Friday, December 16, 2011

How will you view safety in 2012?

Your safety program is mostly likely a compliance based program. Decades of requirements set forth by OSHA and others have defined the safety focus for most businesses - to comply with the regulations intended to keep those in harm’s way safe while on the job. My mission for the last two years, since the publication of Lean Safety, has been to change how people think about safety. My background as a lean champion freed me from the traditional view that a safety program is only a vehicle used to deliver compliance. My view is that you can also use your safety program to engage employees in the continuous improvement of safety, a proactive effort to reduce injury risk, and by doing that you can advance your lean efforts.

In 2011 I was given the opportunity to present the Lean Safety story to many people. My opportunities to touch people and change their thinking regarding safety ranged from organized events like workshops and conference keynotes to chance meetings on the golf course. If you know me, you know it is hard for me not to share my passion! In an attempt to change your thinking in 2012 I thought I would share a few comments from some of those I influenced in 2011.

The CEO of a business that hosted a Lean Safety kaizen event – “We used direct labor employees rather than supervisors on the teams and I was especially gratified by their enthusiasm and involvement.”

Attendee’s plan after his attendance at a Lean Safety workshop in Saskatchewan – To involve others in safety via empowerment and create a list of safety standard work activities.

Attendee at an AME sponsored 3-day Lean Safety Kaizen Blitz event – “I really liked the emphasis on trust and people – that is the key!”

Attendee at 2-day Shanghai workshop – Most useful was the understanding gained about the integration of lean tools in the safety system.

Managing Director of a facility that hosted a Lean Safety Kaizen Workshop in Melbourne – “The Lean Safety experience was a refreshing extension on safety thinking and safety programmes.”

Attendee at Lean Safety workshop in Melbourne – “…by applying lean thinking to a Safety Kaizen event, an organization can still achieve the same positive outcomes with considerations made to the team members instead of just the process. This type of thinking builds the foundation for an engaged work force and a positive safety culture.”

Corporate Lean Champion - “Robert brings a unique skill set to his work in safety. He leverages his expertise in Lean and understands the importance of creating a strong work culture to drive improvement. My experience with Bob helped me see new ways of improving safety.”

So in 2012 my mission will be the same. I will continue to help people understand that the way to anchor lean in their culture is to focus on safety. By engaging a workforce in the continuous improvement of safety a leadership team will build a foundation of trust which can be used to move the business culture forward in a positive direction. This is possible because “Safety First” will no longer just be a slogan on a banner, but instead a way of thinking, acting and interacting in their business.

My travel and event schedule for 2012 is being finalized. Possible destinations include Shanghai, China, Melbourne, Australia, Manchester, England, Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas, Toronto, Canada, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Please contact me if you would like to schedule a workshop or safety kaizen event in 2012.

Thank you to everyone who I have had the opportunity to meet and work with in 2011. Many of you are the recipients of this message. I hope each and every one of you has a very joyous Christmas and that 2012 will be a year of personal growth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chinese Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving!

I like most of you understand our standard of living has been artificially propped up with cheap goods from China. I accept the fact that much of what I buy in U.S. retail stores is made in China – I was in a Wal-Mart just yesterday. But I will not eat pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

Recently my wife purchased a can of pumpkin from our local independent grocer (IGA). I have for 30 years supported this store. About eight years ago a large local grocery chain built a new store about 1/2 mile from my home. I rarely visit that store because of my unwavering loyalty to my local independent grocer. That may change. Since the canned pumpkin had a brand label, Polar, that I was not familiar with, I read the back of the label. I was more than surprised to find out it was from China. I thought, OMG, we could have made our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with pumpkin from China! How would the average Chinese person feel if they discovered that the traditional Spring Festival sweets served at their family celebration were made in Mexico? Some things are just wrong.

I have known for about two years that the fresh garlic from the same IGA is from China. I rarely buy it for it is never very fresh and lacks the flavor fresh garlic should have. I cannot understand why fresh garlic is sourced from the other side of the world! What happened to Gilroy, CA the garlic capital of the world? The self proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world is Morton, IL where Libby’s grows and produces canned pumpkin. It is only 138 miles from my local IGA to Morton, IL! China is over 10,000 miles away! Are the margins at the IGA stores so tight that they have to resort to sourcing fresh and canned food products, which are available regionally, from the other side of the world to save a few pennies? The management team at the Independent Grocers Association should understand that the customers who support the IGA stores are the farmers and produces of food products that populate small town America where most of the IGA stores are located. Makes you wonder if the IGA in Morton, IL carries canned pumpkin from China. If so the employees from the Libby’s plant might want to talk with the store manager.

