Tag Archive: Kaizen

Harvey Mudd Student Projects & Innovations Related to Cancer

February 22nd, 2018

Earlier this week, I attended some clinic presentations at Harvey Mudd (student projects with companies / partners), and the value of innovation hit home!  

For example, there are students working on innovations to improve on the success rate of breast cancer surgeries – talk about relevant!  There are many tangible and impactful projects the students work on throughout the year in a wide variety of industries.  Marrying up practical experience with book knowledge can go far in preparing students to be successful in careers after college.  Do you provide well-rounded education and experiences?

One tip to implement this week:
What type of education and experiences do you provide for your employees and team members?  I see a distinctive difference between training and education whereas education is a much broader concept so that your employees will be able to interpret and carry forward.  Do you explain the whys?  Do you provide practical examples?  Do you allow your team members to try new things?  Even if they fail?

Although education can be quite valuable, it might not be enough.  Do you find a way to provide an experience?  A kaizen might do the trick …or at least get the process started.  Or, have you put together a cross-training program?  Shouldn’t a planner or logistics resource understand the trials and tribulations of talking with customers on a daily basis?  Dealing with an angry customer can do wonders for opening your eyes.  And how about vice-versa?  Are your customer service resources committing to whatever the customer requests regardless of whether you can deliver it?  Why not give a more comprehensive experience approach a go?

Regardless, continuous education is critical today as everything seems to change in a nanosecond!


Kaizens & the Importance of Metrics

December 20th, 2017

My colleague and I led a Kaizen workshop on metrics last week with a process manufacturing client.  It is always interesting to brainstorm which metrics are the most relevant in tracking a company’s success.  They are NOT always the same.  Companies are in different industries; they are different sizes; the profit drivers of the business are different; executives’ focus is different…..and the list goes on.   

However, every business should take a few minutes to strategize on metrics.  Do you know what you are doing AND whether the metrics you are tracking are relevant to your success?

One tip to implement this week:
As we said in kicking off the metrics Kaizen, it can be a great place to start by taking stock.  What are you tracking already?  Why?  Do you make decisions based on the metrics you track?  If not, why not?  In essence, take a pulse.  Next, it can be quite valuable to gain feedback on what should be tracked.  Have you asked the people talking with customers on a daily basis?  How about those producing and shipping to your customers?  I bet they will have something to say!  Certainly, executives always have a wish list for metrics.  Do you know which metrics are on the list?  

Although you might be tempted to jump on the long list you are likely to generate in talking with all the stakeholders in the organization, don’t do it!  Make sure to understand the impact.  Which will lead to decisions that will impact customers?  Which are likely to drive profitability?  Start with a small number.  Prioritize and start using for decision-making before you move on.



Case Study in Spotting Hidden Opportunities

February 7th, 2017
collaborate for profitability

To take a profitable path forward engage a team to spot hidden opportunities and reward the whole team for its collaborative efforts.

How could they see them? They tried getting together for retreats, sponsoring lean initiatives like kaizen events and several other promising programs but the diamonds in the rough didn’t emerge.

Path Forward: Spotting hidden opportunities is oftentimes a team effort. However, few organizations have true teams. If one member can succeed and gain a big bonus while another performs at an average level and is rewarded accordingly, you have a committee; not a team. A team will sink or swim together.

Thus, there is no reason to get together at a fancy off-site retreat. Instead, what is required is to commit to mutually agreeable objectives and look for opportunities that are best for meeting those objectives regardless of how good or bad for your individual goals. Collaborate and turn 1 + 1 into 5.

For example, if the team found great potential in an exciting new product yet the VP of Operations’ results would decline substantially for a period of time due to new product development trials, should the VP be rewarded for this weaker performance? Absolutely!

Of course, it isn’t a free ticket, and declines in performance can be estimated and tracked. Think about this — as a Board member or a corporate executive walks through the facility with the VP of Sales and mentions issues with operations, how will the VP of Sales respond? Will he/she take the easy road, agree and accept the congrats on the sales growth — or just not respond and focus attention on sales? Or will he/she defend the VP of Operations? Act in accordance with the team and results will follow.


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Repeat Customers Come Back for Service

July 29th, 2014
customer service

Implementing sound customer service practices not only ‘wow’ your customers, but keep them coming back and referring you to others.

