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Fang Zhou

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Are you ready for a run?

I was running outside in the back country on a beautiful morning. It reminded me of the summer days when I was training for marathons with groups of runners. Those were some most memorable days I ever had, a lot of hard work, sweat, pain, but also full of fun. What does it have to…

VOC — Not Fast or Easy

In several of my previous blogs, I stressed the importance of statistical thinking in interpreting data. For many people, statistics is probably one of the hardest subjects to learn. In contrast, voice of the customer, often qualitative in nature, may appear simpler. But identifying the right customers and their needs, in my opinion, is exceedingly…

Rush Hour

If you travel to multiple sites to support projects as I do, you know what it is like to drive on the highway during rush hour. Last week I was driving to another company site, which is normally about 1.5 hours away if there is no traffic. I was cruising at the speed limit until…

Project Termination and LSS Certification

How often are your DMAIC projects terminated before their completion? While it’s a benefit to make early decisions in the Define or Measure phase to stop unpromising and/or non-priority projects, it can be difficult in the later phases after the organization has invested in significant time and resources. The problem is not unique to continuous…

Feeling Overloaded?

How long did it take to finish your last project? Do you feel like you never have enough time to do your current project because so much else is going on? When I meet with my mentees, I often hear them apologizing for not having made much progress since we met last time. Obviously they…

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Productivity and Employment

When talking about Lean and Six Sigma, people often associate them with improved productivity. Other times they associate them with their possible consequences: high profitability or loss of jobs. In today’s economic environment, many people are concerned with the potential trade-off between productivity improvement and employment. But is there such a trade-off relationship? A recent…

The End of The Beginning

Everyone building Lean Six Sigma in an organization probably agrees that the challenge is not teaching the tools but changing the mindset. As many of us have experienced, we could introduce misconceptions that are counter-productive. For example, there are a lot of discussions or even debates on the standards of Black Belt certification – what…

Learning from Success

In my blog about a year ago, “How I became a Black Belt“, I wrote about Lean Six Sigma being “simply a scientific approach to problem solving and learning.” I am sure everyone understands LSS as a problem-solving methodology. But how does Lean Six Sigma help us learn? First, let’s look at some common barriers…

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Correlation and Variation

Six Sigma projects differ from traditional projects in one important requirement – understanding of the Y=f(x) relationship with data before developing or implementing a solution. In the DMAIC framework, we identify, test and verify the causal relationship between a potential root cause (x) and the outcome (Big Y), and then develop a solution to change…

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Innovation in Pharma

The role of Lean and Six Sigma in drug discovery and development is a controversial topic. Does Lean Six Sigma improve innovation or stifle it? A recent article in Drug Discovery Today offers new perspectives, analysis, and suggestions that I found encouraging. While acknowledging the contradicting perspectives and experiences many organizations have, the authors see…

Some Assembly Required, II

After doing Continuous Improvement for some time, I started noticing improvement opportunities everywhere, in everyday life. Here is a recent example. With holidays and vacation days coming last December, I was going to get my basement organized and needed some shelf space. After reading some positive product reviews online, I bought two 48″ (wide) heavy…

Management Innovation

Lean Six Sigma is commonly viewed as a continuous improvement method to enhance quality and reduce costs. It’s better known for its tools than for its philosophy or underlying principles. With only superficial use of the tools, we risk missing the true power and opportunity of Lean Six Sigma as a management method to strategically…

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Training in Statistics

Recently I learned that my companyâ??s Green Belt training no longer includes hypothesis testing; it will now be part of Black Belt training.  Is this a right decision?  I think it is, because the goal of Six Sigma training is to develop the concept of variation and use it to understand the problem, not to…

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More than Profits

Last week GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $750 million to settle charges related to bad products. In their press release, they stated: “We regret that we operated the Cidra facility in a manner that was inconsistent with current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements and with GSK’s commitment to manufacturing quality. GSK worked hard to resolve fully…

Excess Capacity?

In my blog a few weeks ago I mentioned an article in McKinsey Quarterly about removing barriers to knowledge worker interactions. I pointed out a hidden barrier: lack of concentration or too much work-in-process (WIP), which slows down knowledge worker interactions. In that article, physical barriers were cited as common, especially in many large global…

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Cost Cutting vs. Waste Reduction

As hard as it can be to cut costs in this tough economic environment, it’s harder to sustain the reduction once it’s achieved. “Five ways CFOs can make cost cuts stick” (McKinsey Quarterly May 2010) illustrated exactly this challenge and concluded that “Companies must improve their processes and capabilities if they hope to reduce or…

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Knowledge Worker Productivity

Lean and Six Sigma have helped many organizations improve quality and productivity in their manufacturing and transactional processes. However, applying these methodologies remains a challenge in a knowledge work environment, such as the life sciences, based on my 15+ years of experience at various companies –from a start-up to a global pharmaceutical giant, as well…

