Tag Archives: kata

First Lady of Adult Literacy

bush

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.

Ludicrous Speed

speedMel Brooks fans will remember Spaceballs, his jocular jibe at the Star Wars epic. In pursuit of a rebel ship, evil Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) orders his crew to accelerate their craft beyond the speed of light to “ludicrous speed.” While time travel remains science fiction, our ability to process and transmit data has proceeded apace since I was a young lean dude. In college we expressed data transmission speed as a baud rate, a unit of measure roughly equivalent to one alphanumeric character per second. Geeks like me sat at Teletype machines watching our computer programs transmit programs at the blazing speed of 32 baud (i.e. 32 characters per second) to a shared computer at Dartmouth College, which then processed that information at a rate expressed in IPS, instructions per second.   Information speed was severely limited by the transmission and processing technology of the day.  By the time I graduated college however, speed had progressed to MIPS, millions of instructions per second, then to billions, and more recently FLOPS.   The trend continues today, bounded only by theoretical limits, towards ludicrous speed.

Fascination with information speed has been with us since 1953 when the first commercial computer was sold. At that time UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) processing speeds averaged 0.002 MIPS. Only a handful of the world’s largest corporations could afford the million-dollar price tag for the twenty-nine thousand pound device that filled a four hundred square-foot room.   UNIVAC was the device that coined the term “real-time” defined as the “actual time during which something takes place” plus a few more MIPS for processing.   No doubt, the technological breakthrough was amazing, if only visible to a few persons.

However, compare UNIVAC’s real-time stats to the iPhone 6, weighing in at less than five ounces, and fitting easily in a jacket pocket. In a sixty year span, the speed of real-time has increased by nearly 130 million percent. Ludicrous speed! Moreover, smart phones are ubiquitous. Now everyone can have real-time information, not just a few large corporations. So what’s so ludicrous about that?

From a Lean standpoint, there are a number of challenges:

  1. First, is the barrage of media presented to us every minute of the day. How many emails must I routinely delete each time I handle my smart phone?   How many videos do I need to see on, for example, Kanban? YouTube lists 56,600 entries. Which of these is valuable to me? Which represent misinformation?   How can I confirm? In reality anybody can post any video today – with ludicrous speed.  No doubt, some of these videos will be excellent. But I could sort and sift through the YouTube haystack forever looking for good information.
  2. Second, the promises of automating Lean are alluring but insidious. For example, say some, do away with those pesky cards (kanbans) and replace with them with real-time kanban. This, unfortunately, separates the information from the material, assuring that the two flows will be out of sync. Moreover, the ‘instantaneous’ information becomes invisible.   Cyberspace is not a Gemba. We can’t go there to see queues or delays or problems.
  3. There is a paradox in the lack of connectedness that has derived from this ludicrous speed of information flow. An increasing number of persons labor under the delusion, for example, that texting is “talking to someone.”   At a time when we are finally acknowledging the importance of social science to real Lean transformation, we are at the same time interposing a tool that isolates people, that creates only the illusion of human interaction.
  4. The ludicrous speed with which we can all whip up professional-looking presentations today has blurred the distinction between looking good and being good. In the immortal words of Dave Lee Roth, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how good you look.”   PowerPoint, the original “baffle-them-with-B.S.” application has been around for twenty-five years, but it is quickly being supplanted by a plethora of smartphone apps for 5S, standardized work , Kanban, Kamishibai, and..well…you name it! Why do we do this? Because we can.   The words of my old-school TPS teacher are ringing in my ears.   Responding to my PowerPoint-drawn value stream map, he replied “Don’t make it pretty, make it accurate.
  5. Finally, as with material flow, when we focus primarily on cycle time, those nanoseconds of computer processing and transmission, we lose sight of the often huge stagnation time of computer queues, the automated over-production of information (produced before it is needed), and the total elapsed time for information flow, which includes the batching of information before input and after output. Those times can be truly ludicrous.

I’m admittedly a participant in the information age and I benefit from its ludicrous speed.  I use the Internet, for example, to write my posts and revel in the opportunity to pull in links to humorous video, historical background and scholarly articles.   But I worry that the ludicrous speed with which I send and receive information today may not be leading to more wisdom.

