefits of personal communication. Pretty much all of my communication at that point was person to person. So I didn’t really see the huge loss of fidelity of any other communication (phone, email…).

At early conferences that I attended my main benefit was still in sitting in sessions and learning what people had to say. I did also benefit from discussions with other attendees. And I started to form relationships with others which grew over the years. And over time the networking benefits did exceed the learning from sessions benefits.

Part of this also occurs as your knowledge increases and you have less to learn from the average speaker. George was obviously well past this stage when I was talking to him. For me I still learned a lot from some of the speakers but also found I was learning much less and skipping sessions to talk to people I could learn more from was an increasing benefit. Still I have difficulty doing that and would focus more on networking at lunch, between sessions and in the evening.

The costs of attending conferences are easy for companies to calculate. The benefits they bring are very hard to calculate. I can see why companies often are very tight with budgets for conferences.

Egyptian carving of figures into a stone sarcophagus

A stone sarcophagus from ancient Egypt. I took this photo after presenting a Deming 2 1/2 day seminar in Boston (at the Boston Fine Arts Museum – see more photos).

I think the benefits of getting people outside the building and letting them interact with others to learn and think about new ideas is very valuable. I do think it is much less valuable in most companies than is should be because they have bad management systems that are atrophied with poor practices that are going to be extremely difficult to improve even if people have good ideas to try.

The organization really should focus on improving the management system so it isn’t such a barrier to improvement. But I think most organizations instead find it easy to just estimate a poor return on investments in conferences because those returning don’t actually make any improvements. Again, I think the cause of the failure to improve is more about the bad management system than the benefit of the conferences.

Of course, to some extent, the conferences should be focusing on how to improve given so many attendees organizations are crippled with a poor management system. But often people seem reluctant to acknowledge or discuss that. And those that point out problems often are seen as the problem (based on their actions – I can only conclude blaming the messenger makes sense to some people). And these factors are often even more pronounced in those the organization is willing to invest in (they are often more focused on making the bosses happy rather than something like improvement and change which often rubs people the wrong way).

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Encouraging the Next Generation of STEM Professionals

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asks: how should we encourage the next generation of STEM Professionals? I addressed a similar question in: Future Engineers and Scientists, which provides many details on this question.

The advantages of gaining science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) are fairly well known. However, even so, that is something to emphasize in order to encourage the next generation. While it is fairly well known it still helps to re-enforce and expand on the existing understanding. Some posts from my science and engineering blog on that topic: Engineering Graduates Earned a Return on Their Investment In Education of 21% (the highest of any discipline, math was next); Earnings by College Major, Engineers and Scientists at the Top; Career Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive.

STEM careers often appeal to kids and teenagers (I Always Wanted to be Some Sort of Scientist, Apply to be an Astronaut).

Sadly we often discourage them with unnecessarily challenging education hurdles. It is true the education path for STEM is more challenging than for most careers. That is a reality that won’t change. If people are turned off by hard work, they likely wouldn’t like most STEM careers anyway. So that reality I think is fine. But the design of STEM education could be greatly improved to avoiding turning off many people who would enjoy the education and a career if the education process were better. I have also written about this previously: Improving Engineering Education, Primary School Science Education in China and the USA, Innovative Science and Engineering Higher Education, Infinity Project: Engineering Education for Today’s Classroom (providing middle school, high school, and early college engineering curricula), Engineering Education in the 21st Century, Research findings Contradict Myth of High Engineering Dropout Rate, Fun k-12 Science and Engineering Learning.

Those with STEM degrees have better career options than others (in terms of nearly everything: higher pay, lower unemployment and higher satisfaction with their careers). Some of the career options are more rigid than an average career, but many are actually more flexible and still have all the benefits. They have the opportunity for many rewarding jobs. This is of more importance for a sad reason: our failure to create organizations with a priority placed on respect for people.

Getting a STEM degree requires that students see the appeal of gaining those degrees and many do. Many students are turned off by either the hard work required to get such degrees or the less than optimal STEM education process (which often makes it much harder and also much less inspiring than required due to poor educational systems).

