A Conversation With Dev Raheja, Instructor

“…There is no such thing as the best way for a process – there is always a better way.”

That’s Dev Rajeha’s philosophy. He lives and breathes continuous improvement, from teaching the Continuous Quality Management course at Florida Tech to consulting in the Quality Management, System Reliability Engineering and System Safety industries for over 25 years. The author has consulted and trained for NASA, the U.S. Army, Ford and Boeing, to name a few.

Despite all his experience, Raheja still enjoys learning from his students.

“I enjoy teaching because students are from a variety of industries and businesses. I do get students working in unusual jobs, and they tell me about their unusual experiences. Therefore, I have great experiences teaching at Florida Tech.”

We spoke with Raheja about his teaching experience, continuous improvement trends and more.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

The thing I enjoy most is when students look for a new job and use me as a reference. When the prospective employers call me, I get to tell them the unique capabilities of the student and encourage them to hire the student. At least ten students have been hired this way. One student started her own business in Baltimore right after she finished my course. That is another thing I love: the students becoming entrepreneurs. So, teaching success strategies is my passion.

Can you please tell us about the Continuous Quality Management course?

Continuous Quality Management course EMG4410 is a popular course. In addition to three offerings a year, there is usually a special offering for the campus students in the fall semester. This course emphasizes that there is no such thing as the best way for a process – there is always a better way. That means that you have to use good risk prevention tools and develop innovation skills all the time, even in ordinary improvements.

How do you keep students engaged and connected in the online classroom?

In some discussion boards, I require that they respond to at least one other student’s post. I had good results because some do good research in their responses. I check for student emails at least twice a day, so my reply to them is rapid, which they appreciate. If they have a question on the assignment, I give useful hints to them.

What would you say are some best practices for online students?

My good students submit assignments much earlier. To submit early, they read their class material early, which allows them enough time to do creative thinking. Their work is very different from those who submit just before midnight on the due date. Their submissions do not have depth and lack original thought. In addition to submitting early, another best practice I encourage in students is to ask questions on anything they don’t fully understand.

Can you share some good feedback from students?

There have been some students who tell me how useful the course to them was in the final week of the course. Here are some examples:

  • Thank you for everything. You have been a blessing to me. I enjoyed the story and sometimes it’s just that simple of a fix!   
  • Thank you for the chuckle, the warning, and for your understanding and guidance during this course.  

What meaningful conversations or experiences have you shared with your online students?

I usually share examples of creative thinking and innovation in day-to-day work. The following example on innovation is to enhance their abilities: A toothpaste factory had frequent complaints about toothpaste boxes sold without the toothpaste in them. This was very annoying to customers. The management decided to invest a substantial amount of money to automatically weigh the boxes on the fast production line. If the box was empty, the production stopped automatically so a production employee could remove the empty box from the weighing machine and restart the production line. This frequent stoppage in production was raising overhead costs substantially and causing delays in shipping.

One day, the president searched the data on downtime for this problem: he discovered there had been zero downtime for a few weeks. He could not believe the data. He immediately rushed to the production floor to find out why there was no downtime. He discovered that a young girl who used to stop her work to remove the empty boxes got bored of doing this uninspiring work. She put a $20 fan in before the box reached the scale to blow away the empty box. The production no longer had to stop. Big problem solved for only $20 without any technical skills!

You have worked across various industries and organizations. What do you think are the technical and/or soft skills that professionals should possess to be successful regardless of industry or organization?

This is an excellent question and I have an excellent answer. Regardless of their technical or soft skills, they need to learn proactive methods quickly to take quality at high levels in their organizations at little or no cost. Such performance will impress management leaders and result in job promotions. This is the central teaching in my course.

For example, I used to work for General Electric in Wisconsin. A power transformer company a few miles away used to manufacture transformers for electric power companies to be used for shopping centers. The problem was the transformers failed every two or three years resulting in loss of power to all the businesses for about three days. The company lost about 50% customers and were about to go out of business. Someone recommended my name to the company because I had experience in product reliability, meaning the product will not fail for a long time. They hired me to fix the problems quickly and gave me a substantial raise under the condition that I must fix their big issues within a year. We did high-stress testing to find the source of the problems. It turned out that if we fixed one major problem, the quality would improve about 90%. We solved this problem at very little cost, but the customers were not willing to trust us. To gain their trust, we re-invented our quality level by giving customers a 15-year warranty! This was in 1974 when no company in the world gave more than a one-year warranty. We got all the customers back, and we became the world leader in market share for such products. I was promoted within six months!

The lesson quality professionals need to learn is that they have to prevent quality problems fast at very little cost. This requires creativity and innovation skills. Giving a 15-year warranty required creativity and innovation skills. This course teaches such skills.

Do you think in the current work environment, professionals need to develop a “hybrid” combination of technical and business skills to be a competitive job candidate?

Definitely – all professionals require both the skills. Business skills are needed to identify unusual customer needs for quality such as longer warranties and least disruptions from quality problems. Technical skills are required to keep the cost lowest among competitors to get more business and more profits.

You wrote a book about continuous innovation in hospital care. Can you provide an example of how continuous improvement and Lean methodology should be applied in the hospital/healthcare setting? Do you think this is something we will see more of in today’s healthcare landscape?

Errors in the healthcare landscape have been increasing over the past two decades. According to a study by Johns Hopkins, the current estimate is 250,000 deaths per year from medical error, which would put it as the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

My book Safer Hospital Care is on rapid quality improvement using risk analysis tools to predict defects before they happen, a most effective, proactive approach to quality. I teach Lean methods as part of the risk analysis because the risk of high cost to the hospitals and patients can be minimized using the same tools of defect prevention. The idea is that high-quality care must also lower the costs.

We need to use more of such methodology, but I am concerned that few hospitals are. Why? Because the hospitals that make more mistakes also make more profits, according to an article in The New York Times. I can personally speak to this: A family friend had a brain tumor she did not know about. Because she had some symptoms, she went to a hospital to check. The MRI was not working accurately that day, but the hospital took the MRI anyway hoping that something about her symptoms would show up. The MRI did not show the tumor, and so she received the wrong diagnosis and wrong medications. The result was that the side of her body was paralyzed. She wound up in a wheelchair and kept going to the hospital until she died.

So, the short answer is that hospitals need to implement Lean principles that improve quality, but the progress so far has been negative. Some incentive has to happen at a national level. The current incentives are insufficient.

What trend in risk management are you passionate about?

One trend in risk management that emerged in the 1990s and has remained popular today is the Zero Defects Program, which is based on the book Quality is Free by Phil Crosby, a consultant. While the concept of “zero defects” originated in Japanese companies, his book really helped the movement in the U.S. The Department of Defense embraced his ideas and promoted them nationwide. I knew Crosby before he wrote the book. I was a consultant to him on system reliability when he was a Senior VP at ITT Corporation.

My course is focused on the goal of zero defects. My students like it and constantly discuss it on discussion boards. I also use the concepts in my consulting.

How can someone pursue consulting as a career?

To pursue a consulting career, one has to be passionate and experienced in something badly needed in the businesses and by customers. It is a good idea to get a consultant job to get your foot in the door. Take my own example on being the first in giving a 15-year warranty. I was not a consultant at that time. I said to myself: if I can save a company from going out of business to becoming a world leader in quality, why not help more companies? I applied for a job at Booz-Allen & Hamilton, a worldwide consulting company; I got a job with them based on my 15-year warranty experience. I worked there for two years and then became a consultant on my own over 25 years ago. I am still a consultant on my own, although I do more training now.

Want to learn more about Florida Tech’s fascinating faculty? Check out our Faculty Interviews series here.

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