Tag Archives: Six Sigma

Facilities Task Force

John and I are members of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, California. In addition to participating in several other ministries, I am in my second year on the Vestry (elected lay leadership group).  Our Mission:

As a community in Christ, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church offers a spiritual home for those seeking to celebrate God’s love, participate in joyful fellowship and faithfully serve those in need, near and far.

I think it is particularly appropriate that St. Andrew’s recently had “got heart?” tshirts made up for this year’s stewardship campaign.  St. Andrew’s is a generous community with welcoming hearts.

IMG_4823 IMG_4635 IMG_3375

In May 2010, a St. Andrew’s Vestry Facilities Task Force was chartered to consider the changes in facilities needs for the parish since our Strategic Plan was created some years ago. Why create this Task Force? The parish continues to grow, there have been changes in staff, and the national economic downturn means that less money is available than when the original plans were created. The task force included me (Katy Dickinson – the Chair), Gerry Chartrand, Ken Cook (the liaison to St. Andrew’s Master Facilities Committee), and Harry Van Wickle. The team received generous support and advice from our Rector and Senior Warden, and from the many people who were interviewed. The Task Force was asked to focus on lasting decisions rather than short-term fixes. Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School is also developing a facilities analysis in coordination with this work.

We interviewed over fifty parishioners, clergy, and church staff, both individually and during four open forums in July 2010. In addition, the national Episcopal Church provided us with a list of Episcopal churches that are the next step larger than St. Andrew’s. Five of the churches interviewed so far are located in California, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington DC. These benchmarking interviews are to understand the circumstances and best practices of parishes that are the size that St. Andrew’s aspires to be. The national Episcopal Church also provided extensive reports containing demographic and community trend analysis.

Topics most mentioned in the interviews included: Accessibility (16 mentions), Acolytes (11 mentions), Bathrooms (14 mentions), The Center (50 mentions), Choir Loft (18 mentions), Kitchens (30 mentions), Library (11 mentions), Labyrinth (6 mentions), Meeting or conference spaces (60+ mentions), The Narthex (15 mentions), The Nursery (12 mentions), The Oak (10 mentions), Offices (30 mentions), Outreach (8 mentions), Parking (18 mentions), Storage (31 mentions), and Youth Room (23 mentions).  The issue which seems to raise the most passion is our need for more Storage!

Some of the suggested facilities changes are expensive but many are not.  The Task Force presented its findings to the Vestry in August and to the Master Facilities Committee and the parish at large this month. Our reports have been well received.  We will follow up with several of the larger churches on additional questions that have been raised since the first report to the Vestry.  It has been a pleasure to use some of the good management tools and business methods I learned as part of my Six Sigma training during this worthy and interesting project.  It has also been an honor and joy to work with my talented team!

Images Copyright Katy Dickinson 2010

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Making it Right

One of my professional credentials is that I am a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. (This means I know about quality management, not that I am a martial artist.) One of the truisms of quality management is that if you mess up for a customer, making it right can strengthen your relationship with that customer.

I experienced this myself last week, during the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing with my order from OvernightPrints.  I have been in too many panels or presentations when someone refers to a helpful resource and very few of the audience successfully record that information.  At best, this results in plaintive repeated audience requests for the speaker to give the reference information again (“What was that title you mentioned?”  “Please repeat that phone number.” “You said h-t-t-p-:-/-/-w-w-w and then what came next?”).  At worst, everyone just misses out.  For my Hopper Conference panel “Advancing Your Career Through Awards”, I wanted to do better.

I ordered regular business cards printed with our panel’s key reference information.  The cards were supposed to arrive the day before the panel so there would be time to distribute in advance.  I paid a great deal extra to be sure of timely arrival. The promised day came and went with no cards, despite repeated and increasingly urgent phone calls by me to OvernightPrints.  The cards did finally arrive, less than an hour before my panel started.  This was unneeded aggravation and caused me to spend time on the phone rather than fully participating in several Hopper Conference events.  The cards were a hit but we distributed only half of the number I had printed because of delayed arrival.

When I returned home from Atlanta, Georgia, I called OvernightPrints.  They apologized, which was not good enough. After discussion, they ended up refunding the shipping charges, accepting back and giving me a refund for the cards we could not distribute (they paid for the unused cards to be shipped back), and giving me a discount against future orders.  OvernightPrints made it right and kept my business.

Here is what the cards looked like:
Screen shot GHC2010 Panel Cards copy

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Process Success Measures

In 2002, I gave a lunchtime presentation on process design to Sun’s Six Sigma Black Belt community. In that talk I proposed two measures for process success. While any individual process will have its own particular success measures, two simple metrics for overall success for any process are:

  1. The process is used long-term by a variety of people.
  2. It is updated and improved by people other than the ones who created it.