In today’s world, quality must be an assumption; thus, the key is to stand out in the crowd with service.

A recent example pops to mind. I was driving on the 57 south (freeway in Los Angeles) in the fast lane on my way to a client to lead a Kaizen workshop, and my car broke down. For those of you who don’t know, I love my car – a maroon Chrysler Sebring convertible. I have 235,000 miles on it and am going for 300,000. It has a year-old refurbished engine, and I have planned to use it as long as possible as I am just not too excited about any of the cars available for purchase today. In L.A., you spend a LOT of time in the car so you better love it.

The good news is that I was in stop-and-go traffic – who knew there would be an advantage to stop-and-go traffic!  While talking on my blue tooth, I stopped for the car ahead of me, and just so happened to look down and thought, “I think my car isn’t on.”  I tried to re-start the car – many times to no avail.  I got off the phone and put my emergency flashers on. People started going around me in the shoulder next to the fast lane. Of course, it just so happens to be the day I forgot my license and credit cards on my desk at home but I had my AAA card.  I called and they were very reassuring as they put an ‘expedite’ on the service since I was stuck in the fast lane. They also said they’d call the highway patrol and offered to stay on the phone with me until one of them got there. I didn’t take him up on it but I could see the value of that if I was panicked. I know something like that would be really beneficial for my Mom as she doesn’t even like to drive in the first place, let alone get stuck in a dangerous spot.

Next I called George, the owner of the Shell station who I’ve known and used since 1995. I knew he probably wouldn’t be in yet; however, the mechanics who work for him would probably be there. One of them answered. He was alarmed and started asking questions to make sure a tow truck was on its way, etc.  One other time, I borrowed my friend’s car, and it broke down on the freeway (you know how luck goes sometimes), and they sent someone ASAP to get me.  He said they would jump on it as soon as I got there, and they’d see what cars they have available for me to drive.

Unfortunately, the stop-and-go traffic started to speed up. A few more minutes went by, and a car who just passed by stopped and pulled off to the side. He backed up directly INTO all the people going around me on the shoulder and didn’t stop until he was parallel with my car. He got out of the car and came over to talk with me. He asked me to put my car in neutral and said he’d push me to the side which is what he did. I thanked him, and he took off. A good Samaritan!

A few minutes later, the tow truck arrived – quicker than the CHP which proves that AAA takes stranded people seriously. He took me and my car to my mechanic. Of course, the mechanic who answered the phone got in and turned the ignition, and it started. What?!?! Of course they still had to keep it to figure out what the issue was.

He was quite concerned because George always lends me a car (and many times, his personal car) but they had just sold all their cars, and George was in an all-day meeting. They would arrange for a good rate with Enterprise and take me there; however, I knew that would take a while, and I was going to be late for my meeting. Thus, they offered to take me to the house because I thought I could borrow my good friend’s car which was at the train station.

George called while we were on the way to the house. He said he would make sure I had a loaner in the next day or two and would look into the car.  When we got there, I looked around and couldn’t find the keys, and so I called Ryan (my friend’s son) to ask him where they were.  He was at work but I caught him on a break, and so he answered. He said, “Yes, they are in my car.” Great spot for them :-); however, I was just happy he knew where they were. So, the mechanic drove me to Ryan’s work so that I could get the keys, and then he drove me to the train station to retrieve the car. I took off and managed to be less than an hour late to the Kaizen, thanks to the exceptional service of my mechanic.

Who do you think I’ll call next time I am stuck?  AAA and George, of course!  They made a trying situation relatively easy and non-stressful.  How are you treating your customers?  Are you merely friendly or do you go the extra mile to make sure their needs are met and they’ll become a customer for life? I find this is true in manufacturing and distribution just as much as it is true in our personal lives. Take a step back and take stock as to whether you are going the extra mile for your customers.  It doesn’t have to cost money; you just need to pay attention to what would add value. In my car situation, offering to stay on the phone (AAA) and a little gas and time (to drive me around) cost barely anything; however, it made a HUGE difference to my experience.

One of the reasons I got the Premier membership with AAA was so that if I had an issue, I could tow my car 200 miles if need be to George’s station. I know many of their customers feel the same as they are busy with cars everywhere on their lot when the competition is available and waiting for customers. Are your customers willing to wait or pay more for your value-add?

