Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Notes From the Ukraine

Before I describe my visit to the Ukraine I would like to inform you of a new feature of my blog posts. It is called “What were they thinking?” For my first installment I would like to talk about a few features of the Boeing 777 airplane on which I flew to and from London on my trip to the Ukraine. My first gripe is the location of the remote control used to operate the seat back entertainment screen. Some engineer decided it was a good idea to locate the remote control in a recessed pocket on the top of the right armrest with the controls facing up so that when you put an elbow on the armrest you inadvertently change the volume or turn on the reading light. And while I am on the topic of airplane armrests why did they decide to use hard plastic material with inner edges so sharp they cut into your forearm until all blood flow to your hands has ceased? Even more troublesome is the airplane center luggage compartments which are located above the five seats across configuration in the center of the Boeing triple 7. Boeing designed an ergonomic nightmare. For unless you are a center in the NBA or you stand on the first seat in the row it is almost impossible for most humans, including one flight attendant who stated, “I am not closing that,” to close the compartments. My backpack was in a center compartment and inaccessible for the entire flight unless I wanted to stand on the lap of a very large guy! I will bet more than one person has wrenched their back trying to close these compartments. Seems like an opportunity for personal injury lawyers. What were they thinking?

I was invited to the Ukraine by a company called Metinvest - a large company with around 130,000 employees working mostly in coal mines and soviet era constructed steel mills. Metinvest’s safety professionals and corporate communication staff planned and skillfully executed a safety conference titled, Good Safety = Good Business. It was a 2-day event attended by about 250 people from 70 different companies located in both Eastern and Western Europe. Noteworthy was the fact that Metinvest not only planned but covered the cost of the conference – attendees paid no conference fee. The venue for the conference was a new modern hotel, the Shakhtar Plaza, in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Donetsk is a coal mining town founded by a Welsh businessman in 1869 who extracted wealth from the region via steel making and coal mining. Donetsk is located in Southeastern Ukraine near the Russian border. Russian, rather than Ukrainian, is the language spoken here. It is slowly changing from a drab Soviet era town to a town with features to be proud of like the newest and largest soccer stadium in Eastern Europe, Donbass Arena - home of the Shakhtar FC. Springing up on the outskirts of Donetsk are both modern retail and grocery stores and, I am sorry to say, the almost universal sign of progress for small towns and emerging economies - two McDonald’s restaurants. This is a city and a country moving forward while defining a new identity in the post Soviet era.

My Metinvest contact, with whom I worked for months to plan and arrange my visit, was a Russian born safety professional who is passionate about making a safety difference in a country and industries where safety was not a priority. For example the fatality rate (fatalities per 100,000 workers) in the Ukraine is around twice that of the US. She and her safety co-workers were former “Duponters” – individuals trained in the Dupont behavior based safety philosophy. It was explained to me that the DuPont methodology requires you to work with your people to get to zero injuries because it is mostly people who make mistakes leading to injuries and it is people who remove barricading, fail to use lockout procedures, take shortcuts, etc. This is a sound approach to safety management and yet I feel this methodology gives focus to safety from only one perspective – the worker's activities relative to safety compliance. At first the Dupont method seemed at conflict with my "the process is the problem - not the person" lean thinking approach for I believe in eliminating the hazard when possible and thus eliminating the training and auditing required to help the person avoid the hazard. Of course, there is not one right approach – only different approaches that all have merit. For instance both my method and the Dupont method focus on employee engagement. My mission however was to help the conference attendees understand the lean continuous improvement employee engagement approach to proactive safety improvement. What is different and dare I say new about my approach is that I ask people to only watch people work and make their job safer and easier. It is not a focus on adherence to compliance requirements – it is a focus on the continuous improvement of the safety of an individual’s work activities.

Prior to the start of the conference I was given a tour of part of the Ilyich (Lenin) Iron and Steel works. This over 100 year old facility has quite a history. For instance, two of their blast furnaces were disassembled and moved to Northern Siberia during WWII to prevent them from being destroyed by the invading German army. Metinvest purchased this facility just 2 years ago and has only started to make changes. Today this drab aging site employs around 35,000 people! I was taken on a tour of the steel making and slab casting facilities before making a second stop to tour a plate mill that produced steel plates for ship building. Since 18 years of my work history were spent at US Steel Corporation I was familiar with the processes I viewed. No evidence of lean or continuous improvement activities was visible during my two stops. Leadership seemed stuck in the top down directive Soviet past. This in no way reflects badly on them for they like all of us are a reflection of our culture and working environment. Change is indeed the only constant and we all have to face a changing world both at work and in our daily lives.

On the afternoon of the second day of the conference I joined a bus full of conference attendees to tour the Metinvest Khartsizsk Pipe Plant – a facility purchase by Metinvest in 2006. This site manufactures large diameter pipe for the oil and gas industry. The contrast between this plant and the Ilyich plant was stunning. I witnessed a completely different work culture and work environment due to application of the 5S lean philosophy. This was the largest facility I had ever visited that had implemented 5S. The young, proud and lean savvy leaders at this plant talked about how it was when they first arrived. Windows at the roof level were all missing and workers would stand around 55 gallon drums of burning wood to keep warm. They transformed a facility that was filthy and disorganized into a bright, clean and organized plant they were proud to show us or any visitors. It was a great example of what determined focused leaders can accomplish. I was very impressed.