I was reminded of those key measures this week when I used two very different but successful systems for which I have had the honor to be one of the architects:

  1. Sun Labs’ Archivist, an archival and clearance system for intellectual property
  2. El Camino Real Department of Missions (DOM), a management system for small congregations, many of them working and worshiping across cultural lines

Both the Archivist and DOM systems have now been in use for many years and are successfully managed by people who were not involved in their original development. I am proud of these projects and their phase transition from development to long-term sustained use. I am also pleased to see how well their pattern matches the two success metrics I proposed in 2002. Below is more about Archivist and DOM.

Sun Labs’ Archivist

In 2000, James Gosling, Jos Marlowe, and I started a two-year project to create a new archiving and clearance system for Sun Laboratories. You can read some of the history of this system in “Sun Labs: The Second Fifty Technical Reports A Commemorative Issue” by Jeanie Treichel, Katie Chiu, Christopher Wu and Jeanne Wang (Sun Labs Report TR-2009-101, published in March 2009).

We based the process for Archivist on a system created while I was the Process Architect for the Sun Standards group. That group needed a fast way to submit contributions to an SSO (Standards Setting Organization) such as the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), while protecting Sun’s intellectual property. Part of the SSO submission system was the Technical Information Clearance Process (TICP) which was a core piece of what became Archivist. The SSO submission process project team included Carl Cargill, Catherine Mccarthy, Lisa Goldman and Philip Rosenzweig. Sadly, Phil Rosenzweig died on one of the planes in New York City on 11 September 2001, before the SSO submission project was complete.

Here is the original Executive Overview for Archivist from 2000:

    Sun Labs is faced with a dilemma: we wish to derive the benefits of quality control and process while at the same time shortening our time-to-release. In particular, we wish to protect our intellectual property and increase our patent portfolio while simultaneously speeding up the time it takes to review technical information prior to publication. This process architecture is our attempt to resolve the dilemma. The Archivist is both an archival mechanism and a clearance process.

Think of The Archivist clearance process as a state dinner: the menu is fixed and protocol is closely observed. Think of The Archivist Fasttrack as a scramble-bar cafeteria where one can select individual dishes. The advantage of a state dinner is that it is safe, repeatable, and the participants know exactly what to expect (with regard to structure). The advantage of a cafeteria is that it is flexible and very fast. We expect that as the Fasttrack cafeteria grows in its selection and quality of service, the volume of users will shift from The Archivist clearance to Fasttrack clearance: thus, cycle time will be greatly reduced.

Here is the 2000 description for use of Archivist for clearance and archiving:

Clearance is distinct from archival. Archived material may or may not go through clearance.

Examples of archived material are:

  • An email or a note describing an idea
  • Audio and video tapes
  • Objects (such as boards)
  • Letters
  • Notebooks

Examples of documents that have been cleared are:

  • White papers (either on paper or the web)
  • SML Tech reports (paper or web)
  • Third-party publications (e.g. conferences, encyclopedias)
  • External presentations

Rule of thumb: if you think your document will be leaked or by any means published outside, use the process.

Sun Labs started in 1991, so Archivist was not the first archiving system for Sun Labs but it has been by many times the longest lived. In creating Archivist, we identified two key customers: Ivan Sutherland (Sun Fellow and Vice President), and Jeanie Treichel (Sun Labs founding Program Manager and Technical Reports Editor). Ivan Sutherland is famous in Sun Labs for his saying “It’s not an idea until you write it down.” There were many other reviewers and contributors but we knew that if Ivan and Jeanie were happy with Archivist, it would be good enough for everyone else.

Archivist has gone through several major revisions since it was created in 2000. It has been used by hundreds of Sun Labs staff in the US, UK, and France to enter over ten thousand items. Archivist continues in active use today under the management of Sun Labs’ technical staff.

As of now, I have 113 of my own documents entered into Archivist. Recently, Helen Gracon and I entered into Archivist most of the key documents from the Mentoring@Sun program. More about Mentoring@Sun is available in the recent Sun Labs Technical Report “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” (by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon).

El Camino Real Department of Missions

From 2003-2007, I was the volunteer Convener for DIEM (the Department of Intercultural Evangelism and Mission), providing oversight, finance, and management support to thirteen mission congregations (Latino, Anglo, and Asian) of the El Camino Real Episcopal Diocese. I served as Convener under two Bishops: the (late) Right Reverend Richard Shimpfky, and the Rt. Rev. Sylvestre D. Romero.

2003-2007 was a difficult time of transition for our diocese but nonetheless the elected and appointed DIEM members developed a solid process for Mission Liaisons, as well as the “Mission and Vision” structure for the missions as a group. The “Mission Congregation Liaison Job Description” was only one page long but it represents an amiable solution to years of discussion on how best to provide mission oversight.

