Tag Archives: continuous improvement

They also serve who only stand and wait.

For those not into 17th century English poets,  this final line from John Milton’s, On His Blindness, had particular significance in 1665 at a time when denominations of the Christian world were debating whether we sinners were saved by faith alone or by a combination of faith and good works.  This question was the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and Catholic Church.  Milton was siding with those who felt that faith alone was the way to salvation. Being a good person was nice but not necessary in the eyes of God.   John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was among those who disagreed, however.  Faith alone was not enough.  Good works, things like charity and kindness, were equally parts of the road to salvation.  It was simply not enough to “only stand and wait” as John Milton suggested. 

In the summer of 1665, debates over the path to salvation would have been in context of the deadly epidemic, Black Death.  This wave of the bubonic plague started slowly in a London neighborhood,  but by May of 1665, 43 had died. In June 6137 succumbed and then in July, 17036.   Finally, at its peak in August, 31159 people perished.  In all, 15% of the London population perished during that terrible summer. There was little recourse beyond prayer and primitive forms of protection like the avian-like “gas mask” worn by physicians to damp foul smells. Filled with lavender and  camphor to ward off the invisible pestilence, this protective gear was 17th century state of the art – the best that science and medicine had to offer.   

We can all take heart that science has advanced remarkably since Milton.   While we justifiably worry about the elapsed weeks of time needed to properly garb our pandemic frontlines  and months of time to a vaccine or other therapies, we should consider, as a frame of reference, that the Black Plague lasted more than three centuries in Asia and Europe without remedy.  As an optimist by nature, I still find myself  fighting off angry thoughts and wondering how we ever got into this mess.  Better to focus on the moment.  Seize the day.    What can we do to help the frontlines?   Where is our salvation? 

Perhaps, as in the 17th century, there is power in faith.  I would not disparage it. As an aphorism from the Second World War maintains, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” Beyond this, however,  what about “good works”?   With regard to our current dilemma, it seems for most us who are not on the front line – not clinicians, not public servants, not essential service workers – there are just two things we can do:

  1. Support the front lines.  Give them everything they need immediately and let them feel our gratitude. 
  2. For the rest of us, oddly, doing  nothing is our good work. As Milton said “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  We need to stay at home for now to protect each other AND the front line. Give them the gift of time to heal the sick and find ways to remediate this scourge.     

Stay well everyone. 
O.L.D. 

P.S. Well, perhaps not nothing. My organization, GBMP, is assisting companies who wish to turn downtime into learning and improvement time through virtual Lean, Six Sigma and Shingo Model workshops, training, coaching and project assistance. The remote platforms are robust and interactive learning and sharing are possible whether your workforce is presently at home or in the workplace, local or dispersed, in one state, multiple states or spread across countries. Contact us to learn how we can assist your team or peruse some of our scheduled Lean learning opportunities.

Turning Downtime into Learning Time

For over 25 years, the GBMP’s mission has been to help organizations large and small develop their most valuable resource: their employees.  Our abiding belief, connoted in our slogan, EVERYBODY EVERYDAY, is that given the right training and inspiration, every employee – from the front lines to the corner office can be a Lean thinker and problem solver.  My personal learning first as an operating manager has been, that continuous improvement requires an army of problem-solvers, a culture that embraces tough challenges collaboratively and confidently. 

Presently, we are all faced with a challenge that absolutely requires that confidence and collaboration.  While we may not be able to march forward arm in arm at this point, thanks to the facility available from the Internet we still can learn together – face-to-face – in the Gemba, if only remotely.  And there is no better time or burning platform than at this moment to engage and inspire all of our employees to become an army of innovators and problem solvers in face of COVID19. 

Whether your workforce is presently at home or in the workplace, local or dispersed, GBMP consultants can help with interactive Lean and Six Sigma training, consulting and coaching targeted exactly to your needs and timeframe.  While we may not be able join you at this time at your site, we are all still as close as your nearest computer or smart device. 

We’re all facing a tough and unprecedented situation right now.  But the best of human spirit dictates that we nevertheless find ways to do our jobs and improve our jobs.  Whether are an existing GBMP partner or are just beginning with continuous improvement, I encourage to take a few moments to peruse the interactive opportunities available to you from GBMP.  Let us help you turn downtime into learning time.

– O.L.D.