Prior to my trip I had read that Ukrainians are stoic and smiles are rationed like consumer goods during their Soviet past. This was true if you were passing someone you did not know but when I was engaged in a conversation or when they talked amongst themselves they were just as friendly and prone to smiling and laughing as friends back home. I found them to be warm, friendly and genuine people. They are concerned about how they and their country are perceived by westerners. Comments directed at me included: “Tell people it is safe!”, “You were not afraid to come to the Ukraine?”, “What do you think of the Ukraine?”, and “Is this what you expected?” My opinions are distilled from my experiences and all of my experiences in the Ukraine were very good. Building a new society is a big job but the Ukraine and the determined people I met are on that arduous journey.

Not speaking their languages (Russian and Ukrainian) was certainly an issue for me. Not only is the language different but the letters of the alphabet are Cyrillic. As I walked around Donetsk I had no idea what most retail outlets sold for I could not read the signage. Fortunately for me the conference organizers provided simultaneous translation into either Russian or English. The translators, who did a wonderful job, were present in all of the conference sessions and on the plant tour. My role at the conference was to present both a 40 minute keynote and a three hour workshop. Lean concepts were new to most of the conference attendees so my keynote began with an overview of lean before making the connection to lean safety. I challenged them to focus on process, people engagement and the continuous improvement of safety. Since most have worked or still work in cultures that rely on top down direction the concept of employee engagement was as foreign to many of them as the Russian language was to me. The workshop was for a select group of Metinvest site directors and a few other senior leaders who were attending the conference. Many of their plants employ thousands of people so influencing them could lead to meaningful safety change. With that end in mind the workshop include small group exercises that engaged them in defining an employee safety engagement survey and leader safety standard work for themselves.

All in all it was a wonderful opportunity to make a safety difference in a country where historically safety was not a priority. Metinvest, by hosting their second safety conference, is helping to lead the Ukrainian nation on a journey to make workplace safety a priority. I hope to be invited back to the third conference to witness their progress. More than one person said, “See you next year,” and I enthusiastically said "da!" The most rewarding part of my new career has been the opportunity to meet and get to know great people all over the world. Anna, my primary contact, and all of her Metinvest associates are making a real safety difference at not only their company, but in their country. I was honored to be invited and have the opportunity to contribute to their effort to make Metinvest and all workplaces in the Ukraine safer places to work.

It has been a wonderful year and I am looking forward to the holidays with family and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to both you and your family. Stay safe!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bridging the Trust Gap

Here is your chance to take the “mean” out of “lean.” Management teams around the world have gotten it wrong all too often. Their belief that lean is a cost reduction program has alienated their employees. It is impossible to truly engage the hearts and minds of a workforce in continual improvement if they believe the end result of their efforts will be the loss of their employment. This misuse of the lean philosophy has created a deep and widening trust gap between hourly employees and management.

To narrow or bridge this gap one has to find common ground on which to begin a new lean implementation dialogue. That common ground is safety. Safety is a rallying point for all stakeholders. Unions, managers, front line supervisors and hourly employees will all get in line and support safety. One might think this would occur naturally but it doesn’t because safety in most plants is based solely on compliance to regulatory agencies like OSHA. To ensure compliance senior managers hire EHS professionals who then manage the safety program and it’s lagging indicators in a top down directive fashion. Using a lean term, safety professionals “push” safety and are seen as the enforcers of safety by the workforce. This legacy safety system, which also uses discipline for safety infractions, relies on fear to help ensure compliance. So how can you turn a legacy safety program into something that will build trust and become the foundation of a company’s lean efforts? Simple – focus on the continuous improvement of safety.

Safety compliance requirements will never go away. Someone will always have to manage compliance. But what is stopping businesses from viewing safety as just another part of their continuous improvement program? Why is safety treated differently than other business processes targeted for lean improvement? The integration of lean and safety is a natural almost organic process. A common example of this amalgamation is a safety kaizen blitz. The kaizen blitz (a team based multi-day rapid improvement event) is a lean tool used to drive cycle time out of a process like a machine change-over. Using this same approach to target the reduction of soft tissue injury risks in a work process, rather than cycle times, sends a different message to the work force. Removing the stop watch from the event eliminates the symbolic threat of job loss. Participants in these safety kaizen events walk away with a new way to view safety and continuous improvement. They view them as a unified approach to continuous improvement for making work safer and easier also reduces the cycle times.

Everyone involved in business change wants the “what’s in it for me” question answered. It is not the fear of change, but the unknown end result of the change, that keeps people from fully participating in lean efforts. When shop floor employees and their managers engage in genuine workplace safety improvement trust building begins for a safer workplace is a “what’s in it for me” outcome beneficial to all. A lean safety approach takes the “mean” out of “lean.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Notes from the Road

Lately travel has gotten in the way of writing blog posts. To be honest I guess that is just an excuse for I am often on airplanes either day dreaming or watching movies when I could be writing. So here I sit having just boarded an American Airlines flight to Shanghai with my I-pad on my lap. With a 14 hour flight ahead of me I certainly have time to begin to write.

Let's start with Australia. My second trip down under took place in the late August early September timeframe. It was early spring in Australia and the weather was sunny and cool, or fresh, as they say in England. My time was spent facilitating two 2-day Lean Safety workshops and visiting 3 additional manufacturing sites. My host, the SIRF Roundtable organization, had organized the events in the Melbourne and Sydney areas. The second day of both workshops was held at manufacturing facilities. In Melbourne it was Olex Cable and in Sydney it was a Mars food plant. Holding day two of the workshops in a production facility, where the workshop attendees can apply what they learned on day one, is invaluable. For example, an attendee from Wilson Transformer Company, who was so excited after day two, went back to work the following week and immediately formed a safety kaizen team. She contacted me via Linked-In a few days later to let me know they had conducted a safety kaizen event and everything went as planned. There is nothing more rewarding than to have a workshop attendee take the Lean Safety concepts to heart and then go back to their place of work and make a safety difference.

