Tag Archives: Shingo Institute

Senior Moments

sr momentsI was speaking last week with, Jen, a senior manager at a large manufacturer, and she commented to me, “I know it’s important for me to get to the floor, but the time involved for me and my staff to regularly visit two dozen different departments makes this seem like an impossible task.”   She was alluding to the scheduled Gemba walks, which were a component of her and her reports manager standard work.

“I understand the challenge, “ I responded, having faced that myself in my last job. I continued, “As a senior manager it’s important for you to be present both to observe, and also to show your commitment to improvement. Spend whatever time you can, but make sure you use the time well.”

Sometimes I worry about the scripted Gemba walks. Even with the script, they often look like a management posse. And one thoughtless comment or even a thoughtless gesture by the senior visitors can create exactly the opposite effect of what is intended. In fact, managers can make a very positive impact on employee engagement in just moments. It’s the quality of the interaction not the duration that’s telling. About ten years ago, GBMP produced a DVD, Moments of Truth, to demonstrate how short encounters, either deliberate or inadvertent, between managers and employees, can have a powerful impact. A short clip from that video, starring GBMP staff members, demonstrates (with a little humor of course) how important a single moment can be.

Of course, the moments of truth could just as well be positive. An employee at a large insurance company related to me recently that, after a short time on the job, he found a note on his desk from a senior vice president whom he’d never met, welcoming him and stating “I’m hearing from your manager that you’re already making terrific contributions to our improvement program. Thanks.” That note set the tone for employee’s career. It didn’t require a structured Gemba walk and probably took about 10 seconds to write — literally moments. But it showed commitment from the highest level of the organization, both to the new employee and to his direct supervisor.

I related that story to Jen and she smiled. “I can think of a few of those moments, both good and bad, that I had when I was on the front line.”

How about you? Are you watching for those moments of truth?   Gemba walks are important, but a manager’s impact can be expressed in seconds.   Please share a story about your “moments of truth”.


PS Hope to see you at the International Shingo Conference in Provo, Utah next week.

PPS And don’t miss our next Shingo Institute courses (DISCOVER Excellence followed by Continuous IMPROVEMENT – attend one or both, it’s up to you) coming up in the week of May 11 at Vibco, Inc., in Richmond, Rhode Island. Register online here.

BTW: The GBMP lean training DVD Moments of Truth can be purchased at www.shopgbmp.org. Use code “MOT20” by May 8, 2015 to get 20% of the regular price.


unreasonSometimes we receive unreasonable and confusing directions, and sometimes we give them. Check out this example.

As in the short video clip, even if the systems behind this confusion are sound and the motivations reasonable, when you put them together they can create a frustrating no-win situation.

Here are a few examples from my recent experience:

 At an aerospace manufacturer, I followed a team of engineers to the factory floor to observe a defect caused by what they all thought was an assembly mistake. When we arrived at the assembly workstation, the team member was ready for us. Holding an assembly drawing in one hand and a fixture instruction in the other, he asked us, “Which one these do you want me to use?”   A closer examination of the two documents revealed conflicting directions.   The team member continued, “If I follow the assembly drawing to the letter, the part won’t fit the fixture, but if I follow the fixture instruction exactly, the final dimensions for the part are out of spec, so I have to compromise the assembly instruction in order to make the part.”   Each assembly document came from a different department and each department was adamant that its document was correct.

At a small industrial distributor, a sales order department sales associate pointed to the wall behind her desk. “All of these notes and schedules above my computer represent special deals that we have struck with particular customers. It’s hard enough to remember all of them, but sometimes I have conflicting discount offers. I may choose the wrong one, or maybe I’m supposed to combine them, but that could add up to an 80% discount in some cases.” Unfortunately the conflicting instructions often resulted in customer complaints, change orders and credits involving multiple departments.

On a broader scale, managers often grapple with conflicting goals and measures.  For example, a machine shop manager whose efforts to reduce set-up times and run smaller batches whose improvement efforts are rewarded with a low machine utilization score. As Edward’s Deming put it, “You can’t sharpen the blade while the saw is running.”

I believe this can be called Muri: mental strain caused by insufficient or conflicting information. Most often this kind of Muri is internal to the organization and inadvertent because it comes from multiple authorities, each of whom feels they are doing the right thing.

Do you have examples of unreasonability in your organization you can share?   What are effective countermeasures to this kind of mental Muri?


P.S. Please join me tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. EST for a free, live 45-minute webinar on “3P – Production Preparation Process”. You can register online here.

And don’t miss GBMP’s next Shingo Institute course offerings coming up in the week of May 11 at Vibco, Inc., in Rhode Island.  I’ll be teaching DISCOVER Excellence on May 11 & 12 and Continuous IMPROVEMENT on May 13-14. Join us for one or both; I must admit it’s very convenient to have two of the four courses under your belt in one week and I hope to see you there. Register online here.


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.


