ASQ, Northwestern MEM participate in developing Next Generation Quality Leadership Series

March 14 marked the most recent in a series of case studies presented by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), Buckman Associates, and Northwestern University. Nestle Purina Pet Products is the most recent example in a series called “Next Generation Quality Leadership,” which focuses on companies with a role model system of leadership development. The series is a great resource for Northwestern University MEM students hoping to improve company and personal leadership practices, and students also play an imperative role by attending video taped presentations and asking questions during the following Q&A sessions. 

Next Generation Quality Leadership

Jim Buckman first came up with the idea for a case studies series as a missing resource provided by the Joseph M. Juran Center for Research in Supply Chain, Operations, and Quality, which he helped start at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Buckman, now retired from the university, approached his friend Robert Galvin, former CEO of Motorola and a strong supporter of his wife’s alma mater Northwestern University (including a recent $6 million donation to the music school for a recital hall to be named after his widow Mary Galvin) with his idea for the series and soon a partnership formed between Buckman Associates, Northwestern University, and the American Society for Quality.

From the start, Mr. Buckman took a different approach to the series than most case studies to day. Hoping to present information in a more engaging and effective format, the research is presented in a variety of formats including video, instructor guides, and an in-depth written analysis. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota served as the first example in 2011 because of their incredible approach to health care that could help revamp a currently failing system in the United States. The process beings with interviews and questions during in-person meetings on site for each company. Several months later, company representatives travel to Evanston, specifically the ITW room of Ford familiar to all MEM students, to present material about their leadership session, followed by a Q&A sessions with MEM students providing the necessary expert audience.

The MEM Impact:

MEM students offer a good choice as participants for a variety of reasons. One focus of the case studies is to place an emphasis on systems thinking, which Mr. Buckman believes is a signature aspect of the MEM program and sorely needed–and often missing–from executive education generally in both business and engineering. Students in the MEM program are dedicated to quality in their management skills. They already have work experience, training in technology and science, and a broad range of skills to draw from, so they know what questions to ask and what they would like to see in a case study.

During the most recent Nestle Purina Pet Products presentation, Vice President of Quality Systems Ken Dean and Vice President of Manufacturing in America Bill Cooper discussed the way Purina overcame stagnant years in the 90s to emerge an industry leader with continually growing success with 18 consecutive years of sales growth and five consecutive years of increased market shares in all Purina categories. Mr. Dean and Mr. Cooper focused on Purina’s incredible feedback practices with their customers and internally in the company as well as the “zero” mentality, meaning aiming for “zero workplace accidents,” “zero waste,” and zero tolerance for aiming for anything less than perfect. Student questions focused on attaining a more thorough understanding of the survey methodology and how to balance important business practices such as efficiency and innovation that often conflict with one another.

Quality Studies and Exceptional Results

For Mr. Buckman as well as members of the ASQ, the series has been a rewarding and exciting prospect. “This has been a lof of fun and a really rich experience for us working with Northwestern,” Mr. Buckman stated. The ASQ is able to reach an audience of over 100,000 all over the world and so far the series has been wildly successful among subscribers. The Mayo Clinic report:

  • has had nearly 5000 visits and downloads to date
  • is the #1 most downloaded case study in 2012 (with nearly five times more downloads than #2)
  • was featured in Quality Progress magazine and was the 13th most visited and 10th most downloaded article

Why has the study been so popular? According to user feedback:

“This is a great article about a great institution. What impressed me most about the article was the description of how their system evolved and clearly was not ‘copied.’ . . . While there are many key points in the article, I believe the point about overcoming a mindset explains why many organizations fail in their attempts at quality.” —Ron Behren

“Fantastic article! I am sharing this with as many people as I can because this really hits the nail on the head. This is what our healthcare system needs more of, and The Mayo Clinic is doing it like a business. Rock on Mayo!” —Dave Wildner

“This article is inspiring in more ways than one. When the driving forces of a company buy into a belief and support activities to proceed and succeed, that is when something concrete and substantial can manifest. I intend to use this case study to raise awareness. Thank you for another fine and extremely relevant article!” —Anisha Verma

Looking Ahead

If you ask Mr. Buckman, he believes the depth of the case studies is what set them apart. Unlike a simple report or technical evaluation, the studies are multifaceted and engaging. The ASQ also provides an instructor’s guide for implementing strategies explored in the reports along with video clips from various executives within the organizations, and in general are presented in an engaging tone that adds a human view in contrast to a purely managerial view. The cases studies also offer an intellectual aspect necessary in an academic setting, which will be more relevant down the road when a book about the case studies is produced.

“We try to select cases that are a real impact on the world,” Mr. Buckman explains. He believes a real renaissance in manufacturing will require strong engineering leadership and a focus on developing both a technical and leadership background will be essential to in a variety of industries in the future, from banking, to insurance  to real estate. The MEM program aims to develop students capable of solving the worlds problems and the case studies offer one more step toward achieving that goal.

You can find the studies online on the ASQ Knowledge Center and see the video online here. Learn more about why engineering managers are growing in demand and how NUMEM is preparing them for the future.

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