Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing & Publishing a Book with ASQ Quality Press - Part 3

Writing the Manuscript
Earning a book contract may give you a great sense of accomplishment, but don’t rest on your laurels for too long! Signing the final contract starts the clock ticking toward your submission deadline. You already have three chapters written from the proposal, so you do have a head start. Your detailed table of contents will now become the roadmap for your writing project.

Chances are you already have a full-time job and a family. How can you find the time to write a 200-page book while you are answering work email until 9pm and coaching soccer on weekends? Completing a project of this magnitude requires some self-reflection: knowing how and where you work best will make the writing process more efficient.

Some authors commit to writing two pages a day, every day. After a mere 100 days, they have a 200-page draft manuscript. Others research and think through their topic for months, and then sit down and binge-write over a matter of a few weeks. Which method meshes better with your work style?

Writing is a solitary activity. Will you steal away and write in a quiet corner of the town library, or will you be happier writing at the kitchen table with family life swirling around you?

Once you decide on how and where you will work, you need to gather your tools. Request the Quality Press Style Manual from your editor, and read it thoroughly. This manual gives authors direction on how to properly present abbreviations, label appendices, cite sources, present equations, number figures and tables, format footnotes, use italics, create lists, represent numbers, punctuate sentences, and present quality terms. Adhering to the style manual as you write will save you and the copy editor hours of time during the production cycle.

Buy a Chicago Manual of Style now so that you can properly cite your sources. If you are like many people of a certain age, you might not have written a bibliography since the advent of the web. The manual will help you cite web sites, articles, white papers, and books. As you research, be fanatical about recording sources at the time you read them. This will make writing the bibliography a much easier and faster task.

Your choice of font and manuscript layout is actually not very important. Quality Press has a standard font and layout template for its publications, so the final manuscript will be typeset according to these standards. In the meantime, choose a font that pleases you and double space to make your text easier to edit.

I used three levels of numbered headings in my manuscript, and had the navigation tool opened at all times so I could easily move around my document. Microsoft Word also has some time-saving and sanity-preserving features that you might not have used before. My advice is to become very familiar with the References tab! The commands on this tab allow you to insert footnotes, citations, and cross references for figures, and will automatically update them for you. For example, each figure in the manuscript must be referenced in the text by number. Using cross references automatically updates the figure numbers as figures are removed or added. There is no need to make a table of contents or a list of figures and tables in your manuscript, since these will be generated during the production process.

Give yourself enough time in the schedule to let the completed manuscript sit for a month. Then go back and start editing with fresh eyes. I also strongly suggest sending out your “final” draft to several colleagues for review at this point. Assign the reviewers specific sections of the book to proof. Otherwise, you will get a detailed proofing of the first few chapters, and then, less scrutiny as the book chapters go on, as the reviewers (and you) run out of steam. You will be amazed at how much the SMEs can catch! Incorporate their suggestions and make the corrections, and remember to thank them profusely in your acknowledgments page.

Once your manuscript has been submitted to the publisher, it will be scheduled for the three-month production cycle.

© 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Writing & Publishing a Book with ASQ Quality Press - Part 2

Crafting the Book Proposal
The ASQ website gives potential authors specific guidelines on how to construct the book proposal. See

The book proposal consists of seven sections:
  • 1. the title of the book
  • 2. an analysis of the market for the book and the current competition
  • 3. the author’s biographical sketch
  • 4. the book’s estimated length and completion date
  • 5. a detailed table of contents
  • 6. the book’s preface
  • 7. at least three sample chapters.
    This is not something that you can knock out in an afternoon, or even a month. But, researching and crafting a well-written proposal will ultimately prepare you for success when you do sign that book contract. For example, the market analysis will guide your choice of the book’s features, depth and tone. Writing the preface will help you clarify the reason for the book, and how it will be used by your readers. The estimated deadline section and the table of contents will provide the input for a detailed project plan. And, of course, the three chapters will give you a huge head start on your manuscript.

