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Rochelle Cook, PhD, CMBB, PMP, CPHQ, Adjunct Professor, College of Continuing and Professional Education, California State University Dominguez Hills, will be speaking at The Quality Show South May 1.

Quality: Quality: Could you tell me about your journey in quality?

RC: My journey in quality is pretty extensive. I use the expression I cut my teeth in manufacturing. I was exposed to quality in the continuous improvement environments in manufacturing, the organization that I was employed with at the time were all hands in, all feet in, when it came to the continuous improvement philosophy. It was a cultural change for the whole organization. And so that really captured my attention because I saw quality at that point as not just a concept or even a theory, but it was a way of life. And so I really wanted to be a part of that.

So I’ve been practicing in some realm of quality for over 20 years, so much so that also my passion for mentoring and coaching really connected with my local American Society for Quality chapter. And I began teaching certification courses locally.

And so that developed my desire for teaching, as well as just the passion for professional development. And so I have expanded my exposure to quality, not only in practice, but also the educational aspect, where currently at CSUDH, I teach principles of quality and a directed research class. So it’s been quite a rewarding journey. Quality is something that will never go away, because even as we evolve from craftsmanship to mass automation, those core principles, tools, and techniques are still relevant and still needed.

Quality: Did you ever think you would go into quality or was that ever in kind of your mind as a student?

RC: No, I never, I like to say it kind of happened to me, if you will. I was always very interested in science and math and all scientific method things. I started out working in industrial engineering. And so I went from that realm and into quality. I was just very impressed with the overall balancing of the technical with the interpersonal.

And one thing that I learned participating in the Kaizen events is it’s not just we’re making changes, but we have to step back. What does the customer require? What does it take to enact a culture of change, and then how do we manage the resistance along the way while building relationships with people? And that aspect really drew me and it also helped me realize that as I do my own professional development that I make sure it is a healthy balance of the interpersonal as well as the technical aspects of getting things done.

When I entered the quality realm because I was seen as an outsider or as a not really a whistleblower, if you will, especially when I did audits, quality audits. Those were the, those I dreaded them my first six months as a quality engineer because there was no trust. The production frontline operators, they didn’t know me. They didn’t trust me, rightfully so. And I didn’t get it then until that particular facility won facility of the year. And then I was accepted then because after a few tussles and getting people to understand that this is not a, we’re not trying to make your life miserable, but we’re trying to maintain our customer base. It’s not us, it’s the folks that we are serving on the outside that are buying our products and services. And so that’s what really drew me is that it really held me accountable to have a healthy balance between the interpersonal and the technical aspects of quality. And there was never a dull moment.

Quality: In your career, are there any highlights you can think of or things that you were especially proud of?

RC: Wow. In my career, well, in my professional career as far as my day to day, I would say anytime that I lead a project, not only that is completed, but after the completion, I get a chance to see the benefits of the work that was done. Another is when I get a message from a peer or a manager or just someone that I have interacted with and they give me positive feedback on something that I did or a result and they share how it made them feel, how it benefited them. Another highlight is when individuals that I have had a chance to mentor or coach, when I actually see their growth and they go far beyond where they thought they could go when we had our initial meeting or when we first started the mentor mentee relationships. It’s really a culmination of those little things that motivate you to stay in the field, to do your best and show up as your best self.

I was just looking at my bulletin board where I received a thank you card from an MSQA student. Apparently, whoever was the chair, I think there was some conflicts and schedules and things of that nature. And I took on as chair of her committee midway while she was working on her thesis.

And we got through it, she completed it, she graduated, but then she also sent me a thank you card and that came in the mail out of nowhere. And that’s another example of a highlight. And like I said, I posted it on my bulletin board. So I have it there to kind of remind me, especially when things are not, sometimes you get constructive feedback, which you need as well. And then sometimes you feel like, okay, what am I doing? Am I making a difference? So it’s kind of a nice reminder, you know?

Quality: Is there any advice you give to younger quality professionals or people kind of just starting out in their career, like what they should do or not do, anything kind of that?