In 2008, I was elected to DOM (the successor to DIEM) for a three year term. At last night’s monthly DOM meeting, I was pleased to get slightly updated versions of the process documents DIEM created in 2005 while I was Convener. DOM and its nine remaining missions is now managed by our new Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, with the Rev. Canon Jesus Reyes acting as Convener.

28 March 2014 and 6 January 2018- links and formatting of this blog post were updated

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A Tribute to Sun Microsystems

On 11 June, Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing, asked Sun’s staff to “commemorate and celebrate the rich history and contributions that Sun’s made over the past 27 years” on “a virtual site called thenetworkisthecomputer.com to house the digital artifacts of Sun’s story for the long term”.  On 2 September,  A Tribute to Sun Microsystems was announced. It has been interesting to read everyone else’s stories and I was pleased to see three of my own included:


Regardless of the wonders our future may hold, like my What I Love About Sun – After 25 Years blog entry on 1 May, thenetworkisthecomputer.com is a way for staff to find closure on our Sun history and hopes during this long and confusing time of transition to Sun-Oracle.

Some pictures from my Sun history entries:

Certified Black Belt

Certified Sun Sigma Black Belt, Katy Dickinson, signed by Scott McNealy<br /> photo: copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson

Hopper 2007 Poster

Hopper 2007 Poster signed by Sun attendees<br /> photo: copyright 2007 Katy Dickinson

Hopper 2008 Conference

Hopper 2008 Conference<br /> photo: copyright 2008 Katy Dickinson

1984 Sun Tshirt

1984 Sun Tshirt<br /> photo: copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson

Images Copyright 2007-2009 by Katy Dickinson

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Two Talks

I recently gave two talks here at Sun Menlo Park:


    • To TechBridge, for “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” on 23 April
    • To the annual Sun Design Summit (27-28 April), on “One time vs. Cyclic Survey” design

For “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” on 23 April, I talked with a group of 30 teen girls from the TechBridge after-school program for girls, sponsored by the  Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. I was the last speaker in their busy day at Sun. I told them about my work with SEED Engineering Mentoring but also about my kids and WP668, the
1916 railroad caboose in my backyard where I have my office. I showed them photos on my blog and  my daughter’s blog. After my talk, the girls tried to program a peanut butter and jelly robot, which was very funny. At the end, they said what they enjoyed most about their Sun day. The Executive Briefing Center tour and Nicole Yankelovich’s Collaborative Environments project from Sun Labs were tops. One girl even said that learning about having an office caboose was her favorite!

To the designers and usability experts at Sun, I talked about surveys in general, and the difference between one-time and cyclic surveys. Six years ago, I created Sun’s “How to Survey” web page in self defense. As a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, I was getting too many requests for information about survey design, tools, policies, etc. So, I put together and maintain a SunWeb page which covers:


    • Key Questions
    • Reference Documents by Sun Experts
    • Additional Resources:
      Policies, Helpful External Tools, Books and Articles,
      Survey Tools & Services
    • Example Surveys

Most of my presentation was drawn from information and resources I have posted on “How to Survey”. I chose to submit this topic for Kartik Mithal’s Design Summit because usability and design staff are so frequently involved in customer data collection. Also, because so much of the good advice in this area comes from Usability Engineers, such as:

Robin Jeffries
, Jakob Nielsen, and Jared Spool. The second page of my presentation was:

Why Should You Care? cat ear and eye<br /> photo: copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson
Listening to the

Voice of the Customer

Makes Your Work More Effective. 

Surveys are One Good Way to Listen.



I think both talks went well: the audience and I learned something. One of the TechBridge teachers told me about the fun and interesting Algebra vs. The Cockroaches computer game*. Several of the Design Summit audience members sent me additional information to post on the “How to Survey” SunWeb page.

* Algebra vs. The Cockroaches is now on my Good Free Games list.

Katy Dickinson speaking at Sun Design Summit 2009<br /> photo: copyright 2009 Terri Yamamoto Katy Dickinson's badge Sun Design Summit 2009<br /> photo: copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson

Images Copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson and Terri Yamamoto

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Sun Family Changes

My husband, John Plocher, was laid off yesterday from Sun. We will be packing up his office on the 3rd floor of Menlo Park 17 this morning if you want to come by and say goodbye to him. You can read John’s farewell blog and other information. Anyone looking to hire a very experienced senior software and systems architect and developer with solid experience in 6 Sigma program management and open source development process design, please contact John. He is smart, personable, and has a wicked sense of humor. This is an entirely objective analysis, of course!

I am still working at Sun – business as usual for all of my programs.

