What does Quality mean to a cliff swallow?

I went for a walk along Coal Creek after lunch today.  I was surprised by the cliff swallows nesting under the bridge there.  As I watched the birds fly to and fro, I was amazed at their agility.  I noticed that their mud-daubed nests built underneath the overhanging bridge looked very secure.  I began to wonder, what does Quality mean to a swallow?


Obviously, it must be location, location, location.  The nests are really inaccessible from the ground, the birds can eat the flying insects that hover above the creek, and they could get mud to make their nests.  The birds’ hard work and attention to detail resulted in these marvelous nests.

The birds will only stay here until early Fall, they are only visitors and will fly further south for the winter.

All that hard work and the cliff swallows will live there only a few months.

And yet, without being able to pay attention to important details their summer homes wouldn’t have been possible.

Isn’t this an example of Quality?


Hiking Longs Peak Trail

This post is a break from Quality tools, just like Sunday’s hike was a break from the everyday.  The Longs Peak trail begins at the Ranger Station and approximately 9,400 ft (2865 m).  Today’s destination was Chasm Lake.  Chasm Lake is at 11,780 ft (3590 m) and has great views of the surrounding granite cliff walls and the northeast face of Longs Peak (“the Diamond”).


Even in early June, Chasm Lake is frozen over.  Cracks in the ice are eerily blue and a thin sheet of ice retreats from the shoreline.





PDCA the 30k Ruck March

The Colorado Veterans Project hosts several events throughout the year to help Colorado Veterans.  This includes the Memorial Day Run & March, which offers several races on event day- the 5k Run Or Ruck, 10k Run Or Ruck, and the 30k Ruck March.  Deciding rather impulsively I thought that the 30k Ruck March might be a great way to motivate myself to train for the summer hiking season and to help raise food for homeless Veterans.  I registered for the 30k Ruck March.  Ok, so what to do next? I was now committed to finishing the 30k Ruck March- march 30 kilometers with 25 lbs. of canned food in my backpack.  Now that I had a goal, planning and training fits into the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle of continuous improvement.

Plan – plan the work, work the plan.  For the 30k Ruck March, both long term and short term planning came into play.  Training for hiking and back-country skiing provided my base fitness. This is the long term plan because base fitness is developed over months and years.  Setting weekly training goals, tracking progress, types of exercise, and other training methods are discussed in detail in previous blog posts- Fitness First and the Karvonen Formula.  The short term plan is for the event specific training the 3 months before the event and a plan for the event day itself.  Before February, I had been emphasizing jogging in my weekly training. Jogging at low intensity levels, with perceived easy effort, and training for an hour or more- this is a type of Zone 1 training exercise discussed in Training for the New Alpinism.  After February, I introduced event specific training by changing my exercise from jogging to pack-weight carry (i.e. wearing a backpack with a specific amount of weight).

Do – work the plan. By March, I was hiking with a 30 lb. backpack for 2 miles, 2 times a week.  The rest of the weekly exercise could be considered non-specific training, for example going winter camping for 2 days (carrying an overnight pack and hiking to a campsite near Winter Park at 9,600 ft).  In April, I continued back-country skiing on the weekends with less emphasis on training during the week.  My training efforts tend to have an unintentional cyclic fluctuation- 1 month I’ll train more each week, more days per week, and then the next month or so my number of training days per week will drop off.  I think that this is in part just the natural need to recover from training and also that there are competing interests from daily life that need time, too.

Plan – the 30k Ruck March.  There are time standards for the 30k Ruck March and while civilian participants do not need to meet these standards, I used this as my benchmark for the event.  For my age group, to meet standard the 30k course needs to be completed  in 4 hours 40 minutes.  I made myself a table with the following columns: Distance traveled in km, my goal for each km, and the benchmark for each km.  My goal was to alternate 11 minutes per km with 9 minutes per km (the benchmark rate).  This is a slow, fast, slow cadence.

Do – 8:00 am on Saturday, time to ruck!  I moved forward with the crowd, letting those eager to race to the front go by me.  Moving at a fast walk, I was soon in the back of the pack.  Abruptly someone comes running up- Stop!, Stop!  You’re going the wrong way!  We had missed the first turn in the course and were following the road, when the course route was to take a sharp right turn onto a bike path.  Surprisingly, I was now in the lead of the pack! But not for long.  The group redirected itself and we headed off onto the bike path and the correct course route.

