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Maset News

Volume 40  July 19, 2004

Message From Charles Loew
Comments From Our Readers
New On The Maset Web Site
Helpful Hints from fellow Practitioners
One Liners
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




As we move into the summer months, often activity and thoughts drift toward vacation and spending time traveling with our loved ones. As one who travels extensively around the globe, let me reassure you that it is safe to travel. Stay observant and watch what is going on around you. We hope that whatever your plans, you will have an enjoyable summer and become rejuvenated by the experience.

I have received a request to establish a forum or a method by which some Maset readers will be able to communicate with each other. Before developing this project, we would like to know how much interest in adding this capability to our web site exists. We look forward to your comments and suggestions.

We continue with part four of our series "Creating Organizational Excellence", by H. James Harrington. This month's article discusses "Knowledge Management". It has often been said that people are the only differentiator between organizations. Utilizing and reusing what we learn effectively and efficiently multiplies the value and productivity of our people. I believe you may pick up some good hints from this article.

The second article highlights an area that is critical, but too often ignored. That area is the implementation process of problem solving. When we find a solution to a problem, or for that matter develop any kind of plan, the implementation of the solution or plan is where many organizations fail. Author A. Blanton Godfrey stresses that the key to implementation is getting everyone involved in the process.

Our QBQ article this month illustrates how asking the question behind the question has applications in many areas of our professional and personal lives. Asking that second question can resolve many hidden issues.




  • We did not receive any comments this past month. Let us hear from you.




Some new items will appear on the web in September. We look forward to an enjoyable summer and wish you the same.




Know your customer.

Know what they do, how they do it, and why they do it the way they do it.

Know what they expect from you before you commit.

Walk in their shoes…do a ride along, visit the production line, get out of the manager's office and observe and talk to the people who do the work.

Keep an open mind, don't get hung up on what you think you know or what you want to say... LOOK, LISTEN, LEARN, then maybe you can help.



ONE LINERS - "To make you think and/or smile"

  • Many things can be preserved in alcohol. Dignity is not one of them.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to make them when nobody is looking.





Knowledge management takes us from chance to choice

This article is the fourth in a five-part series on organizational excellence, which comprises five elements. The first three, discussed in previous columns, include process management, project management and change management.

We live in a knowledge-based economy. Most organizations' value is defined by their intellectual capital rather than their physical assets. "The fundamental building material of a modern corporation is knowledge," says Hewlett-Packard's Valery Kanavsky. All organizations have it, but most don't know what they know, don't use what they do know and don't reuse the knowledge they have. In today's economy, knowledge is power, and power brings success. Failure, survival or success depends upon the way an organization uses its knowledge.

Knowledge management isn't new. During the 20th century, knowledge importance expanded exponentially. Sixty years ago, Winston Churchill stated, "The empires of the future are empires of the mind." Forty years ago, Peter Drucker talked about the "knowledge worker."

Today, the news published in a single issue of The New York Times represents more information than the average person accumulated during a lifetime in the 17th century. During the 1950s, organizations were searching for information; today they and their employees are drowning in it. The little 15-inch screen on my desk can display a thousand times the information found in the books lining the dozen bookcases in my library. The amount of information available to us doubles every five years. We don't have time to absorb what's relevant to our interests-let alone sort through the mountains of existing data to find what's actually relevant. It's no wonder that successful organizations have made learning and applying knowledge a core competency.

Knowledge isn't like merchandise. Unlike a tangible product, you can sell information, give it away or trade it, but you'll still retain the knowledge. In fact, knowledge becomes more valuable the more you use it. However, it's also perishable; if it isn't renewed and replenished, it becomes worthless. Yes, knowledge has a shelf life. It's always changing, and this means that every organization must either become a learning organization or become obsolete.

Knowledge comes in two forms: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge includes information that's stored in semistructured content such as documents, e-mail, voice mail or video media. I call this "hard" or "tangible" knowledge. It's conveyed from one person to another in a systematic way. Tacit knowledge is information that's formed around intangible factors resulting from an individual's experience. It's personal and content-specific.

A knowledge management system is a proactive, systematic process by which value is generated from intellectual or knowledge-based assets and disseminated to stakeholders. KM methodology was developed so that intellectual capital could be managed as an organizational asset. It's designed to capture and flow an organization's data, information and knowledge and deliver them to the knowledge worker who uses them on a day-to-day basis.

