April fool’s day 1996 I was sitting at my desk at The Boeing Company when my boss Jeff Turner walked by and asked if I was ready for my next promotion. “Ha ha, April fool’s” I said. But Jeff was serious. That afternoon he imparted a basic philosophy that has stuck with me to this day: “Your people don’t care about what you know until they know what you care about”.  My predecessor didn’t understand that morale, safety, and operating performance had suffered terribly because the people in his organization felt he cared little or nothing about them.

How does your company convey to the workforce what it cares about? Check out how a few of the 2011 100 Best Companies do it:

Adobe Systems – All employee charitable donations are matched dollar for dollar.

Baptist Health South Florida – Grew its ranks by 17% the past two years relying primarily on employee referrals.

Dream Works –  Any Dream Worker can pitch a movie idea to company executives — and can take the company-sponsored “Life’s A Pitch” workshop to learn how best to do it.

Google – Googlers can award one another $175 peer spot bonuses — last year more than two-thirds of them did so.

Intuit – Encourages workers to take four hours a week of “unstructured time” for their own projects and hosting “idea jams,” where teams present new concepts for prizes.

Marriott International – When business slowed and some associates couldn’t get enough hours to qualify for insurance, leaders changed the policy.

Mayo Clinic – Each year Mayo physicians use vacation time, days off, nights, or weekends to care for patients in underserved communities locally and abroad.

NuStar Energy – If employees don’t get a bonus the CEO doesn’t either.

QuikTrip – Training and promotion from within is gospel at QT; benefits include tuition reimbursement up to $4,000 and adoption aid.

Scott Trade – No one has ever been laid off, and no office has ever been closed.

USAA – Its 31-acre campus has walking trails, jogging trails, and three states-of-the- art fitness centers.

Wegmans Food Markets – Last year, 11,000 employees took part in a wellness challenge to eat five cups of fruit and vegetables a day and walk up to 10,000 steps a day for eight weeks.

So, what do these great places to work care about; Employee financial and job security, growth opportunities, ideas, health and wellness, giving back to the community? Some are communicating they care about the workforces impression of which philanthropies to support, who should be hired, what opportunities to pursue, who’s doing a good job, and sense of fairness.

These companies are reaping benefits in the form of lower employer turnover, higher performance, higher customer satisfaction, and growth; 55% of the top 100 grew their workforce during 2011.

As we gather here in Kansas to recognize the 2012 Wichita Best in Business you’ll hear similar examples of these great firms letting their workforce know what they care about. Are they reaping benefits as a result? Well, they’re being recognized for their achievements aren’t they?

What about your organization? What’s keeping you from joining the ranks of the Best in Business? It could be something as simple as what created that April Fools Day  promotion opportunity for me; the workforce doesn’t know what you care about!

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The past six months I’ve seen a big uptick in the number of organizations asking for an assessment of their Lean improvement efforts. Most of these organizations have been on their journey three or more years. Many have outside consultants helping them in their journey.

They’ve done value stream mapping, set-up cells, created standard work for their cells, and implemented a few pull systems. They have some very impressive before and after pictures where 5S and visual management techniques have been applied.  They’ve placed visual management boards in the work spaces to post standard work, show daily work progress, and in some cases track a few operations aspects of the cells like productivity, delivery, or quality. They may or may not have completed some type of strategy deployment or hoshin planning.

Personnel in these organizations talk about Kaizen Events recently completed or planned to complete. Often they talk about converts or new believers in the organization who were won over by successful Events. They talk about lessons learned on the journey and difficulties encountered sustaining the gains they’ve made.

Yet direct observation of current conditions and interviews with management and non-management personnel in these organizations sometimes cause me to question whether they are simply “doing Lean” or are on a path to actually “becoming Lean”? Here’s a few observations that lead to that question:

  • Often I can’discern normal from abnormal conditions at a glance with respect to work progress, quality issues, layout and workplace organization, flow, safety, etc?
  • Posted Standard Work is not being followed, or can’t be followed, or hasn’t been improved since it was initially posted.
  • Variations in WIP, output, quality, etc… don’t elicit any type of real-time problem solving. Often they aren’t even noted on the visual management boards.
  • Internal practitioners tell me about Events completed last month, last year, or are going to complete sometime in the future (time permitting), but can’t tell me anything about what’s happening right now to improve the flow of value.
  • Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) with respect to their improvement efforts is not in their vocabulary.
  • Often they can’t answer or support their answer to the most basic of questions: Is operating performance better this year than last year? This month than last month? This week than last week?
  • Continuous improvement is not part of daily work. It’s something that’s done in addition to daily work schedule permitting.
  • There’s no evidence of a plan to develop the infrastructure and capability necessary to supplant the external consultant.
  • Sometimes they can’t tell me how or if their improvement efforts are aligned with the strategic vision and objectives of the organization.