Check – As I passed each kilometer, I checked my time vs. the table I had printed out.  At 8 km, I passed the marker at 9:30 am and my goal time was 9:20 am.  Not bad, but I was losing time.

Act – Pick up the pace.  Seeing that I was off of goal, I quickened my pace- but not too much.  8 km is just the first quarter and there were 22 km to go.

As I completed sections of the course, I would check my actual time vs. the goal time.  The course turn around was at 17.5 km, goal was 10:53 am, actual was 12:00 pm.  These self checks along the way were monitoring short term performance- Do, Check, Act, repeat.

Saturday, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun beat down relentlessly.  From 15 km to the turnaround at 17.5 km, there were few trees and a long, gradual uphill section to reach the top of a grassy plateau.

Do – Heat exhaustion was a very real possibility.  Long sections of the course had few opportunities for shade and the daytime high was 90°F (32°C).  After resting at the turnaround point, I started back to the finish line at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

Check – The goal for the last half of the ruck was simply to finish.  I was 2 hours behind the planned rate and it was a real effort to simply place one foot ahead of the other.

Act – Keep moving.  From 20 km on, simply moving was physically painful.  Oddly enough, the mental effort was not the kind of effort needed when lifting a heavy weight.  Perhaps the best way to describe it, is mental relaxation and to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  The 27 km marker was a very welcome sight and it was a relief that I knew that there were only 2 km left.  At this point, my fastest pace was a slow and steady walk but the 28 km and 29 km markers seemed to go by quickly and it became easier once the finish line was in sight.  I collected a Finisher’s ribbon and went to weigh my pack.  The pack weighed 27.98 lbs.  The event volunteers unloaded the pack and put the canned food into plastic bins.  This was the purpose of the event in the first place- collect food for homeless Veterans and to remember those that have served and those that are serving: the reason for Memorial Day.

Quality tool: PDCA – Plan Do Check Act.

Application: 30k Ruck March

Personal Results: 27.98 lbs canned goods donated to feed homeless Veterans in Colorado

More Information


Colorado Veterans Project

The Norwegian Foot March in the U.S.

What is a Ruck?




Audit Responses- Just the Facts Please

Jerry thought that the audit had gone pretty good.  Ralph had called several weeks before and setup the on-site audit.  Ralph is a Quality Engineer for one of Jerry’s largest customers, a privately owned company with an eccentric and visionary CEO.  Let’s call this company “CT”. Making a good impression could mean developing a good customer relationship and future business.

The Audit – The introductory meeting is well stocked with a continental breakfast and plenty of coffee.  As Quality Manager for Acme Corporation, Jerry begins the meeting by introducing the Management Team:  Amy, the Operations Director and her team- Jason, Production Manager, Amanda, Purchasing Manager, followed by the staff supporting CT’s product line- Josh, Process Engineer, and Ashley, Buyer/Planner.  The introductions go well, and shortly thereafter the management team exits cordially.  Ralph goes through the audit checklist and all the questions are pretty standard- so Ashley excuses herself since PO’s don’t place themselves and there doesn’t seem to be any questions related to on time delivery and there’ve been no requests to lower prices (which is astonishing by itself, but maybe this is going to be a good week after all, Ashley thinks to herself).

Ralph continues talking about how he used to be a Quality Manager at Satellites R Us (SRU) and how he used to manage the entire Southwest territory.  Satellites R Us had a really good Quality Management System, Acme’s was alright.  But nobody could really compare to SRU.  Jerry can tell that Ralph is more interested in talking about the “Good Old Days”, so he quietly excuses Josh.

Lunch is brought in to the conference room, Ralph insists that going out to lunch simply wastes precious audit time, and the Management Team comes in as the food arrives.  Lunch goes well, there’s some chit chat and pleasantries.  People quietly leave as Ralph goes back to his audit checklist.

“The paperwork review is almost done,” Ralph says, “however, I really like to see the production line when I visit a supplier.”  Jerry hastily calls Josh back in, Josh thought he was off the hook this time!, and Jerry and Josh escort Ralph out to the production line.

“We all wear safety glasses and shop coats when we enter the production area,” Jerry explains.  Everyone puts on the safety glasses, which are like clear sunglasses and light blue shop coats.  Ralph makes some random comments and asks to see some shop floor travelers.  The shop floor travelers have all the job order information, which steps have been completed, each step signed off, they even remembered the in-process quality check this time! (Will miracles never cease?)  After the successful spot check, Jerry hurries Ralph on to the next production area (no need to stay too long and give Ralph an opportunity to look at more shop travelers.)

