Improving Quality With the 4 Loops of Quality

Improving quality is about more than just finding and fixing problems. You need to architect an effective system to help you contain, control, and improve quality. I call this framework the 4 loops of quality, and we’ve used it for a long time for the assessment, design, and improvement of a quality system, both within manufacturing and beyond.




An Alternative to the Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram is useful to help break down a problem and see many potential causes and contributing factors to a problem. But the traditional breakdowns don’t feel appropriate for many types of problems, especially large, complex, amorphous types of problems. This video suggests an alternative framework to overlap on the fishbone diagram that you may find more useful.


The Misunderstood Impact of Misaligned Perceptions of Your Abilities With Your Boss

The Misunderstood Impact of Misaligned Perceptions of Your Abilities With Your Boss

…or, why it’s not about your risk of getting fired. 


You might hear from your boss “you’re great, a rockstar, we have every faith in you, you’re going to go far, but…you could improve in these ways…”

There are several reasons that this conversation matters. The most obvious is that this feedback reflects dimensions that you should improve, and getting that feedback and even help in changing can be really helpful. But just as often there is a difference in perception of your abilities that this conversation can expose. The boss thinks you have a gap or weakness when you might think you have a strength (or at least not a weakness).

When this occurs, most people focus on the wrong reason that this matters, and that hurts their ability to improve in the right way. Their focus is on whether those perceptions might hurt their promotion options, or even result in their unplanned departure. However, those reasons not only fuel performance-limiting anxiety, but if you have that conversation with your boss they will not only say “didn’t you hear how much we think of you?” But they will likely add a new weakness of self-centered career focus to this list. It also focuses your attention on a feedback loop (getting promoted) that is not high-frequency enough to help your improvement. 

Some advice is to not worry about those gaps in perception; just be yourself and it will take care of itself. Sometimes this is very valid. 

But there is another reason, a more pragmatic reason, that you should take these gaps in perception seriously, which also helps point towards different strategies for improvement. These perception gaps reduce the degrees of freedom that your boss(es) provide for you, and these limitations can hurt both your ability to be effective and your ability to improve. 

As a simple example, let’s imagine you are a baseball pitcher. Your manager loves your abilities, but perceives you as less effective in a high pressure situation. As a result, while you think you could get yourself out of trouble, every time you find yourself in that situation, your manager pulls you and you lose the opportunity to prove yourself. 

In a more traditional work setting, this can show up in these examples: 

You may think as the recipient that these are bad behaviors on the part of the boss, but it’s not so simple. If these are tactics or decisions to mitigate the risk of the perceived gaps in your abilities, then they are smart and prudent tactics both for the sake of the organization and you. 

However, just as with the baseball pitcher, most of these tactics limit your degrees of freedom that might help you change that perception, or grow out of the real gap. Simply asking for a chance to prove yourself isn’t a reliable strategy, because either you are denied (perhaps in a subtle and non-obvious way) or given too small of a chance to actually change perception. 

Instead, you will have to be creative in building effective opportunities to demonstrate yourself, armed with this alternative reason why changing that perception matters. But first, you need to be aware that the perception gap exists. 


The above post highlights one of many reasons that I’ve added to my Collaborative Coaching work. This process is part advising, part thought-partner, and part coach. I have added a 360 degree leadership feedback process, in partnership with Stewart Leadership who have developed these methods for decades, to enable those I collaborate with to have new insights into their leadership. Together, we build a plan for improvement. 


Lean Whiskey Episode 38

Episode 38: “A Toast to the U.S. Micro Whiskey of the Year, and the Need to Recommit to Patient Safety” 

What do you do when you are chosen as Jim Murray’s US Micro Whiskey of the Year? You pop in to join Mark and Jamie on Lean Whiskey to talk about it. At least that’s what our friend David Meier of Glenn’s Creek Distilling did in Episode 38. While we were able to drink, and celebrate, the success of OCD #5, we also explored David’s continued learning, problem-solving, and improvement of whiskey production. We also learned that he was featured on an episode of Moonshiners: American Spirit, more of a documentary exploring the production of American spirits than the original show.

After David departs, Mark and Jamie discuss a recent report featured on NBC outlining that 1 in 4 hospital visits result in adverse events. This comes from a recent study on patient safety published in the New England Journal of Medicine. We break down the statistics, explore the real meaning behind those numbers, and discuss the causes and contributing factors. Throughout the dialogue, we cover process improvement, problem-solving, near misses, organizational learning, and psychological safety. We also spend time looking at Dr. Don Berwick’s editorial about the study and at least try to summarize his contributions to patient safety. 

Mark and Jamie wrap up the first episode of 2023 talking about books. We hope everyone has a wonderful 2023. Happy New Year, and Cheers! 


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Lean Whiskey Episode 37

Episode 37: “I’ll have a half-caff no-whip soy-milk chestnut praline latte…to-go”

In Episode 37, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays with some new (to us) holiday cocktails. Mark tries the Bourbon Flip, and Jamie makes a Hot Buttered Bourbon. Neither will likely be in our regular rotation of cocktails, but they suit the “spirit” of the holiday season and might be a nice treat to make for guests. 

