Tag Archives: lean manufacturing

An Ode to a Frontline Supervisor

Wedged between distant decision-makers and the people who do the work.
She is the go-to person for everything: safety, morale, productivity, quality and most of all, schedule attainment,
But has little authority and less support for any of these.
Who thanks the supervisor, as she caroms from crisis to crisis,
From broken equipment to absent employees to material shortages,
Unable to spend more than a few minutes with each of her fifty direct reports? 
Who soothes her frustration and anger? As the master of workarounds, she does what she must to get things done.
Unheralded, unappreciated, and usually blamed for the broken system she is charged to manage, she privately counts the days to her retirement.

Ok, perhaps, I’ve overplayed this a bit, and the last time I wrote an ode was in a 17th century literature class about 50 years ago.  But I was struck last week when teaching a Shingo Institute workshop by a question from one of the participants, as we discussed the principle, RESPECT EVERY INDIVIDUAL.  Referring to an excerpt from a 1952 episode of I Love Lucy, a popular example of autocratic management, my student queried, “What’s the supervisor’s name?”   

(If, by chance you have not seen this video clip, stop for a moment and view it.  Here’s a recently colorized version:  Lucy 2020.)

The excerpt is from a 1952 episode of I Love Lucy, but I recall seeing it first in 1994 when Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) played it in a training for my company.  They referred to it as “traditional manufacturing,” and asked our class to identify things that would not be conducive to TPS.  There were many observations of bad practices and bad behavior, which I will not relate at this time. Watch the clip yourself and see how many you can find.

What struck me about the question is that in the many times I’ve shown this video, all attention and empathy by observers is typically devoted to Lucy and Ethel. The supervisor is just a nemesis.   In fact, the supervisor, as we Googled, has no name – she’s just SUPERVISOR.  This new line of questioning led to a productive class discussion regarding the common plight of frontline supervision.  Not excusing her bullying behavior, merely asking her to be more caring and supportive trivializes her problem and disrespects her as well as Lucy and Ethel.  Hence the keyword EVERY in the principle RESPECT EVERY EMPLOYEE.  I’ve often referred to frontline supervision as “most difficult job in the organization.”   What do you think?  And, by the way, how many practices and behaviors can you name that are not conducive to TPS? 

O.L.D.     

Enjoy your summer as best as you can in this crazy pandemic environment.  And if you’re looking for an energizing event to kick off the fall, checkout out our Northeast Lean Conference: 21st Century Lean. Yes, of course, it’s virtual but we have a super line-up of speakers and participants – and all of the engaging activities of our in-person conference: thought leader keynotes, breakouts, Lean Lounge, Silver Toaster Award and Lean after Dark.  Plus – bonus video material for attendees.  Here’s the link:  http://www.northeastleanconference.org. Hope to see you there.   

Culture Change

Shortly after my last post, in which I referred to sowing the “seeds of change,” I enlisted the help of my son, Ben, to reseed a particularly bare area of our yard.  I’d neglected this spot for a few years and it had become sparse and dormant.  Fixing the problem was therefore not merely a matter of spreading new seed.   There was a significant amount of work to be done first to prepare the soil.  This essentially exposed the problem and at the same time made it amenable to improvement.  Had I just sown seed on the thatch and weeds that had infested the grass, the results would have been disappointing.  A seed or two might have taken root, but most would have languished. 

It occurred to me as I watched Ben, fifty years my junior, steadily completing a task that would have been more of a struggle for me, that changing a culture requires sweeping away an accumulation of debris from the past.  Exposing the problems is hard work and not pretty.   “Make problems ugly,” is a popular expression in the Lean world, but exposing problems often elicits criticism from the keepers of the status quo.  At least in this case, exposing the problems fortunately fell to the younger generation.    I got the easy job: sowing the seeds.  Each of us contributed to the change as we were able.  After three months more of creating a favorable environment for the grass, I celebrated with a Sam Adams in the space we planted together.  This time, I think, I will try harder not to take the lawn for granted.  Culture change is after all, not a discrete event, but continuous improvement that engages everyone according to their individual capabilities.  And not to be taken for granted.

Have a relaxing 4th.

O.L.D. 

PS Speaking of Culture Change, my organization is a big proponent of The Shingo Model and Guiding Principles to provide context for Continuous Improvement – the “know why” in the form of principles before the “know-how” which is systems and tools. It develops company culture thru analysis of how principles (along with company vision, mission, and values) inform behavior and how systems reinforce it.  Benefits include a more engaged workforce that understands continuous improvement at a much deeper level and a sustained culture of excellence. When results are achieved through behavior grounded in principles, they are for the long-term. Learn more about it during our upcoming virtual seminar.

And if you’re interested in continuing your Lean tools education during the summer months, GBMP has lots of great virtual workshops to choose from – from value stream mapping to pull systems (kanban) and much more in between. Check them out here. We look forward to “seeing” you soon!

Now, as the economy begins to reopen, two lessons learned

To our customers, suppliers, partners and friends,

For the last four months, GBMP, has of necessity, pivoted to predominantly virtual consulting, training and coaching.   Now, as the economy begins to reopen, I’d like to share with you two lessons that we have learned:

Office space adds limited value to our work.
We have discovered that physical distancing for our team does not necessarily reduce presence or alignment.  In fact, the need for very frequent communication during the pandemic has highlighted the advantages of virtual methods like Zoom and Slack.  The GBMP team has not been able to assemble physically since February, but we have met “face-to-face” virtually nearly every day, something that would not be practical in real space.  While do look forward to a time when can occasionally meet in person, we have come to realize that the “new normal” may not require the expense of an office. 