    Here are some tips for completing each section of the proposal.

    • The book title should be straightforward, and not overly “clever.” This is a technical book, not a fiction title.
    • There are many books on quality. Why will people buy yours? The market analysis section answers this question for the publisher. Know who your audience is, and what their job functions are. What other titles are in the same space as your proposed book? Look through the catalogs of not just ASQ Quality Press, but CRC Press, Wiley and Springer Verlag as well. Buy several of these titles and read them carefully. What strengths and weaknesses do you see? Are there important topics that seem to be missing, or are given a cursory treatment? How will your book address any deficiencies you see in the current titles?
    • The biographical sketch can be one page. Don’t be shy here; include the work experience and education that shows the publisher that you are uniquely qualified to write this book.
    • The book’s length is a rough estimate. Use the length of similar books as a guide, and remember that appendices and statistical tables can add many pages to the final count. Will your book be 150 pages, or 500? The publisher uses your estimate to arrive at its projected production costs and to set the price of the book.
    • Will you finish the manuscript 6 months after a contract is signed, or 12 months? Try to offer a realistic completion date! The publisher will place your manuscript in its production schedule based on your estimate. When in doubt, err on the high side.
    • I  had never really taken much notice of a book’s preface before writing a proposal. Take a few quality books down from your shelf and open up to the preface. You’ll find that the preface is generally written more informally than the text itself, and gives the reader the author’s rationale for writing the book, describes what is covered in each chapter, and offers tips to the reader on how to use the book.
    • The table of contents should be as detailed as possible. In my proposal, I used chapter headings, and two levels of subheadings.
    • The sample chapters you provide in the proposal do not need to be consecutive. The chapters should give the publisher and, importantly, the SME reviewer, a good feel for the overall tone, style, level and content of the book.

    Once the proposal has been submitted, you will receive an email confirmation from ASQ Quality Press. The editors will then read the proposal, and if they think it has merit, will send it out to a subject matter expert (SME) for review. This process may take 4 weeks or more. If all goes well, you will receive an email with a draft contract and a copy of the anonymous SME’s review. Now is the time to adjust due dates if needed. Signing the final contract starts the clock ticking in terms of your deadline. Now it gets real.

    In my next post, I will give some tips on writing the manuscript.

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

    Sunday, January 31, 2016

    Writing & Publishing a Book with ASQ Quality Press - Part 1

    If you are like most people, you probably have entertained the notion of writing a book. Maybe you imagine writing a memoir, a family history, or a crime novel. For those of you with a more technical, Quality bent, perhaps your aspirations lean more towards writing a book on Six Sigma leadership skills, Hoshin Kanri, or statistical sampling. If this is the case, how can you go about writing a book on Quality and getting it published? In this series of blog posts, I’ll share my recent experience writing a book for ASQ Press and give a few pointers on making the process run smoothly.

    Deciding on a Topic

    First things first: what do you want to write about? Ask yourself these questions to home in on a Quality topic:

    • What aspect of quality do you have a passion for?
    • What are your areas of expertise?
    • What is your main focus? For example,
      • Are you an expert in a niche field?
      • Or, are you a generalist with a broad range of experiences to share?

    As for me, I am an industrial engineer and statistician who has been working in the field for 30 years, so my daydreams of authorship naturally gravitated toward a text on statistical methods. In my doctoral program at Georgia Tech, I did write a dissertation, which I assume counts as a book. The dissertation compared the response model and dual response model analysis methods for experimental designs that combine both control and noise variables in a single array. It contained such gems as the derivation of the following equation for the relative efficiency of the dual analysis and response model variance estimators:

    You know, a real page-turner.

    In the end, the quality topic that ultimately spoke to me was probability. When I was a graduate student working in the statistics tutoring lab at Tech, students would come in for help on their probability homework, not for their statistics assignments. Once I became a professor, I noticed that students in my introductory statistics class had the most trouble with the probability topics. Once the class made it past the chapter covering mutual exclusivity, conditional probability and Bayes’ theorem, grades invariably improved. I suppose by comparison, performing a hypothesis test was a piece of cake compared to finding the probability of choosing two black socks from a drawer.