My next stop was Aspen, Colorado. I was invited to participate in a visioning session as a volunteer of the AME (association for manufacturing excellence) organization. Leadership representatives from AME along with leaders from the meeting host company, Barry Wehmiller, met to define an updated vision for AME. AME is a volunteer organization that promotes organizational excellence. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, was our host for the 2-1/2 day event. Bob is a unique passionate leader who believes in and practices people centric leadership. In his mind the people who work for Barry Wehmiller are more important than his customers. He wants to change the world by changing how leaders view the people in the organizations they lead. I encourage you to go to You-Tube where you can view this passionate leader speaking at a Tedx conference held at Scott AFB. Yesterday at the end of a 2-day Shop Floor Continuous Improvement workshop I facilitated in Shanghai I showed this video to the attendees. It certainly produced some puzzled looks on the faces of the Chinese managers in attendance. The concept of servant leadership was as foreign as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving yet I am sure they found value in what Bob had to say. People centric leadership combined with organizational excellence can create a manufacturing renaissance not just in the US but all over the world.

The day after I returned from Aspen I departed for Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The local ASQ (American Society for Quality) had invited me to facilitate a 2-day Lean Safety workshop. Day one was held in a local hotel and on day two we headed to Kudu Industries. Kudu products support the booming oil business in Canada and the world. The workshop attendees were split into safety kaizen teams and sent to two different work-centers to observe people at work. By doing so they learned to see safety differently and together identified numerous opportunities to improve safety by making work easier and safer. An attendee from Shell Oil Company, who was a lean expert, noted that he has always been able to see lean, or cycle time opportunities for improvement, but he now had a new way to view improvement opportunities. That is the type of feedback I love to hear. He now clearly understood you can get lean by focusing on safety.

I had a week at home before heading to Chicago for the largest lean conference in the world - around 2,000 people attended. As the volunteer marketing chair for the AME 2012 conference I had been working with an unbelievable group of volunteers for the last two years planning the event. In addition to helping to plan the event I also facilitated a full day workshop on Monday and six sessions in the Idea Exchange CafĂ© mid-week. It was a great week of connecting with old and new friends. The 2013 conference will be held in Toronto – I hope to see you there.

Then after one night at home to pack I boarded the flight for Shanghai mentioned above. At this moment I am sitting in a hotel meeting room continuing to work on my blog while the workshop attendees are gathered around flip charts working on an exercise. This is the second day of the Lean Safety workshop. Earlier in the week I taught a two day course titled, Shop Floor Continuous Improvement. The key message delivered in both workshops is the requirement to engage the workforce. Changing a workplace culture to one where continuous improvement is embedded in every aspect of the business, or changing the safety culture from one where only safety compliance is addressed to one where people focus on the continuous improvement of safety, requires the same difficult work. It requires leadership to build trust while at the same time challenging how people think, act and interact. Getting them to think differently and then getting out of their way.

Facilitating workshops in China is a challenge because of the language barrier. I can speak two words in Chinese, hello and thank-you, and they speak some English. I present in English and if I talk too long or too fast their eyes will glaze over in the afternoon. Therefore, I have adjusted my presentation methods so that there are many exercises that they can work on together while speaking in their native language. All in all it is a wonderful experience teaching such eager and intelligent students. In my own small way, through them, I am having a safety impact in China. Like Bob Chapman my goal is to change the world - by changing how leaders and workers view workplace safety.

My travels will next take me to Mason City, Iowa in early November where I will spend three days with member companies of a lean consortium organized and facilitated by the NIACC (Northern Iowa Area Community College). Day one will be a workshop and the following two days will be spent visiting individual companies to conduct Lean Safety gemba walks. Then in late November I will travel to Donetsk, Ukraine to keynote at a safety conference and facilitate a three hour workshop for operations leaders from a mining and metals company called Metinvest. With 117,000 employees and work environments that consist of mines and mills I am sure safety improvement opportunities are plentiful. When I return home from the Ukraine it will be December and my plans will be narrow and precisely focused - celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. Stay safe.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Unplugged for Four Days

An I-phone, an I-pad and a laptop computer are woven into my daily routine. I am rarely if ever without one of them in my possession from the time I wake until I call it a day. That changed briefly at the end of July when I left the laptop and I-pad at home and flew to a location in Northern Ontario devoid of cell towers - a place where my I-phone was as useless as a cassette in an I-pod.

I was surprised at how easy it was to drop out of the digital age. I and three fishing partners climbed into a De Havilland "Beaver" float plane and were flown 170 miles north of Nestor Falls, Ontario to Keeper Lake. The "Beaver" had spent most of its useful life flying around Iceland but had somehow made its way back to Canada where it had been built decades earlier. An air speed of around 105 mph and a scruffy bearded bush pilot made it feel like we were chugging along at 3000 feet in an old pickup truck. Clear sunny weather provided a great aerial view of the terrain changing from one with a sparse population to one without roads or any population. As the plane's pontoons softly touched down and slide along the lake's crystal clear water our expectations, fueled by the fly-in service's marketing material, were that we were going to have an unbelievable fishing experience.