Your hosts explore the possible reinvention of Starbucks, which began with the return of CEO Howard Schultz. The stores have faced numerous pressures…increasing volume, increasing complexity, and growing barista dissatisfaction. Can these challenges be overcome by lean applied at the store level, or are more structural changes and innovations needed to get the job done? We explore a recent Wall Street Journal article about Starbucks’ transformation and walk back to the beginnings of their lean journey over 10 years ago. Some of the problem statements examined: SKU proliferation, new blenders, and store layouts. We may start seeing a brand new layout for Starbucks stores, although the promised improvements do not appear to be imminent. 

The hosts finish by exploring gift-giving in the whiskey, and wine, genre, including a book recommendation from Mark on the history of the prohibition era in the US. 


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Lean Whiskey Episode 36

Episode 36: “Guest Chris Kauzmann, and Design Thinking’s Relationship to Lean Thinking” 

In Episode 36, Jamie Flinchbaugh is joined by Chris Kauzmann, Adjunct Faculty, and Innovator in Residence at Lehigh University. Chris, a self-described “bottom shelf” whiskey drinker, joins Jamie to sample some Nikka Coffee Malt Whiskey and Blue Run High Rye Bourbon. 

We explore design thinking, which is both distinct from lean but also inherently consistent. The terminology is often quite different, but the essence of the work is very similar. Removing our biases and gaining insight through genuine exploration, whether to develop a business idea or improve a process or anything else, is one such example. Along the way, we cover many aspects of our shared experiences…the student entrepreneurs of Lehigh University that Chris supports and teaches full time and Jamie occasionally shows up to make a contribution. 


We close by deciding which building on Lehigh University’s beautiful campus we would most want to convert into a whiskey bar, although we are quite certain that no one will allow us to do this. 


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Lean Whiskey Episode 35

Episode 35: “We’re tired, but not tired of whiskey. A Gemba walk will pick us up.” 


In Episode 35, Mark is recently back from his Scotland Gemba visit. He isn’t tired from jet lag, or from whiskey, but nevertheless, Mark and Jamie both end up complaining about being tired. Maybe we’re just…old (gasp). We also didn’t plan our color coordination (for those on video).

We focus this episode on going to the Gemba in the making of scotch whisky, from Mark’s recent trip. We talk about what is learned by going to the Gemba, both in general and specific to whisky. You can hear more about peat, malting, distilling, and maturing, including is maturing inventory or a value-adding step? 

Of course, we also select scotch as our whisky of choice, opting for more obscure selections that you may not have heard of. Both were excellent. 

We also spend a little time talking about work retreats, whether it be for writing a book as both Mark and Jamie do, strategic thinking as Bill Gates would do, or just simply reflection and planning. We conclude by discussing what job at a distiller we would most like to do, although neither of us likely has the requisite skills. Slainte!


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How To Do an Effective Personal Work Retreat

No matter what your profession, everyone should consider at some point in time a personal work retreat. For me, it is usually about research and writing. Certainly, almost all of People Solve Problems was written across multiple retreats up to the mountains. Bill Gates would take his “think weeks” away in a cabin to read and work on strategic decisions. The purpose of your retreat could be research, writing, strategic work, or could be as simple as career planning or personal reflection. You certainly shouldn’t wait for your employer to provide this opportunity for you. This is you taking the time to do deep work, whatever that means to you.

My friend Lehigh Professor Josh Ehrig was recently preparing for his retreat and asked for my advice. After providing it, he suggested I write it up and post it, so here we go…

First, you must break from established rhythms and routines, and second, you must engage in deeper thinking patterns. 

To break from established rhythms and routines, you should be changing as much as possible. The location is the first thing. It could be as simple as a day in a park with a notebook but could be a cabin or cottage (a choice both for myself and Gates), a hotel, or something else. While this will sound like a strange example, I actually wrote most of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean (long ago) in a Starbucks on long afternoons, and the reason was that it was not busy and they didn’t have wifi, so I couldn’t get stuck in on emails or distracted by lots of traffic. 

From there, change other aspects of your personal routines. It could be waking up a couple of hours earlier or later than you normally do. If you work out in the morning, instead wake up and get right to work and work out mid-day. Eat different foods, drink less coffee and more tea, or less wine and more whiskey, or wear sweatpants and a cozy sweater (well, the right time of year). The whole point is to change your rhythm, perspective, energy, and focus. These disruptions will inherently make you more aware. 

The second aspect is to force yourself past your normal levels of depth and focus to engage in deeper thinking patterns. I wouldn’t normally think I would write for four hours, but I found that the best flow in work would always come after I’ve gone past a bit of a breaking point but keep with it. 

I would also spend more time looking at or thinking about a problem. This could involve reading more and following trails of footnotes into old texts, or loads and loads of building mindmaps to get ideas out and explore connections between key points, or even taking a question and going for a long hike just to think about it more. The objective is to think past what you already know that you know. Pushing those boundaries is where new ideas, connections, and creativity come into play. 