I was again in my local IGA a few days ago and as I walking down an aisle I noticed some fruit preserves that were priced at half the price of every other brand. The brand was the same as the pumpkin - Polar brand. Food safety in the U.S. has had some problems as witnessed by numerous food recalls and the illnesses and even deaths from tainted fresh produce like spinach and cantaloupe. But, at least I know we have an agency that monitors and inspects our food products. I personally have no idea how that is accomplished in China. And please do not think I am some prejudiced flag waver. I love to cook and visit ethnic grocery stores including a large Asian grocery store where I often purchase products produced in China. Ethnic groceries are a real joy for they provide me with new and unique ingredients that challenge me to prepare new dishes I have never tried before. They offer specialty products I cannot source from a U.S. supplier. If my local IGA, that I have supported for 30 years, cannot support the farmers and producers of food from the U.S and continues to stock their shelves with both the Polar brand and their own private labeled products produced in China I will start spending my food money elsewhere. Garlic and canned pumpkin are not specialty products.

Now back to the can of pumpkin. After reading the pumpkin label I returned the can of pumpkin and asked for a refund. When asked what the problem was I simply stated that the pumpkin was from China. The clerk did not look up or react in any way to my comment. She simply completed the transaction and refunded my money. If you and I do not react someday we may all be eating Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China. That just doesn't seem right.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living the Dream

When I decided to change careers at the beginning of 2010 I had a vision of my future life. I had always worked for others during my 40 plus years of full time work and I was determined to change that by starting my own consulting business. My motives were many but first and foremost I wanted to stay engaged and active by helping others improve their business operations. I have been living my dream.

In August I received an email informing me that the participants in my July Shanghai, China Lean Safety workshop had formed an informal lean safety group and had shared their company’s evacuation plans with each other when a typhoon threatened the East coast of China. A small step indeed but it supported my goal of making a safety difference while in China.

Then in mid-September Sandy, my wife, and I headed to Australia. I had been invited to keynote at a manufacturing conference in Melbourne. Following the conference, arrangements had been made for me to facilitate a 2-day Lean Safety workshop/kaizen event in a chemical plant. The conference was sponsored by the SIRF Roundtable, a consortium of around 60 companies, and Leverage Lean, a local consulting firm. Attendance was around 100 with representatives and presenters from a variety of companies like Toyota, Kraft, Wilson Transformer and diverse industries including dairy products, mining and sheep processing. Just as in the U.S. most businesses in Australia are on the lean journey and it was a great two days of meeting and talking with many new people which allowed me to become very adept at saying, "How ya goin?".

Following the conference I facilitated the 2-day workshop/kaizen event at Nufarm, a global chemical company. 30 attendees from a variety of industries participated in the workshop held on the first day. A combination of presentation material and small team exercises provided them with the Lean Safety knowledge they would need the next day. On day two they were split into four kaizen teams and were sent to four different work centers to observe a work process with the intent of reducing soft tissue injury risks. Real learning occurred based on the survey results. Almost every attendee noted they now understood how you could anchor lean in a business culture by focusing on improving safety with lean tools.

We had a wonderful time traveling around Australia for two weeks following my week of work. The people who entertained us during the conference week and those we met during our travels were friendly and always helpful. The Aussie's pace of life seems a little slower than in the U.S. and their economy still seems strong. Their historical problem of being so distant from their export markets has lessened with the rapidly growing Chinese economy. Someone I talked with noted that ships carrying iron ore valued at 40 million dollars leave Western Australia for China weekly. I may have the opportunity to return to Australia next year to conduct additional Lean Safety events and I am already looking forward to seeing my new mates.

During a week at home, while recovering from serious jet lag, Sandy and I, along with three other couples, served homemade pizza to around 70 people at a homeless shelter. The individuals at the shelter were so appreciative of the meal they gave us a standing-O as we were departing. We also reduced the cycle time to feed 70 people to nine minutes. In January we will be back and I believe we can get the cycle time to 5 minutes or less. Then over the weekend I went back on the road. I traveled to Athens, Georgia to visit Power Partners. They are a manufacturer of power transformers and have a lean culture developed by a leadership team committed to growing their people.