    This difficulty with probability concepts often followed students as they graduated and advanced in their careers. Many seasoned, certified quality professionals would voice their discomfort when solving probability problems in the ASQ exam reviews I participated in. It seemed to me that a book that used a clear, conversational approach to explain probability concepts and distributions would be welcome in the field ─ and read by more people than just my dissertation committee.

    Once you choose a topic, do some research on similar books in the marketplace. Study their tables of contents, and read through the major chapters to get a feel for their depth of coverage and writing style. Take note on what works well, and what is lacking. Now you will be better prepared to outline a proposal that explains why your book is needed, and how it will address the topic in a fresh way.

    In the next few days, I'll publish a post on crafting the book proposal.

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

    Friday, January 29, 2016

    An ASQ Exam Chair Reveals All

    What Did You Do Last Weekend?

    Last month, I was indoors on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, surrounded by five open statistics textbooks, gripping my calculator as I performed yet another calculation for the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt exam. I wasn't missing out on my weekend with a group of like-minded quality professionals though. I wasn't even nervously watching the clock: I was sitting comfortably in my home office taking the Black Belt exam in preparation for an ASQ workshop.

    We could argue about the sanity of an already certified Black Belt who voluntarily takes the 150-question, grueling exam every six months, but that's fodder for another post. The fact is, twice a year, ASQ randomly chooses 12 certified Black Belts to read through an exam, record answers and, most importantly, provide comments (mostly criticisms) on the questions.  After sending their feedback into ASQ, the 12 are flown to ASQ headquarters in Milwaukee to attend a two-day workshop. There, the group reviews the exam questions and their collective responses and comments, all the while being expertly led through the process by an ASQ test developer. At the end of those two days, the 12 -- by now a cohesive group firmly in the performing stage of team development -- have produced a new version of the exam that is robust, reliable and accurate. The new, vetted exam is then administered to Black Belt candidates on the next test date, either in March or October. It is an extraordinary process performed by ASQ members for ASQ members.

    Comments Anyone?

    When I sat for my Black Belt exam back in 2006, I had no idea about the amount of work, expertise and caring attention to detail that went into the exam. I was just interested in getting through the test and passing. A couple of the questions had me scratching my head, and one or two seemed just plain wrong. I wrote a few comments on the sheet provided during the test session. Have you commented on exam questions as well? I will tell you that each and every candidate comment is collated into a report and reviewed by the ASQ test developer and the exam chair. (Remember, there are generally 1500 people taking the Black Belt exam throughout the country on test day!)  As you might expect, a lot of the comments are just complaints from cranky test takers. Four hours of filling out a bubble sheet will do that to people. However, it has happened that a test question gets thrown out because candidates have discovered a problem that was missed in the review workshop.

    A Way to Give Back

    ASQ administers 17 certification exams, from the old stalwarts like the CQE and CQA to the newly created, like the CPGP, or Certified Pharmaceutical GMP Professional. The exams each have at least one review workshop each year, and ASQ is always looking for volunteers. If you are interested in being involved in an exam review, don't wait for the luck of a random draw. Send your resume to Mary Martin at stating which exam (or exams) you are interested in. Volunteers must hold a current certification and be an ASQ member. Participants get 2 REUs, a trip to Milwaukee and the chance to get nerdy with 11 other quality professionals!

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

    Thursday, January 28, 2016

    An ASQ Exam Review Workshop Survival Guide

    So you’ve been invited to an Exam Review Workshop. Congratulations! You've done your pre-work and made it to Milwaukee. Now, here’s what to expect.

    The conference room that will be home for the next two days is just to the left of the wall of photos of all the past ASQ presidents and the display case with Dr. Deming’s Red Bead Experiment. The room itself is huge, with a wall of windows looking out at the river below and a view of the lake in the distance.

