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Maset News

Volume 29  August 18, 2003

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




In our effort to continuously add to our list of Maset Products and Services, we have added an excellent workshop titled "Leading Change". This has been designed as a workshop for intact work teams at all levels. Please contact us if this is a workshop that could be of help to your organization.

This month both feature articles have been written by Maset associates. The first article covers the much used quality tool, "The Fishbone", or as it is sometimes referred to, "The Ishikawa Diagram". Martin Hedley covers the use of the fishbone as an ongoing tool.

The second article is part two of three by Ted Squires, "Identifying and Prioritizing New Product Opportunities". As each organization tries to develop new products and services to gain market share, getting the new product to market on time and meeting the customer’s needs and on budget is becoming more and more important.




  • "It's not the main reason I like the Maset News of course but the Key Learnings on the Write Word brought a smile which was much appreciated." – Scotland

  • "Thank you for sending your informative and enlighting newsletter. I wish to continue reading it. Please send future editions to---" - California
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  • This month we have added another Product and Service workshop titled LEADING CHANGE. This is a custom workshop designed for your organization and facilitated by a Maset Associate.
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  • If the facilitator has a book that captures the theme of the meeting to give to each participant, it acts as an excellent follow-up vehicle for those who are fully engaged in finding out more about the subject being presented. Distribute the books at the end of the session.
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    Key Learnings in - New Product Success (Five of Ten)

    1. A unique, superior product is the #1 factor contributing to success in the marketplace.

    2. The firm has a strong market orientation.

    3. World targeted products are more successful as a rule than domestic or locally targeted products.

    4. Predevelopment work must be done up front.

    5. Produce a sharp and stable product definition early in the process.

    "Reprinted with permission" of Ted Squires. Contact us if you would like the expanded version of this list.




    Superficial Fishbones

    By Martin Hedley

    One of the most powerful tools in the structured problem-solving toolbox is the fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa Diagram after its inventor. It is used to identify potential root causes and a skilled Six-Sigma practitioner will use it at several points along the DMAIC process. In my work over the past 18 years I’ve noted the fishbone plays to a willing audience in Asia and Japan, however in Western Europe and North America it is used superficially, with few exceptions. If it is one of the most powerful tools in problem solving, why is this so?

    The DMAIC process, and other formalized problem-solving processes, are in use in many major corporations in Europe and North America. This focus on process-based identification and capture of benefits provides an ideal forum for a root-cause analysis tool. Everyone who learns about DMAIC learns about the fishbone. Its reach is significant. Solving root-causes is the key to successful analysis. The fishbone provides a method to categorize potential root-causes for further validation with data. More than any other tool, much information can be crammed into a space small enough for our brains to comprehend the whole. The fishbone is therefore a powerful tool.

    I see the fishbone misused in a number of ways, but I only understood why after having worked the tool in Japan and observing how people regard it. I developed a list of five ways to misuse a fishbone in an attempt to reclaim its pre-eminent position in the toolbox and present five techniques you will benefit from if you employ them.

    The throwaway. The fishbone is intended to be a living document. It is best used when it is in the workplace where the problem is being solved – in a specific meeting room in a bank, or by the production line in a manufacturing environment for example. In the West, we usually develop a fishbone, gain some knowledge from it and file it, commit it to computer media or just discard it. We take the learning experience of the team and hide it – we rarely build on it. In Japan I noticed the fishbone stayed on the wall when the team finished and they began to add ideas to it in the normal course of work. Next time they looked formally at their process they already had a great start in problem solving.

    I recommend we facilitators encourage our teams to leave fishbones where they are and start to regard them as living documents.

    The rigid. In the West, we have a predisposition to place everything in a computer. The most common reasons I heard – once I started to ask why (five times of course) were - ‘in case it is reviewed by management’ and ‘we need to put it in our storyboard’. I agree it is much simpler to put a fishbone in a computer to create a storyboard but it takes valuable time that could be used making improvements. The fishbone by its very nature does not fit neatly into a computer – it is a mind tool. The person entering the fishbone has to limit their work to one or two levels of detail in order to get the picture to be readable. Few people have access to large-scale plotters; therefore the normal rendition is a neat but insufficient representation of the team’s analysis on 8.5” by 11” paper. Perhaps because the Asian languages are graphic in nature they are less wary of leaving handwritten work on the wall than we are in the West.

    I recommend we take fishbones to presentations if we really need to prove the depth of our analysis, or we can refer to them in storyboards and invite people to visit the real thing. (Hint – you’ll get few visitors). Post a large version of the next fishbone you facilitate in pencil, on the wall near the team that created it. Challenge them to flesh out the bones over time. Return occasionally to see what is happening.

    The ‘superfishial’. In the last fifty fishbone diagrams I reviewed, exactly forty-nine of them went no deeper than the second level of problem decomposition. One went to three levels. It was a scientific test with a 100% sample. Asking why again, I found a wide variety of answers but the most common was ‘we already know what the problem was so we didn’t see much point in continuing’! I asked why the problem still existed if they already knew what it was. Nobody liked that question. The second most common response was that ‘we’ve solved it before’. No comment. If this is the extent of the fishbones use, then a tree diagram, whose rigid lines and rectangles appeal more to the Western eye might suffice. They’re easier to put in a computer too, but isn’t that missing the point?

