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2016 World Conference on Quality and Improvement – Trip Report

Posted: May 27, 2016 at 10:46 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement held this May in Milwaukee showed the world that Quality is everywhere and that Quality matters.  I had the great privilege of attending this 70 th anniversary extravaganza. If longevity is one aspect of quality shared, the number of long-standing members of the American Society for Quality is a testament to the continued impact of Quality in the world.  Of the 2,600 some participants representing over 140 countries, many had been ASQ members for 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years.

Quality gives voice to customers and is also a method for solving problems. World-class speakers and over 100 sessions provided the insights and tools to do both. We were all kept very busy.

Keynote Speeches – Highlights

I would like to share with you some of the key points made by the key note speakers and some of my notes from some of the sessions I attended.

Stephen Dubner

Stephen Dubner, the opening key note speaker and author of Frekonomics, spoke of how good data can explain how the world works. He cautioned that it is important to look more closely at where the data comes from and the human intent behind it. For example, the way that a survey question is asked may determine the answers and confirm faulty assumptions. In addition, self- reported preferences may be very different from actual preferences.

The scale and nature of problems that surface may differ depending on the data chosen. It is important to understand the incentives that drive human behaviour when interpreting data. The data can tell you the ‘what’, but not necessarily the’ why’.

Liz Weismann

Liz Weismann, author of The Multiplier Effect posed the question, “When does knowledge represent a liability? She reminded us that we do our best when we are new. It is when we are new that we ask questions, take risks and start to experiment. Rookies smarts start to kick in when things are important and hard.

It is when we get into our comfort zone that we begin to experience blind spots. Ms Wiseman encouraged us to be the perpetual rookie. “There is never nothing left to learn”, she said.

Brian R Little

Brian Little, author of Me Myself and Us: the Science of Personality and the Art of Wellbeing characterized introversion and extroversion, indicating that they have a neurological base. Each has social value, but these neurological differences lead to very different behaviours in the workplace. For example, extroverts are not at optimal arousal, so they seek constant stimulation, whereas introverts get overstimulated and feel the need to withdraw.  Extroverts are direct, where introverts need to use caveats. Mr. Little explained that it is possible to act out of character when it is important, but at a cost.  To avoid burnout, he urged us to take care and find lightness in our lives.

Josh Linker

Josh Linker, author of The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation, described innovation as a process that can be broken down. He urged the audience of quality practitioners to inject the same sort of wonder into quality initiatives in order to drive impact.  Our role, he said, is as disrupters and quality entrepreneurs. We are trained to find flaws.  What we should be doing is celebrating creativity. Innovators follow five basic steps: get curious, crave what’s next, defy tradition, solve complex problems in unorthodox ways and adapt fast. He challenged us to uncover a single idea for creative disruption within the next seven days.

Risk-based thinking at each step of the audit can lead to a better understanding of the problems and to better corrective actions. Lean tools such as the eight wastes, value stream mapping, control charts, etc can be helpful in establishing findings and appropriate responses.

I could attend only a fraction of the sessions, so I had to choose carefully. One of my favourites brought risk, lean and data analysis together for successful auditing. Risk-based thinking at each step of the audit can lead to a better understanding of the problems and to better corrective actions. Lean tools such as the eight wastes, value stream mapping, control charts, etc can be helpful in establishing findings and appropriate responses. Data analysis is also a necessary part of audits. Analysis can spot and respond to adverse trends. For example, one data point is an incidence, two is a coincidence and three represent a trend or finding.

I learned that Quality is not just about using “geeky” tools. Quality is also about engagement and can be lead from within. What does engagement look like?  Being engaged brings passion, a sense of belonging and a willingness to embrace innovation.  Without engagement people “check out”. The question is how to sustain engagement and how to influence those who are not engaged. It is all about consistent leadership at every level. Think influence, not position. Empower people and build relationships, one conversation at a time. Leaders, with the help of HR, need to become coaches that enable their staff to become change agents and to nurture ongoing positive relationships within and outside the organization.

Putting your Foot Down, Courageous Strategy Development explored driving out fear to enable everyone to ask those uncomfortable questions that drive improvements. Fear stifles innovation and provides false confidence. A fear-free organization enables all to challenge current thought, reach a common understanding and achieve flashes of insight. This can be done with RIGHT: respect, integrity, great expectations, honesty and two-way communication. RIGHT enables organizations to be more strategic.


Wanting more?  The slides from each presentation will be available on the Conference website under Presentations for a limited time. You can also visit my blog on the ASQ Ottawa website or ask me for a copy of the presentations. I will be updating my blog with new material over the next couple of weeks. I learned so much and am looking forward to next year in Charlotte, North Carolina.  By next year, I will add “Certified”, “Senior” and maybe “Chair” to my name tag.

ASQ Ottawa

Ruth Stanley, is the Vice Chair, ASQ Ottawa Section and enthusiastic participant of 2016 World Conference on Quality and Improvement. She shared news about the conference events and her experience in her daily blog