Vol. 12, No. 7
July 2010
PQ Systems
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Six Sigma and more:
Parenting and Six Sigma? David makes the connection

It’s Father’s Day, the kids are gone, and I just shared with my wife, Carole, my procrastination regarding this month’s column. She suggested I write about the Fathers of Quality, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran. I said I’d think about it, which we both know means no thanks. Upon further reflection, however, I decided parenting might be a good topic and our two esteemed prophets should, in fact, be part of this month’s column.

As I thought about parenting, my first thoughts went to my own parents. It turns out I chose them well. They were exemplary models of unconditional love although they displayed it differently. My dad just thought whatever I did was perfect. My mom had very clear rules with equally clear consequences attached to their violation. Her consistency with meting out my punishments was amazing. But never did I question her love.

My next experience with parenting was, surprisingly, with General Motors. Despite GM’s recent problems, the General Motors I grew up in was another good model of parenting. I never had a supervisor or manager who did not have my best interests in mind. The expectations the company and my management had of me were crystal clear. Moreover, most of my managers went the extra mile to make sure I would be successful by providing plenty of training and other resources beyond those that I anticipated needing. As a result, the feedback I received was always positive. Special guidance was nearly always provided up front, before I needed it. As a matter of fact, the only time I remember receiving anything close to constructive feedback was in a student co-op assignment early in my career. I was working for six weeks in personnel, mostly processing employee suggestions and running errands. I loved my job. It must have been apparent as I smiled, even whistled, and happily wandered around the division. I was called into the office and told of the proper behavior for General Motors employees. As I remember, they were:

  • No smiling.
  • No whistling.
  • Wherever you are going, walk fast with a sheaf of papers, even if you are not sure where you are going and even if the papers are blank. Also, do not look from side to side as you walk.

About that same time, I was also told of the implicit GM dress code. Wear a suit, white shirt, long dark socks, and a conservative tie. As soon as you can afford to, buy wing-tipped shoes and a gold Cross pen and pencil set. I still wear the pen and pencil set if I have a shirt pocket. Funny how they still make me feel properly dressed.

W. Edwards Deming had high expectations for management. He provided feedback that was frequently public and frequently highly critical for many of those who did not meet those expectations. My most insightful example of that public criticism was at the 25th Awarding of the Deming Prize in Japan. Carole and I were among several Americans who were invited to attend. When Dr. Deming gave his presentation at the event, he was critical of American management, and especially critical of Japanese management for catching American diseases as more and more joint ventures were occurring.

His criticism was so powerful that we asked some Japanese executives what they thought of his criticism. They said, “He is our mother…he cares about us and sometimes he must scold us” (Cecilia S. Killian. The World of W. Edwards Deming (Rockville, MD: Mercury Press. 1988) xiii-xiv and Frank Voehl. Deming: the Way We Knew Him (Delray Beach, FLA: St. Lucie Press. 1995) 20-21). His caring was never in question to those of us who knew him.

While Dr. Deming’s strength was in offering clear expectations, Dr. Juran’s strength was in a wealth of literature that provided the guidance and intellectual support to help us all be successful. Dr. Joseph M. Juran’s Juran’s Quality Control Handbook (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1951) is considered the quality bible by many quality practitioners. Given that book and his many other publications and presentations, Juran is probably the most prolific conveyor of knowledge about quality. He provided the intellectual help needed to accomplish the quality task. In terms of quality management and practice, very little of any consequence has not already been provided by J.M. Juran.

After all these observations, I don’t think we need to use parenting as the ideal Six Sigma management model, but I do think good parenting has a few things to offer. Let’s start with unconditional love. Maybe love is a little further than some of you want to go, but continually striving toward the best interests of all our stakeholders cannot be a bad intention. So let’s start there. We could even end there. I think striving toward everyone’s best interests, by itself, would greatly enhance our Six Sigma efforts. But good parenting offers another suggestion…clear expectations. I think, since our stakeholders are mostly adults, we should go beyond clear, to clear and shared expectations among all stakeholders.

The kind of parenting we have been remembering also includes two other practices: good anticipatory training and support and, finally, constructive feedback. I’ll paraphrase what I think good parenting teaches us:

  • Intend and seek after the best for ALL our stakeholders.
  • Co-create clear, shared expectations among all stakeholders.
  • Anticipate and provide the training and support for all  stakeholders to be successful
  • Provide feedback that helps everyone in the system to improve.

Good parenting (not paternalism, of course) and Six Sigma…not a bad connection. As always, I treasure your feedback and comments. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.


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