Tribute to a Coach

Football is a tough sport; tougher than most who play it. Almost everyone who plays will eventually sustain at least a minor injury.    It certainly took a toll on my body.  At 15, I broke my leg in two places during a scrimmage, and was out for the season.  Then, another season passed me by, when as a sophomore, I broke my shoulder on a tackling machine after just a couple days of summer practice. But in 1964, the summer of my junior year, I decided to give it one more try.  Twice daily August practices in full gear in the Pennsylvania heat and humidity were brutally draining, even for a sixteen-year-old.   But, the toughest struggle of all for me was the testosterone-laced, macho-intimidating competition from my fellow players.  There is a point early in the season when many players are vying for just a few positions, where it’s every kid for himself.   While finesse, precision and teamwork are ultimately essential to win football games, in the heat of summer practices the emphasis was mainly on toughness.  For a 16-year-old boy who had already been beaten down in two previous seasons and was now singled out as someone who couldn’t take the toughness, the August drills were a test, both physically and psychologically like I’d never experienced before or perhaps since.

Notwithstanding the brutality of the sport, there are considerable football skills to be learned and internalized.  By the end of the summer sessions I was fighting harder than ever to show my skills and make the September cut.  After an especially hot Friday practice, I showered and headed for home.  Trudging along a sidewalk that ran parallel the practice field, I wondered if all the effort would pay off.  Was my playing okay?  Would I make the team?   In the heat of battle, it’s hard to know who’s winning.   Suddenly a car approached from behind, and a reassuring voice called out, “Would you like a ride, Bruce?”   It was my coach, Bill Mackrides.   I was happy he even knew my name.  “Sure,” I said and climbed into the car. 

“I know,” coach Mackrides said, “the seniors are being pretty rough on you, but you’re doing fine.”    The words hit me like a shot of adrenaline.  He’d noticed my play on the field.  “You’re making a good effort,” he continued. “If you stick with it you could be a starter.” The word “starter” burned into my mind.  But the coach’s encouraging tone, in sharp contrast to the daily barbs I got from my juvenile teammates, was far more significant to me.  His behavior informed mine.   In that moment, my doubt and uncertainty were transformed to resolve.

There is a no doubt that coach Mackrides’ game knowledge on the practice field, enabled me and others to venture beyond our technical comfort zones.  He knew the science of football and he led from personal experience – leading passer in college football and former member of the Philadelphia Eagles   — two facts that never came up while he was my coach.   He was all about the team, which did win a few games in a tough Pennsylvania league.   Yes, William Mackrides had a superior understanding of the technical part of football, which he selflessly shared; but far more memorable, he had the ability to inspire and enable kids like me to reach higher.  The aches from long-ago breaks and bruises are now amplified by time, causing me periodically to wonder if perhaps there might have been some less corporal way to spend my youth.  Football is, after all, a sport where the players intentionally run into each other at full-speed.   Nah!  No way I would have missed the chance to play for coach Mackrides!   

Can you think of a coach in your past that caused you to reach higher?  Please share a story. 

O.L.D.

P.S. Just a reminder that GBMP is a licensed affiliate of the Shingo Institute – offering all six of the Shingo Model workshops, including the brand new Systems Design course. Not sure if the Shingo Model is right for your organization? Here’s a brief introduction which might help you to decide. We’d love to see you on March 25 & 26, 2020 at the foundational workshop, Discover Excellence, at The Gem Group in Lawrence Massachusetts.

Talking Turkey

The English language can be confounding. For example, the word turkey is slang for “a person considered inept or undesirable” while the idiom cold turkey describes the actions of one who abruptly gives up a habit rather than through gradual change. Finally, talking turkey means “to discuss a problem in a serious way with a real intention to solve it.” For the upcoming holiday, let me frame these idioms in terms that are very important to the social science of Lean. First the turkey’s:

A long time ago, after a short stint as a materials manager, I was promoted to vice president of manufacturing. It was, in fact, my good fortune to enter production knowing nothing about it, lest I might have fancied myself an expert. Instead, I relied on people who were already there to help me learn. Having begun my career in the ‘creative’ world of marketing, a block away from the factory, I had previously been given to believe that manufacturing was ‘cut and dry’; a repetitive, mindless environment. What I soon discovered after my promotion, however, was that the production floor was filled with innovative if not spiteful employees who managed to build products despite errors in drawings and bills of material, despite malfunctioning equipment and despite a lack of respect for the irons they pulled out of the fire everyday. When I shared my early concerns with other managers I was cautioned not to spend too much time with malcontents from the factory floor.  