    I recommend facilitators push teams to stick with the tool, force the analysis even though it is hard the first few times. Black Belts and other process facilitators must be relentless on this point.

    No data. I recognize the level of effort in brainstorming and that team members are genuinely providing the best of their opinions from their viewpoint but the entries on the bones are just that – opinions from a single viewpoint. A lawyer is not impressed by opinions in the courtroom, she tries to establish facts, and she will prevent an opposing lawyer from asking opinions of her witness unless they are ‘expert witnesses’. I see no lawyering in our facilitation of the fishbone. When the brainstorm is over the real work begins. Prove the relationship between each of the potential causes. If this hardly seems worth the effort to the team, remind them the power of root-cause analysis is in finding the unexpected causes and eliminating them.

    I recommend facilitators push back on the team’s resistance. Do not accept lack of funds, lack of communication, or lack of training as valid items on the bones – they appear in almost every fishbone I’ve seen and you can blame just about any problem in the world on those.

    Balance. Thinking all the ideas on the fishbone have equal importance leads you off the big wins. Fishbones that are validated with numerical data are really powerful. Consider a fishbone with four major bones, each one decomposed to four levels of detail and some to five. When the count of occurrences is applied to the items on the fishbone you can total them at each level of decomposition. This allows you to weight the problem. In a call center where customer complaints were being categorized for root-cause analysis, the answer everyone ‘knew’ was a lack of staffing, not a popular idea with management. I had the team enumerate the complaint types and to weight the occurrences based on known customer feedback about problem severity. The detailed weighted occurrences were summed for each successively higher level of decomposition. The most significant root-cause numerically turned out to be a policy that caused callers to flow through a particular calling tree in the automated voice response (AVR) system. A simple and quick (i.e., cheap) change alleviated this problem and relegated the issue to number 7 on the priority list.

    I recommend facilitators use this weighted data technique when the topic of the fishbone analysis lends itself to observable data. It will be one more way your teams will learn to enjoy using the fishbone diagram productively.

    Martin Hedley is a Six-Sigma Master Black-Belt, a Certified Quality Auditor and a senior operations executive. He is currently providing process-based and change management consulting services through Maset LLC. He has facilitated over 100 teams around the world, some with as many as 60 people in the airline, utility and financial services industries. Many teams have been in mission critical and safety roles.




    Identifying and Prioritizing New Product Opportunities

    Trends in Product Development and Process Improvement

    (Part Two of a Three-Part Article)

    By Ted Squires


    In the first part of our article, we covered the first of four steps for identifying and prioritizing new product opportunities. We proposed a structure for the firm to brainstorm new product and market ideas. We then recommended a gap analysis to locate existing market offerings and spot market areas that were not being served. These are identified as our potential product opportunities.

    In this, the second part of our article, we address three additional issues surrounding pursuit of potential new product opportunities. These issues are: 1) how well does the opportunity match our market strategies; 2) how well does the opportunity match our technology strategies; 3) how well does the opportunity match our business infrastructure. We can address issues #1 and #2 in a Joint Market/Technology Attractiveness Assessment. Issue #3 will then be addressed in a Business Attractiveness Assessment. Both of these assessments are placed together in this article because of their similarity.

    Step #2 - Joint Market/Technology Attractiveness Assessment

    Step two consists of evaluating each opportunity in terms of its market attractiveness and its technology attractiveness.

    Market attractiveness is composed of issues such as the size of the market, market growth rate, likely market share, long term potential, etc.

    Technical attractiveness is composed of issues such as relevancy of high technology products to this market, the value that this market places on sophisticated technologies, that specific solutions generated by our firm will be valued in this market, the technology lies along our technology road map, etc.

    The general approach for completing any of our assessments (Joint Market / Technology Attractiveness or Business Attractiveness) is to create a table which allows us to do side-by-side quantitative comparisons of our new product opportunities based on how they fit with our specific issues (see table #1) and preparing qualitative positions capturing the advantages and disadvantages of each opportunity.

    We first place our various new product opportunities on the horizontal axis of the table. On the vertical axis, we place our various market, technical and business issues.

    Steps #2 & #3 of our four-step process — Assessing the Opportunities

    Next, we establish the degree of importance for each issue. Typically, the team works through each issue and assigns a ranking number, based on team consensus, from 1-to-10, where "10 = critical" and "1 = unimportant." For example, on a scale of 10, the firm might decide that "rate of growth" has a ranking of 7, meaning that "rate of growth" is quite important, especially if the firm can successfully enter the market as it is taking off.

    Then each opportunity is rated on how well it satisfies each issue (again from 1- to-10). So now the firm has rankings for each issue and each opportunity has been rated against each issue. The only thing left to do is to multiply the opportunity rating for each issue times the company’s ranking of that issue. By summing the mathematical products for each issue-opportunity pair, the firm has created relative opportunity index for that single opportunity.

