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Maset News

Volume 38  May 18, 2004

Message From Charles Loew
Comments From Our Readers
New On The Maset Web Site
Helpful Hints from fellow Practitioners
Top Ten List
Feature Of This Issue
Second Feature Of This Issue
QBQ! QuickNote
Coming in the Next Few Issues


Welcome to MASET News. A monthly publication dedicated to the communication between MASET and our many interested friends, customers and potential customers




This month we have added a one-day workshop, Utilizing the QBQ Concept that will be familiar to many of our readers. Jeanne Shulze, certified facilitator, will be using her expert facilitation skills in the QBQ sessions.

We would like to congratulate one of Maset Associates, Joseph Wexler, for achieving his Master Black Belt certification.

Top 10 List will be replaced next month with a new feature called "One Liners". Hopefully you will get a smile or find they provoke thoughtfulness upon reading them. If you have any "One Liners' that you particularly find interesting, thoughtful or humorous please send them to us for future inclusion.

This month's feature article is part two in a series of five articles. These articles cover the broad topic of creating organizational excellence. The emphasis this month is on project management. We have a number of excellent associates that can assist you as project managers or provide the training and consulting to enable you to establish this skill set internally Read about Maset capabilities in both the Product and Services sections as well as the Workshop section on Maset website.

Our second article addresses the usefulness of coaching and specifically how coaching in foreign lands helps the organization become successful at a much faster rate. With so many organizations setting up operations overseas and/or extending their supply chain overseas on either end, coaching becomes invaluable to building a good relationship between organizations.

Our QBQ article this month touches on the responsibility of training. In many organizations there is very little training performed. In a few, there is a "training organization", usually headed by the Human Resources Department. In this month's QBQ we learn about an organization where the management believes training is the responsibility from the top down How does your organization treat this very important subject? Read on to see how one organization looks at training differently than most.




  • "Thank you for the Maset News; we enjoy your good article, thanks." - Indonesia

  • "Thanks for Harrington's article. He is so right on! With everything he says...." - North Carolina

  • "Nice new look, Charles - .Well done" - Arizona

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We are introducing a one-day workshop titled QBQ! Achieving Excellence by Practicing Personal Accountability in Business and in Life. The Question Behind the Question is a simple yet powerful tool that addresses accountability issues for leaders at all levels of the organization. It enables each of us to practice personal accountability by making better choices in the moment. This workshop is facilitated by Jeanne Schulze.




When training or facilitating a meeting, understanding what participants are saying and making sure they understand what you are saying is critical. Communication is facilitated by asking questions that require a thoughtful response; such as asking how, what, or why. Avoid asking questions that can be answered by a simple yes or no.




The Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid in Implementing Lean
  1. Self imposed inflexibility.
  2. Ignore the fundamentals.
  3. Change things rather than behavior.
  4. Mile wide - inch deep approach.
  5. Ignore set-up times.
  6. Fail to sustain the gains.
  7. Focus on machine optimization rather than 'Flow'.
  8. Fail to think outside the box.
  9. Fail to train teams.
  10. Order change, ignore support.
       ---Thanks to Lean Enterprise Training Understand new and changed requirements.





Success relies on keen project management processes

This column is the second in an ongoing series about organizational excellence, which consists of five elements. The first two are process management and project management.

Processes define how organizations function, and projects are the means by which organizations improve those processes. We define a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. For project management, we apply knowledge, skills, tools and technology to activities to meet or exceed stakeholders' needs and project expectations.

Although this seems straightforward enough, it can't be so simple, or we'd see better results from the projects we fund. The Standish Group International reports that "corporate America spends more than $275 billion a year on application software development projects, many of which will fail due to lack of skilled project management."

"The average cycle time for IT projects is 27 weeks," reports the Wall Street Journal. "The ones that are cancelled are cancelled after 14 weeks; at that point, they're 52-percent complete. Many of the project teams know that the project is likely to fail six weeks before it's cancelled."

Similarly, the Gartner Group reports that "in a four-year period, an application development organization of 100 developers can expect to spend more than $10 million on cancelled contracts."

Most organizations' projects are mission-critical activities, and delivering quality products on time is nonnegotiable. Even with IT projects, things have changed. The old paradigm was, "Get it out fast and fix the bugs as the customer finds them" (i.e., the Microsoft approach). The new paradigm is, "Get them out at Web speed and error-free." Benchmark organizations complete 90 percent of their projects within 10 percent of budget and on schedule. Information systems organizations that establish standards for project management, including a project office, cut their major project cost overruns, delays and cancellations by 50 percent.

Let's look at why projects fail. First, they fail to adhere to committed schedules due to variances, exceptions, poor planning, delays and scope creep. Projects also fail from poor resource utilization, including lack of proper skills, poor time utilization and misalignment of skills and assignments. Often, an organization's portfolio of projects isn't managed correctly because the wrong projects are selected, high-risk projects aren't identified or the interdependencies between projects are poorly controlled. Finally, projects fail due to a loss of intellectual and/or knowledge capital, including lack of means to transfer knowledge, and people leaving the organization.