Two of the staff from Power Partners had attended my Lean Safety workshop at the AME conference in 2010 and I was invited down to expose more of their employees to the concept of getting lean by focusing on safety. My time at Power Partner included an assessment of their safety culture. This was accomplished by observing some of their safety processes like a safety meeting and an incident investigation meeting. On day two I conducted a Lean Safety workshop. The day ended with a tour of three work centers where the kaizen teams would spend the following day. On day three all three teams observed individuals performing their work steps while trying to identify safety improvements that would in turn reduce the cycle time of the operation. At the end of the day each team completed a report out to the management team on the results of their efforts. It is always so rewarding watching kaizen teams amaze their managers with what they can accomplish when given the gift of time.

After returning home for a few days I headed to the largest lean conference in the world. This year the AME international conference was held in Dallas, Texas. My week started by facilitating a full day Lean Safety workshop on Monday and the balance of the week was filled with a variety of volunteer activities. I had a wonderful week during which I had the chance to catch up with many friends and acquaintances. It is almost like a reunion of lean thinkers. Consider attending AME's annual lean conference in 2012 when it will be held in Chicago if you have never experienced a lean conference of this size and depth.

Now home for two weeks, the longest stretch since June, I have a chance to catch up on some home responsibilities. I only have one more scheduled trip this year. That will be a two day event in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Then it will be time to relax and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Since my dreams have already come true someone please tell Santa no gifts this year for Mr. Lean Safety! I am having the time of my life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lean Volunteerism – Go Make a Difference

The number of people who understand lean concepts well enough to help others improve a process has grown exponentially the last few years. Most not-for-profit businesses, which rely on volunteers to complete their mission, could use the help of a process focused lean thinker.

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about a group of friends and I who volunteered to purchase, prepare and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. By applying some “lean thinking” we reduced the cycle time to feed our customers. In October we will be back at the same shelter intent on improving the process flow yet again. Our goal is to reduce the embarrassment time - the time an individual has to wait in line for their meal.

Earlier this year a group of lean thinkers, who make up the Midwestern AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) regional board, volunteered to work at a facility operated by the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB). It was a rewarding, and for some, a tiring experience. Job requirements included a lot of physical movements associated with the sorting, labeling and the re-packaging of donated frozen food items. While working the board members, because they are “lean thinkers,” observed many opportunities to improve the work processes. To follow up on the opportunity to make a difference AME will be sponsoring a Safety Kaizen Blitz event as this NIFB site in mid-January of 2012. This 1-day event will allow the attendees to perform the same work process steps and then immediately brainstorm and implement changes that will improve the safety of the work performed. By doing so, they will enhance the volunteer experience thus helping this non-profit attract and retain future volunteers due to the process improvements that will remain after the improvement team departs. I volunteered to facilitate this event because I think my lean skills will allow me to make a difference as I guide the team on their improvement journey.

Recently I helped move my 90 year old mother into an assisted living facility. It was time and she is doing just great in her new environment. Today, after a short visit, I was walking past the receptionist who was shredding paper using a small shredder located on the floor. Because I am a lean thinker, who observes processes with an eye for safety improvement, I stopped to watch. I observed her bending and reaching to operate the shredder controls, insert paper to be shredded and removing the collection bin to either push down the bulky shredded paper or empty the bin. She was working from a sitting position and had her back “out of neutral” while performing her work tasks. Because I cannot help myself I pointed out the fact that we might be able to improve the work process to reduce the possibility of a back injury. She immediately stated that the task was indeed difficult and did make her back sore. I observed a plastic mail collection tub on the floor near her. I suggested we turn the bin upside down and put the shredder on top of it to reduce the bending required to perform the task. We made the changes and she tested the concept. She quickly noted, while smiling broadly, that I could stop by anytime. That made this lean thinker’s day for I firmly believe lean is about making jobs easier and I was able to practice what I preach.

So how are you making a difference with your lean skills? Opportunities to use them as a volunteer are endless. Schools, governments and non-profits are full of process waste and waiting for you to step up and volunteer. I am challenging each of you to go out and make a difference – help lean up your community and then the world – it could use it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Safety Reflections from China

Workplace Safety
I returned from my first visit to China early last week. I was invited to present a 2-day workshop on Lean Safety. Prior to my departure the consulting firm who had invited me sent pre-workshop questionnaires to the registrants. One of the questions asked them to provide information to the presenter about their working situation. One of the registrants responded to this question by stating that "Safety is not a priority in the Chinese culture." To explore this topic before I departed for China I posed this question on a Linked-In safety group discussion board. The results were emotional and mixed. Responses ranged from agreement with the statement and referencing a culture of blame and punishment as the root cause. While others noted that every country, as they went through their industrialization phase, had the same issues that China faces today. They also pointed out that it will take years and the combined efforts of the Chinese government and industry to ensure workplace safety is viewed as important in the Chinese culture.

