Tag Archives: six sigma

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.

They also serve who only stand and wait.

For those not into 17th century English poets,  this final line from John Milton’s, On His Blindness, had particular significance in 1665 at a time when denominations of the Christian world were debating whether we sinners were saved by faith alone or by a combination of faith and good works.  This question was the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and Catholic Church.  Milton was siding with those who felt that faith alone was the way to salvation. Being a good person was nice but not necessary in the eyes of God.   John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was among those who disagreed, however.  Faith alone was not enough.  Good works, things like charity and kindness, were equally parts of the road to salvation.  It was simply not enough to “only stand and wait” as John Milton suggested. 

In the summer of 1665, debates over the path to salvation would have been in context of the deadly epidemic, Black Death.  This wave of the bubonic plague started slowly in a London neighborhood,  but by May of 1665, 43 had died. In June 6137 succumbed and then in July, 17036.   Finally, at its peak in August, 31159 people perished.  In all, 15% of the London population perished during that terrible summer. There was little recourse beyond prayer and primitive forms of protection like the avian-like “gas mask” worn by physicians to damp foul smells. Filled with lavender and  camphor to ward off the invisible pestilence, this protective gear was 17th century state of the art – the best that science and medicine had to offer.   

We can all take heart that science has advanced remarkably since Milton.   While we justifiably worry about the elapsed weeks of time needed to properly garb our pandemic frontlines  and months of time to a vaccine or other therapies, we should consider, as a frame of reference, that the Black Plague lasted more than three centuries in Asia and Europe without remedy.  As an optimist by nature, I still find myself  fighting off angry thoughts and wondering how we ever got into this mess.  Better to focus on the moment.  Seize the day.    What can we do to help the frontlines?   Where is our salvation? 

Perhaps, as in the 17th century, there is power in faith.  I would not disparage it. As an aphorism from the Second World War maintains, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” Beyond this, however,  what about “good works”?   With regard to our current dilemma, it seems for most us who are not on the front line – not clinicians, not public servants, not essential service workers – there are just two things we can do:

  1. Support the front lines.  Give them everything they need immediately and let them feel our gratitude. 
  2. For the rest of us, oddly, doing  nothing is our good work. As Milton said “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  We need to stay at home for now to protect each other AND the front line. Give them the gift of time to heal the sick and find ways to remediate this scourge.     

Stay well everyone. 
O.L.D. 

P.S. Well, perhaps not nothing. My organization, GBMP, is assisting companies who wish to turn downtime into learning and improvement time through virtual Lean, Six Sigma and Shingo Model workshops, training, coaching and project assistance. The remote platforms are robust and interactive learning and sharing are possible whether your workforce is presently at home or in the workplace, local or dispersed, in one state, multiple states or spread across countries. Contact us to learn how we can assist your team or peruse some of our scheduled Lean learning opportunities.

Turning Downtime into Learning Time

For over 25 years, the GBMP’s mission has been to help organizations large and small develop their most valuable resource: their employees.  Our abiding belief, connoted in our slogan, EVERYBODY EVERYDAY, is that given the right training and inspiration, every employee – from the front lines to the corner office can be a Lean thinker and problem solver.  My personal learning first as an operating manager has been, that continuous improvement requires an army of problem-solvers, a culture that embraces tough challenges collaboratively and confidently. 

Presently, we are all faced with a challenge that absolutely requires that confidence and collaboration.  While we may not be able to march forward arm in arm at this point, thanks to the facility available from the Internet we still can learn together – face-to-face – in the Gemba, if only remotely.  And there is no better time or burning platform than at this moment to engage and inspire all of our employees to become an army of innovators and problem solvers in face of COVID19. 

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 timeframe.  While we may not be able join you at this time at your site, we are all still as close as your nearest computer or smart device. 

We’re all facing a tough and unprecedented situation right now.  But the best of human spirit dictates that we nevertheless find ways to do our jobs and improve our jobs.  Whether are an existing GBMP partner or are just beginning with continuous improvement, I encourage to take a few moments to peruse the interactive opportunities available to you from GBMP.  Let us help you turn downtime into learning time.

– O.L.D.

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.