Teamwork driven by the desire to fish helped us quickly unload the plane and haul everything up a small hill to our home for the next four days - a solar and propane powered cabin. After unpacking our food and supplies we quickly gathered our fishing gear and headed down to the dock. We set up two boats with fishing equipment and bait and within minutes we were fishing. Being from Illinois, where the anticipation of catching fish always exceeds the actual catching, we were ready for a change.

Over the next four days the promises made in the marketing material became reality as we collectively hauled in hundreds of walleye pike. We were as giddy as teenage boys as we yelled out "fish on" each time we hooked, landed and then released most of the fish we caught. Keeping and filleting just enough each day for our evening meals we feasted on walleye dishes never before cooked and served in northern Ontario - walleye fish tacos with guacamole and mango salsa and Thai green curry walleye with basmati rice and baby bok-choy. From our propane powered oven the perfume of cinnamon rolls, chocolate brownies and an apple gallette drifted across Keeper Lake during our stay. We ate very well indeed.

Following each day of fishing and dining we gathered around a table, lit by lights powered by solar charged batteries, to pair up and play cards. Good natured ribbing fueled by a few beers was routine. One team would eventually win and we would all turn in feeling fortunate to be in this remote location having the time of our lives. As we slipped off to sleep we may have all had different thoughts but I can guarantee you that none of us were thinking about our cell phone or the internet. Our cell phones, which were turned off and stowed in our bags on the day we arrived, had been sound asleep for days.

Dropping out of the digital age was like a trip back in time - a time when people talked to each other and their thumbs were used for more than texting. We had the chance to laugh and joke like young boys enjoying summer days that seemed to last forever. Escaping from emails, Google searches, the latest world news, phone calls and the constant checking of a smart phone was not a hardship but a blessing. I hope each of you plans and enjoys an escape from your digital devices in the near future.

Stay safe.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bait and Switch Ticket Sales

WARNING: This is an emotional blog post about poor customer service.

Recently I attempted to book flights to and from Australia. I will be facilitating three Lean Safety workshop events there in late August and had been given the green light by the organizer to book my flights. As usual I logged onto the American Airlines website to book my flights. After selecting my flights, seats, and making payment with a credit card I hit the “accept and pay” button. An icon churned as if it was processing my booking but instead of my record locator number appearing to confirm my purchase a red dialogue box which was titled "System Error" was displayed. Within the box was a phone number to call which was my next step toward frustration. The American Airlines system's employee said it was probably the browser I was using that was the root cause of the problem. I explained that I had using the same laptop to book flights on the AA website for the last three years and had never experienced a problem. In the end she guided me through the process of using a different browser. After thanking her for her help I went through the flight booking process once again and when I got to the accept and pay screen it once again churned out the same system error message. Not one who gives up easily I thought I would try once more before calling AA again. This time when I went to select my flights the low cost flights I had previously selected no longer appeared as a choice. The prices for the flights that now displayed were about $500 more! I was now emotional. It appeared I was a victim of a digital age version of bait and switch! I called AA to have them book my flights and I asked for the lower prices I had viewed on the screen prior to the system error messages. Of course the representative said she could not give me pricing that did not appear on her screen so I asked to talk with her supervisor. My experience with this customer service manager is a great example of why AA filed for bankruptcy protection. AA doesn't care about their customers. She explained that she had the same experience with the prices increasing when she tried to book a flight on United Airlines a few weeks earlier. Then, when I displayed some emotion and said, "Maybe I should start flying United," she responded with, "good luck with that!" I then said thanks for no help at all and that I would book my flights on line at the higher price without her help and hung up. About an hour later, after my cooling off period, I again logged onto AA and booked my flights at the higher price. Because I didn't trust the process I then logged into my AA account and went to the "view my flights" screen. I wanted to ensure that I did indeed have a flight booked. For once AA exceeded my expectations - I now had three round trip flights to Australia booked! It appeared, that even though I had received the system error messages and was not given the record locator numbers to confirm my flights, my first two transactions had resulted in confirmed flights. When I made my third call to AA the representative noted the system would not allow you to double book tickets on the same flight. To her surprise she discovered the system had allowed me to triple book my flights. She then cancelled two of the flights and left the first which was at the lower rate fare. Computer systems are blamed for many problems and I accept the fact that the root cause of what I experienced was indeed a computer system issue. Yet I do not accept the response of customer service managers who rather than try and solve your problem essentially tell you, if you think we're bad try the competition - they are worse. Poor service is no excuse for even poorer service. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest - I feel better now!

In the next month I will be visiting Indianapolis, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney. Lean Safety events are also planned or in the works for Shanghai, China, Mason City, Iowa, Calgary, Ontario, Chicago and Donetsk, Ukraine.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drink Craft Beer for Personal Growth and Happiness

About 14 months ago I had some consulting work in San Diego, CA. I was invited to join the client company's leadership team for an evening meal at Stone Brewery. Included in the evening was a tour of the brewery. I have always been a wine drinker so I wasn’t sure I even wanted to take the tour. To be a team player I went along and found the tour guide entertaining and the knowledge he shared very informative. I took the new knowledge gained into the tasting room at the end of the tour and sampled some beers with a new mindset. One beer in particular, an India Pale Ale, intrigued me. The depth of flavor in this one beer surpassed any beer I had ever tasted before. I went through a personal change (accepting the fact that beer can be as complex and tasty as wine) and since that experience at Stone Brewery I have probably tried about 30-40 different IPAs.

