Tag Archives: Europe

George Box Webcast on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement

George Box lecture on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement at the Second International Tampere Conference in Statistics, University of Tampere, Finland (1987).

Early on he shows a graph showing the problems with American cars steady over a 10 years period. Then he overlays the results for Japanese cars which show a steady and significant decline of the same period.

Those who didn’t get to see presentations before power point also get a chance to see old school, hand drawn, overhead slides.

He discusses how to improve the pace of improvement. To start with informative events (events we can learn from) have to be brought to the attention of informed observers. Otherwise only when those events happen to catch the attention of the right observer will we capture knowledge we can use to improve. This results in slow improvement.

A control chart is an example of highlighting that something worth studying happened. The chart will indicate when to pay attention. And we can then improve the pace of improvement.

Next we want to encourage directed experimentation. We intentionally induce informative events and pay close attention while doing so in order to learn.

Every process generates information that can be used to improve it.

He emphasis the point that this isn’t about only manufacturing but it true of any process (drafting, invoicing, computer service, checking into a hospital, booking an airline ticket etc.).

He then discussed an example from a class my father taught and where the students all when to a TV plant outside Chicago to visit. The plant had been run by Motorola. It was sold to a Japanese company that found there was a 146% defect rate (which meant most TVs were taken off the line to be fixed at least once and many twice) – this is just the defect rate before then even get off the line. After 5 years the same plant, with the same American workers but a Japanese management system had reduced the defect rate to 2%. Everyone, including managers, were from the USA they were just using quality improvement methods. We may forget now, but one of the many objections managers gave for why quality improvement wouldn’t work in their company was due to their bad workers (it might work in Japan but not here).

He references how Deming’s 14 points will get management to allow quality improvement to be done by the workforce. Because without management support quality improvement processes can’t be used.

With experimentation we are looking to find clues for what to experiment with next. Experimentation is an iterative process. This is very much the mindset of fast iteration and minimal viable product (say minimal viable experimentation as voiced in 1987).

There is great value in creating iterative processes with fast feedback to those attempting to design and improve. Box and Deming (with rapid turns of the PDSA cycle) and others promoted this 20, 30 and 40 years ago and now we get the same ideas tweaked for startups. The lean startup stuff is as closely related to Box’s ideas of experimentation as an iterative process as it is to anything else.

Related: Ishikawa’s seven quality control tools

He also provided a bit of history that I was not aware of saying the first application of orthogonal arrays (fractional factorial designs) in industry was by Tippett in 1933. And he then mentioned work by Finney in 1945, Plackett and Burman in 1946 and Rao in 1947.

Zara Thrives by Ignoring Conventional Wisdom

Zara Thrives by Breaking All the Rules

Many U.S. apparel retailers are choking on slow-moving inventories as consumers hold back on spending. But Spain’s Inditex, whose Zara chain pioneered cheap chic, is zipping ahead. The $13.8 billion company, which is closing in on Gap (GPS) for the title of world’s biggest clothing retailer, has nearly quadrupled sales, profits, and locations since 2000

Wages are higher at Inditex—its factory workers in Spain make an average of $1,650 a month, vs. $206 in China’s Guandong Province. But the company saves time and money on shipping. Also, Inditex’s plants use just-in-time systems developed in cooperation with logistics experts from Toyota Motor (TM), which gives the company a level of control that would be impossible if it were entirely dependent on outsiders.

In addition, Inditex supplies every market from warehouses in Spain. Even so, it manages to get new merchandise to European stores within 24 hours, and, by flying goods via commercial airliners, to stores in the Americas and Asia in 48 hours or less.

As a result, the chain doesn’t have to slash prices by 50%, as rivals often do, to move mass quantities of out-of-season stock. Since the chain is more attuned to the most current looks, it also can get away with charging more than, say, Gap. “If you produce what the street is already wearing, you minimize fashion risk,”

For rivals hoping to mimic Inditex’s results, analyst Luca Solca of Sanford C. Bernstein has a bit of advice: Don’t follow the Zara pattern halfheartedly. “The Inditex way is an all-or-nothing proposition that has to be fully embraced to yield results.”

Very true. Processes work well within a system. You can’t copy from one system to another. You can learn about what has been successful and figure out how you can adapt to take advantage of the ideas within your systems.

Related: Lean IT Systems – Not ERPSystemic ThinkingWhat Kind of Management Does This?Making Suits in the USACurious Cat Management on Lean Thinking

Global Manufacturing Data 2007

The updated data from the United Nations on manufacturing output by country clearly shows the USA remains by far the largest manufacturer in the world. UN Data, in billions of current US dollars:

Country 1990 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007
USA 1,041 1,289 1,543 1,663 1,700 1,831
China 143 299 484 734 891 1,106
Japan 804 1,209 1.034 954 934 926
Germany 438 517 392 566 595 670
Russian Federation 211 104 73 222 281 362
Italy 240 226 206 289 299 345
United Kingdom 207 219 228 269 303 342
France 224 259 190 249 248 296
Korea 65 129 134 200 220 241
Canada 92 100 129 177 195 218

See manufacturing data for more countries.

The USA’s share of the manufacturing output of the countries that manufactured over $200 billion in 2007 (the 12 countries on the top of the chart above) in 1990 was 28%, 1995 28%, 2000 33%, 2005 30%, 2006 28%, 2007 27%. China’s share has grown from 4% in 1990, 1995 7%, 2000 11%, 2005 13%, 2006 15%, 2007 16%.

Total manufacturing output in the USA was up 76% in 2007 from the 1990 level. Japan, the second largest manufacturer in 1990, and third today, has increased output 15% (the lowest of the top 12, France is next lowest at 32%) while China is up an amazing 673% (Korea is next at an increase of 271%).
Continue reading

Overview of 5 Nations Health Care Systems

PBS presents a very nice overview of the heath care systems in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland in: Sick Around the World. It is a just a surface view of the overall system but even so does a good job of providing more understanding of the options available to fix the failed system in the USA. The US system costs over 50% more than others and has worse outcome measures than the alternatives (and leaves many without any coverage). And while the alternatives are not perfect the defenders of the status quo make claims about the alternatives are not accurate.

Table combines data from my previous post, International Health Care System Performance, and the PBS website:

Australia Canada Germany Japan Netherlands New Zealand Switzerland Taiwan UK USA
National health spending – Percent of GDP 9.5% 9.8% 10.7% 8.0% 9.2% 9.0% 11.6% 6.3% 8.3% 16.0%
Percent uninsured 0 0 <1 <2 0 0 16

Switzerland, spending 11.6% of GDP on health care, is the 2nd most expensive in the world.

Related: USA Spent $2.1 Trillion on Health Care in 2006Measuring the Health of Nations (USA ranks 19th of 19 nations studied)Drug Prices in the USAUSA Health Care Costs 16% of GDP (2006)Deadly Diseases of Western Management5 Million Lives Campaign

Manufacturing and the Economy

In Global Market, Iowa Manufacturers Fight for Survival:

The conventional wisdom has been that expanded trade would result in the United States losing low-pay, low-skilled manufacturing jobs, said David Swenson, an economic scientist at Iowa State University. But “a lot of the jobs that we have traditionally thought of as high value, high quality, high benefits are in trouble, too.”

The conventional wisdom was that the rest of the world would not be able to compete with the United States for high wage, high value jobs. It turns out the rest of the world is much more able to compete for that work than was expected.
Continue reading