Tag: quality tools

The Crow & the Pitcher… Quality Lessons from Aesop

We came across an article from Lifehacker the other day discussing childhood fables and other moral stories that are applicable to adults as well.

One of the stories shared resonated with us.  It’s Aesop’s The Crow & the Pitcher:

The Story: A crow is flying around on an abnormally hot summer day looking for water. He comes across a pitcher of water, but when he tries to stick his beak in he can’t reach the water. He tries and tries, slowly getting more dehydrated. He’s about to give up and accept his fate when he has an idea: he drops small pebbles in the pitcher until the water level rises to the point where he can reach it.

What’s the lesson as applicable to quality? As the article states, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Organizations wanting quality shouldn’t give up trying to find solutions and accept the fate of failing to meet customer expectations.  Even if the first idea isn’t dropping pebbles in the pitcher, there are quality tools that can get us to the one that works best.  “Little by little does the trick.”

Selecting the best quality tool to meet your objectives

We love our quality tools!  In fact, the Quality Toolbox is never too far out of reach.  But, the choices can seem overwhelming at times.  Here are some suggestions for picking the right tool based on what you want to accomplish:

If you want to keep track of your facts…

Use a check sheet or line graph.

*Make your own line graph online here.

If you want to represent data visually…

Use a histogram, line graph, or pareto diagram.

If you want to group your ideas…

Use a lotus flower diagram, fishbone diagram or affinity diagram.

If you want to figure out how ideas are connected…

Use a fishbone or relations diagram.

Fishbone Example: Rejected Pre-Shipment Inspections

We like Ishikawa’s fishbone diagrams, also referred to as cause and effect diagrams for good reason.  They’re great for figuring out why something isn’t working.

For our clients, it is not uncommon for pre-shipments inspections to uncover trends in failures.  When this happens, we want to know why the problem is occurring so appropriate corrective actions can be taken.

We shared a useful four minute overview of fishbone diagrams some time ago, but also decided to put together a general example specific to our experience in the quality industry.  ASQ and Mind Tools also have great resources and templates on the subject as well.

The following process took place to create the fishbone diagram example below.

  1. We talked about the problem and defined it in a way that was specific and relevant.  In this case, there were a series of rejected pre-shipment inspections where paint defects were exceeding AQLs as part of the visual evaluation.
  2. We brainstormed categories that would have an effect on this problem.  We read about and do find the use of sticky notes to be a very effective way to organize this information.  Also, looking through examples can help with this, as there are a handful of very common categories used.  The categories are used as the branches off the main arrow.
  3. We brainstormed the issues digging deeper into each one and including them where they fit best in the categories.  Keep asking why to get a more in-depth evaluation.  Layers in the branches can subdivide out the issues further, as necessary.
  4. We analyzed the diagram and did further research into the causes we listed.  When identifying causes and incorporating corrective action, follow-up metrics are very useful in determining if your actions have produced the desired result of effectively resolving the problem you stated.

Fishbone_Example_Defect copy


Successful New Year’s Resolutions – Using Quality Tools

blank list of resolutions on blackboardThroughout the world, personal resolutions (commitments) are made as the year comes to an end. From ancient Babylonians returning borrowed objects and paying debts to medieval knights taking the “peacock vow” and re-affirming their commitment to chivalry, starting fresh with each New Year is a timeless practice.

Surprisingly, it is estimated that as many as 75-88% of resolutions made for the New Year are not successful. We think it’s possible that incorporating quality tools are just what we need to bring those numbers down and make the positive changes successful.

Here are several quality tools we find applicable for both personal and professional development.

S.W.O.T. Analysis 
One of the most effective tools for both organizational and self-assessment is the S.W.O.T. analysis. As a starting process for developing New Year’s resolutions, it is an introspective way of evaluating personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Worksheet Resource

It’s been said that deciding is half the battle. If that were true, it would be helpful to have a comprehensive list of potential resolution candidates – or anything that you could do to see a positive result in the coming year. Use mind-mapping to sort it all out.

Mind-Mapping Resource

Affinity Diagrams
With the list generated through the brainstorming process, group the items into more specific, similar categories.

How-To Resource

Bar Charts 
Use bar charts to provide a visual representation of the situation. Excel is an ideal tool for creating quick and easy charts. They can be used to identify areas of focus and monitor progress throughout in support of continuous improvement actions.

Excel Column Chart Resource

Pareto Analysis 
Using the categories determined from the affinity diagram and possibly the information from the histogram, pick those that represent 20% of the total. With this, we can assume improving on this 20% will reap us 80% of the benefits.

Procedure & Example Resource

S.M.A.R.T Goals
Once you have primary issues or resolutions notes, make each one a S.M.A.R.T. goal that you record and share with others. Studies have shown sharing a resolution with others increases the success. S.M.A.R.T. goals are those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

How-To & Template Resource

Flowcharts are great for continuous improvement. Map out the process of reaching the resolution. It’s beneficial to visually see how a goal is being met.

Complete Tutorial w/ Examples 

Drucker may not have been thinking about New Year’s resolutions when he spoke of Plan-Do-Check-Act, but it certainly applies. The tools listed above have laid out a plan, so it becomes important to follow-up and take corrective actions where necessary.

Plan – Identify what you want to do and how you can achieve the results. (See above)

Do – Put your plan into action. Keep track of efforts and results.

Check – Compare results to expectations at regular intervals.

Act – Keep doing what works and improve on what’s not.

To learn more about these and other quality tools, the Quality Toolbox is a must-have. To get kids involved with using quality tools, look at Thinking Tools for Kids.

For this article, we used the following reference, in addition to the other links:

This article was originally published in Pro QC’s December 2012 quarterly newsletter.


ASQ’s recent video featuring the use of checklists for organizing grocery lists and improving shopping productivity has us thinking about how useful this quality tool really is.

“A checklist is a list of items required, things to be done, or points to be considered, used as a reminder. It is used so as to help one not to forget information or jobs meant to be done. It can also be referred to as a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention.”

We use checklists quite often.  However, while the checklists we use internally are comprehensive and part of our standardized internal processeses, the “lighter side of quality” and its application in our personal lives is also worth mentioning.

Our favorite checklist sites for organizing everything from travel to finance includes:

You can even make your own checklist with little effort at all:


Want to know more about why you need checklists and how to make good ones? Atul Gawande has written “The Checklist Manifesto” for just this purpose.

The book tells the story of a checklist to prevent common surgery mistakes, which Gawande created and implemented at the request of the World Health Organization (WHO). Gawande also shares what he learned from leading checklist makers and users in other industries – in particular airlines and construction, but also finance/investing, cooking, disaster recovery, and more.

In the process, Gawande makes a compelling case for checklists. Pick any industry, he says, and you’ll see “the same balls being dropped over and over, even by those with great ability and determination.” It’s a natural outcome of an increasingly complex world. Checklists help us combat these patterns of failures by:

  1. Making us smarter, more systematic decision-makers
  2. Creating a culture of discipline and teamwork
  3. Getting the dumb stuff out of the way

Tips for creating useful checklists include:

  • Keep it short and simple.
  • Focus on what’s important.
  • Evaluate how effective the checklist is once in use and incorporate continuous improvement efforts to fine-tune it.