Right about now you are probably asking yourself what if anything does this blog post have to do with lean and continuous improvement. Well lean and continuous improvement is only possible if “constant change” is accepted. So this means each of us, especially if you are in a leadership role, must accept and support change.

Change is the only constant, in this world and life, and there is a change brewing (pun intended) in the beer industry. I read that the craft or micro brewery business is the fastest growing industry segment in the US economy. For example I was recently in Portland, Oregon a city with around 40 craft breweries. If that business statistic is true the growth must be at the expense of the very large breweries who sell those bottles and cans of rather tasteless yellow stuff called light or lite beer. My interpretation of light is "light in taste" but the big brand beer advertisers would like you to believe it is all about the calories. My observations are that people who drink "light" beers consume multiple servings (batch processing for you lean thinkers) so the caloric total at the end of the evening is actually greater than it is for someone like me - one beer Bob. Yes, that is the nickname used to describe my beer consumption rate by some golfing buddies. When I do drink a beer (1 piece flow for the lean thinkers) I drink a craft brewed beer slowly and enjoy the complex flavors it has to offer. Today there are hundreds of crafts brews available and whenever I travel I ask for, and drink, a local craft beer.

Interesting also is the fact that craft brewers are by nature lean thinkers. The focus of lean is to produce smaller batches and reduce the cycle time required to deliver products to customers - that is the business model of craft breweries. By ordering a craft beer you will support the lean thinking craft brewers and add momentum to the paradigm shift away from tasteless yellow beer to locally produced tasty beer. It’s the right thing to do!

So here is my challenge to you. If you are still drinking that watery tasteless yellow stuff, the next time you want a beer, experience personal change and growth by ordering a local craft brew. Drink it slowly and enjoy the complexity of flavor. You will then understand that change is good, or at least this change makes you feel good and happy for the alcohol content of craft beers can range from 4.5 to a whopping 10 percent!

Stay safe.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Power of Employee Engagement

To me the most important of the three pillars of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is the third - respect for people. I intentionally dedicated my book, Lean Safety, to “those who work with their hands” because they are the ones put in harm’s way each and every day. I also firmly believe that engaging these same people in the continual improvement of the business at which they work is the key to lean success. My beliefs are reaffirmed every time I have the opportunity to facilitate a safety kaizen event as I did last week.

The NWHPEC (Northwest High Performance Enterprise Consortium), located in the Portland, Oregon area, is composed of a number of member companies who are on the lean journey together. They learn from and challenge each other while sharing the cost of training and educational events. I was invited to facilitate a 2-day Safety Kaizen event at a member site located in Portland. Attending the event were thirty individuals representing 10 different companies.

The first day began with a welcome from the host site and the self-introduction of all attendees. To prep the participants they were given a brief overview of the Lean Safety concepts before being organized into six safety kaizen teams. Each team selected a team leader and was assigned a process expert, an individual who worked in the work area to be improved, as a member of their team. They then went to six different work centers to observe individuals working with the common goal of reducing the risk of soft tissue injuries.

During safety kaizen events no stop watches are used to record process step cycle times. For a team charged with reducing the injury risks for those performing the work tasks a stop watch is as useless as a snow shovel in the tropics. Their success depended on their ability to observe and interact with the individual workers and not to just observe and analyze the work process. That is what occurred. All six teams engaged the individuals working in the work-centers in safety improvement. Invariably as a kaizen team implements changes that result in reduced injury risk they also positively impact (reduce) work process cycle times. Safety kaizen teams prove over and over that making a task safer and easier also makes it quicker. They validate the key concept of Lean Safety – you can get lean by focusing on safety! And by focusing on the safety of the individual you can engage them in work process change – the key to lean success. When asked to change we all want the “what’s in it for me” question answered. Making someone’s job safer and easier is a clear answer.

In both the event wrap up meeting, during which each team presented their story, and in the event satisfaction survey conducted by the NWHPEC manager, almost everyone commented on the level of employee engagement that they witnessed. They all gained an understanding that unless all of a company’s employees are engaged (feel like they are making a difference at work) a company will never be successful at lean. Lean is not a program – it is a way of thinking. Engaging the workforce in change requires them to change how they think. Thinking differently is an important attribute of the required culture change that signifies lean success.

Lean Safety events are either scheduled or being planned in New Zealand, Australia, China, Ukraine, Northern Iowa, Chicago and the Indianapolis area. Please contact me if you want to learn more about engaging your employees in the type of safety improvement that will move your lean efforts forward. Stay safe.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Impacting Your Community with Kaizen

Last week, as a volunteer, I facilitated a safety kaizen event at the Northern Illinois Food Bank facility in Park City, IL - one of three operated by the NIFB. Around 200 food banks are located throughout the United States. Think of them as distribution centers that supply food pantries and homeless shelters with food for the needy. The event was sponsored by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and there were a total of 12 kaizen team participants.

