Project Tools

Blog posts about statistical and practical tools used to manage quality improvement projects including Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.

In my blog post from about 3 weeks ago, I used the Solution Desirability Matrix in Companion by Minitab to simulate how Mitt Romney might choose his VP candidate. This past weekend, Mitt Romney ultimately chose Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin U.S. Representative. In this blog, I’ll take a look at how the previous analysis fared and see what we can learn from it. At the time of my initial analysis, there... Continue Reading
The GOP vice-presidential sweepstakes, or veepstakes, is heating up. Rumors are swirling about whether Mitt Romney has picked a running mate and when he’ll announce it. Will he pick a more exciting but riskier candidate? Or, will he play it safe? Have you ever wondered how a candidate like Romney might go about evaluating all of the possibilities? There are many potential VP candidates and many... Continue Reading


Smarter Process Improvement

with Companion by Minitab

I brainstorm quite frequently in my job—whether I’m trying to come up with topics that are “blog worthy” or if I’m thinking of a creative way to write content promoting a new feature of Minitab. Sometimes I brainstorm alone, and sometimes I brainstorm with others during a meeting. Sometimes I brainstorm in a structured way by sharing ideas with colleagues in a circle, and sometimes I just throw... Continue Reading
Cirque du Soleil, the French circus known for its acrobatics, is currently on the road with its "Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour" and made a stop just a few miles from the Minitab World Headquarters.  My wife and I decided to go to the 8:00 show, but little did I know the performance would be preceded by a lesson in takt time... Here is a timeline of events: 7:20 - A friend arrives to find... Continue Reading
Have you ever seen the TV show Hoarders? The show documents the lives of people who have a hard time letting go of their belongings, which often results in a clutter-ridden, unorganized, and barely-livable home.Sometimes I feel like my Minitab worksheets resemble the homes seen on Hoarders, and messy worksheets certainly don’t lend themselves to Lean, efficient data analysis. I have nightmares... Continue Reading
Balancing Cost, Quality and Delivery Let's talk about risk-based testing. I should start by saying that this is a sensitive subject. It’s why a career in quality is not for the faint of heart. The fact is that cost, quality and delivery are at constant odds in every industry, including software. Quality professionals play a key role in this balancing act. And, whenever things become "unbalanced,"... Continue Reading
Choosing an appropriate Six Sigma project is challenging, and one of the biggest areas of risk involves the size and focus of the project. A simple form referred to as a SIPOC can be a big help when it comes to selecting a project that has a high likelihood of success. I explained in some detail what a SIPOC is in an earlier post, but here's the bottom-line version. The SIPOC acronym stands for Supp... Continue Reading
Working as a technical support specialist at Minitab Ltd, I regularly come across customers who experience unusual-looking normal probability plots. I have to say, my initial reaction when I was first presented with these unfriendly creatures was:  “Uh oh, the pattern does look very strange, what do I say now? “ Luckily for me, a colleague had seen many of these in his long and illustrious career.... Continue Reading
I should begin this blog by saying that I originally thought that a kanban was a just a new type of move used while dancing the Can-Can, but I already used that joke for the poka yoke blog. Instead, I’ll spare you and jump right into things! So, what is a kanban? A kanban is a quality improvement method that can help regulate the production flow in the value stream. I like to think of it as a... Continue Reading
Every so often I think of a quality improvement technique that might help me when I’m home cleaning and organizing, or doing some of my other wifely duties. The kitchen is truly a woman’s version of the “man cave,” and I like to keep my kitchen work space organized for efficiency.A 5S audit is a quality improvement technique developed to standardize a workplace for effectiveness by tracking the... Continue Reading
The other day I needed to do some probability calculations without the usual technology on hand -- no computer, smart phone, or calculator. It was a great reminder of just how much I appreciate tools that make the work of analyzing data easier and faster. Anyone who's taken a statistics class that required you to do all calculations by hand recognizes the truth of a statement that someone posted... Continue Reading
I’m lucky to be in a marriage where arguing is an unlikely occurrence, but I've found that common Lean Six Sigma tactics, such as 5-Why Analysis and Fishbone diagrams, can come in handy when I’m trying to solve minor disagreements with my husband.A 5-Why Analysis was developed by Toyota to solve defects in their vehicle process lines. The technique can help you diagnose the root cause of really... Continue Reading
Your Lean Six Sigma project resulted in tremendous process improvement. It's time to share the results. To help people understand your data quickly and clearly -- especially if they don’t know statistics -- you need graphs.Statistical software lets us use a wide array of graphs to display data, depending on what we want to convey. So why restrict yourself to pie or bar charts, when there are many... Continue Reading
Control charts are simple but very powerful tools that can help you determine whether a process is in control (meaning it has only random, normal variation) or out of control (meaning it shows unusual variation, probably due to a "special cause"). In an earlier post, I wrote about the common elements that all control charts share: upper and lower control limits, an expected variation region, and... Continue Reading
I’m relatively new to Lean Six Sigma terminologies and when I first heard someone refer to a “poka yoke,” I thought, “hmm… that must be a new dance move.” I quickly learned that a poka yoke is not a new way to get funky on the dance floor—but rather a term coined by Japanese industrial process engineer Shigeo Shingo to refer to methods that can be used to “mistake-proof” a process.Keeping your... Continue Reading
Gantt charts are helpful for quality improvement projects because they establish a graphical time line of various activities and their start and finish dates. They can keep your projects organized and completed on time.They’re especially helpful early on in the planning stages because they force you to identify the major steps of the project and estimate the time you and your team will need to... Continue Reading
There's a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is puzzling over what his commanders have asked him to do, and even why they're asking him to do it. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that his project really hasn't been very well thought out. If the commanders in the film had been Lean Six Sigma Black Belts, I wonder how the narrative would have changed. I... Continue Reading
NASA launched its final space shuttle mission last Friday morning with Atlantis’ last journey to the International Space Station. Do the fiery orange flames lifting the shuttle into the sky remind you of anything on a lean value stream map? I thought they looked strikingly similar to a kaizen burst! So in honor of NASA's last mission, I think the comparison makes for a good opportunity to... Continue Reading
I recently came across a good post about fishbone diagrams on Christian Paulsen's Lean Leadership blog.  Fishbones (also called cause-and-effect, C&E or Ishikawa diagrams) help you brainstorm potential causes of a problem--and see relationships among potential causes. Brainstorming frequently gets a bad rap.  Some people have had bad experiences with brainstorming sessions that were too loose, and... Continue Reading
Value stream mapping is a tremendously valuable tool for improving a process, but it requires patience and careful attention to details.  In an earlier post, I shared some value stream map guidelines to help ensure that the energy you invest pays off.  Here are some additional items to consider.  Identify critical paths and bottlenecks.Your map may reveal a number of potential areas... Continue Reading