Please share your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with the challenges I’ve posed? Can you think of other challenges?

O.L.D.

P.S. GBMP has lined up several Shingo Institute workshops this winter and spring. For those who wish to learn how to create and lead sustainable cultures of excellence based on the Shingo Model and its Guiding Principles, we hope you can join one of our exceptional Certified Facilitators at an event near you soon. Read all about the courses and our faciliatators here.

Also, it’s long been a part of my organization’s mission to help build a community of passionate lean practitioners, leaders and learners and we at GBMP are proud of our Membership Mission and program. You can read all about it here. After more than a decade without a change in the annual fee to belong (which has always been an astonishingly low $495 per year for a company-wide membership),  dues are going up in March of 2016. Not without additional benefits, we promise. And not without the option to pay the current price to keep the current level of benefits (plus a few new ones). Beat the increase by signing up for or renewing a current membership now so you’ll get all the benefits of our GOLD Membership for the old price.

Musical Kata

musicalkataI sang baritone and sometimes tenor in the St. John’s Lutheran Church choir according the key of the hymn were rehearsing and also depending upon who showed up for rehearsal. There were no try-outs for our choir; willingness to sing on Sunday was the primary requirement for membership. One of our brethren, I recall, had a voice that sounded like a frog, but he always showed up for service.

I was thirteen years old at the time, surrounded by persons for the most part twenty to fifty years my senior. This was my first gig, my first rehearsal with the choir.   I had been encouraged to join to bolster the tenor section for Easter services. Loretta M., the glue that held our motley voices together was a supremely patient and optimistic organist and choir director, a woman in her fifties, who no doubt had coached many choirs before ours. Loretta was a talented musician, but more that she was an excellent teacher.

“Good evening everyone,” Loretta exclaimed enthusiastically at our Thursday rehearsal. “This Sunday’s Liturgy for Easter services is one I think most of us are familiar with, but can we have a quick review? I’ll go through it once and you listen. Then we’ll break down the parts.”

Loretta played and sang the Liturgy once through, and then turned to us. “This is such a beautiful piece of music, such a key part of the service. We sounded great last year, and I know we’ll do well this year.”   Then she smiled and said, “You know this service is standing room only.”

This was inspiring, but also made me nervous, apparently visibly so, as Loretta glanced my way with a friendly “it’ll be okay” nod.   “First the soprano’s,” she said and proceeded to walk through the liturgy in sections. I wasn’t thinking PDCA at the time, but clearly each of us was experimenting, supported by Loretta’s gentle, positive feedback. Measure by measure we practiced until we were comfortable. Then the measures and sections were strung together, sopranos first, then tenor, then baritones and basses.

“Okay!” Loretta declared about ninety minutes into our rehearsal. “We have all the parts. Now let’s put them together.   Don’t worry if you make a mistake, just keep going and you’ll catch up.”   Loretta’s pipe organ introduction commenced and, on her cue, we began to sing. As she predicted there were mistakes; missed entrances and wrong notes, and a general imbalance of voices. But we achieved our first target. As we finished the liturgy, we turned to each other in surprise. One of us remarked, “We didn’t sound that bad.”

“Indeed,” Loretta agreed, “a great beginning.”   Then she put a question to us: “Which are the areas we need to work on?” I think she knew the answers before she asked the question, but her question created reflection by every one of us. At age 13, I wasn’t thinking “Hansei,” but Loretta’s question created that experience.

By 10:00 p.m., after nearly three hours of rehearsal we sounded musical. Our liturgy would play to a standing room only congregation, and every one of us had a sense of personal accomplishment and organizational harmony.

O.L.D.

P.S. So why this post? Because I’m headed tomorrow to Kata Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to officially release GBMP’s latest DVD, Improvement Kata, a collaborative effort of GBMP, W3 Group and Leanovator.   (Check out www.shopgbmp.org for other titles in our Lean Training DVD catalog – from Kanban to CEDAC, Quick Changeover to Idea Systems.) Hope to see you at the summit.

And don’t forget about my monthly FREE webinar – Tea Time with The Toast Dude. It’s this afternoon! This month’s topic: Tips for Engaging More Employees in your Lean Implementation. Starts today at 3:00 pm. Register here!