No Respect

In the last two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two outstanding conferences celebrating and supporting operational excellence. This week I attended the annual Shingo Conference and had an opportunity to teach the Shingo Institute’s Discover Excellence workshop at host site Whirlpool, in Findlay Ohio. The self-effacing humility of everyone we met at the site belied the outstanding quality and productivity improvements we witnessed on our visits to both the production floor and office. Thanks Findlay, for keeping my expectations for American manufacturing high! The air of mutual respect between management and employees breathed life into one of the most important principles from our Discover class: “Respect for people.” (Whirlpool, for example, donates kitchen appliances to every Habitat for Humanity home that is built.) I’m looking forward to seeing more from the Findlay team as they present at our October 1-2 Northeast Lean Conference.

One week earlier I encountered another inspired group of over 400 top manufacturing executives, state legislators and state support services at the Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Summit in Worcester Massachusetts. While the summit focus was on technological innovation, a memorable quote from panelist Dan Ryan, VP of Corporate Operations for Raytheon, set the tone for a panel discussion on innovation.  According to Mr. Ryan, “Innovation equals continuous improvement. Our people are the source of our innovation.” His point was not that technology is unimportant, but rather that it is engaged employees who are the creative force behind these advancements. This was a powerful message coming from a top executive of one of the world’s most highly innovative technology companies and 2008 recipient of the Shingo Silver Medallion. Dan’s comments were quickly echoed by other manufacturing executives on the panel. One conference participant from Draper Labs commented (I’m paraphrasing) “It seems like what began as a panel discussion about nanotech and biotech innovation soon transitioned to a theme of continuous improvement.”   Hurrah for Dan Ryan and the other panel executives for acknowledging the source of innovation.

One antithetical incident at the Advanced Manufacturing Summit also caught my attention, however: Just before lunchtime, I was standing at GBMP’s exhibitor booth, in the lobby near the elevator, when a person with a news camera appeared.

“Oh!” I thought to myself, “this is terrific! The news media will be reporting an event that’s important to our economy. They’re waiting for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, to interview him about the conference.”

Then another camera person arrived, and another – and another.  At this point my enthusiasm shifted gears.   When a well-known television reporter arrived on the scene, I suspected this news coverage was too good to be true. By the time the governor stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, there were a dozen cameras and news people, all postured to pounce. I soon learned the reason for this conclave: The director of the Department of Child and Family Services had resigned earlier in the day amid pressure from the Massachusetts House and Senate. The Governor stopped for about five minutes to answer reporters’ questions and then proceeded into the conference hall. There were no questions about the Advanced Manufacturing Summit or about manufacturing. Who would care about a movement to keep good jobs in our part of the world or about the collaboration between Massachusetts businesses, education sector and government?  The was no scandal or greed, nothing potentially sensational or “viral” – just a group of committed Massachusetts businesses trying to partner with state government to create good jobs and keep Massachusetts manufacturing strong.

As the Governor broke off from reporters to give an excellent speech in support of manufacturing, the conclave evaporated. I cornered one well-known local reporter as he walked away with this question:

“Are you going to stay for a couple of minutes to hear the Governor support manufacturing in Massachusetts?”

“I’d love to but . . .”, he laughed.

“Do you know what this event is about?” I persisted.

“No I don’t,” he replied with disinterest, as he hastened to the exit.

“No respect, “ I chuckled to myself. Too bad that manufacturing gets no respect from the news media.


BTW: My next FREE webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled “Going to See” will offer some do’s and don’t’s for managers who are wondering what to do when they “go to the Gemba.” Hope you can make it on Tuesday, May 20th from 3:00 -3:45 p.m EST. (Read more and pre-register here.)





Across a large swath of the U.S., the winter has been especially cold, snowy and dreary this year.  So here’s a post with a link to a cheery video at the end, just to pick my spirits up – and maybe yours too.

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.”

To provide some redeeming social value, let me frame these idioms in terms that are very important to the social science of Lean.  First the turkeys:

A long, 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.turkey_mug

Lenny 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 at right) 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 of habits.   These events are typically characterized by major layout changes.  Machines and people are moved close together to facilitate material flow and teamwork – 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 a 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 a 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, the frivolous clip that was the inspiration for this idiomatic post: Talking to turkeys.  Just a reminder to myself that we all need to lighten up some times.  To all my snowbound frozen Lean friends, take heart.  Spring is less than a month away.


GBMP Event Notes:

Alert: Because of my travel schedule the next Tea Time with the Toast Dude webinar will be Monday, March 3rd from 3:00-3:40 p.m.  It’s short and it free!  The topic will be “Lean Compensation Issues.”  Please click here to register. 

NEW! GBMP is excited to announce, as a licensed affiliate of The Shingo Institute and with two certified instructors on our team, the first Discover Excellence 2-day workshop in our region this year. The program introduces Guiding Principles on which to anchor your improvement initiatives and fill the gaps in your efforts towards ideal results and enterprise excellence. Read more and register here.