If any or all of these observations sound similar to conditions in your organization it may be time to stop and ask the same question: “Are we simply “doing Lean” or actually “becoming Lean”?

If you’re answer is more “doing” than “becoming” perhaps it’s time to apply a little PDCA to the model, approach, or deployment system that you subscribe to. Comparing your current conditions and approach to the Shingo Model for Operational Excellence is not a bad place to start. (see www.shingoprize.org) Understanding the gaps between current conditions in your organization and the attributes and behaviors described in the Shingo Model could be just the shot in the arm your organization needs to move more rapidly from “doing” to “becoming”.

Remember, even if you’re on the right track you ‘ll eventually get run over if you just sit there!

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A study released by the American Psychological Association indicates that American workers are feeling stressed, overworked, dead-ended, and underappreciated.

The study of 1546 adult workers was conducted  January thru February 2011; 36% of the respondents reported feeling highly stressed at work citing salary, heavy workloads, and lack of opportunities as contributing factors. Over 40% reported feeling unable to balance work-place demands with family life. Less than half reported receiving non-monetary recognition for their work efforts, and barely 50% felt “valued” by their employer.

Less than two-thirds feel motivated to do their best at work, and one in three indicated plans to change jobs in the next twelve months which clearly bucks the trend of the past three years when most were happy just to have a job.

The 2011 Employee Engagement Report reveals fewer than one in three employees world-wide are actively engaged in contributing to the success of their organization, and that as many as one in five are actually completely disengaged. Engaged employees tend to stay with an organization for what they can contribute while disengaged employees tend to stay only for what they get.

Economic conditions are beginning to look up. New jobless claims and unemployment levels are at their lowest point since 2009. Retained search firm ExecuNet reports that the number of qualified candidates with multiple job offers to consider is up 45% from 2010 levels, and the number of clients willing to negotiate job offers with qualified candidates is up nearly 60% from 2010. Combine these factors with the growing willingness of employees to seek greener pastures and 2011 could be a very challenging year for many firms.

In days gone by “old-school” managers I worked for might have said let the ungrateful so-and-so’s go, we’re better off without them. But just imagine the impact of losing just 10% of your work-force, much less a full third. Think of the recruiting, hiring, and training costs that would be incurred to replace them. Work-place disruptions, lost productivity, quality issues, and delivery problems would impact customer satisfaction level and stymie recovery efforts. You can’t afford to give everyone who might be tempted to look elsewhere a raise or a promotion. The good news is you don’t have to.

Properly run involvement efforts create opportunities for employees to influence how their work is performed, develop problem solving skills, and provides a sense their opinions matter. Effective recognition programs acknowledge contributions and contribute to a sense of value. Performance feedback and development plans can highlight internal opportunities to get ahead while letting the employee know someone in management truly cares about them as a person. All of these positively impact employee loyalty and in many cases contribute to improved operating performance and satisfaction.

After all, feeling challenged, knowing our opinions matter, that our contributions are noticed and appreciated, that we’ll have opportunities to learn and grow, and that we’re working for someone who truly cares about us as a person is enough to keep most of us positively engaged and hanging around an organization for a long, long time.

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August 16, 2003 my wife and I welcomed our fifth child into the world. Two weeks later on August 29th  I visited a local urology group for an out-patient procedure to mistake-pro0f our process and ensure we didn’t have to make room in the house for a sixth child.

I arrived at my scheduled appointment time of 11 A.M. and began filling out several forms provided me by the smiling receptionist. I remember commenting under my breath that it would be nice if the forms were integrated into a single document and eliminated my having to waste my time providing the same information multiple times. After returning the forms to the receptionist I sat down to read my copy of USA Today. Little did I know in the ninety minutes that would elapse before I was called for my appointment I’d have time to read the paper front to back and complete the cross-word puzzle.