Poor project management is one of the biggest problems facing organizations today. It's therefore surprising that quality professionals haven't addressed improvements in the project management process. Even ISO 9001 ignores this critical issue. Yet, in our knowledge-driven economy, an organization's success depends upon the quality of its project management process.

Our general attitude toward project management is similar to quality management: Everyone thinks he or she knows what quality is and therefore assumes that anyone can manage it. But just as quality managers are special professionals with very specific skills and training, so are project managers. They require skill, training and effective leadership specifically related to project management. The ability to manage one project is no longer sufficient; organizations need managers who can handle a portfolio of projects, selecting those that will succeed and bring the biggest return on investments. This requires an effective online reporting system that summarizes a project's status at least once a week, if not daily. The executive team must also have access to project archives in order to compare proposed project estimates against actual costs and cycle-time data from completed projects. Management wouldn't approve one-third of the projects proposed if it knew how long they'd take or cost. As John Carrow, CEO of Unisys Corp., says, "The best time to stop a project that you don't know is going to be successful is when you start it."

Far too often a quality department will undertake a major project such as Six Sigma, TQM or reengineering without the necessary project management skills. Basic tools such as work breakdown structure aren't used. Neither is risk analysis, let alone reasonable mitigation plans. Is it any wonder that the failure rate in quality programs is so high?

The project management body of knowledge defines 69 tools a project manager must master. Few of the project managers with whom I've come in contact have mastered all of them, and only a few project managers are certified by their peers as having done so.

As you start your next project, my suggestion is: Don't start it without a certified project manager.

About the author H. James Harrington has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. Visit his Web site at

Reprinted with permission of the author H. James Harrington. Originally appeared in Quality Digest, February 2003, p. 14.




By Meridian Resources

In recent years, coaching has become a widely accepted means of helping U.S. executives enhance their leadership skills. Due in large part to the success of this technique, a number of firms have begun to implement coaching programs in other locations around the world. In Part 1 of this 2-part series on coaching, we examine the issues related to establishing a coaching program abroad.

Setting up a Coaching Program Abroad:
U.S. firms that are setting up coaching programs in overseas locations encounter a number of questions that overlap in part with home country issues but have somewhat different answers. Here are six of the questions we feel it is important to ask in process of establishing an effective coaching program abroad:

1. How do we introduce coaching to our subsidiary employees?
It is critical to position any coaching program (whether in the U.S. or abroad) in a way that garners the support of local management and coachees. We find that the best way to do this is to start with the basics.

Because coaching in its current form is new to many people in overseas sites, it is often necessary to begin with a basic definition. We describe coaching as "a way to draw out the skills and abilities of another person to help him or her achieve key business and professional objectives." However, people tend to respond more readily to metaphors, and have often heard other terms that they have confused with coaching. An accomplished athlete such as Tiger Woods, we suggest, doesn't need an instructor or a trainer, but he does use a coach who can assist him in making continuous improvements in his game. Potential coachees in almost any part of the world also understand and accept the argument that coaching is particularly necessary in a rapidly changing business environment where:

  • Top-down hierarchies have become dysfunctional;
  • People at various levels in the organization must be entrusted with decision-making authority;
  • Individuals with limited managerial experience or people skills have been rapidly promoted.

2. Who should be coached?
Regardless of the location, valuable executive development funds are best invested in high potential individuals who are ready and willing to be coached - not those who are seen as marginal performers the company is trying to rehabilitate. However, in places outside of the U.S. where coaching is less familiar, it may be necessary to hold more than one meeting with potential coachees to describe the nature and purpose of coaching, reassuring them that coaching is not a form of punishment or a sign of weakness, but rather an opportunity allotted to a limited number of employees. Over time, coaching can be positioned within the organization as a valuable privilege through a selection process that consistently draws in managers recognized by peers for their strong performance.

3. In what language should coaching be conducted?
There are a variety of pros and cons to any choice here; we recommend leaving the decision in the hands of the coachee. A lot of people are more comfortable discussing sensitive matters in their native language - without this option, they find it difficult to really open up or to analyze issues in depth. For others, coaching objectives are tied to their ability to express themselves in the company's official language - typically English - and they find the use of this language a better way to make progress with key skills. Some coachees appreciate the option to switch back and forth between languages in a coaching session, and it is an advantage to have a coach who can make this switch with them.

4. Can we use technology to cut costs?
While face-to-face coaching is normally preferable for both coach and coachee, in some locations it is difficult to identify experienced coaches. The extra expense of flying in an executive coach from another location can be cut down through the use of web-cam technology that enables coach and coachee to supplement face-to-face meetings with "virtual" face-to-face sessions. Telephone conversations are another option, but these are normally not as useful as web-cam meetings because the coach does not have access to the visual cues that are so important to understanding the range of meanings expressed in a coaching conversation.