P.S. I still do not know what is wrong with my car; however, they were able to repeat the problem. They’ve taken it to the engine folks they coordinated with for my new engine so we’ll see…

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Creating a Customer Service Edge


Lean: Uncommon Common Sense

April 22nd, 2014
Lean Manufacturing, Process improvement

Lean benefits are not found in a three-day workshop, but rather arise and are sustained through culture change.

I have always been a process consultant, typically focusing on those processes which are the most relevant to making rapid improvement with the specific manufacturer or distributor I am partnering with.  Yet, I find that processes alone are useless as they have to be married up with the “right” people, the “right” systems and aligned with the strategy.  However, people rarely come to me to find the “right” process improvement initiatives for company success; instead, they ask about “quick fixes” and sometimes Kaizen or lean events.

My answer is always, “Why?”  If the requestor thinks a lean event will deliver “motherhood and apple pie” for them, I push back, as a three-day workshop alone will not provide the long-term benefit they desire.  Lean benefits arise from significant culture change!

On the other hand, lean is valuable in the “right” situations, and it provides a nice set of tools for improvement.  After spending time with the experts of the experts, I still contend that lean is simply “uncommon common sense”.

A few of the tenets of lean which I consider “uncommon common sense” include the following:  1) Start with customer value.  2) Eliminate waste.  3) Involve the people.

1.  Start with Customer Value:  Similar to business in general (if you ask just about any business owner or CEO), you must start with your customer.  What do they value?  What are they willing to pay for?  That’s an intriguing question – take a step back and think about what you are willing to pay for.  Expedited service?  I seem to frequently request quick Amazon deliveries for my parents.  Atmosphere?  Would you pay more for a nice Italian restaurant vs. a McDonald’s?

What is becoming more or less important to your customers?  Is price key?  Of course they all will say that price is king; however, in 80% of the clients I consult with, so long as they are in the ballpark in terms of price, the customers care more about quality, service, product variety, the experience, etc.  Do you know which is important to your customers?  If not, you better find out!

The key is to design your processes with your customer in mind.  Of course, every business has TONS of non-value added steps in their processes.  Don’t despair as it isn’t a black or white situation – significant improvement while moving in the right direction is fine.  I’ve found that if you think logically, you’ll be in great shape vs. the masses.  Do you take the time to see if what you are doing makes sense?

2.  Eliminate Waste:  Again, what could be more like common sense than to put a stop to waste?  My good friend’s sharp-as-a-tack 96 year old dad used to be an investment banker/ turnaround CEO combination with a 100% success rate.  When I asked for his secrets to success, one of the top ones was to walk around a facility, look for waste and eliminate it – uncommon common sense!  Rarely followed but not rocket science.  Very few clients see the vast waste in their operations and back office processes.  We become such great fire fighters that we forget about doing it right the first time!

To give you a flavor of what to look for, I thought a quick recap of the three types of waste might be helpful:  1) Muda (more resources are used than required) – there are many types of muda (non-value add) including defects, waiting, and inventory.  Purists say all inventory should be considered waste; however, I suggest we go back to common sense.  What is needed to cover for volatility, uneven demand and lead time gaps while addressing the root causes?  2) Mura (unevenness) – certainly it’s rare to find “even” requirements in real life.  The idea is to utilize just-in-time and create a pull system to address mura.  3) Muri (overburdened) – in this case, the factory or machine cannot possibly catch up with the current staffing, equipment capabilities, non-standard processes etc.  A frequent occurrence to be sure!  Standardized work is significant in resolving muri.

3.  Involve the people: It certainly seems like common sense to involve the people affected in the design of the work process; however, it rarely occurs!  Doesn’t it seem strange that we have to schedule Kaizen events just to ask people for their input?

For example, when redesigning how an order management or planning process will work, do you involve the people who “live” with the process on a daily basis?  In my experience, those who are closest to the process have the best ideas for improving the process.  Wouldn’t you consider this “uncommon common sense” though?

There is much to be learned from The Toyota Production System and Lean; however, it’s easy to go overboard.  I’ve found that those who follow “uncommon common sense” are vastly more successful than their counterparts, including those who perform frequent Kaizen events.  What are your plans for instilling common sense thinking in your workplace?

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