In our global economy safety problems are not restricted to the country where they occur. A company’s safety reputation can be tarnished globally by a problem at any one of their global sites. The Internet and the many social networking tools available to all of us spread news, either good or bad, at light speed across the globe. For example, some of the shine was removed from the Apple corporate logo when a series of suicides and a fire lead to multiple deaths at their facilities in China.

The 19 people who attended my two-day Lean Safety workshop were all from large companies - most of them international firms headquartered outside of China. These firms care about the safety of the employees in their facilities. They have brought to their Chinese plants a safety culture developed outside of China and are positively impacting workplace safety in China. This was witnessed by the fact that all of the attendees were safety or operational professionals who were there to learn. They were great students who fully participated in the exercises, asked insightful questions and were a joy to teach. I left the 2-day event confident that workplace safety will continue to gain importance in China. Their attitudes about safety convinced me of that. Facilitating this workshop was a wonderful experience that ranks near the top of my consulting experiences since I began my consulting career at the start of 2010.

Personal Safety
When planning a trip to China and discovering that your doctor feels inoculations to prevent typhoid, polio, hepatitis, and a few others serious illnesses are a good idea it causes you to reflect on a different type of safety - personal safety. You can plan to prevent these unwanted medical experiences but travel is filled with new unexpected experiences - the primary reason I love travel. It exposes me to people and all aspects of their culture that are different from mine. Before the trip I had few if any preconceived notions about the Chinese people. While there I found them to be friendly, helpful and hard working. Evident were growing signs of westernization - clothing styles, restaurants (KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc.) and a budding middle class strolling around western type shopping centers where they could spend their new found wealth. But if you looked deeper you could find the cultural differences. At a Dunkin Donut outlet the donut choices reflect a culture clash or maybe a cultural compromise. Along with some standard offerings were donuts topped with dried pork and seaweed or Bonito (fish) flakes! This meshing of cultures will continue as the Chinese continue to experiment and develop their society into something new or at least different from what it is today. I love the Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Everyone should travel for travel is personal growth.

Transportation Safety
Before departing for China I had followed news stories about a new high speed rail service between Shanghai and Beijing - the two cities we would visit in China. It began service just six days before our departure and six days after our arrival in Shanghai we were seated in a new train going 310 kilometers an hour speeding toward our destination - Beijing. My wife had had some safety concerns about this travel option due to its newness and the speed of the train. Earlier this year we had taken a torturous 19 hour Amtrak train journey from Chicago to New Orleans and I was anxious to compare the two rail services. So in the end she agreed and we booked our round trip seats. The motion sickness inducing ride on Amtrak could not be compared to the ride on the Shanghai to Beijing high speed line. It was smoother than riding in a car or an airplane. No comparison. The old high speed train option between Shanghai and Beijing was a 10 hour overnight trip. The new cycle time was just short of 5 hours! About a week after we returned home there was a train accident in China. It was reported that many deaths and injuries occurring when lightning struck a train, causing a power loss, and a second train ran into the rear of the stalled train. Obviously train safety needs to be improved. Smoother and faster is not better if it is unsafe.

If you wanted to assess the safety culture of a country observing the driving habits of the inhabitants is an unproven and unscientific method that could be used. I felt qualified to use it for the form of transport used most often on our trip was taxis. With around 50,000 taxis patrolling the streets of both cites we visited it was a convenient and reasonably priced method of transport. During the first ride I noticed the taxi drivers, rather than wait in a lane that slows or stops, immediately swing a front fender in between two cars to their left or right. In turn the rear car that is now being slowed by the taxis will move into the next lane using the same technique. Sitting in the front seat of a taxi watching this weaving ballet of traffic caused me to think the Chinese are risk takers. They and their government are trying to move forward, changing themselves and their economy without clearly marked lanes to guide them. And even when the lanes are marked, the taxis and the Chinese people may not follow them. They, in the spirit of continuous improvement, are all trying to find the path of least resistance as they change their country at a pace that is almost unimaginable. It was a wonderful experience witnessing the incredible energy and excitement of the changes taking place and I look forward to future visits to assess their progress.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Watch your dog run away - for three days!