The Park City site primarily processes frozen meat products that are donated by large grocery chains. When meat reaches the sell by date the store freezes the packages and stores them in a bulk container until they are picked up by the NIFB. After pick up, the meat is stored in a large freezer at the Park City site. Groups of volunteers working 3-4 hour shifts then sort the meat by category (beef, pork, poultry, etc.) and repackage it in 20 pound boxes after applying a "not for resale" label over the existing barcode label - a simple enough process. Yet this process, like all processes, can be taken apart and put back together in a better way (kaizen). The kaizen team's objective was to improve the volunteer experience - or to say it another way - to reduce the ergonomic risks associated with all of the material handling that occurs. Since the primary goal of all lean efforts is reducing business process cycle times while focusing on the customer, kaizen teams generally use stop watches to measure the current state cycle times. Then after they implement their work process changes they measure the process cycle times again to recognize their impact. Obviously when cycle times are reduced the labor content required is also reduced. Since the NIFB uses volunteer labor, freeing up labor or even reducing labor is unimportant. Instead they prefer to involve many people in the work process because it builds a base of community focused volunteers upon whom they can rely upon. Therefore this kaizen team's focus was the safety of the volunteers and not cycle time.

A traditional kaizen blitz would occur over multiple days. This introduction to safety kaizen event was only one day in length which meant many improvements were identified but few were implemented. The broad goals of this AME event were two. The first was to expose this not-for-profit organization to lean. Secondly to demonstrate to the external attendees the impact on a company’s safety program if you think of safety as a continuous improvement activity versus the traditional view that safety is driven solely by compliance to regulations. Giving individuals the gift of time to focus on safety can have a dramatic impact on work place safety. In this case the kaizen team identified a list of 97 possible improvements to the sorting and re-packaging process.

After introductions the team began their day with a short lean safety training session. They were prepped to observe the work performed with an eye for safety improvement. Body positions, material handling methods, workspace layouts and storage containers were all triggers that would be used to identify changes to work methods. Next the NIFB staff demonstrated and trained the team to sort and re-package the frozen meat. Following this training the sorting and packaging line was fully set up with frozen meat and the team worked and observed the current state process. This experience, combined with the earlier lean safety training, helped the team identify the 97 potential improvements.

The team’s next step was to develop two potential new packaging line layout drawings. After some discussion it was agreed to set up a one piece flow processing line on both sides of the tables, used to move the frozen meat, and to move the sorting step to the opposite end of the line. The equipment was moved and meat was again processed by the team. This new layout yielded multiple benefits. The obvious one quickly noted by the NIFB staff was a 30-40% reduction in the floor space required. Other improvements were:
Reduced soft tissue injury risks
Reduced time to train volunteers
Visual workflow with clearly defined roles
Standard work
Packaging line load leveling

Incorporated in this new layout design were multiple scaling stations that would allow the volunteer packers to pack into a box sitting on a scale base. This eliminated the constant walking back and forth to a common scale station to check the weight of the box. Another item the team identified that would require capital spending was label dispensers. Clearly the task with the longest cycle time and an obvious ergonomic risk, due to the constant pinch grip required, was to pick up a roll of labels, peel the label from the backing and then apply it over the existing label bar code. Because the NIFB is a not-for-profit organization they do not have the funds required to purchase the scales or label dispensers that the team identified. If you or your company would like to contribute toward the purchase of this equipment please get back to me and I will put you in touch with the manager of this facility.

At the end of the day we re-set the packing lines as they were when we arrived. Then as part of our event wrap up all participants were asked to share their thoughts about the day's activities. First to comment was the NIFB manager who had been on the team. He had that wild eyed "holy sh##" look on his face that all first time participants on a kaizen blitz team display. His mind was swirling because he was trying to internalize all he had seen and learned during the day. Change, real change, had been proposed by the team in the form of 97 potential improvements and he was responsible to make the implementation decisions. He was now charged with the difficult part of lean - redirecting the culture. I recently presented at a small trade association gathering in Las Vegas. Feedback from the organizer was that some attendees felt my presentation on lean was too simply. Yes lean is a very simple common sense approach yet it is very difficult for business leaders to accept and implement for it requires leadership to redirect the culture of their business. Most do not have the stomach for that difficult multi-year task.

Lean has become part of our everyday language yet there are still many small businesses and not for profit organizations that do not understand the value this simple concept can have on their businesses. There are also thousands of lean thinkers who have the ability to impact not-for-profit organizations in a positive way. My challenge to each of you is to find a way to use your lean skills outside of your work setting. Find a not-for-profit, a school system, or a local governmental organization in your community where you can make a difference. You will find it to be very rewarding work.

Stay safe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Technology - ain't in wonderful!

Some of you recently received an email from me that announced my email address had changed. A friend, who I am guessing has dealt with a few technology snafus himself, sent an email back to test my new email address. In it he included a tongue in cheek response - "Technology - ain't it wonderful!" Well, yes it is - when it works!

But when it doesn't it can be frustrating and tempts individuals who are technology challenged to become tech-nots. Tech-nots are individuals who do not have computers, cell phones, GPS units, cable TV, Blue Ray players, I-pads, Kindles, digital cameras, I-pods, or any of the household appliances that illuminate your house in the middle of the night, like it is a sunny day, due to their digital clocks and indicator lights in a variety of reds, blues and yellows. Night lights are becoming as obsolete as buggy whips. In the near future we will not have to decorate our homes with Christmas lights - our homes will be permanently decorated with the LED displays on all of our electronics!