Virtual is here to stay, as a component of learning.
Like many of you, GBMP has adapted to the pandemic’s reality, and we have learned through this difficult process that there are aspects of virtual learning – particularly the explicit learning – that are actually advantageous to both teacher and learner. This is something I would not have subscribed to personally, had pandemic conditions not demanded it; but response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.  We are anxious to be back on-site with our customers “in the Gemba” at some point, but we also anticipate that aspects of virtual learning will continue and develop as an improvement to Lean and Six Sigma learning and organizational transformation. 

While timing for recovery from Covid-19 is no less uncertain for me today than several months ago, life goes on, work continues and so does improvement to the work.

GBMP’s mission, to keep good jobs in our region, is stronger than ever and we will continue to adapt to provide value to our community.   We value our many relationships and look forward to bright outcomes for all of us. 

Bruce Hamilton,
June 25, 2020

Why Not?

Most Lean folks use “5-Whys” daily to problem solve; but, relatively few are familiar with a clever problem solving device developed 30 years ago by Deming Prize winner, Ryuji Fukuda, called the Why-Not Diagram. 

Because objection is a natural human response to new ideas, Dr. Fukuda created the Why-Not Diagram to afford every stakeholder an opportunity to put his or her concerns out on the table:   all the reasons why an idea won’t work.  Fukuda recommends that why-not reasons be recorded in silence so that no one is unduly influenced by anyone else.  We use a separate post-it note for each separate idea.    In my own experience, this technique generates a lot of post-it notes.  It seems to be easier for participants to fire off thoughts about why something won’t work than how it will work.  

Some time ago, my previous company was having an especially tough sales quarter and the level of frustration was high throughout the organization.     I posed this Why-Not question to my field sales force:

“Why Not Double Sales?”

In a cathartic burst, our sales people busily wrote all the reasons they could think of as why our sales were low: late delivery, billing issues, bad sales policies, too many reports, slow response to questions, long time to market for new products, etc.  Some , had very specific causes, while others were more general, but all were recorded in silence over a period of about twenty minutes and passed to me.   Then we read the notes aloud, one-by-one, and organized them by category, creating an affinity diagram of why-nots.  Clear categories emerged as we continued reading; and there were many duplicates, which we piled on top of one another creating a visualization of consensus.  Finally, there were a couple of post-its that didn’t fit into any category. “Lone Wolves,” Dr. Fukuda calls them; things that most persons had not previously considered. One note turned out to be a brilliant and previously missed issue with our sales process.    As that Postit was read, there was a quiet murmur in the room acknowledging that in the process of collecting our thoughts, something new and special had been discovered.

As the salesperson team was congratulating themselves for a concerted show of resistance to the idea of doubling sales, I challenged them: “So what I take from this exercise is that if we can address all of these objections, then we CAN double sales.”    A couple of startled participants protested. “Oh no, we didn’t mean to imply that.”   After a few moments of silence however, another participant thoughtfully replied, “Well . . . maybe.”   The seeds for change had been sewn.   

From this experience I take two lessons which, particularly in this chaotic and emotion-charged pandemic time are worth relating:

The first lesson is from one of my favorite stimulators, Alan Watkins.   Creator of Crowdocracy, Watkins asks “Who is the smartest person in the room?”  The answer is

ALL OF US.  The collective intelligence of everyone easily surpasses that of any single person.  This concept is not new to Lean (“The ideas of 10 are greater than the experience of 1.”), but it is not well practiced.  Fukuda’s Why-Not gets everyone involved; it’s a trick to surface objection and create dialogue.  If we have conflicting views about how to adapt to Covid-19, we should share them – maybe there will be lone wolf or two.

The second is from Shigeo Shingo who said “99% of objection is cautionary,” meaning that when persons express objections to an idea, they are often saying they don’t agree YET.  They need more information.   From my days in sales promotion I recall that every sale begins with “no.”  Getting these ‘no’s’ out into the open, rather than letting them privately fester, is the first step to responding to them.   Dialogue is the countermeasure to objection.  Let’s keep it going. 

Stay safe everyone.

O.L.D.

Hey, here’s a “why-not” question for you:  Why not accelerate your continuous improvement process right now, taking advantage of the non-value-added time you might be spending cooped up in some socially distanced environment.  Any time is a good time learn, develop, improve and problem-solve.  

For over 25 years, my organization’s mission has been to help others develop their most valuable resource: their employees.  Given the right training and inspiration, every employee – from the front lines to the corner office – can be a Lean thinker and problem solver.  While we may not be able to march forward arm in arm now, thanks to technology, we still can learn together – face-to-face – in the Gemba remotely.  And there is no better time or burning platform than at this moment to engage and inspire all of our employees to become innovators and problem solvers.  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 time-frame.  While we may not be able join you at your site, we are all still as close as your nearest computer or smart device.  Whether you are an existing GBMP partner or are just beginning with continuous improvement, we encourage you to take a few moments to peruse the many interactive Lean learning opportunities available to you from GBMP.  Let us help you turn downtime into learning time.

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.