Lean Resolutions: Respect for People

Last year at this time, I posted a list of lean resolutions designed to help increase the chance of success of your lean initiatives.

As I look back on those, it occurs to me that the majority of them focused on doing lean right from a conceptual or technical standpoint. Only a few touched on the very important lean concept of respect for people.

The holiday season tends to be a time when we try to pay a little more attention to treating others well. In keeping with that spirit, this year I offer a list of resolutions (in no particular order) on Lean Respect for People.

I will try to treat others with civility and courtesy.
I will listen to what others have to say.
I will give my subordinates real authority to solve problems.
When problems arise, I will consider first whether the cause is the process rather than the person.
In evaluating performance, I will focus on objective metrics rather than subjective opinions.
I will work to help others improve their skills.
I will try to learn from criticism without getting defensive.
I will try to address complaints without getting defensive.
I will spend more time listening than talking.
I will try to remember that it’s not about me.

If you can think of additional resolutions, add them below. Happy New Year!


Improving College Courses Through Lean

One of the more intriguing presentations I heard at the recent AME conference proposed applying lean principles to higher education. And I don’t mean using lean to improve the admissions process or other administrative procedures (though those could probably benefit from lean initiatives). I’m talking about using lean to actually improve the content of college courses.

The presentation came from Bob Emiliani, Ph.D., an associate professor in manufacturing and construction management at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT.

Emiliani spent 15 years working in industry before switching to education. He first taught at the Hartford campus of Rensselaer, from 1999 until 2003, when he took his current position.
While at Rensselaer,
Emiliani launched an effort (involving other faculty members) to improve courses through kaizen events.
The key tool of the events was a self-assessment form filled out by professors. It asked “To what extent does my course exhibit the following characteristics?” That was followed by a long list of specific subjects. A few of them were:

Purpose and Learning Objectives. Purpose and learning objectives for each class and each assignment are documented and reviewed at beginning or end of each class. Customers understand course content and direction. P&L objectives reflect the content.
Comparative Analysis. Course contains comparisons to alternative management thinking and practices used in other countries and companies.
Organization and Sequence. Logical flow of material (ideas, concepts, tools) from one class to another and throughout the course.

On each item, the course was ranked from one to five, one being “not at all” and five being “always.”

This approach has its limitations, and Emiliani’s list of lessons learned includes the ideas that course content should be compared with that of other institutions, and that students and employers should be surveyed.

But there were improvements that resulted, from making a course syllabus shorter to better defining student expectations to increasing student feedback (and the response to it). Student response to changes so far has been positive.

Emiliani also classifies improvements according to lean tools and concepts. For example, improving organization of course content and sequence is 5S. Returning graded papers and projects in time for discussion in the next class is just-in-time. Creating a standard syllabus format and a simple one-page schedule is standard work. And recognizing that students’ time is valuable, establishing expectations more clearly and establishing clear grading criteria all represent respect for people.

What Emiliani did was on a small scale, and hasn’t gone beyond one location. I hope it goes much further.


The Market for Lean Jobs is Strong

Qualified people seeking lean management jobs are able to find more opportunities and higher salaries now than they did a year ago.

So says Adam Zak, managing director of
Adam Zak Executive Search, an executive recruiting firm specializing in lean positions.

I spoke with Adam about a year ago and called him again recently to see how the lean job market has changed.

“Everybody is after lean specialists at all levels,” he says. “Prices are going up. For most positions, they are easily 10 to 15 percent higher for the same role in terms of total compensation.” Also on the positive side for job-seekers, employers are “not as taken aback by the price tag.”

In addition, Adam says, “it is not unusual to see people looking at multiple offers if they should decide to make a change.”

One reason for these changes, he suggests, is that nowadays, when speaking with top company executives about the value of lean, “you are no longer speaking Greek. They all get it. For so many years, people equated lean with a being a non-fat organization, cutting people or resources. People understand today that lean is about continuous improvement. It’s about growth and not just about cutting costs. It’s gratifying to see.”

However, he observes that “people are now asking for Lean Sigma experience” rather than just lean or six sigma experience. “Most people do recognize that lean is the system and sigma is one of the tools that gets you there. Particularly at the very senior level, you can’t get it done with lean alone. The last four or five very senior level searches we’ve done have been for people with experience in both.”

One complication in the lean job market, Adam notes, is fallout from declining housing prices and problems in sub-prime mortgages.