I am not a tech-not and actually enjoy the challenge of figuring out technology problems. As a consultant who works from a home office I am also the IT department for the business and I find it rewarding when I finally find "the fix." I treat technology problems like video games - they are puzzles to be solved. My recent technology challenge began with my decision to upgrade my 2-1/2 year old I-Phone. I wanted the increased speed the 4G network promised along with the improved I-Phone 4S features like an 8 megapixel camera. I simply stopped at a local Best-Buy, made my purchase and headed home to play with my new toy. When I attempted to set up the mail feature to send and receive my AOL mail I repeatedly received a message stating that my username or password was incorrect. On my desk at that very moment were a laptop and an I-Pad that were using the same username and password so I questioned the validity of the error message. Instinctively I did what everyone with the exception of the tech-nots do - I went to Google to find a solution to my problem. To my surprise I found out I was not alone. This was a systemic problem that I was not going to fix. My next step was to call AOL to talk with someone. I quickly found out this is impossible unless you pay a monthly fee for their support plan. They had spent more time and money designing a phone system that blocked every attempt I made to talk with a real person than they had on providing customer support. In the end my only choice was to send AOL an email to which they promised to respond within 24 hours.

Their response, typo included, was:
"We would like to inform you that this is a known issue and to set proper expectations there is no definite time frame for this to be resolve but rest assured that our Level 2 technical support team is currently investigating this matter."

Well to be honest I was not about to "rest assured" for some of the posts regarding this problem that I had read on the net said the best and maybe only solution was to quite using AOL. So I am. My new email address is If AOL had informed me a Level 1 team was not only investigating but working to fix the problem and had given me an expected resolution date I might have given them another chance. But no one, especially a customer, wants to hear that a supplier has no idea when and if their problem will be resolved. When suppliers respond as AOL did to me it drives customers to take action to rid themselves of that supplier - no matter how painful. I have spent at least one work day updating anything and everything that had my AOL email address associated with it and I know there is more work ahead.

The next time you are faced with a technology problem and you want to talk with someone about it remember that you can always contact me. I may not be able to fix it but odds are I have at some point already tried to fix the same problem and we will have fun sharing our frustrations. I share mine in blog posts. Blogging is therapeutic!

Speaking of fun I was recently in the UK to conduct a 2-day lean safety workshop for the Lean Manufacturing Journal. Day one of the workshop was held at an old Victorian manor house that had been converted into a hotel. My wife, Sandy, thought she was staying at Downton Abbey and insisted I call her Lady Sandy! On day two the workshop attendees had the opportunity to visit and tour a Rexam plant in Wakefield, UK. They produce around 3 million aluminum beverage cans per day and are doing a great job of using lean thinking to change their safety culture. For example they have conducted kaizen events that focus solely on safety improvement. It was a great 2-day event and I met many wonderful safety and operational professionals. I will be returning to the UK the last week in May to participate in the LMJ Lean Conference being held in Birmingham. Following the conference I will facilitate another 2-day Lean Safety workshop.

If you visit my website, blog, or Linked-In profile you will notice a new photograph of yours truly. I have friends and acquaintances that have photos on Linked-In that have to be 10-20 years old. The photo I replaced was about 5 years old and since I believe in truth in advertising I thought I should update it. A good friend, who is a skilled photographer, used only lighting, studio backdrops and her creative talent to enhance my appearance. Believe it or not no Photoshop tricks were used. I think she did a wonderful job considering what she had to work with!

I hope you all have a fun filled and safe summer. My consulting travel plans include Denver, Portland, Austin, New Zealand, Australia, China and other opportunities still in discussion. If I am headed to your neck of the woods let me know - it is always fun to reconnect with acquaintances while traveling. Stay safe.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sheraton's "Peggy" Help Desk

You probably have all seen the credit card company television commercial where customers call with a problem and are greeting by a guy with a Russian accent located in Siberia who notes, "This is Peggy, how can I help you?" In the end no caller actually receives any resolution to their problem and each visually displays the frustration we all feel when we receive poor customer service. The goal of lean is improved customer service so I as a lean thinker have little patience for poor customer service.

In mid-January my wife and I decided rather spontaneously to fly to Maui for a couple of weeks. We used Hotwire to book two hotels and booked the third online using the chain’s website. Our first stay was at a Hyatt Resort which was a wonderful experience. We were treated like valued customers by everyone at the resort. Our second hotel, a Best Western facility in Lahaina, was located in a historic hotel building constructed in 1901. It was a lovely building with balconies overlooking an inner courtyard. Its city center location allowed us to walk to restaurants and entertainment venues without having to use the rental car. The staff was gracious and helpful and we have vowed to stay here again should we return to Maui.

Our last hotel was a Sheraton resort. At our first two locations in room wireless internet connectivity was included in the cost of the stay. While registering at the Sheraton I was informed we would again have free internet access (not really true for they charge a $25/day resort fee). So shortly after unpacking I pulled out my I-Pad and tried to access the Internet. After 10 minutes of trying with no success I called the front desk. The operator said she would connect me to the Sheraton "help desk" which gave me immediate hope that my problem would be resolved - foolish me. After 20 minutes on the phone I was given a log number and the 1-800 numbers so I could call back later because the tech could not solve the problem. When I called back about 2 hours later I was informed they still had no solution. The tech was always very apologetic that I had no service but never offered any hope that I might in the future! I pointed out that I was the customer and didn't feel I should have to spend my vacation time calling them - "Couldn't you call me when it is fixed?” He agreed but needless to say the Sheraton’s "Peggy" never called back. Having a help desk somewhere in Asia must absolve the onsite Sheraton employees from providing customer service but I wasn't about to let go of this issue.

