Quality eLine Newsletter
August 2005
Vol. 7, No. 08

Six Sigma and More: 
A question of questions

by David R. Schwinn

A recent class put the question of questions on my mind. The book we use to teach Principles of Management (Modern Management, Ninth Edition by Samuel C. Certo, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003) contains the results of a survey asking chief executives what business students should have learned in school. According to the survey, three of the most important skills are communication, financial management, and problem analysis.

In class, I choose to respond to the survey by reinforcing the need to actively listen. That is an easy sell. Although we all realize we don’t do it very well, we have all been exposed to listening training in a variety of ways and I think that most of my students will continue to try to improve that skill.

The second skill we spend a little time on is asking questions. Over the years, I have developed my own set of favorite questions. They follow:

A few questions for managers:

Asking the right questions, with considered restraint, is one of the skills most important to a successful manager. A few suggestions follow:

Given this scenario: Ask this question:
A problem Why? Ask 'why' 5 times. What's the root cause?
A solution of proposal What's the purpose?
A fact How do you know? Where's the data? How did you get the data?
An issue So what? What are the consequences?
A plan How will you execute it? What resources are required? Do you have them?
A situation What is giving life to the situation? What is possible?
A request for guidance What do you think?

The first five scenarios are paraphrased from the questions used by Professor Noriako Kano from his work as a senior consultant to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers. These questions tend to be analytic. They are, therefore, direct complements to Six Sigma. The sixth scenario provides the opportunity for a more creative and life-affirming question. It comes from my wife, Carole, and the work of David Cooperrider. It is yet another way to give energy to the leaps that, from time to time, must be part of the Six Sigma effort. The last question, or some variance of it, is almost always useful when you are not sure where to go or what to do next.

I think the use of these questions along with ACTIVELY listening to the answers you get can improve your Six Sigma program. As always, I welcome and appreciate your input. As always, I will sincerely appreciate your responses. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.


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