First Lady of Adult Literacy

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At the Gemba: Avelino Coehlo and Ines Chiodo show the First Lady a cause and effect problem solving method.

In 1987, my company, United Electric (UE) initiated an ESL training program to support our continuous improvement efforts.  The idea came from a factory supervisor who noted,  “If we really want to create a continuous improvement culture we need to give our employees an opportunity to read and speak English.”  Over nine languages were spoken in the plant and while many employees understood enough English to get by, few spoke or read English well enough to get ahead.  In order to discuss problems and share ideas, it was essential for UE to invest in ESL learning for its employees.

With funding from the Massachusetts Workplace Education Initiative and under the guidance of a gifted ESL teacher, UE’s HR department established an ESL curriculum that was astounding in its impact.  Employees attended classes during the workday and curriculum was thoughtfully constructed to support their particular jobs.  Ironically, as UE adopted concepts from TPS over the next several years, Japanese words were added to ESL student’s lessons. Employees were learning English, but also Japanese words like Kanban and Poka-Yoke, concepts that now were part of their second language.  The difference in the work environment was notable almost immediately.  Persons who might have previously been considered “difficult” were actually just frustrated at being unable to describe the problems they faced in their work.  ESL had opened the lines of communication, changed attitudes and unlocked creativity. What had been a virtual Tower of Babel was developing as a rich multi-cultural team.  The proof of the transformation showed in UE’s 1990 award of the Shingo Prize, heralding its excellence in quality, productivity and customer service.  While this was truly an honor, perhaps a more meaningful recognition was yet to be bestowed.

On January 28, 1991 in midst of the first Gulf War, another war was being waged by then First Lady Barbara Bush.  At the invitation of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Literacy Campaign, Mrs. Bush visited UE to celebrate with ESL students from our 1991 class and promote the critical importance of adult literacy.  The day was extraordinary on many levels.  First, due to the Gulf war, security was extremely tight.  Parking was cordoned off for two blocks around building and bomb-sniffing dogs scanned the factory and offices. Because we were advised only a few days earlier that our site would receive a visit from Mrs. Bush, cleanup activity in the plant was frenetic.  Workplace organization, which was normally very good, achieved new heights.   Halls were given a fresh coat of paint and floors were buffed.  Even the elevator, which was normally used only for freight, was painted red, white and blue.  We were honored that the First Lady and number one advocate of adult literacy would visit our site.

bush2Shortly before 2:00 p.m., as an armada of state and local police cars could be seen in the distance escorting the First Lady’s party, the excitement was palpable.  After formal greetings in the lobby with management, Mrs. Bush proceeded to our ESL classroom to attend a class and meet with students.  In preparation, each student had written a short story or letter to Mrs. Bush, and ESL compiled these into a booklet entitled “Short Stories and Letters,” a tangible memento and testimony to the power of ESL.  A letter from one of the students, a gentleman who emigrated from Aleppo, Syria summed up the sentiments of the class:

“When I first came to America, I felt stupid because someone talked and I looked at their faces and never did I understand. It is important to have ESL in the workplace because now I can understand the blueprints and the order papers.  I understand what my supervisor says.  I am starting to read the newspapers and write my own checks.  I can take care of my family shopping and my home. This month, for the first time, I wrote down two valued ideas to save the company money.”

Following the ESL class, Mrs. Bush accompanied students to the Gemba where students proudly demonstrated some of the many improvements they had made to their work.  I am absolutely sure that none of these stories would ever have been told without the investment made in our employees to learn English as a second language.   Having the opportunity to offer this testimony directly to the First Lady of Adult Literacy was a powerful moment.

After Gemba, Mrs. Bush and an entourage of secret service, political dignitaries and labor leaders boarded the red-white-and-blue elevator to attend a meeting in the cafeteria for speeches and photo ops.  I was asked to provide a short speech of no more than five minutes about the value of ESL and its impact on our company and our employees.  I recall that this was the one and only time in my career that I wrote a speech down, memorized it and presented it verbatim – exactly five minutes in length.  Several other five-minute speeches followed including one from our Governor Bill Weld.