So that’s the general advice. In part to share, and in part to make myself more aware of how I’m doing this, this is some of what I do on my deep retreats. You probably don’t need these details, and certainly shouldn’t just copy them, but here they are. I’d always wake up without an alarm clock whenever that would be, and would stay up later at night. I’d often start with making a stovetop espresso on a Moka pot, sit outside even if it’s cold, and do some reading. I’d get some work done then right away before taking a break for a hike, swim, or even yoga. I’d often have a little wine at lunch, and a little whiskey in the evening. I would probably snack more than I should, although I don’t think that’s helpful but likely a result of using all of my brain on my work and none of it on making good dietary decisions. I would sit and work outside as much as possible. I would keep my work area quite clear, except for a pad of engineering paper, my laptop, and any books I’m reading including a Kindle. In the winter I’d wear sweatpants and a heavy, professorial, knit cardigan, and in the summer would be shorts and Hawaiian shirts. And most importantly, I would clear my schedule. No meetings, email on auto-reply as if I’m on vacation, and no calls either. 

What are your best practices? 

Lean Whiskey Episode 34

Episode 34: “Crazy Ideas, From Shipping Flowers to Crab Whiskey”

In Episode 34, Mark Graban and Jamie Flinchbaugh begin by belatedly celebrating the 3rd birthday of Lean Whiskey. No, this wasn’t a pandemic-launched podcast, although if we hadn’t started it yet it probably would have become one. We also learn of Mark’s pending trip to Islay, where an awful lot of good whisky is produced. Apparently, Jamie wasn’t invited to record an “on location” episode.

Most of the episode we explore the challenges, benefits, and approaches to developing and seeing through the crazy ideas. This conversation builds from an episode of Mark’s My Favorite Mistake podcast in which he interviews 1-800-FLOWERS founder Jim McCann. FedEx founder Fred Smith told McCann that shipping flowers via FedEx wouldn’t work. Not only did Jim not fold in the face of Fred’s advice, he eventually partnered with FedEx to bring this program to life. But bringing big ideas to life is about more than just ignoring the doubters, but adjusting or trimming the idea, learning through rapid testing, and having the courage to move forward through adversity as our explanation of the Netflix story examines. 

We wrap up exploring another crazy idea, whiskey made from crabs. Well, that’s not technically true, but it is distilled crab stock added to a bourbon base, and specifically to raise awareness about the invasive green crabs that destroy the mussel population. Tamworth Distilling from New Hampshire are the brains behind this particular project. Thanks to our friend Dan Markovitz introduced us to this idea. Maybe Mark will detour his trip to Scotland towards New Hampshire instead.  


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Watch here:


The Important Gap Between Observation and Perception

Whether in problem-solving, or broad lean behaviors, or seeing the customer as an entrepreneur, there is much articulated about the idea of going to see for yourself. There are many terms for it, such as “direct observation” that we articulated in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, or Gemba commonly used by the lean community, or just “go and see.” But this principle and practice is about much more than going to see. It is about what and how you see.

In the 1992 movie White Men Can’t Jump, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson get into an argument about Jimi Hendrix in this scene (warning: foul language). Wesley’s character is trying to explain to Woody’s character that there is a difference between “listening to” Jimi Hendrix and “hearing” Jimi.


Now if you think I can’t swivel from that movie to Ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, think again…

In the book The Daily Stoic, the entry for April 10th is called “Judgements Cause Disturbance”, and while after a different outcome, does help illustrate this concept. 


“It isn’t events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgments about them.” – Epictetus in Enchiridion. The samurai swordsman Musashi made a distinction between our “perceiving eye” and our “observing eye.” The observing eye sees what is. The perceiving eye sees what things supposedly mean. Which one do you think causes us the most anguish? An event is inanimate. It’s objective. It simply is what it is. That’s what our observing eye sees. This will ruin me. How could this have happened? Ugh! It’s so-and-so’s fault. That’s our perceiving eye at work. Bringing disturbance with it and then blaming it on the event. 


Now Epictetus’ point is more to focus on not letting the perceiving eye bother you when there is nothing truly of concern from the observing eye. However, both eyes are of value.

The perceiving eye is where insight comes from. It is where we make meaning from what we see. It’s where we study, and our mind interacts with what we see. We might draw from intuition, experience, reasoning, or more. 

The observing eye sees things for what they are. There is little insight or meaning, but just truth.

The effective observer is (1) very aware of both the observing eye and the perceiving eye, and (2) very much in control of which one is shaping decisions and actions. This is not about one being good and one being bad. We need to see things as they really are. We also need to create meaning from what we see. 

A flamingo is pink, tall, and tropical. That is observation, but perception is about meaning and a flamingo is either a beautiful bird or an ugly one. Both can be right because it’s s a matter of perception. I want to state as fact that fake flamingo lawn ornaments are just ugly, but yet because of their mere existence, certainly some perceive them differently. 

Finally, to offer one more philosopher’s view from long, long ago. Obi-Wan Kenobi says that “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” 


So, develop your pure, unfiltered observing eye. Also develop your insightful perceiving eye. Both will be needed.