When I was finally called the nurse got my weight and then led me to a common treatment area where multiple procedures could be carried out at the same time. She drew the curtains around my table, handed me one of those embarassing hospital gowns and instructed me to change and then left so I’d have some privacy to do so. When she returned I was told to lie back on the table where she prepped me for the procedure, then she covered me with a warm sheet and left to attend to other duties including pulling the procedure tray from the pack room. My Physician arrived about twenty minutes later, greeted me with a little small talk, briefly explained the procedure, administered the local anesthetic and left while it took effect. It would be another ten minutes or so until I saw him again which in that predicament can seem like an eternity. All in all, my mistake-proofing procedure actually began slightly more than two hours after my scheduled appointment time.

As my physician busied himself with the procedure he made small-talk much as my barber would do when giving me a haircut. “So, what do you do for a living” he asked. “I’m a lean consultant” I said. “And what does a lean consultant do” he asked.

Resisting the urge to provide one of the punch-lines from any number of lean consultant jokes I knew I explained that “I help organizations improve their operating performance through the application of various lean tools and problem solving techniques to eliminate waste from their value streams”.

“Oh, manufacturing stuff” says the physician. “No, not just manufacturing. It can be applied anywhere” I said. “We don’t have much waste around here” he said. As I eyed the scalpel he was wielding I took a deep breath and said “Not from my perspective”. “Huh, what do you mean” he asked. So, I leapt, figuratively speaking of course.

“Well, I’m your customer. I was here at my appointed time nearly two and a half  hours ago now, and the first thing I had to do was fill out several forms providing the same or similar information on each form. From my perspective as your customer those forms could have been integrated to eliminate the need for me to provide the same information more than once.” “Front office stuff” he said, “I don’t get involved in how they do their work”.

“OK” I said, “how about the two hours or so of my time wasted because this procedure didn’t start on-time”. The doc raised his scalpel, looked me in the eye and said “I had some unavoidable complications on rounds this morning, sorry but it couldn’t be avoided”. I guess he didn’t see any value in having someone at least let me know it was going to be a long wait. It certainly would have reduced my anxiety a little. I must have had a determined expression on my face because the nurse, standing slightly behind the physician, was shaking her head and giving me a don’t push it look. But I couldn’t help myself.

“OK doc, how many physicians in your group perform this procedure” I asked. “What, a vasectomy” he asked. Struggling to keep my sarcasm in check I said  “yes, a vasectomy”. “All six of us” he said. “Do you all do it the same way” I asked. “Very similar” he replied.

“That wasn’t my question” I said. “Do you all perform the procedure exactly the same way. Do you get the same results? Do you take the same amount of time? ” I asked. My nurse now had a “you must be out of your mind” look on her face.  “I’m sure we have a few differences based on personal experience and preferences” the doc said. “Then by admission you’re all different” I asserted, “and because you’re different I’m certain there’s differences in performance and waste in your process” I said, “waste that negatively impacts quality, patient care, cost, and morale”. He paused, obviously reflecting on our conversation.

“Look” I said, “because you’re all different one of you is probably faster than the other five, one of you is slower. One of you probably has more post treatment complications than the other five, one of you less. Do you know which one that is” I asked. Though I was particularly interested in the answer to that question he simply stated  “We don’t keep track of those kinds of things”. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t buying into anything I was saying, yet. I would have to find another way in.

“I’m betting you all use different surgical trays” I said.  He looked over at the nurse who nodded. “So the cost of performing the procedure is probably different for each of you.”

“We have a standard charge for the procedure” he said.

“I’m talking about the actual cost of the procedure not what you charge” I said. “If the instruments and supplies on each tray is different for each physician then the the actual cost of the tray is different for each physician which affects your groups bottom line”.

Looking at the nurse I went on “and someone has to know which tray to prepare or pull for each physician”. She nodded. “Do you keep multiple trays ready for each physician back in the pack room”? She nodded again. “How many are back there” I asked. “Not sure” she replied. “Does the wrong tray ever get pulled” I asked. “Not as far as they know” she said tilting her head toward the physician.

When my procedure was complete (and I could walk again) we visited the pack room and observed there were 3-4 vasectomy trays ready for use for each physician in the group, about 22 trays total. “Is this typical” I asked the nurse. “Most days” she said. “Again, an impact to the bottom line of the organization because you maintain excess inventory here because six very intelligent people can’t agree on a single configuration of tray to use” I said. “Inventory” said the doc, “a single way. You need to understand we’re not a factory here. Though it sounds like you’d like us to be more like one”.