“It is creating lots of problems for companies as well as potential candidates,” he notes. “More and more people are simply not going to move. That is particularly true where the company is a consulting firm and its people travel a lot, or they have very broadly dispersed operations, and the lean and six sigma people have to travel a lot. They ask, ‘why do I have to relocate?’

“If the company feels they do need to relocate, they have got to have a strategy right up front on what they are going to do about the housing situation.” That may involve helping a new hire sell or buy a house, offering an allocation for maintaining two homes, or other incentives. “In our last four searches this year, there was a problem. Some use creative strategies. In some cases, they paid for temporary living, hoping next year or so the situation will abate.”

Adam sees more hiring of lean specialists in service industries, ranging from software development to office processing to airlines. And in many cases, he says, “it has nothing to do with lowering costs,” but is focused on simplifying and/or standardizing procedures, among other goals.

One interesting development, he adds, is that “all the large private equity firms that are doing huge buyouts now have some type of executive who at very senior levels is responsible for continuous improvement – for figuring out how to drive lean sigma throughout their portfolio companies. And a part of their due diligence is to have some continuous improvement people on the analysis team.”

Asked about advice for job-seekers, he comments, “I am still amazed by the number of resumes I get where a person actually has very strong lean or lean sigma skills, but the resume is written in a very old-fashioned way, simply detailing their experience.”

Instead, he says, the resume should focus on “what was the problem, what was the solution I applied, what were the results. Strong lean leaders need to recognize that their resumes need to be a reflection of what was done, what the results were and what they did afterward.”

Also, more companies “are beginning to apply lean principles to how they actually do recruiting,” and they are seeking to eliminate paperwork and shorten cycle time. One result is “an increase in the number of initial telephone interviews. Quite often that initial contact is an hour to two hours. Your personality doesn’t necessarily shine through (on a call). There is no body language to see, no eye contact. People need to figure out how to do that more effectively.”

Adam believes that, even if the economy worsens in 2008, demand for lean executives will remain strong.

“Continuous improvement has become such an important part of so many companies’ broader, long-term strategy,” he says. “When they need to improve, lean and sigma are a key part of that. It is not a temporary thing. My sense is that these positions are becoming much, much more important to companies. In the bad times, they deploy them into more critical areas, so they can help fix them.”


Lean + Sustainability = Good Business

You are going to be hearing a lot about applying a lean approach to environmental problems. That’s because national concern about the environment has never been greater, and approaching sustainability issues with lean thinking makes sense. It is an approach that works, as demonstrated by several presentations at the recent annual conference of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

The fact that the conference had an entire track on these issues, titled “Lean & Green,” shows how important these issues have become. I’ve written in previous postings that lean is green. Also, we recently published Green Manufacturing: Case Studies in Lean and Sustainability, a compilation of articles from AME’s Target magazine.

One excellent presentation at the conference came from Interface Americas, a LaGrange, Georgia, manufacturer of commercial carpet, tile and interior fabrics. Dave Gustashaw, vice president of engineering, described how respect for the environment has been made an integral part of the company’s ethics, That gives Interface a positive image. Gustashaw said, “I’m always amazed at the number of people who know Interface from both our ethics and our products – two excellent ways to introduce yourself in new markets.”

But what Interface does on sustainability is also good business. Gustashaw described how Interface is now taking methane gas produced by a local landfill and using it to generate power at its plant. This has several effects:
It reduces smog and the global warming potential for the community, and also decreases the extent to which the landfill pollutes the water table.
Revenue from sale of landfill “air waste” reduces the tax burden for residents or buys more services.

The city has a long-term revenue stream and Interface saves 30 percent on the cost of energy vs. the usual natural gas price.

That is just one example. Overall, Gustashaw said, Interface has achieved a broad range of benefits from its approach, including:

Cumulative Avoided Costs from Waste Elimination Activities
$336,000,000 (1995-2006)
Manufacturing Waste Sent to Landfills
70 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Energy from Renewable Sources
16 percent (2006)
Recycled and Bio-based Materials Used
20 percent (2006)
Green House Gas Emissions
60 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Water Intake
Broadloom – 62 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Modular – 80 percent reduction (1996-2006)
ReEntry Program – Carpet Diverted from Landfills
103,000,000 lbs (2006)

Regardless of what you believe about global warming or its causes, what Interface is doing makes sense. Let’s hope their approach is part of a growing trend.