While continuing to promote STEM careers to the young is helpful and wise, we are doing this fairly well. Of course, everything can be done better, and we should keep striving to improve. But the main focus, In my opinion, should be on better education from k-12 all the way through the PhD level for STEM. It would also help if we stopped electing anti-science politicians.

Related: Science and Engineering Advantages for EconomiesS&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopMathematicians Top List of Best Occupations (top 6 are all STEM careers)Looking at the Value of Different College Degrees

Improving Management Globally

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asks: Why Should Quality Go Global?

ASQ’s mission statement talks about increasing the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world. Are we doing enough, throughout the world, to accomplish that mission?

I have discussed a serious shortfall in this effort numerous times including in a reply to the ASQ blog before I was an ASQ Influential Voice – ASQ has a long way to go in promoting quality. ASQ is not doing enough. If “increasing the use and impact of quality” is indeed the mission then ASQ should make all quality articles they have published open access. If ASQ is mainly an organization focused on maximizing its revenue then selling articles that were written by authors (not paid by ASQ) and published by ASQ years and decades ago may be sensible.

ASQ has made a very small percentage of such articles available, as far as I can tell.

Not making articles open access is bad enough when all your users are in the USA. It is much worse when you aim to influence a global audience.

On the matter of the importance of promoting better management practices worldwide I agree there is a huge amount of work to be done. And there is a huge vacuum of resources for managers looking for information on how to do better.

ASQ can help fill that need. They are doing some things, including their blog and the ASQ Influential Voices program, but need to do much more to make much of a difference, it seems to me. I think they need to make the articles open access as the most important sign ASQ is changing to put the mission first; to have the organization designed to support that mission instead of the support of the organization itself as the primary focus.

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Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the question – Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

Bill Troy suggests a vision for ASQ of

To improve the function and value of goods and services worldwide, and to facilitate the development of new products and services that improve the quality of life.

He also discusses the ideas of W. Edwards Deming and the value he found in attending 6 4-day Deming seminars.

I find the aim Deming used to drive his actions to be ambitious and worthwhile: “to advance commerce, prosperity and peace.” I discusses my thoughts on this aim in my post launching the W. Edwards Deming Institute blog:

To many of us today that aim may seem lofty and disconnected from our day to day lives. Dr. Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. He lived through World War I. He lived through the depression. He lived through World War II. He was asked to go to Japan to aid in the recovery efforts. In my, opinion, if you live through those conditions and are a systems thinker it is very easy to understand the enormous hardship people face when commerce fails to provide prosperity and the devastating tragedy of war is made so real. It may be hard for people with indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, safety, security and a fairly strong economy to appreciate how difficult life can be without prosperity. But I think it is much easier for someone who has lived through 2 world wars, a depression and then spends a great deal of time in post war Japan to understand this importance.

I didn’t live through those events, but I also can see that importance. I lived in Singapore and Nigeria as a child. And I traveled quite a bit and was able to see that there were billions of people on the earth that more than anything struggle to get food, clean water and electricity. To me the importance of advancing commerce, prosperity and peace was easy to see and when I first saw his aim it struck me. It took a few more years to appreciate how the aim is made real and moved forward by his ideas.

Most of the posts will be on much more focused management ideas. But I think this is an appropriate beginning to the exploration of these ideas. He had many specific thoughts on topics managers face everyday. Those ideas were part of a system. And that system had, at the core, making the world a better place for us to live in.

My father shared a similar vision. We lived in Singapore and Nigeria for a year as he taught at Universities. He went to China for a summer (before it was really open – they brought in some experts to help learn about ideas in engineering, science, statistics etc.). In these efforts he was largely focused on helping create systems that let people benefit from prosperity. My father had also lived in Japan for several years as a kid and saw Japan trying to recovery from the devastation caused by World War II.

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The Importance of Leadership by Those Working to Improve Management

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the importance of leadership for every quality management professional.