“This is Shipping and Receiving,” Jerry introduces the next area. “Please stay within the lines marked on the floor, anyone entering the warehouse needs to wear steel-toed shoes and there’s a lot of forklift traffic in the pallet rack aisles”.

“This all looks pretty standard,” Ralph intones. “I certainly am glad to see so many Lean practices in place.  Visual management practices are one of the things that CT uses when evaluating supplier maturity.  It’s not as good as SRU was, but it’s better than many suppliers I’ve seen.”

Jerry, Josh, and Ralph head back to the conference room.  Ralph needs a few minutes to summarize his audit notes, and the Management Team comes back in to the conference room.  Ralph thanks everyone for how they’ve supported the audit and that he’ll be sending an audit report in a couple weeks (he would have provided it sooner, but Acme isn’t the only supplier Ralph is auditing and he has to confirm some supplier corrective action effectiveness checks at the next supplier…)

The Audit Report – that’s why Jerry was so surprised at the audit report.  It didn’t seem to have any relationship to what Ralph was saying during the audit or at the Closing Meeting.  Everyone (including Jerry) thought that things had gone pretty well.  Jerry has a sinking feeling in his stomach- humph. What happened? What to do next?

The Audit Response – Remember that the audit response is an interaction with the customer.  Treat it like you would any communication with the customer.  Keep things positive and solution oriented.  The customer is always right, but they may not really understand what they are asking for and whether it will really get them what they need.  Keeping an open dialogue whenever possible is key- this allows misunderstandings to be cleared up for both the customer and the supplier (the auditor and the auditee).  Gently remind the Auditor about the audit scope, and try to combine corrective actions when it makes sense to do so.  Jerry makes some notes to himself for the next customer audit- which is next month!-

  1. Always escort the Auditor when they leave the conference room.
  2. Make sure that everyone at Acme knows that there will be an audit.
  3. Sensitive materials are removed from conference room white boards, hallways, any area that the Auditor may have access to (and even areas that they may not have access to!)
  4. Continually ask the Auditor- “Do you have any concerns”, “Is there anything that we can follow up on for you”, “I’ll need to provide an update to the Operations Director tonight, what things stand out for you?”


Acme Organizational Chart


Fish Bones, Cause and Effect

The Ishikawa Diagram has been an old standby in Quality Management and other applications of structured problem solving for quite awhile.  You may know this technique by another name: the fishbone diagram, the cause and effect diagram, 6M’s, etc.

Let’s use a children’s story, the Pied Piper of Hamlin, to illustrate the use of this technique.  As the story goes, the good people of Hamlin were plagued with rats.  The rats were eating all the grain and food in town.  The angry people went to the Mayor, insisting that the Mayor do something about this horrible problem.  The Mayor had read the Global Quality Blog and remembered a problem solving technique, the Fishbone diagram.  The Mayor drew a horizontal line, like this:


The Mayor used the “Measurement, Materials, Methods, Manpower, Machines, and Mother Nature” categories (6M’s).  The Mayor also used’s reference page for the Cause and Effect diagram.


Luckily, the Mayor wasn’t left to do this alone.  The Townspeople were more than glad to help out.  They were tired of chasing rats out of their houses and finding rats in the grain bins.  So, the Mayor asked the Townspeople- “How many rats have you seen?”

The Townspeople answered, “Lots and lots of rats!”

The Mayor, replied- “Ok, more than 10?”

“Yes, hundreds of thousands of rats!”, exclaimed the Townspeople.

The Mayor added this to “Measurement” on the fishbone diagram.

The Townspeople and Mayor continued adding ideas for why there may be rats in Hamlin.  “There seem to be more rats in winter than in summer, but I never see a rat in town before harvest time.” “I wonder why there’d be more rats in winter?”

“I see them in the fields in summer and they’re not much trouble. Günter (my hound) scares them off pretty easily.”

“I’ve seen them run across the ropes to the pier from the river boats!”

“I saw one chew right through the floor boards of the grain silo.”

And on it went.  They added to each category of the fishbone diagram, and it looked like this:


“If the rats come for the grain, can’t we just get rid of the grain?”

The Miller is not too happy about this, “If farmers don’t bring grain to Hamlin, I won’t be able to make flour”.

