Tag Archives: kanban

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.

About Time

Twenty-twenty marks the 35th anniversary of a remarkable and unfortunately also singular event in my career:  In 1985, my employer, United Electric Controls (UE), elected to remove time clocks from the factory.  

At the time of this unusual decision, I had already been employed at UE for fourteen years in a variety of office jobs.  I worked in a building a couple blocks away from the factory, and “punching the clock” had never been a part of my day.  From my first day of employ, my attendance was tracked by exception – sickness, personal time or vacations – pretty much on the honor system.  But in 1985, coincidentally around the time I transferred into manufacturing, the idea to remove the time clocks was floated.  I weighed in as member of the management team on this idea, but I was pretty much a bystander, a new kid on the block, still unaware of significance of the change.   

The proposal raised concerns with many managers and supervisors that some workers would cheat the company by fudging their hours or simply not showing up for work.  From factory workers there were suspicions that without the clock they might be coerced to work extra hours without pay.   Both of these concerns were, as I understand, the historical reasons for the implementation of time clocks as a common factory practice.  Time clocks have been fixtures in factories since the turn the 20th century, installed to provide an objective measure of attendance.  They persist today as a management system example of “the way we’ve always done things” as well as a symbol of mutual distrust between management and labor.   

Back in 1985, a business owner reflected on the time-clock proposal and listened to the concerns raised by others in the company.  Ultimately, he decided, hourly employees should be no less trusted than office workers. (Thanks, Dave.)  Forty hours of attendance would be assumed except as noted by each employee.   No more double standard: a twenty-year factory employee no longer had to prove he or she was present while an office worker hired last week did not.  The most obvious result of this system change was the absence of lines at time-clocks.  Subtler yet more significant was the change in working relationships. More of us, less of them.  In 1990, United Electric was recognized by the Shingo Prize for Enterprise Excellence, a coveted award based largely on the engagement in continuous improvement by employees, but arguably influenced by a singular management decision made years before.  (And, by the way, attendance actually improved.)

Today, whenever I visit factories and witness the stampedes of employees to time clocks and hear the complaints of time lost to waiting in line to punch in out, I wonder why no one questions the practice.   On the contrary, in the last 50 years an entire industry has grown up around punching the clock, adding software even to automatically track an employee’s whereabouts as well as his/her attendance.  

Is this an improvement or are we, as Shigeo Shingo liked to say, just automating a waste – the eighth waste – and taking mutual distrust to a new level?   

A quote from Peter Drucker is ringing in my ears: “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

What do you think?  Is it about time to reconsider time clocks? 

O.L.D. 

PS Speaking of time, at this particular time of year, myself and my colleagues at GBMP would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and bright New Year. We look forward to seeing you, members of our Lean community, at events we sponsor throughout the year – from benchmarking plant tours and Shingo Institute workshops to Lean Certificate programs and our annual Northeast Lean Conference. We are especially excited to be able to offer Systems Design, the newest Shingo Institute workshop, this February at Vibco in Rhode Island. We hope you can join us.

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. 

Customer First Santa

santaEvery December the man in the red suit delivers cheer and presents to millions of happy children around the world.  It seems like magic, but a closer observation of Santa’s behavior demonstrates that Santa actually employed critical elements of TPS philosophy long before Toyota itself did.  For example,  Shotaro Kamiya, Toyota’s first president of sales, hired away from Nippon GM in 1935, championed a new idea at Toyota:  “The customer comes first, the dealer second, and the manufacturer third.”  Kamiya’s “Customer First” philosophy was revolutionary for Toyota and bedrock in the philosophy.

Yet, as can be seen from this documentary footage of Mr. Claus,   Santa was abiding by this ideal many years earlier.   His chagrin, when asked to “push” toys that were slow movers, indicates St. Nick’s abhorrence for speculative production also known as overproduction.  After all, the Christmas list was the original Kanban.  Without this pull system, Santa’s elves would, like many manufacturers, always be very busy building the wrong things; and Santa would have to leave backorder notes under the tree on Christmas morning.  As for standardization, anyone familiar with Norad’s Santa tracker will attest to his standardized conveyance route.  And Oh!  What a Takt time for the jolly old elf!  I have to admit that despite my enduring admiration for Toyota’s Production System, none other than Santa Claus is the penultimate just-in-time provider.   Thank you, Santa.

To everyone else, ho ho ho.  Have a restful and happy holiday.  Gratitude.

O.L.D.

P.S. I hope you will join me this upcoming Tuesday, December 18th, for my monthly free webinar “Tea Time with The Toast Dude”. I’ll be discussing how organizations sometimes struggle to gain traction with Hoshin planning. While substantial energy is put into the strategic planning process, too often the plan becomes a static document that fails to align and motivate the entire workforce. The deployment part of strategy deployment does not happen. Read more/Register here. Did I mention it’s free? Hope to “see” you there.

Late Bloomers

late bloomers.jpg
Last week as I climbed into my car, I glanced at a tub of morning glories that I’d started from seed last March.   All spring and summer the plant grew taller and taller leaping at one point off the trellis and over the garage door frame.   Green and gangly, my morning glory plant was the picture of health, but for one thing:  it had no flowers. I watered and fertilized, but each morning as I climbed into my car nary a bloom; even into the early fall there was only greenery.  With the first frost imminent, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of blooms.

 
But then, suddenly (or so it seemed) on October 19th there was a profusion of heavenly blue blossoms.  I waxed philosophical at the sight, reflecting that some of us are just late bloomers.  We find our passion, if we’re fortunate, a little later in life.

 
One week earlier I’d delivered the opening keynote at the Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, RI.  Before beginning, I asked the audience for a show of hands:  “How many of you,” I inquired, “when you entered the workforce and took your first job, had no idea that one day you’d be attending a conference that dealt with transforming your organization?”   Five hundred hands went up – almost everyone in the hall.    Perhaps there were a few twenty-somethings who knew from the first that this would be their career, but for most of us, there was no guiding vision of Lean Transformation when we took our first jobs.  For me personally, there were few resources to even prepare me for the struggle of a cultural and conceptual revolution.   I left school with a B.A. in English literature to work in a marketing department.  Today I relate happily that, with the exception of that first job, I’ve been equally unprepared for every job I’ve ever held.

 
In fact, if the hands in the audience are any indication, many of us entered the workforce with a different idea of the future.   Who knew we’d become excited about dealing with seemingly overwhelming challenges?  Who knew that a serendipitous struggle – or in some cases calamity – would draw us into the fray?  Who knew that would become a personal burning platform.   “Thank you,” I said before continuing, “Thank you for the important contributions that you all make.”  Late bloomers, all of us.

 
I’d be very interested to know, how did your Lean journey begin?  Please share your story.


O.L.D. 

PS A quick reminder: At the conference last week, we offered a special super early bird discount ticket price for next year’s Northeast Lean Conference – October 23-24, 2019 in Hartford CT – good through the end of this month. If you’re planning to attend (and you should be) register now and save huge (only $795 per person instead of the regular $995 for members, $1095 for non members). The theme will be “Total Employee Improvement”. We can’t wait.