Paul A. Strassmann recently provided in Knowledge Management magazine an insight into how knowledge capital per employee translates into dollars:



Knowledge Capital
per Employee

Merck & Co.
Glaxo Wellcome
Abbot Laboratories
Johnson & Johnson



During the past 50 years, the world economy has transitioned from a production-based value system to being knowledge-based. Our technological ability to capture data far outstrips our ability to absorb it. A KMS helps an organization prepare for constantly shifting demographics and customers' needs by sorting through masses of data and providing the specific information needed to solve and take advantage of business opportunities.

Most of the problems facing organizations today can be avoided if the company's innate knowledge is made available to decision makers. As quality professionals, we must focus our efforts on ensuring that everyone has the information and skills to do his or her job error-free. Developing an excellent KMS is the best way to accomplish this.

I recommend a six-phase approach made up of 61 activities.

  • Phase I-Requirements definition (seven activities)
  • Phase II-Infrastructure evaluation (16 activities)
  • Phase III-KMS design and development (12 activities)
  • Phase IV-Pilot program (15 activities)
  • Phase V-Deployment (10 activities)
  • Phase VI-Continuous improvement (one activity)

Keep in mind that a successful KMS's most critical component is the culture of the enterprise that's implementing it. Without a culture dedicated to being the best, most business-focused, employee-centric and customer-aware, any advantages provided by a KMS will be largely wasted.

Knowledge management is about people, communication, networking, and a knowledge-sharing and -creating culture. It's not a prescriptive technological process.

One challenge to implementing a KMS lies in transforming knowledge-including process and behavioral information-into a consistent technological format that can be easily shared with the organization's stakeholders. But the biggest obstacle is changing the organization's culture from knowledge-hoarding to knowledge-sharing.

Jerry Ash, a Forbes Group counselor, envisions the future workplace as "an environment without cultural, political, professional or structural boundaries, where workers and managers at all levels can think together, drawing on the rich and diverse backgrounds, training and work experience previously confined to information silos and narrowly defined jobs of the former Industrial Age."

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 published in Quality Digest, April 2003, p. XX.




Problem Solved. Now What?

We've solved enough problems:
let's implement the solutions at hand.

By A. Blanton Godfrey, Ph.D.

We in quality management may have been working on the wrong problem for years. We've focused on creating and teaching better statistical methods. With advanced software and popular methodologies such as Six Sigma, we now teach these programs to millions of people in all kinds of organizations. But most organizations still deal with incredible numbers of problems; simple problems remain unsolved, and many see the same problems repeatedly popping up.

Some years ago, a group of my quality management graduate students at Columbia University worked on the distribution problem for local delivery of The New York Times. The team collected sales data on the Sunday Times from newsstands during the year. Data analysis showed that sales were seasonal and predictable. By calculating some simple distributions using the time of day when the newsstands ran out of papers on both high and low sales days, the students predicted how many papers could be sold on these days to eliminate wasted copies. The evidence was strong, but as far as I know, no one ever used the results.

Another group analyzed checkout times at a local grocery store. The root cause for long lines became obvious when the data were analyzed. Clerks new to the cash registers took far longer than those with more experience. Throughput could actually improve using fewer registers and clerks. However, the store's high turnover of clerks meant that most registers were staffed with inexperienced employees. The reason for the high turnover was also easy to discover-low wages. The math was simple: Increase wages, lower turnover, reduce staff and increase profits. It seemed so obvious. But the store manager was unimpressed by the numbers. His supervisors were more concerned with keeping salaries low, so he was, too; improving profitability by raising wages wasn't important to them.

Time after time in consulting projects, I've seen the same thing happen. Analysis leads to a clear solution, but the solution is never implemented. Something in the company culture prevents people from facing, or perhaps using, the facts. Instead, we continue doing things the way we always have.

Some years ago, I worked with an organization with 21 service sites. It desperately needed to improve throughput because it had far more demand than capacity. The organization experimented with one pilot site and increased the number of customers served per day by more than 20 percent. Problems arose, however, when it tried to replicate these results across the other 20 sites. Managers presented numerous reasons why the same changes wouldn't work at their sites. They questioned the data and the manner in which the study was done. Ultimately, the company never achieved the same results at any of its other sites.

A similar stalemate occurred in a different service company, this one with 250 sites across North America. One improvement team managed to reduce by nearly 80 percent a major problem common across all sites, and in doing so it saved more than $300,000 at that site alone. The CEO, seeing a potential $75 million jump in profits companywide, demanded that the other sites implement the improvement as well. Nothing much happened. Some sites made some progress, but most found many reasons why the solution wouldn't work for them.

