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Wonder Women of Quality: Cecilia Martinez -

They’re delivering a one-two punch to defects. They’re ridding the earth of process waste. They’re on the front lines delivering customer service perfection. They’re in leadership striving to make a difference in the world. They’re kicking process improvement butt! The Wonder Women of Quality are here!

This month in the Wonder Women of Quality pantheon we are honored to highlight Cecilia Martinez! Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Cecilia Martinez is an Assistant Professor of Engineering & Management at Clarkson University. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has worked for the automobile and electronics industries and has served as a process improvement consultant across industry sectors. She now shares her passion for solving problems with college students and seeks to help companies save money, and ultimately help people do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

Here are Cecilia’s answers to a few of our questions:

What is your Quality Mission?

  • Deliver value in everything I do. No matter what I do, it should be useful for others.
  • Serve people by helping them find ways to do their jobs better and easier.
  • Prepare people for success. I will succeed to the extent that others have success. For instance, with my students my goal is to plant the seed of quality. I want their first “quality encounter” to be a positive and enriching experience.
  • Use my skills to help others discover and develop their talents.
  • Constantly change to improve.

What is your Quality Superpower?

  • I view problems as opportunities to grow and improve. While problems may have a negative connotation, being able to recognize problems is actually a good thing.
  • It is important not to get overwhelmed or misled by the problem symptoms or by people’s prejudices. Instead, spend the time to truly understand the problem by talking to people, observing the process and analyzing process data. Make sure to identify the best approach to solving the problem.
  • I like to challenge and motivate people to explore possible root causes and solutions. The idea is to get them out of their comfort zone. It is essential to encourage people to test at least one identified solution.
  • Here is a list of what helps me:
    • Perseverance
    • Attention to detail
    • Staying focused on the objective
    • Trusting the process
    • Asking questions
    • I’m easy to work with — I’m an approachable person!

What is your Quality Kryptonite?

  • Dealing with people who adopt philosophies such as, “Don’t care,” “It won’t work here,” “We don’t have problems here,” “I’m too busy to stop,” or “Don’t have the time for it.” However, instead of avoiding these people, I try to understand why they respond this way. Why are they resistant to change or collaboration?
  • When people have not had a good process improvement experience in the past, they don’t see the value of putting in the effort. They don’t understand the impact of their actions (or omissions) downstream in their process. They become afraid of being singled out or exposed by their peers or they simply don’t to get out of their comfort zones.
  • People do not like change, and they work hard to find excuses for resisting it. It is frustrating to walk with them through the process improvement journey and, even if they designed their own solutions, see them resist following through and take a step back. They become creative in finding reasons why the planned solution will not work. Suddenly an alternative solution comes out of the blue that, mysteriously, will not push them out of their comfort zones.
  • It is hard to give up old habits without a well-designed transition plan. Backsliding is a common obstacle to process improvement.

What are some of your Quality Victories?

  • Completing my first Lean Six Sigma project in 5 weeks in spite of multiple previously failed attempts at the same improvement. On top of it being stubborn problem, it was a business unit I was completely unfamiliar with. I was assigned to work on this project with a team that had a strong preconceived solution: invest in a brand-new soldering robot to fix the recurrent problem. In the end, the effectiveness of our solution, which required no investment at all, reduced the problem to zero defects, brought in more business with our customer and motivated people to work on Six Sigma projects.
  • I was a strong advocate for disseminating the success internally and externally. I convinced the leadership team of the importance and value of having the team experience a process improvement competition. We won second place nationally, and then the third place in the ASQ International Team Excellence Competition in 2004. This was the first time a Latin-American team was ranked among the top three teams. After I left the company, they were able to replicate the success without me. In 2013, the quality engineer who was a key team member in my project back in 2004, led a process improvement project that resulted in one of the 2013 ASQ International Team Excellence awards.
  • Getting undergraduate students certified as Lean Six Sigma Green Belts in 14 weeks, and replicating the story twice with my students enrolled in the Engineering Capstone Design course.
  • Witnessing how people change their attitude towards process improvement in healthcare. After collaborating in a rural hospital for several years and with my students in Lean Six Sigma projects, the leadership team recognized the importance of having a full-time employee on process improvement. They recently hired a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Other health organizations within the area have since asked me to work with them as they also want to improve their processes.

Do you have any Words of Wisdom?

  • Change is the only constant ingredient in quality. When you stop changing, you are finished. Change happens when we humble ourselves and recognize that our current way of doing things can always be improved.
  • It’s also important to sustain the changes it until we find a better way of doing things. Good leadership plays a pivotal role in maintaining the gains of change.
  • Fear, coupled with uncertainty, should not be the drivers of or obstacles to change. Otherwise, change will likely not be for the better. But without change people become demoralized.
  • Never not stop believing in yourself, even when people say you cannot do it.
  • Find people who can help you, not sink you.
  • It is okay to disagree, but do it nicely.

Thanks again to Cecilia Martinez for her quality thoughts!