    After an initial greeting from the Exam Developer, everyone gives a brief introduction in turn. If you are anything like me, something as simple as introducing yourself to a group of strangers might make you nervous.  Add to this the fact that among the 11 other professionals in the room, there might be a PhD statistician, a VP of quality, a twenty-year veteran and a MBB at a major corporation. You could be quite intimidated by the time your turn comes. Don’t be. Remember that as an ASQ certified SSBB, you have as much right to be in the room as anyone else, and you will have a unique set of experiences to draw on.

    You were actually chosen on purpose:  participants are invited so that they represent different geographical locations, different job titles and different industries. It might be that you are one of only a few participants who work in a heavy manufacturing setting, or in healthcare, banking or government. Each of you will bring your perspective to the exam, resulting in a more robust product in the end.

    The ASQ Exam Developer will give a 30 minute presentation on the entire exam development process (more on this in a later post), and will go over exam review procedures.  You will learn the language of test development in which developers refer to questions as “items,” choices as “options,” the right answer as the “key” and the wrong answers as “distractors.”  After one day of constantly hearing these specialized terms, you will be fluent.

    Grab a coffee, take out your exam paper and get comfortable, because the hard work of item evaluation then begins. The developer has collated all the results from the exam that the group took at home earlier in the month. Each item that had 3 or more key disagreements (a nice way of saying 3 or more folks in the workshop got the answer wrong), or 3 or more comments gets flagged. The group as a whole reads through each of these questions and tries to determine if the item needs more work and why. If an item needs work, it is put in a parking lot for a small group to later examine it more thoroughly and attempt to improve its shortcomings.

    For example, let’s say that item 16 is flagged for key disagreement.  Item 16 has option A as its key, but 3 participants got the item wrong. One chose B, and two chose D.  This is where we leave our pride behind for the good of the SSBB exam. The three who chose the incorrect answer then explain to the group why they chose what they did. One might have read the question too quickly, and sees now that A is clearly the key. The others might state that they were weak on that particular area of the body of knowledge, but see no problems with the question itself. The group then looks at the performance statistics of the item from the last time it was used in an exam. If there are no red flags, the group as a whole might then decide that item 16 is fine and move on.

    Let’s say item 19 is flagged due to key disagreements and comments.  Six people correctly chose the key of B, but the other 6 all chose the same incorrect answer of D. Now the group tries to determine what made distractor D so appealing. Comments attached to the item indicate that 4 people thought that B or D could have been keyable. Another stated that the answer depends on which industry one works in. This item looks like it could use more work to make it less ambiguous, so it is assigned to the parking lot for a small group to tackle later in the day.

    Along the way, the group makes sure that there are no overlapping items, that no item cues the answer to another item, and that no one topic is over-represented in the exam (how many principle components questions can one person be expected to answer anyway?).

    There are also exam items that have been flagged by the ASQ test developer for housekeeping reasons. For example, an item might not have a complete rationale (an explanation of the answer key, as well as the reasons why the distractors are incorrect, accompanies each item in the database). Each item also has a reference text and page number associated with it. When a new edition of a reference is published, the item reference must be updated as well.

    The large group review process continues until all flagged items in the exam have either been approved as-is, or put into the parking lot. In between, ASQ provides a lunch buffet, ample coffee, water and soda, along with the much appreciated cookies to combat the mid-afternoon energy slump.

    As you might imagine, the large group session could easily become dominated by a few outspoken individuals. This is where the exam developer, and to a lesser extent, the exam chair, watch to make sure that everyone has a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about items. You might hear the developer say, “We haven’t heard from Sally in while. Sally, what answer did you choose for this item?” Or, “Bob makes an interesting point, but let’s hear from some others who also commented on this item.” The exam developer facilitates to make sure that he gets the best information from all 12 participants, while at the same time addressing the test items, typing changes, putting items in the parking lot and keeping everyone happy and on track. It is a thing of beauty to witness, really.