In the last two weeks I have been on the road sharing my passion for lean safety. My trip began in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province located north of the Dakotas and Wyoming. Saskatchewan is a place where you can watch your dog run away - for three days! The treeless prairie landscape is so flat they must measure elevation changes in inches rather than feet. Winters are harsh with incessant winds and bone chilling temperatures that build character in the people who live there. The population number for the whole province, which includes many immigrants from faraway lands, is around one million. Agriculture in the South and mining farther North are why they come and stay. I found everyone I interacted with to be genuinely friendly, hard working and creative. They seemed to be a product of their harsh environment.

I facilitated two workshops - one in Regina and the second in Saskatoon. The attendees were from a variety of industries but a majority of them were connected to the mining or oil industries. The first morning began with the smell of smoke in the hallway of the hotel conference center. This was unusual because smoking is not allowed inside of buildings in this province. The source, it turned out, was a peace pipe ceremony that was occurring in an adjacent room to begin a First Nation (Native North American) meeting. I am not sure what they were smoking but I was flashing back to 1969! The workshop included nine breakout team exercises to ensure that real learning occurred. Survey feedback from the attendees validated that attending the Lean Safety workshop was a value added activity.

Thanks to Lynn Marr of the CME (Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters) organization for both invited me to conduct the workshops and for all of her organizing, planning and coordination efforts to ensure all went smoothly.

Then after two days at home I flew to San Diego where I had a unique opportunity to influence a corporate leadership team. The global team represented a company headquartered in Oregon. They were meeting in San Diego to benchmark a medical device manufacturing company which has won numerous awards for their continuous improvement efforts and results. The visiting team, with a corporate safety improvement initiative already underway, invited me to conduct a short Lean Safety workshop for them at the host company site. The following day we traveled by bus to Tijuana, Mexico to visit the medical device company's primary manufacturing site. During a plant tour the visiting leadership team was charged with the task of identifying and recording lean safety opportunities. The list of opportunities to improve both safety and cycle times was given to the host company as a way to thank them for being such gracious hosts. It was a wonderful experience for me for I was able to visit two world class manufacturing sites, interact with some wonderful and talented people and share my passion for getting lean by focusing on the safety of those who do the work.

Future activities include a Safety Kaizen Blitz at Dentsply, located in DesPlaines, IL, on May 11, 12,and 13. On June 14th I will facilitate a Lean Safety Workshop at Whiting Corporation in Monee, IL. Both events are sponsored by AME so detailed information is available at Plans are being made for a Lean Safety workshop in Toronto later in June. Then in early July I will present a 2-day workshop in Shanghai, China. That will be a fun and challenging event which supports my reasoning for starting a consulting business - to have fun and remain challenged as I learn and grow. Stay safe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lean Thinking at the Homeless Shelter

This week, 5 friends (number six was home sick) my wife and I served dinner at a homeless shelter. It was a unique opportunity to help those in need by purchasing some food items and then preparing and serving a meal. We began some weeks ago by planning the menu and then deciding who would purchase what. During the day, before departing for the shelter, many of us were busy preparing, or prepping, the dishes we would serve that evening. Since I am a "foodie" and have prepared gourmet food for friends and family for many years I understand the importance of "mise en place". That is a French term for all the preparation required to have "everything in place" so when you are ready for your final preparation and food service everything will go smoothly. Since this was a first time experience for most of us we initially struggled to find some utensils, pans, etc. that we required. Although I did recognize some evidence of 5-S for each of the four large refrigerator doors were labeled with what should be behind the door. Reflecting on the fact that different volunteers fill the roles we were filling on this single night, for three meals every day, having a kitchen that was thoroughly 5-Sed would certainly improve the flow. Because I cannot turn off the lean thinking part of my brain I recognized this and many other opportunities in this food service process.

When we arrived at the shelter we started the ovens and began to heat the hot food menu items. Then some of us found ourselves standing around watching two others, who had volunteered in the past, complete some set-up prep work. Our “watching waste,” one of the seven wastes, eventually led to a conversation about how to improve the flow when it was time to actually serve the plates of food to our customers. A mini kaizen blitz took place for we quickly recognized that the layout of the stainless tables used to hold the pans of food to be served could be improved. We rotated two of them 90 degrees so that we would have two serving lines rather than just one. Proud of ourselves we soon realized this change resulted in some customer confusion when we began to serve. Our customers were accustomed to waiting in one line for their turn. With the second serving station just past the first they were reluctant to move around others to place their order despite our waving them forward. As each person stepped up to be served they had to be told what we were serving, decide on their choices and then their plate would be set up as ordered. The volunteers quickly realized that menu boards at the head of the food line would allow our customers to make their choices before they stepped up to be served. Yet another future cycle time reduction improvement idea! In total we served about 70 people salads, entree plates and desserts in approximately 40 minutes. Not bad, but not good enough for this lean thinker. I think we can get the number down to 15 minutes and we will have three more attempts to prove it this year.

