Tag Archives: lean conference

Summer Memory

I was lucky that the first boss I ever had (at age 13) had much to teach at a point when I had much to learn.  Chris M. was a brilliant but illiterate Italian immigrant and fisherman who had built a landmark restaurant and marina on the bay in Ocean City, New Jersey.  That was my first lesson: You don’t have to be book smart to be smart.

theyardI was a kid looking for my first summer job and using my brother’s social security card and name because I wasn’t yet legal to work.   I walked into the seafood market next to the dining room and asked a man behind the counter if they needed any summer help. “Go see that guy,” he said pointing to Chris, who was standing on the dock talking to a couple of older gentlemen who were peeling shrimp.  Chris, a fit, swarthy sixty-something smiled at my offer to work for him, and asked, “How old are you?”   I lied and I think he knew it, but he didn’t press.  “Can you paint?” he asked.    I lied again, and within an hour I was standing on the roof of the fish market with a brush, a roller and a five-gallon can of oil-base silver paint.  I’d watched my father paint before and at least knew what the implements were, but the actual skill was missing.   By the end of my first day of employment, I was covered with paint, but had moved along the experience curve sufficiently to coat most of the roof as well.  Chris inspected my work and smiled again.  The job was roughly done, but it was done.  “You finished,” he said, “not bad.”   So far I had no job offer, but apparently my commitment to finish the job was more important than my work experience.  That was my second lesson: Attitude first.   “Come again tomorrow morning at 7:00” Chris said.

I arrived early the next day and found Chris standing on the dock next to a ladder that had been tied in several places to a fifty-foot telephone pole.   “Today we’ll paint the mast,” he said, and waited for my reaction.  I think I may have lost my breath for a moment as I gazed upwards, but Chris reassured me, “Don’t worry, I’ll help.” Chris then proceeded to critique my painting from the previous day and offered some tips on ladder safety, loading the brush and applying the paint.  “I’ll paint the top,” Chris offered and then ascended without apparent effort to the top of the ladder where he stood on the yard (see photo) to paint the top of the pole.  Holding paint can and mast with one hand and painting with the other, someone five times my age struck a figure like a Flying Wallenda.   I was in awe.   And while there were drop cloths on the deck, nary a speck of paint fell from above.  This was my third lesson: Age is not an excuse for inactivity.

After painting to just below the yard, Chris descended and handed me the paint and brush.  “You can hook the can on the ladder,” he said “and hold on tight.  Don’t reach too far. We’ll move the ladder to hit the farther spots.”    Cautiously, I climbed the ladder, clenching paint and brush in one hand, until I reached the point just below the yard.  I have never been as scared as I was at that moment.   My trembling hand caused paint to fall at first in every direction.   In a calm voice, Chris encouraged me, “You’re doing fine, just take it slow.” With each rung that I descended, my capability and confidence increased.  Chris continued to watch until he was comfortable that I had the knack.   By the time I reached the deck I had a sense of accomplishment.   The drop cloths were speckled with paint, but job or no job, I’d done something I would have previously considered impossible.  For some reason, I felt like I owed it to Chris, a man whom I’d just met, to finish the painting.

Looking back on the experience now I realize how rare an experience that was to have had the attention of the most senior person.  This was my final lesson: Chris’s success derived from his penchant to develop others around him.  Chris appeared as I was finishing.  “You can begin tomorrow in our fish market. I pay $1.25 an hour.”   Best job I ever had.

Do you have a Chris in your past?     Please share a story.


PS Which reminds me. GBMP’s 12th annual gathering of more than 500 Lean practitioners – The Northeast Lean Conference – is just two weeks away. If you haven’t considered attending it yet, I sincerely hope you will take a look at the website – the agenda, the session abstracts and more – and consider attending and bringing an employee or two – to show your interest in their personal and professional development. You’ll be glad you did!

Be Careful What You Wish For – Part II

Four years ago I posted a funny story passed along to me by a Lean friend, that dealt with the consequences of crazy measures, and how lack of management oversight will allow these measures to persist indefinitely.   It’s one of my shortest posts and worth a quick read if you haven’t already seen it.  Go ahead – rub the lamp   : )be_careful

Now, back to the present. A conversation last week with another Lean friend reminded me of the 2010 post, but this time in the context of ‘the corner office’ rather than the front line (or checkout line in the case of my earlier post.)

My friend, Al, a retired divisional controller of a large multi-national manufacturer related a story about his former firm’s CEO: “It used to drive me crazy how decisions were made,” Al said. “We ran a profitable operation here in Massachusetts, but I was constantly pressured to identify work that could be shipped to low wage regions.“

The CEO’s behavior was driven by the corporation’s MBO’s. In particular, the CEO’s bonus was tied in part to increasing the percentage of ‘foreign content’ for all divisions.