Finally, the great lady spoke, culminating the eventful day.  She spoke first of the importance of literacy to our country and our families, relating the goals of her literacy foundation.   Mrs. Bush then addressed the ESL students, thanking them for their diligence and applauding their efforts.  She then turned to Mr. Weld, quipping  “perhaps the State of Massachusetts could learn something about continuous improvement and problem solving from these students.”  The room erupted with laughter as the Governor nodded in agreement.  After a short reception, the magic day was over and we all got back to work, grateful to have had the First Lady of Literacy in our midst.

Thank you, Barbara Bush.

O.L.D.

Who Cares for the Care Givers?

Last month I joined Eric Buhrens, CEO at Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) to host a leadership team from the Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center.  They were on a study mission to many of Boston’s fine hospitals and were winding up their week in Boston with a visit to LEI.  Early in the discussion one of our guests asked, “In a few words, please tell me what Lean is.”   Eric fielded this question concisely, explaining “Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”   He then asked me to relate the following story, a bit more long-winded, to amplify the concept:

I had a recent sojourn of more than a few days at one of Boston’s finest hospitals affording me a rare opportunity for extended direct observation of the process.  In Lean lingo, I was observing from the point of view of the “object” of improvement —  the part to be worked on.  In a factory, the object of improvement is a piece of material, a part being progressively converted by agents of improvement into a finished product.

Clinicians bristle at this analogy.  People, after all, are not widgets.  Of course, I agree.  Patients are each of them unique, and the task to make them well is anything but standard.  Caregivers must often make split-second decisions based upon years of experience and practice, spanning an enormous range of different potential conditions.   They are indeed agents of improvement, operating singly and as a team, with a passionate commitment to making the patient well. From scrub techs to cleaners to docs, surgeons, nurses, and administrators, these caregivers adroitly shift gears from one minute to next, at one point calming a delirious octogenarian who is screaming in the middle of the night for a pepperoni pizza and then a minute later resuscitating a gentleman in cardiac arrest.  As one of their recent customers, I extend my gratitude.

Toast-Kaizen_TabletBut, as I note in the Toast Kaizen video, “continuous improvement is not so much about the work as the things that get in the way of the work.”

Therefore, please allow me to offer an example from my extended observation.  For a period of days, I was tethered to an IV connected by about six feet of plastic tubing to an infusion pump and IV solution bag.  The dosage rate required the bag containing the elixir to be replaced approximately twice per day.  I say approximately because the flow of medicine was interrupted on average once per hour by a pump fault – an airlock in the line. When an airlock was sensed the pump would pause and alarm.  A nurse would then come by to adjust the tubing above the infusion pump, clear the fault and continue the infusion.  Depending upon the level of activity on the floor, wait time for the nurse ranged from a minute to fifteen minutes.  Oddly, if the fault was not attended to in the first five minutes the alarm grew much louder.  This I am told is a countermeasure to “alarm fatigue”,  a condition which occurs when there are too many alarms to handle at one time.  My sense is that the increased loudness did little more to alert the nurses; it was just an addition to the ongoing cacophony of alarms sounding throughout the floor.  In my own case, however, the increased loudness caused me to hit my call button.  This sent a signal to the nurse’s station that, after hearing from me that my infusion pump was alarming, would summon the beeper my nurse was carrying.  Depending upon the level of the many non-standard things that could be happening on the hospital floor, this might elicit an immediate response – or maybe not.

WhoCaresPostWhen the pump alarmed, I understood that my need was not the most critical, but felt compelled to ask my nurse – actually multiple nurses over a period of days – what they thought might be done to reduce the incidence of airlocks in the line; for example, did they think the problem was caused by equipment malfunction or set-up or the viscosity of the solution, or perhaps a software issue?  Had they investigated the problem?  I was struck by their responses.