RC: Oh, yes, my advice would be to lean into what you’re passionate about. Quality is such a broad term. There’s so many different layers to quality. But to be your most effective, lean into or leverage what you’re passionate about. For example, I’ve stated earlier, I’m passionate about professional development and mentoring. For example, with my teaching here in the MSQA program, when those tough times come, when I get a note from a student where they’re saying, I don’t feel like I’m progressing, I’m frustrated, all those things, let’s have a call. And usually in most cases, by the time we’re done with that 15 minute call, they have a different perspective. And it’s not because I told them this is what you’re going to do. I actually, I try to find ways similar to how my mentors do with me to shine the light on what the real core problem is. And usually it’s something that they can manage and they’re just not seeing it that way.

Quality: In your position or your career, can you think of a quality problem you saw or a situation that you thought went really well or you thought quality was able to do some good?

RC: We used to do silent customer visits, where we would visit the facility where our products were and just kind of just be a casual window shopper, you know, walking around, trying to hear the conversations that are going on as people who are actually shopping are shopping. And there was one particular day when I was doing that endeavor that the product that the customers were looking at, they really liked it and followed up with the sales rep for that location, they ended up purchasing the product. And when I looked at the sample that was in the store, it normally is signed off by the person that assembled it. And so I took a picture of it and made sure I gave a shout out to that particular team of two individuals.

And that really, again, just made them feel six feet tall. And it wasn’t something made up, it was real. And that was the most powerful thing is that when you get a chance to give people positive reinforcement and it’s based on facts, it’s not good job, but this is what a real customer said about a product that you put together.

The other thing is that I can kind of single out that I was very impressed with is again when our at the time vice president of our engineering group made a change that our bonus structure for the quality engineering staff would be tied to operations performance. That was a game changer. And so a lot of people kind of tensed up with it. It’s like, whoa, it raised the expectations of our role, but it also again in my opinion, raised our credibility because now it’s, we’ve got skin in the game, if you will. We were already in that role. It was just that now these metrics, these measurable outputs are not just going to, you know, your operations group are not going to carry that load alone. You’re going to carry it with them.

I found that to be the best thing that really helped build my role as a quality professional. Because again, going back to what I said earlier, you had to do more than just audits and all this technical stuff. You had to also understand, if something did not meet quality expectations, how can you have a conversation with the frontline operators using the five Y’s without sounding like a teacher, right? Because you know how that will go. How can you have that same conversation with the department manager using the same tool and not sound like a colleague and not a quality spy? Right. So it really, I think it really helped develop my interpersonal skills in, in the role and strengthen those skills.

Because now, I mean, it just, again, the game changed, if you will, it was more than just the objectivity of doing the work. You literally had to communicate more effectively, more efficiently, so that you could help them help you in terms of getting, making sure those quality expectations were met.

Rochelle Cook, PhD, CMBB, PMP, CPHQ, Adjunct Professor, College of Continuing and Professional Education, California State University Dominguez Hills, will be speaking at The Quality Show South Wednesday, May 1 at 11:15 a.m. Her session is titled: The Role of Kaizen in Mass Customization for Industrial Environments

Mass customization (MC) emerged nearly four decades ago with the aim to align individualized customer requirements while maintaining costs and quality. As a result, accelerated demands are placed on industries to meet operational goals. While quality philosophies such as kaizen exist in these industrial spaces, few studies focus on the role it plays in managing the critical tenets of mass customization. The purpose is to explore to what degree kaizen is connected to mass customization practices. Suggestions will be offered about how the effective use of kaizen tools and techniques can influence mass customization performance and capability.

Dr. Rochelle Cook, Adjunct Professor College of Continuing and Professional Education, California State University Dominguez Hills

Rochelle has experience in engineering and process improvement roles in the manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Dr. Cook is a certified professional in healthcare quality (CPHQ®), Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Quality Engineer, and Project Management Professional (PMP®). She is certified in change management (PROSCI®) and obtained her Adjunct Entrepreneurship Educator Certification.

Dr. Cook has authored publications focused on the role of the Project Manager in various organizational settings. Rochelle serves on executive boards at her alma maters Auburn University North Carolina A&T State University. Her hobbies include long distance running, reading, and traveling.