I was floored. “What are these guys thinking?” I asked my welding supervisor, Lenny, as I related the malcontent story. He gave me wry smile and replied, “You’re heading in the right direction. Don’t get discouraged.” I thanked him and thought to myself, “This is different. I’m the manager and he’s coaching me.” Later in the week, I found a gift on my desk (the coffee cup above) from an anonymous friend. The thought and particularly the background behind it helped me through a few struggles. 

Now for the idiom cold turkey.  This is a model referred to in the Lean world as “blitz kaizen,” a big, sudden change.”  These events are typically characterized by major layout changes. Machines and people are moved close together to facilitate material and information flow – both great objectives. Problem is, the machines are fine as objects of improvement. We can push them around as often as we like. Not so much with people. We struggle with change even when it’s self-initiated, and we really don’t like being pushed around. We like to be the agents of change, the innovators, not the objects. Our habits don’t change on a dime. Gradual, continuous improvement works better for us than cold turkey. 

If we want to engage “everybody everyday” we need to talk turkey to get the root cause of real problems – especially managers. Recently during a factory tour at potential customer, a manager proudly shared his huddle board strategy with me: “We require each department to identify and solve a problem every day”, he said, “just like your slogan “everybody everyday.”  

Gazing at the huddle board I asked an employee, “How important are the problems on your huddle board?” Her reply: “Sometimes they’re important, but one way or another we have find problem to solve every day.”    “How’s that working for you?” I asked. “Okay,” she responded tentatively, “but we seem to have more problems than solutions.” Seemed like they were counting problems not solutions – not talking turkey. 

 Finally, for the holiday I want to share a frivolous clip that was the inspiration for this idiomatic post: me talking to a turkey. Just a reminder that to everyone that we all need to lighten up some times and be grateful for the good people in our lives. To all my Lean friends, Happy Thanksgiving.

Tours R Us (aka Why Sharing & Teaching are the best way to Learn)

After being recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize, my plant became an overnight hot spot for benchmarking.  Hardly a week went by when there was not a visit from a distinguished visitor, Fortune 500 company, professional organization or college class.   Initially we accepted the visits because of the good publicity for the company; good news sells products. 

But very quickly we discovered that the process of sharing our continuous improvement story had a powerful effect on our employee and management commitment to Lean.  This was not an outcome that I had anticipated.  Sharing with visitors encouraged us to learn more; quoting a Latin proverb, “Docendo discimus,” the best way to learn is to teach.  Anticipating a tour, employees were motivated to polish their efforts; to find one more before-and- after anecdote about changeovers or mistake-proofing or kanban or some clever idea they had implemented to make the job easier.  Front line workers, many of whom had never previously been asked about their work, spoke eloquently about reducing waste and creating value.  It was exciting for them to share knowledge and to be recognized for their grasps of topics that still eluded many of our visitors.  “The engagement of your employees is an inspiration to me,” noted a visitor from a well-known automotive manufacture.  “So many good ideas; how did this happen?”   There was no single answer to that question.

One day, after a double-decker bus carrying students and faculty from a well-known business school pulled out of our parking lot, an employee from our welding department commented, “You know, Bruce, it’s fun having these tours and being able to tell our story to visitors, but how about holding a tour for our own employees?”   He continued.  “I’ve been building parts for our assembly department for many years, but have never really seen how those parts are used.”   

The efficacy of this idea hit me instantly.  It was an enormous missed opportunity.  Shortly thereafter, the first of many employee tours was scheduled.  Long before the terms “value stream” or Yokoten ever became part of the Lean lexicon, we were practicing and gaining the benefits.  In the process, departmental boundaries were blurred and many more ideas stimulated and shared from the opportunity to see the whole rather than just the parts.  A long-time employee commented to me after an employee tour.  “We’re ‘Tours R Us.’  It’s a good thing.”  

What are you doing to remove the silos and stimulate idea sharing in your organization?   Let me hear from you. 

O.L.D. 

BTW – Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with your Lean community and share ideas about involving all of your employees in continuous improvement.  Our 15th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is all about engaging your entire workforce to create value for your customers.  We hope you will join us October 23-24 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.  Listen to this important message from the Old Lean Dude to learn more.