Leadership is important but also something that often is difficult to understand what exactly is meant by the person using the term. In Bill’s case he provides some guidance with: “Leadership encompasses… business savvy, people skills, and decisive action all are required to get results in the world.”

The ability to find solutions and move forward efforts in organizations does benefit from people skills. Working with people effectively is an important part of having success in improving organizations. What that means to different people is very different. Some people see charisma as key, others believe decisiveness is very important, others see winning over the hearts of people as what it takes to make a difference.

For me the key is managing with an understanding of respect for people and how that concept fits with the rest of Deming’s management system.

There are different paths to success but you need to have others respect for your knowledge on the topic, your ability to make solutions work and your trustworthiness. Different leaders lean on different areas. Some people win over the hearts others may offer a low charisma aura but others are confident they have the ability to deliver based on their knowledge. As Dr. Deming said you have 3 ways to influence others, your authority stems from: your position, your knowledge and your personality.

I do think business savvy is something that doesn’t get enough attention of lean/Deming/six-sigma/quality professionals. There is a need to communicate with executives in a language they understand in order to make big changes. That requires an understanding of business and an appreciation for the importance of actually delivering value over talking about good plans.

I think six sigma efforts are less useful that Deming and lean efforts. But I do think six sigma has 2 things that are given more weight (by organizations using it well, far too few of them using it, sadly) that help six sigma efforts. First is a focus on training about design of experiments. To some extent this is then acted on by organizations pursuing six sigma – but too often it isn’t. However others neglect even talking much about design of experiments. My father did a great deal of work in this area and I am biased, but for me it is an extremely powerful tool that is used far too little.

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Attracting Members and Volunteers to Professional Organizations

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore recruiting members and volunteers amid a changing landscape.

In most ways the answer is the same as any large question on directing an organization. We must figure out the value we wish to offer that is in demand and provide it in a package people desire. As part of that we need to continually focus on the customer and adjust to their changing desires and the changing realities of the marketplace.

Organizations frequently get attached to their ways of doing things and fail to adapt to changing conditions. I have been saying for more than a decade the extreme barriers put up to old content by ASQ don’t seem consistent to their mission to me. They seem tied to an old business model that made sense when costs to distribute and access information were high.

The costs to distribute and access information are low today (thanks to the internet). Other than the old model growing into a business case that had ASQ pursuing a high income level from old content I don’t see why an organization that exists to promote quality puts up paywall barriers to old content that would promote quality if it were not hidden away. Even if you are a member there is a ludicrously high charge for old articles.

Mount Rainier national park

Trail in Mount Rainier National Park by John Hunter

I think this is a symptom that many membership organizations have. They turn from being focused on promoting their mission to being focused on perpetuating their organization. I don’t see why ASQ members would care much about how big ASQ is.

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Strategy Based on Capability and Integrated with Execution

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the topic of strategy.

If you read about management and organizational strategy you will read a lot about planning and alignment and the process of creating a strategy. I believe too little focus is given to building the capability of the organization to execute on the strategy (and continual management improvement). Lofty ideas without capability are not of much use.

“Strategy” without a thorough understanding of the organization as a system or an understanding of the capabilities of the organization is little more than dreams. Planning and strategy without the capability in the organization or a process to turn strategy into action are not much use.

I find strategy without involving the whole organization is fragile and likely to amount to not much good; and often lots of wasted effort. In order to involve the whole organization in strategy use ideas like Hoshin Kanri (policy deployment) and catchball.

The integrated nature of hoshin kanri is critical to success. It is integrated both by including the whole organization (not just a few executives) and has integration between planning and execution. Both of those are critical.

In practice hoshin kanri is also based on continual improvement. The effectiveness the first year is better than the normal way of defining strategy and then maybe doing something about it. But the large differences are seen years into the effort as the process is improved each year and the capability of the organization to plan effectively and then execute on that plan are increased.

As you have success with small attempts at hoshin kanri you can build on the growing capability of the organization to try more ambitious strategies.