“Continuous improvement is a fundamental concept in my line of work, doc. What I’d like is for your group to continuously improve its operating performance by eliminating the waste we’ve talked about through the application of lean tools and techniques. Remember, that’s what I do. When I say operating performance I’m including the timeliness, quality and cost of patient care, and patient throughput as well as patient and employee satisfaction.” I paused to give him time to digest that statement.

“Are you concerned about improving the quality of patient care within your group” I asked. “We certainly are” he said. “How can you do that if you don’t measure or know what the current level of quality is?” I asked.

“You should also understand the importance of something we call standard work.  Your group doesn’t have standard work for performing a vasectomy. You’re all different. So, improving the process of performing a vasectomy would be difficult at best. Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System once said “where there is no standard there can be no improvement“.”

“More manufacturing stuff” he said. “But universally applicable” I countered. “I suppose so” he said, then said his goodbyes and went on to his next patient.

I left his office that day with mixed feelings. Literally!  I knew I had planted a few seeds with a very intelligent and thoughtful decision maker in the group. But whether or not the seeds would sprout and grow was yet to be seen. Remember, it was 2003 and there wasn’t a lot of successful lean applications in healthcare to point to at that time.

If the encounter above were to happen today I could draw from my own experience applying lean in healthcare, or better yet refer the physician to Mark Grabans groundbreaking book “Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Satisfaction” which is available in the RadioLean Lean Book Store. The book makes a much better case for lean in healthcare in a language the care provider would both understand and appreciate. I’ve read the book myself several times now, and highly recommend it to anyone endeavoring to apply lean in the healthcare field. The book builds a strong case for lean in hospitals, and more importantly contains numerous case studies detailing how hospitals are successfully applying lean to improve many aspects of healthcare.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to interview Mark about Lean Hospitals and look forward to adding his session to the RadioLean Interview Vault in the near future.

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It’s January and people all across the country are off and running (no pun intended) on their New Years resolutions.  The most popular resolutions are to  lose weight or reduce body fat. Other resolutions might be related to bettering performance levels such as a heavier bench press or faster 5K time.  Some of them have joined health clubs, or started running, or purchased some in-home fitness equipment like the type endorsed by Chuck Norris on late night infomercials. Most are dieting or at least attempting to do so.  It’s a safe bet that for many it’s not the first time they’ve made such a resolution. Sadly for many, it won’t be their last as psychologists tells us that that to 78% of resolution makers fail.

January is the busiest time of the year for health clubs with up to a million people joining nation wide. But by the middle of April work pressures, family commitments, sprains, and strains will dramatically thin out the crowds in the health spas.  Dieting alone won’t result in enough weight loss to keep frustration from setting in, and by the end of May most will simply give up only to start all over again next January. Sound familiar?

On the bright side 20% or so of these people will  succeed in achieving their resolutions, and you can bet they share a number of secrets to success including an honest assessment of current state like weight, waist size, body mass index (BMI), or blood pressure. They know what their current performance levels are such as max weight pressed or best 5K time.   They don’t just want to lose weight or run faster. It’s likely that specific, measurable goals for their resolution were set based on comparing current states and performance levels to desired future states. They plan and get the right type, frequency, and intensity of physical activity tailored to their specific goal despite work pressures and family commitments. They don’t just diet. Eating habits are changed entirely including smaller portions, healthier choices,  and less junk. They try to get the right amount of sleep each night. They monitor progress toward their goal weekly or monthly with bathroom scale, tape measure, body calipers, or stopwatch. If progress falls behind plan or expectations they get to the root cause of why and take appropriate countermeasures to get back on track.  In the end, achieving the resolution results in permanent lifestyle changes.

If your organization has made a New Years resolution to become Lean in 2011 perhaps you should keep the above analogy in mind. Adopting a few of the secrets to success can greatly increase your organizations likelihood of success as well. Remember, your organizations improvement objective should be a little more specific than just being leaner.

At the very least an honest assessment of the current state and performance levels compared to desired or necessary future states will lead to enable your organization to develop specific, measurable, attainable improvement objectives. Remember, you don’t just want to be learner. You need to know what aspects of customer service or operating performance have to be improved, how much, and how fast. Then, and only then, you’ll be able to out how many improvement resources need to be brought to bear and where they need to be focused on value stream analysis, improvement events, and problem solving to achieve those goals. Monitor progress toward you goals at least monthly, and if actual progress lags behind expectations seek to get to the root cause of why then quickly develop and implement counter-measures to get back on track as soon as possible.