5. How long should coaching last?
The six-month course of monthly meetings that has become the norm for coaching engagements in the U.S. is appropriate in overseas contexts as well. But because many coachees are relatively inexperienced leaders, having risen quickly in the organization on the strength of their professional or technical skills, some do request and benefit from longer-term access to a coach. The six-month term continues to be a good benchmark for setting and demonstrating significant progress towards achieving a specific set of objectives. After six months, in our experience, fast-moving coachees may have already shifted to a new and more demanding role, with a fresh set of critical objectives to go along with it. Some companies elect to provide their most gifted employees with a second or even a third six-month session.

6. What objectives should we focus on?
The explicit focus of coaching is normally a set of business and/or professional development objectives that have been agreed upon by both the coachee and his or her direct manager. From the company standpoint, another objective that lies in the background is the retention of key personnel. When coaching is properly positioned within an organization, coachees see it as a useful "perk" that becomes a source of prestige as well as something for more junior colleagues to look forward to. An effective coaching program usually brings about tangible upgrades in the workplace atmosphere, noticeably lightening the mood and improving relations between managers and subordinates. Better retention rates are quantifiable and directly related to financial performance.

Perhaps the most vital long-term objective, however, is to bring each coaching relationship full circle and to enable the coachee to become a coach. This objective is of critical importance in developing organizations overseas where the leadership and management talent pool is still shallow. The presence of a growing number of coachees-turned-coaches creates a self-reinforcing cycle that grows the talent pool from within, allowing the entire company to set and achieve more ambitious business goals.

Next month, we will explore a number of common types of coachees we have worked with in Asia and Europe, and coaching strategies we have found to be effective with each type of coachee.

Meridian offers a complete set of consulting and training services for companies doing business in the PRC. Contact us to find out more about how we can assist you with your China operations.




QBQ! (The Question Behind the Question) QuickNote #12:

"When are we going to hear something new?"

Tom Sween, CEO of Minnesota-based E.A. Sween Co., would never ask that lousy question. With a popular brand name of Deli Express, they place freshly made food items in thousands of locations each day. Hardly a glamorous industry, but an important one. And E.A. Sween is a hugely successful company by any standard of measurement. What makes them unique? In 1992 Mr. Sween and his executive team committed to a training process that taught powerful and practical concepts of leadership and self-management. Instead of handing it off to human resources or a staff trainer, they actually said, "This is our job!" Demonstrating ownership and responsibility, they invested the time and energy to learn how to facilitate the training materials themselves-and then did it. Over all the years of selling training systems, I was most proud to have E.A. Sween on my personal client list. Mostly because they understood it's always management's job to develop people and effect cultural change. This is a CEO and group of leaders who believe in and practice personal accountability. Over a decade later, not only do Tom and Team "walk the talk," but the talk that is walked is still the talk from the original content they brought into the culture in 1992! In simple terms, they've stayed with it and made it work. They understand learning. They know:

The old stuff is the good stuff.

Principles of success are not timely, they are timeless. Timeless ideas are not fads. And engaging in fads can create a terrible organizational cancer: Cynicism.

Cynicism defined: Doubting another's sincerity, motives, and intentions. It is a costly disease because it robs our organizations of creativity, communication, trust, productivity, and - learning. And management has created cynicism by buying into the myths of the Flavor of the Day, the Program of the Quarter, and the Education Escapade. Senior teams have escaped for a day of whitewater rafting and called it "team building." The mantra returning to the office was, " Hey, we got wet together-now we can work together! " We've held the January "Hype Me Up Higher" sales meetings in warm-weather resorts while bringing in the mountain climbers because, well, they climbed a mountain. They've done their motivational shtick, told us of the dangers they faced and the glory they found, and showed us the PowerPoint presentations of icicles hanging from parkas and chins. We're awed. We bought the book. We got an autograph. And then we returned to the field with not one kernel of practical content we can use on the job.

Tremendous quantities of goodwill, energy, time, and money have been squandered through manipulation, short-term thinking, the desire for the quick fix of problems and people, and just plain old ignorance. The organizational world has wasted billions of dollars over recent decades. Management dictates what slogan goes on the wall ... this year. Department teams want their turn climbing trees and swinging from ropes. Outside "experts" encourage it. Sadly, we have paid them to take us there. Salespeople looking for the silver bullet say, "I've taken Selling Skills 101, what's next?" But there really is no higher-level class. How come? Because it's the fundamentals that work best on the job. Yet we have been taught that it is natural, normal, and our right to do the Blue program one quarter, the Red program the next, and the Green program the year after. Changing our core messages, producing new annual vision statements, and latching on to fads have not worked. It's true, we live in a fad-driven culture but do we need to perpetuate it within our organizations? Maybe we should consider simplicity, clarity, consistency, and repetition of quality messages over time. Let's each ask the accountable question-the QBQ! of the Learner:

"How can I apply what I'm hearing?"

Key word: APPLY. We talk about learning, so let's learn. We talk about execution, so let's execute. We talk about accountability, so let's practice personal accountability. As we close out this year and focus on the next, let's return to what works: Common sense, effective and timeless principles believed, spoken, and modeled by management and staff over time for all to see. This is the lifeblood of learning - and can be the death knell of cynicism. Remember always: It doesn't have to be new to be effective and it's forever true: The old stuff is the good stuff.

John G. Miller
author of the QBQ! book




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