John Plocher 

John Plocher 2008<br /> photo: copyright 2008 Katy Dickinson

John teaching Arduino assembly 

John Plocher teaching Arduino assembly<br /> photo: copyright 2008 Katy Dickinson

John teaching Arduino assembly 

John Plocher teaching Arduino assembly<br /> photo: copyright 2008 Katy Dickinson

Images Copyright 2008 Katy Dickinson

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How to Survey, Part 2 (Best Practices)

In my 16 April blog entry How to Survey, I presented 3 sections: Key Questions, Tools and Services, and Reading. In this entry, I present some Best Practices based on my experience and the advice of two wise and capable women with whom I had the honor to work: Dr. Robin Jeffries and Dr. Kornelija Zgonc. All errors may be attributed to my misunderstanding, not their teaching!

The most recent survey completed by my department here in the Chief Technologist’s Organization at Sun Microsystems was the SEED mentoring program quarterly report for April 2008. See Mentoring Success Metrics (April 30, 2008) for details. SEED (Sun Engineering Enrichment and Development) has been collecting quarterly feedback from a web-based survey since 2002, so this is a mature example of a cyclic survey. The SEED survey is not anonymous. Most of the practices below are also appropriate for one-time surveys and for anonymous surveys.

Characteristics of a Good Web-based Survey (with examples from SEED):

  • It is Short. The SEED survey consists of 14 questions. One way to shorten surveys: don’t ask for information that can easily be mined from another source.
  • It is Easy to Use and Understand. Use pull down menus wherever possible to provide clear options. When a range of answers is possible, offer the same one-to-seven range, with “1” being low, “4” neutral, and “7” being high. State questions as simply as possible and test for clarity (if it is possible to misunderstand, someone will). Avoid jargon, abbreviations, and local slang.
  • It is Easy to Analyze the Responses. Use very few open text fields. Use a seven point range so that there is a clear low, neutral, and high (more on this below). “Does Not Apply” and “No Response” are always options. “No Response” is the default option (that is, the respondent must make an active change to answer).
  • For Cyclic Surveys – Prior and Future Versions are Comparable. Questions do not change much over time.
  • It is Trustworthy. Send a survey copy immediately in email to the respondent. Make survey analysis results available to respondents promptly. Actively protect private and anonymous information. Say in the survey introduction what will happen with the results (then, do what you say). Remember Robin Jeffries’ First Law of Surveys: “Don’t ask questions unless you are prepared to act on the results!”

The following Attributes of Poor Surveys list is material developed by Kornelija Zgonc, former Sun Chief Master Black Belt, and my Six Sigma mentor:

What’s Wrong?

  • Survey goals unclear
  • No forethought about your processes
  • Lots of yes/no questions
  • Lots of written questions
  • Focus on symptoms
Why it’s a Problem:

  • Take-aways unclear
  • Don’t know how to implement changes
  • Limited analytics; need big sample sizes
  • Unclear or unfocused questions
  • Get more questions, not answers!

The following Attributes of Great Surveys is also material developed by Kornelija Zgonc:

  • Goals, processes, and possible cause/effect relationships are analyzed up front
  • Widely-scaled numerical questions allow lots of analytics and keep sample sizes low
  • Only need a few written questions to address unforeseen situations or problems
  • Survey has action-oriented focus to generate solutions, not more questions

Why a 1 to 7 Range?
Multiple choice options make it easier to statistically analyze survey results. One of the common and energetic “discussions” among those who design surveys is what range to allow for numerical questions. Simply put: how many number choices should the respondent be offered? Too short a range (like: 1=bad, 2=neutral, 3=good) may not reflect an accurate subtlety of opinion. However, too many options can give a false confidence in the value and gradation of the answer. Don’t ask for more precision than your users are likely to know!

A range of seven is the best choice. When seven or more numbers are offered in a scale (like: 1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=disagree, 4=neutral, 5=agree, 6=agree, 7=strongly agree), the data collected behaves and can be analyzed like continuous variables. (Data are discrete if there are a limited number of values possible. Example: number of legs on a cat, number of letter grades possible on a test. Data are continuous when the measurements can have any value. Examples: time, weight.) This allows tremendous analysis flexibility because there are many more statistical tools for continuous data analysis than for discrete  data analysis.

Why Statistics Don’t Matter (sometimes) With all deference to my colleagues who are statisticians and Six Sigma Master Black Belts, sometimes statistics don’t matter.

  • The survey itself is a form of communication, regardless of whether it is answered, analyzed, or acted on. The survey may change the nature of the audience’s awareness.
  • If you don’t ask the right audience or collect enough responses, the answer does not matter.
  • Some people will never give a top or bottom score under any circumstances.
  • Refine, reduce, remove:
    • Too many surveys make people hate or ignore you.
    • Too many questions will cause your audience to abandon the survey part way through.
  • If your questions are too personal or respondents are embarrassed to tell the truth
    (for example: admitting they don’t know the answer), answers will be worthless.

Links and formatting on this post refreshed 11 October 2017

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