Related: Interview of John Hunter on PDSA, Deming, Strategy and MoreInnovation StrategyHow to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedBe Careful What You MeasureBuilding the Capability for Management Improvement in Your OrganizationOut of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

Revolutionary Management Improvement May Be Needed But Most Management Change is Evolutionary

This month the ASQ Influential Bloggers were asked to respond to the question – will the future of quality be evolutionary or revolutionary?

I think it has been and will continue to be both.

Revolutionary change is powerful but very difficult for entrenched people and organizations to actually pull off. It is much easy to dream about doing so.

Often even revolutionary ideas are adopted in a more evolutionary way: partial adoption of some practices based on the insight provided by the revolutionary idea. I think this is where the biggest impact of W. Edwards Deming’s ideas have been. I see him as the most revolutionary and worthwhile management thinker we have had. But even so, few organizations adopted the revolutionary ideas. Most organizations nibbled on the edges and still have a long way to go to finally get to a management system he was prompting 30,40 or more years ago.

A few organizations really did some revolutionary things based on Deming’s ideas, for example: Toyota. Toyota had some revolutionary moves and adopted many revolutionary ideas brought forward by numerous people including Taichii Ohno. But even so the largest impact has been all those that have followed after Toyota with the lean manufacturing strategies.

And most other companies have taken evolutionary steps from old management paradigms to adopt some new thinking when trying out lean thinking. And frankly most of those efforts are so misguided or incredible small they barely qualify. But for those that successfully improved their management system they were mainly evolutionary.

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Vision can be a Powerful Driver but Most Often It is Just a Few Pretty Words

This month Bill Troy, the new CEO of ASQ, asked ASQ’s Influential Voices to explore the value of vision to the success of organizations.

An aim for the organization is extremely helpful when it allows everyone in the organization to be guided by the same vision. But nearly all the time, in my experience, the aim is printed in the annual report and posted on the web site an used in some speeches but has nothing to do with how the organization operates.

When the vision is merely a pretty collection of words that doesn’t drive decisions and behavior it is pointless. When it does drive behavior it is powerful. Sadly that is rarely the case.

As is so often the case, Russell Ackoff, has provided a good quote on the idea: If we are going to talk about values, we got to talk about what the values are in action, not in proclamation.

Marketers understand the value of creating a vision in customers minds about your organization. They often do this quite well. Sadly organizations often are not managed with that vision in mind. If you believe the vision of your marketing then make sure your organization has embraced those principles.

Related: The Customer is the Purpose of Our Work (beautiful quote on the wall, not what I experience as the customer thoughWe are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemenHallmark Building Supplies – Purpose Drives Decisions (see 3rd video excerpt)

The Benefits of Blogging

ASQ interviewed me, and several other ASQ Influential Voices bloggers for an article published in the current issue of Quality Progress magazine: The Blog Boom.

A couple of my quotes from the article:

I have been blogging for 10 years, which is more than enough time to convince me it is right for me. Blogging fits my personality—I like short delivery cycles. I don’t like the idea of working on a project that takes a year to reach the audience or customers. With blogging, I can have an idea, and in an hour I can share that with people across the globe. Blogging is similar to agile software development in this way: minimize work-in-progress and deliver working software—or in blogging, text—to users as quickly as possible. Then iterate and extend.

One of the benefits I didn’t appreciate before I started was how blogging helps build your knowledge and understanding—in the same way teaching helps you learn the topic you are discussing in a deeper way.

I find myself more thoughtful and engaged with ideas because I think about how I can build on those ideas in a blog post. When I start writing, I sometimes realize I don’t actually understand the idea or topic as well as it seemed I did. So I must think about it more to be able to understand it well enough to write about it.

See the whole article to see the rest of my responses and thoughts from Mark Graban, Jennifer Stepniowski, Jimena Calfa and Daniel Zrymiak. The article is available for free, though you do have to register to view that article (registering will also let you view the other articles ASQ has made available to non-members).

Related: Blogging is Good for You (2006)Your Online Presence (2007)Your Online Identity (2007)Curious Cat Blogs (management, investing, travel, engineering, technology…)