    After the large group has addressed the flagged items, small groups are assigned and given parking lot items to investigate. Actions needed might be to double check the body of knowledge designation for an item, to write the rationale for the distractors for an item, to update the reference for an item, to check the key, to change distractors to make them more (or less) distracting, complete with rationale, or to rewrite the stem of an item to make it less ambiguous.  Sometimes an item needs a complete overhaul, in which case the small group may decide to switch it out for another, similar item in the database.

    After the small group work is completed (usually by mid-morning on the second day), the large group reconvenes to review all the changes the small groups have made. Each small group presents their changes, and the large group either approves, tweaks, or decides to replace the item. By 3pm on the second day, the original exam has changed substantially, and the items have been reviewed for clarity, correctness, and consistency.

    And what have you gained?  By 3pm of the second day, you will have gathered business cards and sent LinkedIn requests, eaten cheese curds and talked more about rational subgrouping and affinity diagrams that you thought possible. You also will have succeeded in producing a superior certification exam for the next set of SSBB candidates.  It is a very powerful, and empowering, experience. In fact, more than 90% of participants state in their workshop review that they want to be asked back.

    Interested? Please send your resume to Mary Martin at ASQ, you must be a member of ASQ and hold a current certification.

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    Statistical Rules of Thumb and the 3.4 dpmo Dilemma

    There are a lot of quality consultants out there touting "quick and dirty" statistical methods: easy ways to get an answer without all that inconvenient math. Short course students leave their Become a Statistician in Two Days classes armed with rules of thumb, quick reference guides, and flow charts of simplified methods. Do these methods work? Yes and no. They do perform as advertised: giving an answer without the rigor. But is the answer the right answer?

    My question to you is this: In this age of Six Sigma Quality, where only 3.4 dpmo is acceptable (and remember, that is AFTER the 1.5 sigma shift in mean), how is it that we accept statistical rules of thumb to help us make process decisions?

    We claim to wholly embrace this 6 Sigma standard, and then turn around and use critical values of +/-2 for our hypothesis tests, or blindly assume normality and happily proceed with our regression modeling. We measure with a micrometer and then cut with an ax.

    It is assumed that statistics -- real statistics-- is too difficult a subject for us quality folks to master. Hence a "statistics without the pain" training industry has sprung up to give us "just the facts, nothing more." Why are we selling ourselves short? Sure, statistics requires math and lots of practice. So what? Aren't our customers and their satisfaction worth a little extra training and number crunching?

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Politics, Religion ... and Quality?

    1. "I am voting Democrat in November."
    2. "I hold beliefs in both God and evolution, with no internal conflict."
    3. "I am creating a Lean Six Sigma training program."

    What do these three statements have in common?

    All three can start a lively, if not heated, debate. Yes, Quality has now joined with Politics and Religion, creating a new triune of social taboos.

    Over the past few months, I have had uncomfortable encounters with colleagues who have told me exactly what they thought of the curriculum we developed for Lean Six Sigma training. In many cases, we were told that we omitted a crucial topic, and because of this, our entire implementation program would fail. Or, they would dive down in the weeds and argue that we should call a SIPOC diagram a COPIS diagram since customers always come first.

    In the first case, the "all or nothing success" belief is simply not true. In the big scheme, will we fail because we introduce Kano models but leave the House of Quality out of our Yellow Belt training? Or because we defer the discussion of SPC charts until Black Belt? As I jokingly point out, there are hundreds of ways our implementation can fail, so we can't pin all our hopes of failure on just one topic.

    I am less jocular when dealing with the second case, in which people argue about the correct pronunciation of poka yoke or whether Sturgis' rule should always be applied when constructing histograms. Those are the type of non-value-added arguments better saved for a Lean Six Sigma remake of Waiting for Godot.

    Let's hear from you: Do you have colleagues who feel useful only when they dictate which tools should be implemented and in which way? How do you handle them? Egads -- Are they ever right?

    © 2016 Mary McShane-Vaughn