Since we, as a group, have volunteered to purchase, prepare and serve food once a quarter in 2011 we will be taking what we learned this week and improving the flow to better serve our customers in the future. Speaking of our customers they were just amazing. Their heartfelt gratitude made this one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in a very long time. Some people would not view those waiting in line at a homeless shelter as customers. But I, as a lean thinker, understand the focus of any continual improvement effort has to be the customer. It has to be humbling and maybe embarrassing to stand in line for a free meal. If we could reduce the cycle-time of their wait in line it may be a small step to restoring some personal dignity. That is a different sort of goal for a lean thinker - or is it? One of the pillars of lean thinking is "respect for people" and I believe each of us lived that philosophy while serving meals to those in need. They were indeed our customers.

Lean thinkers, just like everyone else, can take their special talents and use them as volunteers to help others. This new personal experience for me was further enhanced because it was a shared experience with good friends. They may not be fully aware of it yet but I am converting them into lean thinkers. The more of them in this world the better! How are you using your lean knowledge and skill set to make the world a better place?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Worker Safety in China

While working in manufacturing I could directly impact business results but now, as a workshop facilitator, presenter, and consultant, I can only influence change. My success comes through others. This July I will have a unique opportunity. I will facilitate a 2-day Lean Safety workshop in Shanghai, China. Manufacturers from all over the world have flocked to China to build a base from which they will have direct access to this emerging marketplace. I have been provided access to this market and plan to share my belief that we all have a responsibility, not only for our safety, but the safety of others. The lean tools approach to safety improvement that I will share is an honest trust building activity.

Approximately 14 workers lose their life per day in the U.S. compared to 228 in China. Their workforce is five times that of the U.S. which means the opportunity to make a safety difference is five times greater. The focus on worker safety in the U.S. has a long history. The ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) organization, which is committed to protecting people, property and the environment, was formed in 1911 and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was legislated into existence in 1971. Clearly effective safety management require the cooperation and combined efforts of governments, professional organizations and business segments like mining, construction and manufacturing. Managers, no matter what industry they work in, must put worker safety ahead of all else. Yet that was not always the case in the US. There is a sad history of tragedies driving legislation that in turn raised the standards for protecting workers in harms-way. My guess is the same sequence of events is in motion in China. So what can I do to influence positive change in attitudes toward worker safety?

In conjunction with changes driven by legislation individuals must be educated to better understanding what is safe, and what is not, for it is individuals who must use common sense and good safety judgment before taking actions that could result in injury. For two days I will have the opportunity to influence the workshop attendees, individuals in leadership positions, who will represent a variety of industries. If each of them returns to work with an understanding of how to use lean thinking and tools to make safety a continuous improvement activity that involves their workers I will have been successful. Then these same leaders, having earned trust, can build on that trust as they engage their workforce in the continuous improvement of their business. That is the essence of lean safety.

Do you have a facility or a supplier in the Shanghai area? If you do here is your opportunity to make a safety difference. Contact me and I will forward you a PDF of the workshop flyer that you can then forward to them. Let's together make a safety difference in China.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Customer Service on "The Ciy of New Orleans"

If you are old enough you may remember the Steve Goodman song titled, City of New Orleans. It is a historical account of his journey on a train originating in Chicago and destined for New Orleans. Today the "City of New Orleans" train is operated by Amtrak so you can still experience this 19 hour sentimental train journey for yourself.

If you, like many lean thinkers, believe that time is the currency of the 21st century then you may never take this train ride. Lean is all about cycle time reduction and taking this train will not reduce your travel time. Air travel remains the first choice for most if the trip is at least 500 miles. Train travel in the U.S. is viewed as a relic of the past and the equipment and the rails upon which the equipment rides are rust belt evidence that supports this mind set. The first locomotives were called iron horses for a good reason – that is what they replaced. Train travel in the U.S. is an alternative method of transportation. It is not even considered by most people. Yet as the price of oil continues to escalate, airlines continue to focus solely on profits and not the customer experience, and the U.S. Government begins to invest in new high speed rail systems our thinking may begin to change. Mine already has.

