Vol. 8, No. 3

March 2006

PQ Systems

Right First Time DVD

Quality Quiz: With a video!

Six Sigma

Data in everyday life

Bytes and pieces

FYI: Current releases


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Six Sigma and more:
From control to learning

In my day job, I teach management. I am inclined to teach according to the existing textbooks. They sometimes drive me a little crazy; especially around the topic of control. When I first learned about management, there were four functions, Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Controlling. I'm glad to say directing has evolved to influencing or even, in some cases, leading. That's a good thing. But controlling is still controlling.

Let’s examine control. My dictionary defines control as the “exercise of restraint or direction over.” It then adds “dominate, command.” I infer from that definition that we have an ability to control the behavior of others. I have not observed that ability in management.

One of my first management assignments involved a "six sigma project" before that phrase or even the phrase total quality management was coined. I just examined the existing literature and made up a process to reduce scrap and rework at our auto air-conditioning component manufacturing plant. The process I designed looked amazingly like DMAIC. I had three floor inspectors whom I asked to sample in-process parts from the manufacturing floor and perform special investigations as I defined them. One of those inspectors was a colorful British fellow nicknamed Limey. He did a good job of what I asked of him, but he also did something else. He carried a pocket full of coins so he could buy coffee for the machine operators. That coffee bought Limey and me invaluable information about what was really going on in the plant. It helped save us thousands of dollars in reduced scrap and rework. I did not ask Limey or even give him permission to do that. He just did it. He was out of control.

Later in my career, I was plant manager of another auto supplier plant which required 100% inspection of many of our products. Many times our operators shipped faulty products and rejected products that our customers found perfectly acceptable. Our operators were out of control. Of course, their performance was subject to their ability to see, the lighting at both their inspection sites and the customers' inspection sites, the quality of the incoming material, and the time of the day. Who knows what other variables may have influenced my ability to control the performance of those operators? So much for control over employees. Let's next explore the world of process control.

My first formal exposure to statistical process control (SPC) came from Dr. W. Edwards Deming and his colleague, Professor David Chambers. They used to joke about the phrase because, of course, no process is ever in control. As soon as one special cause is found and resolved, another arises. We apparently have little or no control over the people who work for us, ourselves, or the processes we manage.

So why don't we substitute the word learning for control? When we appropriately monitor processes and react properly to special causes we learn more about the process and simultaneously improve it. As Six Sigma professionals, we know that. We could change DMAIC to DMAIL, but that change is probably unnecessary. So why am I writing this column?

I want you to help me replace control with learning and/or improvement in the minds of managers and potential managers. There is little in the management literature and little in the brains of managers about the concepts of variation and SPC. If there were, we might not see the silly rating and ranking that goes on in organizations to supposedly improve performance. So, go to your nearest institution of higher education, to your nearest service club, your nearest Junior Achievement office, or anywhere else people go to learn about management and let them know about the inadequacies of control. Teach them about variation, about SPC, and about how much better it is for a manager to try to learn and improve rather than to try to control. Let your own management know what you are doing. They may get interested and learn a little themselves.

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. I'm at support@pqsystems.com

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