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Goals and Process Capability

One of the most important skills people learn in Six Sigma training is project chartering. Many Green Belts and Black Belts have learned to write much better goal statements using the SMART guideline (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). In a previous blog, I talked about how clear operational definitions help create specific and measurable…

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Leader Influence

Change management is seen as an essential component of many corporate initiatives, such as Six Sigma.Sponsors are identified, consultants are hired, and people are trained and deployed as change agents. Employees seem to embrace the change as demonstrated by their enthusiasm for training and certification, and resistance seems to be under control as few question…

Productivity of an Aging Workforce

CBS News recently had a report about “How BMW Deals with an Aging Workforce.” To develop solutions to overcome loss of productivity due to the aging workforce, BMW tested one assembly line by staffing it with workers with an average age of 47, the projected age of the entire workforce in 2017. They made 70…

Are You a Six Sigma Type?

It has been over 5 years since I moved from R&D and manufacturing roles to continuous improvement, both leading projects and supporting Lean Six Sigma deployment. As a CI professional, what I enjoy most is the opportunity to work on the most challenging issues facing the organization, to learn and improve myself by practicing the…

Return On Investment in Education

The September issue of US News & World Report has the most recent rankings of the Best Colleges. However, I think what’s interesting is the article “Is College Still Worth it?” Instead of which college to attend, the question it asks is whether to go to college, given the rising costs at as much as…

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Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us

I was reading the USAirways in-flight magazine while flying from Philadelphia to Boston the other day. The issue’s Must Read is anexcerpt from Chapter 1 of the book Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us by Emily Yellin. I thought it was interesting as it is filled with horror stories of how Customer Service…

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Statistics in Everyday Life

The internet has brought us so much more information. Statistics are often used to support our opinions or views, and they show up in all types of media, including the internet. But are we more informed and educated on issues as common and important as health care? Let’s take a look at some numbers that…

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Improving Health

Healthcare is on everyone’s mind nowadays, from individuals to the government. Employers often try to lower healthcare expenses by sponsoring wellness programs. How effective are these programs? Not much, according to a report by the National Institute for Health Care Reform: While employer wellness programs have spread rapidly in recent years, few employers implement programs…

Some Assembly Required

I was shopping at IKEA and found a bureau on sale for $30. The display model looked well-made with nice materials and finish. However, as expected, IKEA furniture comes in a box assembly required. No problem as I have plenty of experience. The assembly process took a number of steps: Find a suitable area large…

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Managing Crisis

The June 14 issue of Fortune magazine featured an interview with Vanguard CEO William McNabb as a part of their C-Suite series. McNabb became CEO on August 31, 2008, two weeks before Lehman Brothers failed. Many more companies lost employees, customers, and certainly, a lot of money during the crisis. In contrast, Vanguard emerged stronger,…

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Goal, Metric, and Operational Definition

As expressed in my first blog, learning and practicing Lean Six Sigma helps me communicate with more clarity and consistency. In my opinion, one of the barriers to continuous improvement is the use of words without clearly defined and mutually agreed upon meanings. It’s common to see project charters include vague statements like these: improve…

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Choosing DMAIC

DMAIC is a very powerful method and provides a framework for leading business improvement projects. The consistent rigor has led to many great results. However, I have also seen less successful DMAIC projects that took too long and/or generated little improvement. As mentors, we all have seen inexperienced belts struggle with various tools. However, my…

Customer Focus

We have all heard a lot about “customer focus” in our work. But what does it really mean? How much has “bringing customer focus to the organization” helped you change the culture and improve the long-term performance of the business? What has been your customer’s response to it? Lean Six Sigma has brought more concrete…

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Lead Time vs. Cycle Time

Lead Time and Cycle Time are two important metrics in Lean and process improvement in general. However, many people do not seem to understand the difference and their relationship. In fact, many use them interchangeably. This can lead to confusion in understanding the true problems in a process, and worse, poor decisions in process improvement….

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Six Sigma: Misunderstood

I recently read a blog on GE Healthcare’s website. http://nextlevel.gehealthcare.com/cost/a-child-of-our-own.php Although the general idea of needing better ways to improve healthcare systems is valid, I cannot agree with the underlying interpretation of what Lean and Six Sigma are. It seems to me many people view Lean and Six Sigma as 1. tools for solving specific…

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How I Became a Black Belt

Lean Six Sigma is still fairly new to the R&D people in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, where I have been supporting its deployment. Often people ask me “What is Lean Six Sigma?” and “How did you become a Black Belt from a scientist?” I used to give a textbook answer to the first question…

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Lean Six Sigma: What’s in it for me?

As practitioners, we think Lean Six Sigma is an integral part of our life. But how can we help others see its value? This is a crucial step to building and sustaining a Lean Six Sigma culture. One thing I learned through the Lean Six Sigma deployment is that people have to be personally motivated…

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