“What! No flour?” said the Baker.  “If there isn’t any flour, then there’ll be no bread!”

“No bread! Then we’ll be as hungry as the rats!” said the Townspeople.

“Hold on, now” said the Mayor, “Let’s look at our drawing.”

They all look at the drawing and start talking about what may be bringing rats to Hamlin.  They circle the most important causes.


“Rats are always on the ships and barges, but the ships carry the most grain.”

“Well, there were holes in most of the grain sacks.  I saw a bunch of spilled grain on the ground.”

“Ok, if we all mend the sacks and baskets then maybe there won’t be spilled grain on the ground.”

And that’s what they did.  They also fixed the floor boards in the grain silos.

The End

Learn More:

-What may have really happened in Hamlin-

-Rat plagues of the Middle Ages-

-Support Wikipedia-


The Karvonen Formula

The Karvonen Formula is based on the fact that exercise training load can be expressed as a percentage of the heart rate reserve- the difference between your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate.

The Polar website has a detailed definition of the Karvonen Formula: Heart Rate Reserve Calculation

I’ve found that the Karvonen Formula combined with the idea of Heart Rate Zones, determined by using the Karvonen Formula, are an effective way to manage exercise intensity.

Here’s a spreadsheet that you can download and modify for your own use: HR Zone Training Spreadsheet

If you have a heart rate monitor, or take your pulse, you can determine your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate.  Alternatively, you can use these averages from based upon your age:  Target Heart Rates

These training concepts are detailed in Training for the New Alpinism.  Different sports require different types of exercise.  Endurance sports emphasize “lower” heart rates (but still above your resting heart rate) and sports emphasizing strength or short, fast bursts of speed emphasize “higher” heart rates (a.k.a. high intensity).  In addition to training for your desired sport, you need to identify your Achilles heel.

I enjoy hiking, scrambling, and skiing in the mountains but I spend my week at a sedentary desk job.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, I need to train for endurance with long easy distance (LED).

Quality Concepts – Plan, Do, Study, Act (The Shewhart Cycle)

  1. Plan:
    1. Identify your Goal
    2. Find a performance metric or key performance indicator
  2. Do: Measure the performance metric
  3. Study: Compare to Goal
  4. Act: Identify areas for improvement & repeat

Free spreadsheet!

Support Wikipedia!

Next blog: The Foundation & 5 Pillars

Last blog: Fitness First




Fitness First

The winter wonderland that is the Colorado Rockies in January is off to a slow start this year- the warm weather keeps melting the snow! This unusual weather pattern has made it easier to spend time outside.  I’m on week #7 of my base fitness training- emphasizing aerobic exercise.

The training log follows some recommendations from “Training for the New Alpinism” written by Steve House and Scott Johnston, Published by Patagonia Books.  The book is a wealth of information, correcting a lot of misinformation and hype that’s pretty common in fitness advertising.

I’ve used a training log before, even one based on “Training for the New Alpinism” before, but it seems to be more effective now.  You may wonder, “What’s the difference?” and “I thought this was a blog about Quality?”

I’ll answer the first question first, since the differences are easier to explain.  Some new elements in this training plan are: tracking # hours slept and grading the workout quality (A, B, C, etc.)  I’m tracking the number of days per week I’ve done significant activity (for example, jogging, hiking, or skiing).  While I knew that the number of hours slept would influence workout quality, I didn’t really believe it until I started to see the correlation between # hours slept and the workout grade.  Sleeping 7-8 hours a night is consistently correlated with workout grades A & B.  Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is consistently correlated with skipped workout days.  For right now, I’ll leave this as an observation.  Once I have 3 months of data, I’ll see if this is a statistically significant correlation or not.

The exercise training log is similar to a check sheet, a tally sheet or a run log kept in manufacturing.  The columns are days, the rows weeks.  Each day, I have a plan to exercise or to rest.  The goal is to consistently workout 5-6 days per week.  At week #7, I’m working out 4 days a week (on average).  The workout grade lets me judge whether to increase the training load or not.  Consistent workout grades of B or better indicate that the training load is appropriate for my current fitness level.

At this point, I can address the second question- “I thought this was a blog about Quality?”  It is a blog about Quality.  The exercise training log embodies two key Quality Management principles- (1) What is measured gets improved and (2) Only complete activities that help you accomplish your goal.

Next Blog – The Karvonen Formula.