    The power in this approach is to match the calculated indices up with the qualitative positions for all opportunities. If the indices are consistent with the qualitative position, then the group has a reasonable assurance that it is evaluating its opportunities consistently and making "apples-to-apples" comparisons. On the other hand, if the indices do not match the qualitative positions, then the assessment serves as a warning that something is likely to be amiss in its evaluation. The team needs to get to the bottom of the inconsistency. In our experience, there are three likely causes for the inconsistency:

    1.  The data/information used to create the qualitative positions is different than the data/information used to prepare the quantitative table.

    2.  Different assumptions are being used in the evaluation of the table versus the preparation of the qualitative positions.

    3.  Someone in the team has already selected their favorite opportunity and their qualitative position reflects their choice regardless of the outcome of any quantitative modeling.

    An example of the Opportunity Attractiveness Assessment is included in table #1. The assessment has been captured in a matrix format for a firm that specializes in providing custom equipment for welding operations.

    Step #3 - Business Attractiveness Assessment

    Step three is a Business Attractiveness Assessment. Can the firm effectively bring its core competencies to bear on each of these opportunities? In other words, "How well can the firm leverage its own business strengths to access the opportunity; is there a good fit between the competencies of the firm and the opportunity?" Cooper identifies at least three major areas of consideration:

    1.  Technical Synergy - How well does the opportunity match with the firm's:
    -  Production operations?
    -  R & D capabilities?
    -  Engineering?

    2.  Marketing Synergy - How well does the opportunity match with the firm's:
    -  Sales/distribution infrastructure?
    -  Advertising/promotional vehicles?

    3.  Potential for Product Advantage - Will the opportunity allow us to present product which will:
    -  Have an impact on our customers?
    -  Be unique?
    -  Meet the customers’ needs?
    -  Be better than the competitive offering?

    The team can complete a Business Attractiveness Assessment for each opportunity, using a process similar to the one outlined in the previous section.


    Cooper, Robert G. Winning at New Products, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993. ISBN 0-201-56381-9

    McGrath, Michael E. Setting the Pace in Product Development, Newton, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1996. ISBN 0-7506-9789-X

    Reprinted with permission of Ted Squires, a Maset Associate.




    QBQ! (The Question Behind the Question) QuickNote #3

    John G. Miller
    Author of the QBQ! book.

    "Why do I have to do everything myself?"

    I was asking that lousy question the afternoon of the terrorist attack while rearranging "stuff" in my garage - just trying to keep busy. Just trying not to think - or feel. I was also avoiding what sat on the back of my pickup truck: an old oak chest I knew deep down I could never lift off alone. I planned to levitate it to the ground with sheer mind control. Not necessarily enjoying myself or feeling very good about life, I was suddenly interrupted by a pleasant, "Afternoon! How 'ya doing, Sir?" With my back turned to the intruder, I turned slightly, just far enough to see two men in crisp, clean uniforms approaching the garage door. "Oh, man, that's the last thing I need," I thought. Muttering "Hello," I kept pushing and pulling garage contents hoping these people would magically disappear. I looked again. Darn. Still there.

    I knew who they were. Schwans guys. Good guys. Providers of food. Great food. But I just was not in the mood to buy anything. What I really needed was a large crane or a small army to help me remove the monster from my vehicle. Knowing they wouldn't leave until they had been of service, I straightened to shoo them away with, "Not today, guys." But I instantly noticed something about the younger one in his late twenties: 21" biceps! The other gentleman, certainly a welcome guest in my home, as well, had obviously spent half his life at the gym, too. I started considering what wonderful people they were and how blessed I was to have someone to visit with. I began to open my mouth when the older fella beat me to it, saying, "Need some help gettin' that off your truck, Sir?"

    My small army had arrived.

    "Ah, well, sure!" I responded. "Stand back, Sir, we'll handle it!" one said. With veins bursting and muscles bulging (but no grunting), they grabbed, hoisted, and carried the chest into our home before I could say "Buy More Schwans!" I thanked them six times and they assured me it was no big deal. Then, a quiet almost uncomfortable calm enveloped us and we all knew exactly where we were going next. I spoke first: "So, what do 'ya have on your truck today?" With a twinkle in his eye, Dennis, the local field trainer for Schwans Sales Enterprises, proclaimed, "We have filet mignon, Sir, and lots of it!"

    One Hundred Twenty-Seven Dollars later I shook hands with Jason, the former wrestler, and his mentor, Dennis. On a miserable day for our world - and for each of us - they left me standing in the warm autumn sunshine with a smile on my face.

    One week had passed when I spoke to the local sales manager for Schwans in Brighton, CO. Doug shared this: "John, I'm telling our people out on the routes we're all hurting, we're all in pain ... but we still have a job to do. And that job adds value to the lives of others. In our own small way, we can help people even at a time like this."

    Especially at a time like this.

    Part of personal accountability is asking for help. Reaching out is a good thing. It is a sign of strength. Rather than asking, "Why do I have to do everything myself?" and going down that path, let's contribute to others and collaborate with others. We're here for each other ... especially in times like these. In times like these, we don't need to do it all by ourselves.




  • Leadership Development

  • Ethics in Business

  • Design for Assembly

  • Six Sigma for Small Business

  • Sales and Marketing workshops
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