Trade Agreements Are Not the Root of All Evil

Congress, under the influence of rich multinational corporations, is on a path to decimate U.S. manufacturing through horrendous trade agreements.

That is the view of Brian Sullivan, director of sales, marketing & communications for the Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Association, a Michigan-based non-profit organization. And if you think I may be exaggerating, overstating Sullivan’s position, then read his words in a recent posting on an Industry Week forum:

The morally shameful ‘I-don’t-care-about-you-because-I’ve-got-mine’ mentality exhibited by Congress and this Administration is a national disgrace. Our representatives and legislators, collectively, have been responsible for trade policy that has resulted in a cave-in of the manufacturing industry. Where are these people who were elected by us to look out for our interests? Where are these people who were supposed to be our legislative champions?

They’re in Washington, alright. But a lot of the time they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing on our behalf. Instead of being at the Capitol, you know what they’re doing? They’re sitting in the donut shop. But they’re not eating donuts. They’re feeding on complacency. Our complacency.We let the people who we’ve elected sit in the donut shop of big business cronyism and collusion.

We let them sit in the donut shop of the sweet deal. We let them sit in the donut shop of personal self-interest at our expense. And we continue and continue and continue to re-elect them. And we never call them on it.

Strong words. But putting the rhetoric aside, what is that Sullivan and the TMTA want?

Members of our association… wonder if things will change in time. They know that most of their woes emanate from disastrous trade laws that have been written in Washington DC…

We need fair trade reform and we need it now. We need to force our elected officials to re-do trade policies. From the ground up. And the first thing that should happen is that there should be a freeze on all new trade agreements, especially by this current Administration, until major pro-domestic producer and worker trade strategies are put in place. It’s awfully clear that we’re not going to get any help from this White House and that’s a real shame.

Congress must create a National Trade Commission. Congress must pass currency manipulation legislation. Congress must address the unfair advantage caused by the rebate of VAT taxes by passing a border equalization tax. Congress has to enact countervailing duty laws. Congress has to pass laws that standardize Rules of Origin. They have to pass laws that address infrastructure imbalances including regulatory standards and enforcement standards.

That’s a long list of issues, and I’m sure that on some and perhaps most of them, the TMTA makes legitimate points. Duty laws, currency manipulation and the like can all create significant problems for manufacturers.

But I cannot accept Sullivan’s claim that “most of their woes emanate from disastrous trade laws.” Globalization would be taking place with or without government help, as well as the sharply increased competition that accompanies globalization. And globalization is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge.

What all manufacturers need to do is develop a lean mindset and pursue a lean strategy in order to become as competitive as possible. That can be achieved, and is being achieved – and not just by big companies. Being competitive in today’s world is also a possibility for the small and mid-sized companies that the TMTA says it represents.

Problems in the laws governing international trade should be addressed. But they should not be used as an excuse for all the problems and challenges facing manufacturers.


The Patient Transporter: A Bandage Instead of Lean Healthcare

Have you ever heard of a patient transporter? That is a person who works in a hospital whose job is to move a patient from point A to point B. (I thought that is what an orderly does, but I guess my knowledge is out of date.)

recent article in The New York Times profiles Fuat Sarieminli, a patient transporter working at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. Written by Jan Hoffman, this well-written, gripping article makes it clear that the transporter and others like him, are critical to reducing patient waiting time.

The din builds, the stench ripens, and the backup balloons for X-rays, CT scans and hospital beds. But the patients keep trooping in by foot and by ambulance.

And now there are no stretchers for those new patients. The emergency department is careering toward diversion — that clumsily named, must-avoid status where incoming ambulances will be told to divert to other hospitals…

(The transporter) whips down remote hallways, alights on some empty stretchers huddled together and systematically races them back. With heavy steel bars, sturdy wheels and thick padding, each weighs several hundred pounds (and that is before piling on the patient and monitoring equipment).

“Fuat! Fuat!” hollers the X-ray technician, as Mr. Sarieminli speed-walks by. “Bring on those patients, baby, bring ’em on!”

“Fuat! Fuat!” hails a nurse. “Get this patient to CT scan!”

“Fuat! Fuat! This patient needs a hummer!” a nursing assistant calls out, using the hospital nickname for the sturdy new wide-body wheelchairs for larger patients.