“Our labor was less than 5% of our cost,” Al said. “I tried to show our CEO that relocating production for my division’s products would increase total costs far beyond any perceived part cost savings, but he had blinders on. All he saw was the mindless objective to increase foreign content. Ultimately, we were forced to move production. And when problems with quality and delivery arose as a result, our CEO wasn’t accountable. That was someone else’s MBO!”


Several years ago, I heard a similar story from the factory manager of a well-known highly automated, hosiery producer: “Our entire production line was automated save for one manual step at the end of the process to sew several stitches in the toe of the stockings. Corporate decided that the three stitches should be done in China. So we were forced to load nearly completed products into containers for shipment through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean for the last stitching operation. Once stitched, the stockings were shipped back to the US for packaging and sale.” The factory manager shook his head in frustration as he told the story. “Where are these folks getting these ideas?” he said.

So, how do these two stories relate to my 2010 post? No oversight. No direct observation, in this case, by the persons who are charged with the corporation’s fiduciary responsibility – its board of directors.   The CEOs in the examples above are no different than the cashier in my 2010 post. They were following damaging directives from absentee leadership.   The difference in these cases however is that when CEOs receive nonsensical objectives the potential for damage to customers and employees is very much greater.

Are your corporate measures working for you or do they reward you for crazy behavior? Please share a story.


BTW: My next FREE webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled “The Technical Side of Going to See” will offer some observation frameworks for managers to facilitate their understanding of floor conditions when they “go to the Gemba.” Hope you can make it on Tuesday, June 17th from 3:00 -3:45 p.m. EST. (Read more and pre-register here.)

Also, a couple important reminders:

  • The early bird discount deadline for our October 1-2 Northeast Lean Conference at the Mass Mutual Centerin Springfield, Massachusetts is fast approaching. Register by May 31 and receive a $100 discount.
  • GBMP will be teaching the Shingo Institute Discover Excellence Course at Alpha Analytical in Westborough, Massachusetts on June 12-13. There are still a few slots open.


Mad as H_ll

Okay, I admit, some days I get a little upset when I think about the exodus of jobs from our shores. This clip from the movie Network sums up my emotional state at those times. Take a look if you have two minutes. It’s very relevant today.   Being involved with many organizations that are prospering in our region, I get angry at the doomsayers; and I worry about the monkey-see-monkey-do mentality that has gripped much of our industry. I’m frustrated by a few experts who say that the loss of US manufacturing jobs is inevitable.

Last November, when we announced the theme of our 2011 Northeast Shingo Conference, Made Lean In America, one of those experts contacted me with a sincere request that I not raise false hopes for American manufacturing.   In fairness, he did not say that it’s impossible for American industry to compete, rather that we lack the passion to do what is necessary to keep manufacturing on our shores.

I disagree, as I see this passion in many individuals and organizations in our region.   But it’s not only about passion.    “Doing what is necessary,” requires a great deal of rationality as well.  One of our speakers, Reshoring Initiative founder, Harry Moser, will explain why Re-shoring manufacturing is a critical step in most lean journeys.  Conference attendees will also receive his
organization’s free software to calculate the true benefit of re-shoring.  Take a few moments to hear a sneak preview of Harry Moser’s presentation.

(If you can’t play the audio from this email, please visit http://wp.me/p1cOUS-95 to hear it on the blog.)

Hope we see you in October. Come show your passion, network, learn, share, steal, absorb, celebrate and rejuvenate.


Harry Moser

Blame Wars

My introduction to corrective action, about forty years ago, was a four-part form called an Internal Discrepancy Report, or “IDR” as it was affectionately known.    If material was defective we called it “discrepant.”  Maybe I’m mincing words here, but I think discrepancy implies a disagreement or inconsistency, for example, a discrepancy between your bank statement and your checkbook balance.   Funny word, “discrepancy.”   We said “discrepancy” but we meant, “defect.”

Of the four parts of the IDR it was probably not a coincidence that the Pink Copy went to the area where the defect – oops, discrepancy – was thought to have originated.  On the root cause analysis section of the IDR, the word “workmanship” frequently appeared.  Perhaps it should have been a checkbox to save time.

Before we began our Lean odyssey, I think we mostly used only one of the five whys.   Our root cause analysis was pretty shallow.   Consequently, our corrective action looked more like fault assignment.  Comments in the corrective action section of the IDR read like “employee was spoken to” or “re-training.” In the end, IDR’s were a means to round up the usual suspects.

The problem however was not really with the IDR or the word “discrepancy” (which essentially was intended to avoid pre-judgment), but with the fact that the culture at the time tended to presume guilt.  One employee warned me “Be careful if you report a problem, they may blame you.”  We had an apparent process in the IDR whose purpose was to identify and correct problems, but the actual process discouraged reporting problems

So how important is your culture to effective problem-solving?   Want to learn more about building a problem-solving organization?   Take a couple minutes to hear this sneak preview of Jamie Flinchbaugh’s keynote presentation at our October 5-6 Made Lean in America conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.

(Click on the triangle to listen)

Hope to see you at the conference.