Collectively, these sensible steps will help increase the level of success experienced by your organization this year. More importantly, these steps  increase the likelihood of your organization continuing its Lean journey next year. After all, just as the successful resolution makers journey resulted in permanent lifestyle changes, your organizations Lean journey should ultimately lead to a culture based on Lean principles and relentlessly focused on the elimination of wast from all aspects of the business.

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Welcome to the RadioLean blog. My mission with the blog is the same as it is for the RadioLean™ internet broadcast; to promote operational excellence in all types and sizes of organization by providing Lean content, resources, and networking opportunities for readers of the blog.

I’d first like to thank Bob Miller, Ralph Keller, Pascal Dennis, Jake Stiles, and Cliff Ransom for taking the time to be our launch guests. They all provided some great content on a variety of Lean topics. I hope you’ll all take the time to listen to the continuous stream, or sign into the vault for on-demand listening.

Also many thanks to Mike Lamb at Wirewaves for helping me get the broadcast off the ground; thanks also to Laurie and Lewis for the design and functionality of the website.

Now, a number of folks have asked me why RadioLean? Why now? Well, many reasons.

For starters, let’s just say that Lean converts, believers, and practitioners are not as prevalent in North America today as I believe they should be. Our RadioLean™ guest Cliff Ransom estimated the total size of the community to be about 10,000 people. He cited attendance levels at the places where Lean folks gather as further evidence of how few in number we are; “A well attended Shingo Prize conference is around 500 people” he said, “A big AME conference is around 1000 people”.

Twenty-five years after Lean tools and principles were introduced the US and despite the growth and financial success of Toyota, Danaher, Allied Signal, Alcoa, and Autoliv the number organizations in both the public and private sectors actively pursuing operational excellence via the Lean path is still an alarmingly small fraction the total number organizations on the North American continent. Depending on whose numbers you believe estimates range between 7% and 15% of the whole.

Despite the collective Lean works of great minds like Womack, Jones, Shook, Spear, Liker, Dennis, Ohno, and Shingo far too few institutions of higher learning offer desirable majors in this field of study. There are more than 500 Division I and II schools out there, I’ve found less than 50 Lean related degrees. Worse yet, I believe the Lean education you can obtain via the Lean Enterprise Institute or from a few reputable consulting houses like Simpler and TBM far exceeds what you’ll find in most of our nations institutions of higher learning.

Main-stream media doesn’t get or understand Lean as evidenced by the surprisingly few mentions of the success of organizations like Danaher in the news. Try finding one in the past three months that doesn’t appear to have been instigated by a consulting firm to publicize their work. Yet look at the feeding frenzy that ensued when Toyota as a company acted in keeping with a fundamental principle of Lean by halting deliveries of several models to prevent defective units from getting into the hands of the consumer.

During the current economic crisis when companies on the Lean path should be redoubling their efforts many instead slowed or even halted their pursuit of Lean altogether. I base that statement on the flood of phone calls and emails from Lean practitioners and implementers I received through-out 2009 who had been laid-off because the Lean efforts in their company had been partially or completely axed, or the consulting firm they had been working for let them go because of a downturn in business. It’s obvious to me that leadership in these organizations either didn’t see the value of or understand how full inculcation of Lean principles across their organization could help them emerge from the crisis stronger and more competitive than when it began.

Despite the vast natural resources on the North American continent and the combined ingenuity and industriousness of the American people the United States continues to send value creating jobs off shore to lower wage rate countries. Again, depending on whose data you believe somewhere between 2.5 and 4 manufacturing jobs have been lost overseas since 1998. I’ve seen some absolutely disastrous examples of what can actually happen to an organizations bottom-line chasing after a lower wage rate overseas. I have to wonder how many of those decisions to off-shore were made without first giving any consideration to what Lean could have done to the bottom line. The short-term impact and costs of these decisions is mind boggling. More concerning to me though is that in sending these jobs off-shore for the sake of a lower wage rate, in the long term we’re also outsourcing our nation’s ability to create and retain wealth.

Now, I don’t think I can change all of this with a fledgling internet broadcast. However, I do believe in the old Chinese adage “A single grain of rice can tip the scale”. I don’t know who that single grain of rice is going to be. But I do believe they’re out there.

Those are my motivations. My objective is simple; to draw more people and organizations across North America into the Lean fold.

So, if you share any or all of my concerns listed above, or perhaps harbor a few I didn’t mention share them with us and then spread the word. Lean works, it’s the road to operational excellence, and RadioLean™ is up and broadcasting that message.

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