As quality professionals, we've been teaching problem solving for years, but perhaps we should have spent more time teaching solution implementation. Too often we take the easy way out and blame management for failing to implement profitable solutions. It's easy to cite 10 or 20 reasons these ideas won't work in our organizations, but it's much harder to discover 10 or 20 ways to make them work.

In both of these organizations, the improvement projects were carried out almost secretly. Management assumed that if positive results were achieved at one site, all the others would want them as well. This wasn't true, of course. Site managers didn't believe the results. Their measurements were different, and they couldn't translate the improvements to their sites. Senior leaders were supportive but couldn't address these objections. They didn't understand that each site manager would also have to understand the methods, tools and processes by which the results could be achieved. People from each site needed to learn from the pilot sites and modify the approach to fit their sites. They needed the same support the pilot site managers had provided their teams.

The real key to implementing improvements across an organization isn't merely leadership but also widespread active involvement. This requires knowing when to provide the right support at the right time. In both the examples, the organizations should have created steering teams with representatives from every site. They should have agreed on the improvement plan, which measurements to make and how they'd be modified to fit all sites. The improvement processes across the sites should have been standardized to make comparisons easy. Everyone involved would have to know that differences would crop up from one site to the next. But each site would have been able to achieve similar results.

About the Author

A. Blanton Godfrey is dean and Joseph D. Moore Professor of North Carolina State University's College of Textiles. He's co-editor of Juran's Quality Handbook, fifth edition (McGraw-Hill, 2003), and co-author of Modern Methods for Quality Control and Improvement, second edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

Reprinted with permission of the author and Quality Digest. Originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Quality Digest, p. 16.




QBQ! (The Question Behind the Question) QuickNote #14

"Why can't others do their job right?"

Author's special note:

As we each work to eliminate lousy questions like the one above, we invite you to tell us how QBQ! has made a difference in your world - whether at work or at home. One such story is below ... all the way from New Zealand. Enjoy! JGM

John, a friend sent me QBQ! I am an anesthesiologist at a maternity unit. I consult with mothers, perform epidurals, and am available for emergency deliveries. I also have a leadership role in the hospital and I try to model in my everyday clinical practice the values we espouse as a leadership team.

Early this morning I was called in from home to the hospital to perform an epidural on a very distressed mother in the middle of a long and painful labor. The midwife had tried and failed to insert an intravenous line so I had an additional procedure to perform before I could do the epidural. And I had some trouble, too. Suddenly, just after I had secured the IV line, the mother said, "I want to push!!" The midwife did a quick examination and said the mother was about to deliver. "I'm sorry," she said to me slightly embarrassed, "We don't need the epidural after all."

"That's wonderful!" I responded. The midwife stared at me. Her eyes said, "What's the catch?"

I think what she really wanted to say was, "Who are you? And what have you done with our real anesthesiologist?!?!"

I used to get angry in these situations, being called all the way into the hospital to do an epidural, then being turned away because someone else had "misjudged" the progress of labor, thus calling me in needlessly. Stupid midwives! I'd want to shout.

Now when these things happen - since reading about QBQ! - I find joy by focusing on the positives: The labor is going better than expected, a medical intervention isn't needed after all, and I can get back to bed that much sooner. The midwife was doing her very best and these surprises happen to all of us in medicine. And, my coming into the hospital had helped the mother because she knew support and help was on the way. Therefore, she had the courage to bear the pain herself just a little longer.

But, John, here is the true reward of using QBQ!

Later that day the same midwife came and asked me, "Can I talk to you, please? There is a hospital issue I want to discuss." We thoroughly talked through a problem that had persisted for some time which involves differing perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes of the midwives and the hospital doctors. The conflict of expectations is causing problems for mothers - our customers! I explained to her all the things we are doing and empathized with her for the difficulties she experienced and the devastating impact on the mothers and their families.

I then recruited her into the effort to solve the problem. It wasn't hard. She quickly volunteered to do a whole pile of things that added nicely to the strategies we as a leadership team had already decided to implement.

And now we have her onboard. That's teamwork. And around here, that's everything!

By choosing to be personally accountable, I have clearly gained something precious in my life. Thank you for letting me share this with you. If you pass it on, maybe it'll help others.

Clinical Leader, Auckland, New Zealand

What a terrific story! And it all began with personal accountability by avoiding the lousy question "Why can't others do their job right?" and asking accountable questions - QBQ!s - such as:

"How can I better appreciate people?" and "What can I do to find the good in every situation?"

These are the questions that work. And when we choose the accountable path, really good things happen ... all around the world!

John G. Miller
author of the QBQ! book




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