First, every nurse assumed that my questions regarding the pump were motivated by my own wellbeing. “No,” I exclaimed, “I’m not asking for myself, I’m inquiring on your behalf.  Your time is so valuable, I hate to see it consumed by these kinds of headaches.”  Still, the response was a long-suffering “we do whatever it takes to care for our patients.”  In the minds of caregivers, clearing pump faults was just an inevitable annoyance – part of the job.  The mindset, while admirably focused on the patient, was also resigned to the status quo of common annoyances.  “At what point does an annoyance become a problem?” I asked one nurse.  She responded simply “its hard to make changes.”  Then, pausing for a second, she reflected, “One of our technicians showed me a trick a while back that he said would reduce airlocks in the line.  Let’s give it a try.”  With that, she repositioned the tubing above the infusion pump.    Subsequently, the pump did not alarm for hours – not until a refill solution bag was needed!  The breakthrough here was not so much in the deployment of a potentially better method, but the realization by one caregiver that what she had considered an annoyance was actually a big problem.

Of course, this just a single point of observation, an anecdote.  I didn’t see the nurse again to thank her or ask her what trick she had applied.  I wondered who else on the floor knew about this trick and how many pointless interruptions to their incredibly valuable work could be reduced if the trick became a standard.

I concluded my story to the management team: “Your caregivers are your most valuable resource.  Management’s job is to create an environment in which the ‘things that get in the way of the work’ are exposed and corrected, enabling caregivers to fulfill their missions with more time and greater focus on making the patient well.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

O.L.D.

Why “Everybody, Everyday”?

Plus a big “congratulations” to MassMutual Financial Group of Springfield MA. Allow me to explain…

As an examiner for the Shingo Prize and also as a certified instructor for the Shingo Institute Enterprise Excellence Workshops, I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from many terrific companies. The Shingo Prize criteria set a very high standard for both results and process, evaluating the entire enterprise from the corner office to the loading dock. GBMP has long been a proponent of the Shingo Institute and the Prizes it confers each year to excellent enterprises from around the globe.

Next week, GBMP will be at the 30th Annual Shingo Conference and Awards in Orlando, Florida to celebrate with a recipient from our northeast region: MassMutual Financial Group from Springfield, Massachusetts will receive the Silver Medallion, the second highest honor bestowed by the Institute. This huge accomplishment is more impressive still because it represents the collective efforts of more than 5000 associates at the Springfield site. The spirit of improvement that has been unleashed at MassMutual is evident to anyone who visits, and we are indeed fortunate to have this kind of showcase and beacon of excellence in our region. Congratulations to the many leaders, managers, and associates at MassMutual who live the slogan, “everybody everyday.”

GBMPLogoHorz

GBMP’s Logo & Tagline since 1998

 

Speaking of “everybody, everyday”, I recently created my first VLog and posted it to YouTube here. In it, I discuss how GBMP got its logo & tagline. I hope you will view, enjoy and share it.

 


How does your organization embody the ‘Everybody Everyday’ philosophy? I’d love to hear about it.

Sincerely,
O.L.D.

 

Celebrity Toast Kaizen

I’m not so sure how I feel about a story I heard this morning of Jim Nantz’s toast visual aid, but it’s so rare that anyone in the public limelight offers a story that touches Lean thinking, particularly one about toast, that I am compelled to share.

actual toast.jpgApparently, Mr. Nantz, who likes his toast burnt (as in #1 on the toast scale), carries a laminated photo of his preference in his wallet.  Whenever he orders breakfast, he passes the photo to the wait staff in order to convey his unusual taste.   I also like burnt toast (around 3 on the toast scale), but somehow could not resort to the use of visual aids when ordering breakfast.  For me, a strong verbal instruction usually does the trick.  My wallet is already stuffed with so many business cards, credit cards and receipts; I’d just be wasting time looking for my toast visual every time I ordered breakfast.   And, truth be told, I’m not quite as particular as Mr. Nantz about these things.