Over the next 15 minutes, Mr. Sarieminli, rescuing stretchers and moving eight patients to the emergency room’s X-ray and CT scan departments, imperceptibly begins to break apart the logjam. Diversion averted.

Even so, it will be two and a half hours before beds upstairs become available so that Mr. Sarieminli can actually transport patients cleared for admission to their hospital rooms…

“Without Fuat, we can’t get the job done,” says Dr. Tucker Woods, vice chairman of the emergency department.

The article notes that at the hospital,

…some 35 patient transporters work under the command of the logistics department. From a central dispatch system, similar to that of a taxi company, transporters are sent to move patients to diagnostic appointments and operations. The dispatcher watches the progress of each job on a computer monitor: blips of red, yellow, green and purple signify “nursing delay,” “patient in bathroom” or that the transporter is taking too long…

Mr. Sarieminli, however, is not tracked by the computer. The emergency department is so busy and his job is so demanding — on a typical shift he will make about 50 trips from Point A to Point B — that the computer cannot keep up with him.

In fact, most transporters do not like working the emergency room. The work is not only faster-paced than elsewhere in the hospital, but “transporters feel disrespected here,” says Mr. Sarieminli, assaulted by the cacophony of so many on-the-spot bosses, commanding him to move someone right now.

I suspect that similar situations exist at many other hospitals.

The important question is: Does anyone at these hospitals recognize that there are systemic problems here? That maybe they need more than a system that tracks transporters? That they should be looking at hospital layout, flow of patients from the emergency room to other points, and where stretchers and wheelchairs are stored, among other items? In other words, that they should be applying lean principles to this situation?

Some hospitals are. I wish more of them were.


The Wii Shortage: Would Lean Have Helped?

Whenever a manufacturer says there is a shortage of their product because they didn’t anticipate the huge demand, I can’t help wondering: Would they be able to keep up if they were lean?

Lean can provide the flexibility to ramp up production quickly in case of sudden spurts in demand. So would you have a better chance of finding a new Wii game console if Nintendo were lean?

Consider the following from Wired:

The Nintendo console's broad appeal -- and a maxed-out supply chain that can't be ramped up to meet holiday demands -- is making it almost impossible to snag a Wii at normal retail outlets. With eBay scalpers selling them for hundreds of dollars over the console's $250 list price, it's easy to envision fistfights in store aisles as desperate shoppers compete for the few units on the shelves.

"I've never seen anything like this," says Michael Pachter, a videogame industry analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, about the overwhelming demand for Wiis. "Nintendo could not have expected this level of popularity."

So, why doesn't Nintendo just make more and cash in?

It's not that the company isn't trying. It's bumped up production from about 1 million to 1.8 million a month, says Nintendo Senior Vice President George Harrison, with roughly a third of them earmarked for North America.

Part of the problem may be not just the ability to ramp up production quickly, but to decide to ramp up production quickly.

The shortage stems from this unprecedented demand, and from the fact that Nintendo had to make its final production decisions for the holidays early this year, Harrison says. The company planned on being able to stockpile Wiis through the summer, when demand for videogames typically slackens.

But Wii, Nintendo has since found out, isn't like any other videogame system. Unceasing demand throughout the year has thrown the game industry veterans for a loop, disrupting what had been a "very seasonal business."…

Ultimately, Wii production numbers -- and the United States' allocation of consoles -- are determined by Nintendo's home office in Kyoto, Japan. Harrison says the company will continue producing 1.8 million Wiis every month until demand subsides.

That should happen next spring. But with many high-profile game releases coming after Christmas, like
Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart, Wiis could be hard to find well into 2008.

To be fair, a lean strategy doesn’t guarantee that you will accurately predict demand for a new product. So even if Nintendo were lean, there might still be a shortage.

But as far as I know, Nintendo does not follow a lean strategy. I’ve been unable to find any evidence suggesting that they do. Perhaps if they had, the shortage wouldn’t be as severe.


We're back!

After an absence of a few weeks due to our transition to new ownership, I'm pleased to say the Lean Insider blog is back in action. I'll be posting regularly again, bringing you news, research and trends of all things lean. I look forward to your comments and ideas. Feel free to email me with any thoughts or suggestions.

One note: While all previous posts and comments are still here, in switching to a new platform we were unable to preserve user registrations. Those of you who wish to comment or simply register will need to create a new registration. I apologize for any inconvenience.