I experienced exceptional rail travel in 2009 when I traveled for two weeks in Switzerland using a Swiss Pass. The trains were clean, quiet and always on time. It was a hassle free way to travel that included the ability to get up and move around while being whisked from one location to the next. So a few weeks ago when my wife and I, along with 10 friends, boarded the City of New Orleans Amtrak train for some pre-Mardi Gras fun my expectations were low. But as a lean thinker I understand that lean is all about the customer and the employees of Amtrak, despite the constraints of the rail equipment and track conditions made me a believer that there is a future for rail travel in this county.

Can you imagine the flight attendants, prior to your next flight, engaging you in meaningful conversation in the gate waiting area? Well, in the clean and modern waiting room of Chicago's Union Station our rail car attendants greeted us and answered our questions as we together waited to board the train. When it was time to board we were led to the correct platform and individually directed to our sleeper car by another Amtrak employee. There were no long lines, no security stations, baggage or body searches. Then while we walked to the observation car for a glass of wine another attendant prepared our sleeper berths by setting up the beds and topping each pillow with a Hersey's kiss. After drinks in the observation car we were called to the dining car for dinner. Since we had booked sleeping accommodations all of our meals were included. They were well prepared and served by a fun loving staff that made our trip a pleasure. Other than Southwest Airlines when is the last time you had a laugh on a flight?

Sleeping was like camping. I never sleep very well the first night while camping and I did not sleep very well on the train. On flights you occasionally have turbulence but on this train it was never ending due to the condition of the tracks. The train rocked and rolled and occasionally lurched from side to side as it followed rails primarily used to transport freight trains. I faded in and out of a restless sleep as I listened to the train whistle sound at every road crossing. This experience made it clear why our government needs to invest in new modern rails systems if we are to ever have high speed rail service in the U.S. A high speed train would simply fly off of these tracks! Despite the lack of sleep we were again greeted by a cheerful staff and served a hearty breakfast and later lunch. We arrived in New Orleans mid-afternoon and our friendly crew lined up on the platform and thanked us for traveling on Amtrak as we passed by. The trip had been a great customer service experience.

Will travelers trade time for great service? Not likely at this time. Flights are much quicker yet most airlines have forgotten anything they ever knew about customer service. Most flights are the equivalent of cattle car service - you are herded on, treated indifferently and herded off. If and when there is high speed rail service in this country I will be a customer. I believe customer's come first and the only way airlines will again understand that is when their flights do not fill up because high speed rail is available on the same routes. When people have a choice they will choose the service that treats them like customers. High speed rail service in the U.S. will allow them a choice.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Personal Annual Report

Hard to believe that a year has passed since I made the decision to leave Flexco after 23 years and strike out on my own as a business improvement consultant. So how has it been? Well, like most consultants, I was under-employed in 2010 but that allowed me the time required to build the foundation of my new business. My time was spent forming an LLC, creating a blog and a Mail Chimp newsletter, collaborating with a developer to build a business website, doing volunteer work for AME, engaging in social networking (Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and spreading the word about Lean Safety - my book that was released right about the same time I changed careers. I had the opportunity in 2010 to present on the topic of Lean Safety in a variety of forums that allowed me to meet and talk with many great people who deeply care about safety and business improvement. Here are a few comments I received from some of them in follow-up messages.

• My work-based dissertation is investigating the implementation of lean, 5s and 6-sigma in my workplace (aerospace engineering) and whether this has had a positive/negative impact on workplace safety.
I just wanted to write and tell you that you’re recent book "Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Program with Lean Management" has been a massive help.
It's a great reference for me as I was having muddled thoughts on the matter of lean - that lean and safety should not be viewed as separate entities but through lean, safety is enhanced and improved.

• I just recommended your book to our corporate HSEQ colleagues. I'm hoping to use your book to promote my goal of wider implementation of lean.

• I have already emailed my plant manager about your book and your theory that lean safety is a way to anchor lean into a culture.

• I want to thank you for your contribution to opening my eyes. It is my hope that we will also learn more about lean through our safety program and carry that knowledge into our manufacturing processes.