The next morning I walked to the hotel lobby where I talked with a reservation clerk who promised to contact IT and get back to me on my cell phone with an update. As I departed I noted the seven people waiting in line to talk with only two clerks and I wondered what the priority of my issue was relative to the issues of everyone else in line. By mid-afternoon I had not heard from the clerk, IT or Peggy. I again visited the front desk and talked with a new clerk who promised me she would have IT call me within a few minutes after I returned to my room. Imagine the shock when I actually received a call. Finally the truth was revealed. I was told there was a problem with a block of rooms and they were waiting on a vendor to find a solution. The IT tech quickly offered to compensate me for the lack of wireless service by removing the $25/day resort fee that they charge every room to cover the cost of connectivity. Large hotel chains and resorts like the Sheraton continue to charge for internet connectivity when the rest of the world offers it for free. In the last two years I stayed in small hotels and B&Bs in Ireland, France, China and Australia and they all offered free wireless connectivity. When given the choice I stay away from large hotels chains for they focus on profit before customer. That is why they employee “Peggy.”

My travel plans in March and early April have me visiting Las Vegas, the UK and Paris. If you reside in one of those locations and would like to meet and talk about Lean Safety let me know.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Process Mapping at the Courthouse

Late in November I received a jury duty notice from the Northern Illinois Federal District Court. My initial response was a groan when I realized I was being asked to spend the two weeks before Christmas week fulfilling a civic duty. I think a common response to jury duty notices is, Why me? Mine was very much the same. But after some thought I accepted the fact that it was indeed an important responsibility. If some day I was in court relying on a jury to determine my fate wouldn't I want a jury composed of responsible impartial jurors? Plus it was an opportunity to learn and grow for this experience would provide an opportunity to assess a “new to me” process using lean thinking.

Because the pittance paid to jurors for fulfilling their civic duty barely covers the cost of parking in downtown Chicago I decided to take the Metra rail line into the city each morning. I have traveled by train in Europe, China and Australia and all those experiences were good ones. Not so on the Metra - I rode the train for five days and the train was delayed on two occasions and was cancelled on a third. Much of the Metra experience was a relic of the past highlighted by the conductor using a hand-held hole punch to stamp every ticket. Aren’t we on our third or fourth generation of bar codes? I had to chuckle each day as I hummed the catchy Metra media ad campaign slogan, "Metra, the way to really fly!"

When I arrived at the federal district court building I was confronted with a large group of video camera crews both outside and inside the courthouse. They were there awaiting the arrival of the former Illinois governor who was to be sentenced that day for his conviction on corruption charges. This reinforced the need for all of us to respond positively when called to be a juror.

That first afternoon I and the other 70 potential jurors were called to a courtroom where some of us were interviewed for a jury. The jury selection process was an interesting one. The judge was a very knowledgeable and at times even funny woman who made the process interesting. She questioned each of us with similar (Do you watch those CSI type police and lawyer shows on TV?) but at times different questions depending on our responses. The following morning the jury selection process was completed and I found myself on a jury for the first time. I have to admit I was kind of excited given this opportunity to learn about and experience a trial.

The case was a civil case - a suit against the city of Chicago. Claims of false arrest and malice were the grounds for the suit. One thing that became clear early on is that both legal teams used witnesses to unfold two different stories about what had occurred. Somebody was not telling the truth and we would have to use this divergent evidence to make our decisions. The lawyers, rather than ask “why” 5 times to get to root cause like a lean thinker, asked leading questions that allowed the witnesses to often just respond with a yes or no answer. The witness questioning process appeared scripted and rehearsed.

After two days of testimony the closing arguments were presented and we were sent to the jury room Friday afternoon where we surrendered our cell phones and began our deliberation with a marshal stationed outside the door. The jury composed of eight unique individuals with different life experiences, education levels, and prejudices was directed by the judge to come to a unanimous decision based on the evidence presented. For the first few hours the conversations were all over the place with individuals recalling and re-stating what they believed they heard in the courtroom. Everyone seemed to be wrestling with the challenge of defining the truth from the contradictory testimony we had heard. This is when I offered up a lean tool to help us all gain some focus and come to consensus on what had occurred. I suggested we process map the steps of the situation that was described in the court room. As we did this we could make our consensus decisions on those smaller steps which would help us reach our final conclusions. Process mapping exercises are intended to engage individuals and narrow their focus and that is exactly what happened to this jury. We rather quickly finalized our decision on the false arrest charge and went home late Friday afternoon to begin our weekend.

Whenever we as humans are engaged in something that requires a difficult decision it is difficult for us to let go and not think about the situation. Much of my weekend was spent deliberating the case until about at 3:00am on Sunday morning I reached my personal decision on both counts. I was then able to let it go and enjoy my Sunday without thought of the case. Monday we returned to our jury room and spent the morning coming to agreement on the claim of malice. By 1:00 we had completed out deliberation and the marshal notified the judge. We returned to the court room where the judge read the results of our deliberation. She then asked us to join her in her chambers where we were invited to ask questions and answer some she had for us. She also presented us with certificates to recognize our fulfillment of a civic duty. When we left her chamber we were greeted by two of the defendant’s lawyers. They too had some questions about the key points we had used to make our decisions. It seemed to me that the judge and the defendant’s lawyers were as interested in the process as they were in the outcome. They appeared to be process thinkers who were completing Deming’s PDCA cycle without the awareness of what that means.

During jury selection the judge noted that often jurors who are put off by the disruption to their life caused by jury duty often state that it was a wonderful experience when it is over. She couldn’t have been more accurate. From my perspective it was a wonderfully engaging and educational experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you have the same opportunity some day if you haven’t already. And if you do, utilize some of your lean thinking tools to make the jury deliberation process a better process.

Have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.