However, in defense of Mr. Nantz,  “The customer determines value.”  No doubt, the toast problem is more consequential for him; he has many more occasions than I to be a customer for breakfast.  (I generally make my own toast.)  He’s even calculated the annual accumulation of wasted time – forty-eight hours – he has suffered by returning his toast for rework; not to mention the added insult of either eating his breakfast out of sequence or alternatively letting it get cold while his waits 10 minutes (his estimate) for the toast to be appropriately burned.  As he notes, “Time is currency.”   He’s apparently on the clock when he’s having breakfast; I generally eat out for fun and see breakfast a time to relax.

Although over 100,000 copies of Toast Kaizen have been sold since its release in 2004, it’s highly unlikely that Mr. Nantz would ever have been a viewer.  Yet, his celebrity story is in many ways an extension of our video.  So this holiday season, GBMP will send him a present: his own copy of the toast video.  (I may also include a discrete warning that burning toast produces acrylamide, a known carcinogen.)

For all our customers of GBMP and readers of Old Lean Dude, we wish you a lighthearted and relaxed Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate.

O.L.D. 

Rosie the Robot

Speaking at the 2003 Shingo Conference, Guy Briggs, General Manager of North American operations for General Motors lamented,

“We spent the 1980’s ‘counting robots’ before we realized that it’s people that make the difference in our business.”

He was alluding to the thirty-five billion (yes, billion) dollars that GM had invested in the 1980’s over a three-year period to develop “lights-out” robotics technology.  As Toyota sought to elevate employees, GM tried to automate them out the picture.  Ultimately, GM’s lights-out people-less ‘flexible manufacturing systems’ were deemed unworkable and were mothballed.  All told, GM spent 90 billion dollars in the 1980’s to “modernize” its operations, touted by many as Industry 3.0, the third industrial revolution.   At the beginning of that revolution, GM was the lowest cost US auto supplier.  By the end, it was the highest.  The greatest shame in this saga was not so much the money squandered on equipment, but time lost by adopting the wrong philosophy: one that idolized technology while disrespecting people.

Rosie2The recent increase in Industry 4.0 buzz has me reflecting on that now ancient history of GM’s ill-advised strategy and thirty-year slide that culminated ten years ago with a $50 billion government bailout and the firing of its CEO.  To be sure, the multi-techno advances since the 1980’s are startling.  There are bright promises of robots that learn, linked multi-sensory process coordination and instant informative feedback; of analytics, complex simulation and additive product development and manufacture.   Today’s Internet of Things dwarfs the early attempts at General Motors to automate its factories, and the science just keeps accelerating.  So this should be cause for optimism.

RosieRobotUnfortunately, history gives reason for skepticism as well.  First, CEO math has not changed since 1980: Rosie the Riveter is still an expense, but Rosie the Robot is an investment!    Industry 4.0 proponents are quick to point out that smart robots will work alongside humans, not in place of them.  As Guy Briggs noted in 2003, we should not fall prey to counting robots.  But, notwithstanding Mr. Briggs remark, I wonder how far most organizations have progressed with an enlightened social science to support the rapidly evolving IoT and complementary production technologies.  As the glitzy new 4.0 technologies become more accessible, will they be viewed as an enabler for human capabilities and development, or will make the same mistakes we made with industry 3.0.   What do you think?

O.L.D.

PS If you’re in the New England/Massachusetts/Rhode Island area, I wanted to highlight a great training event GBMP is putting on next week. It’s a two-day Improvement Kata workshop on Monday & Tuesday, December 4-5, being hosted onsite at Boston Orthotics & Prosthetics in Avon MA. Read more about it here.

Also, GBMP is offering a Holiday special on membership through New Year’s Eve. Use coupon code “Save50” to join our awesome Lean Community. Read more and sign up here.