Obviously comments like these were more rewarding than money so I feel as if 2010 was a very successful first year for RBH Consulting LLC. My goal, to help people impact business results by engaging their workforce in safety improvement, has not changed. My 2011 business plan reflects a growth in business just as I hope yours does. If January is any indication I believe it will be a better year for all of us. Current opportunities may allow me to facilitate Lean Safety workshops in Shanghai, Melbourne, Saskatchewan and in the US. I am excited about the future and look forward to meeting and engaging many new people, as well as old colleagues, in discussions about the inextricably bonds between safety, business improvement and business culture. I hope our paths cross in 2011.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Help me help flight attendants

Some day in the near or distant future Boeing will finally start to deliver their long promised Dreamliner airplane to customers like American Airlines. Just imagine yourself boarding this technological marvel of a plane and 20 minutes later being confronted, or maybe rammed, with technology from 1955.

I am talking about the drink cart that is rolled, pushed and shoved down the main aisle of the plane by the flight attendants. I recently flew home on an American flight from Dallas. This flight along with every other American flight allows for plenty of time to practice the lean safety skill of “observing a work process with an eye for safety improvement.” The flight attendants I observed had to constantly twist and contort their backs and necks while leaning over in an attempt to locate the correct drink can in the trays of cans stored under the cart. They repeatedly slide out trays that were unstable and hard to slide in and out for they only lay on guide rails. If they pulled the tray out too far, it and the contents could fall to the floor. Therefore they are required to hold onto the front of the tray while bent over, in low light conditions, searching for that elusive last can of apple juice. Once the passengers in the immediate area were served their drink (no snacks like a bag of pretzels or peanuts on American) they now had to move this ancient dirty cart down the aisle. To me it looked as if it had never been maintained let alone washed. Next the flight attendant repeatedly stabbed the area around the cart wheels with her foot in an attempt to hit the lever that would release the wheel brake. Then with the help of another flight attendant they pushed and shoved the cart forward. Well not really forward - it was more of a zigzag route caused by the wheels, which due to a lack of maintenance, did not roll very well. Just imagine this vintage cart, which deserves a spot in the Smithsonian Air Museum alongside the Wright brothers first plane, scrapping the new surfaces off of the arm rests on a new Dreamliner. But more importantly imagine the effect of the contorted and stressful actions on the bodies and limbs of flight attendants. The goal of a lean safety kaizen blitz is to keep an individual’s body parts in a neutral position while working. Observing this work task with an eye for improvement would provide a lengthy list of opportunities for improvement.

That's where your help is needed. I need you to forward this blog post to anyone you know who works in the airline industry. I want to facilitate a safety kaizen blitz with a group of flight attendants and I need your help to make contact with some decision makers. The goal would be to reduce or eliminate soft tissue injury risks from the task of serving drinks.

Obviously the solution American Airlines would probably suggest would be to stop serving drinks! That would align nicely with their campaign to give customers less but charge them more. If any of you know an American Airlines executive ask them to conduct some benchmarking by taking a Southwest Airlines flight. Southwest, which I am guessing has a continuous improvement culture, must have already considered the effects of man-handling carts on their flight attendants. The American executives will be shocked to see that Southwest has eliminated the drink cart from the aisle and yet still serves drinks! Then, when handed two “free” bags of snacks, they will experience what it feels like to be treated like a valued customer. This could be game changing for American.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Southwest Airlines Disappoints Customers

Southwest Airlines, an airline known for customer service, just ticked me off.  After a week of R&R in sunny Naples, Florida to recover from a hectic holiday season I was at the Fort Meyers airport awaiting my flight home.  Out of the blue (no pun intended) those of us seated in boarding area D-7 were instructed to move to D-5.  While this was occurring a large group of passengers were settling into the seats we had just vacated. They had just left D-5 and were scheduled to fly to Baltimore.  It seems their plane had a mechanical breakdown and a part had to be flown in from another airport in Florida.  Southwest management decided to give the customers heading to Baltimore our plane and delay our flight for at least three hours (I do not know the actual delay time yet for I am typing this on my I-Pad while smoldering in my seat in section D-5!).  What was their decision making criteria to bump our flight over another?  I can tell you all of the customers seated around me lost some respect for Southwest and that they will now share this story of disappointment with family and friends.

In your business do you disappoint your customers?  If you have to make a decision to disappoint some of them what criteria do you use to choose the unlucky few?  Do you share your decision making process with your customers?  Do you somehow compensate them for the disappointment?  Just saying it is a "business decision" is not enough.  You earn customer loyalty one customer at a time and in this case you can turn them off by the plane load.  If they somehow compensate us for this seemingly unjust business decision I will post an update.