01 April 2015

More often than not managers are not (or dare I say never) at the helm of a self-directing dream team. That is, a team of overachievers that always remains on task, can change priorities to match the organization’s needs, and never makes mistakes.

In reality a manager will not have a self-directing dream team (why would you need a manager then?), and will spend a good bit of time ensuring his team knows organizational priorities, critical topics, and driving execution. However, at times there will be team members, or the team as a whole, which loses focus on important things, or begins to digress from the direction that has been set by the manager.

Dropping an occasional F-Bomb (or cursing for that matter) can quickly convey urgency, a needed change of direction, or even disappointment on poor execution. Used sparingly, it can help a team understand a manager’s most critical expectations, and also improve execution.

Posted on Wednesday, April 01, 2015 by George R.

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10 March 2015

If you set everything on fire, you won't have enough firemen
Firefighters will very seldom have enough people and water to put out a fire immediately. They have to choose (prioritize) where they can effectively douse the flames to first contain the fire - essentially ignoring the rest of the fire - and then work it down until it’s extinguished

In crisis situations everything becomes a fire, or so it seems. Crisis management requires management to put an extra effort in prioritizing tasks and assigning them to the correct resources. The real challenge is that in many cases, the crisis situations stem from the very same management team charged with prioritizing, for not helping set priorities to the point that they started the fires.
When we fail to give our teams priorities, and constantly ask for multiple things “right now” we significantly raise the risk that nothing will get done, or that the task that gets done will be one less critical to the success of the team. As things start to become fires the teams charged with executing get overwhelmed (and pardon the cliché – burned)

Here is the problem; when individuals are given multiple URGENT tasks simultaneously, studies have shown that they will likely complete the easiest ones first. Essentially, as a manager you have inadvertently relinquished all control to your team and their own logic for prioritizing. Unless you have a team of all-star performers, it is likely that tasks will not get done in optimum order, and in a worse case you may end up with many half-started tasks that never get completed.

The manager’s job is to point the limited water cannons to the area where they can have the greatest impact.

My method to prioritize, and how I’ve witnessed many successful managers prioritize successfully, is by setting a daily meeting with your team to review tasks and set priorities. By doing this, even when everything is urgent, you set the focus for your team, and you have full control over the execution. As the truly urgent tasks are being completed, you can then delay (or run interference) on the other tasks until your team is ready to take those on.

Posted on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 by George R.

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25 February 2015

quality management system
The statement is very simplistic, but if organizations would simplify their quality systems to just that one rule they’d be surprised how easy managing the system would become.

Whether you are following ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, VDA 6.3 or any other system, there are tremendous amounts of details and other rules that need to be followed. Most organizations will address the requirements through a series of processes and documentation from the beginning, but later struggle with maintaining the related documentation. 

Saying what you do and then doing it means nothing more than “follow the documented process”. If the actual process changes, then make sure the documentation is changed to reflect the new process.

Oddly enough, one of the biggest contributors to the disconnect between documentation and physical processes is continuous improvement. This becomes even more evident when processes are unstable and thus more improvement loops are taking place. Ironically, one of the reasons for why process stability is unachievable is because the current process is not documented properly. This opens up issues with ensuring consistency amongst your team, as well as a standardized point from which to measure your improvements.

The fix is simple, stress documentation integrity with your team. If a process changes, ensure instructions, FMEAs, Control Plans, KPI trees, and any other relevant documents to the affected process are updated. Drive this point home… Say what you do and do what you say!

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 by George R.

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17 February 2015

One of the phrases I get drawn to every time I struggle with accomplishing something is one coined by Albert Einstein:

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
It is a rather funny, but true way to quickly shed light on an incorrect method or process being the culprit of a problem.  There is one absolute truth in business and manufacturing… Things change.
Customer needs change, technology changes, people change, and the list can go on forever. The odd thing is that many organizations fail to abide by this truth and they continue to conduct business the same way. A classic example of this is Blackberry. We all know what happened to them. They failed to change and kept doing the same thing over and over. Granted, they are still trying to reinvent themselves since they were nearly run out of business by the likes of Apple and Samsung, but they are now behind the curve and they gave up an enormous lead on account of not allowing the culture of change to permeate their organization.

Successful companies and more so, successful managers, embrace change. Change ensures many things for teams and individuals. The top three, in my opinion, are these:

-          It eliminates Boredom

-          It allows teams to learn from mistakes

-          Allows teams to shift focus towards anticipation (rather than reaction).

Boredom comes from doing the same things over and over. We are always taught to organize ourselves and make sure we follow routines. However, in those routines we must, and those of our teams, there needs to be room for adjustment, training, and continuous improvement. Although not at the top of the list, one of the answers I get most out of high performing candidates during interviews is that they are ‘bored’ in their current job.  

Make sure your team is constantly challenged and tested. Encourage them to try different approaches when current ones fail. Push them out of their comfort zones so they can experience other angles. Change their jobs, roles and responsibilities.

Learn from Mistakes
When your team’s actions are leading to less than optimal results it is sometimes hard to identify the reason. Hence, many times we are trapped into trying the same thing over and over. Trying a different approach at solving a problem will inevitably lead to a different result. If the result is worse, then the initial approach is somewhat validated, and if the result is better, then the initial approach has henceforth been improved. Either way the team learns something.

We have all heard about being proactive versus reactive. This is easier said than done. A proactive culture, one that anticipates problems in the future, can only be fostered with a culture that demands change. Blackberry did not demand change because it was successful at what it was doing, by the time it was evident that change was needed, the very first person removed from the team was the CEO. He had not embraced a culture of change, and thus his team was ill prepared for anticipating what the user friendly iPhones were going to do to the smartphone market.

Anticipation is what makes good organizations great. In my experience it’s always more fun and rewarding to improve things and to plan ahead as opposed to having to fight fires. Anticipation also has a great benefit, it allows teams to work under less stress where timelines are built around teams and resources.
When fighting fires, timelines are a moot point since the issues have to be addressed ‘yesterday’ .  Teams get worn out quickly when they are fighting fires on a daily basis. Most fires are not about getting ahead, but about getting back to ‘normal’, and because of this most individuals do not feel rewrded if they are putting out fires that could have been… yes, you guessed it… anticipated.

As a manager you’ll be well served by creating a culture of change; stay engaged with your team and encourage individuals to try different approaches in their daily routines.

Posted on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 by George R.

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29 January 2015

Possible Answers:

1)    "I want a detailed memo about this issue till tomorrow's morning."

2)     "You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!"

3)    "We haven't got a policy on that".

4)    "I am on my way to a very important meeting, so we'll discuss it some other time."

5)     Three. Two to find out if it needs changing, and one to tell an employee to change it.

Change is all around us. People change, seasons change, weather changes, and pretty much everything changes. In the work place change is inevitable, however it sometimes seems that everyone and everything is against it. Following the possible outcomes of the joke above perhaps we can learn the lessons contained within

1)    "I want a detailed memo about this issue till tomorrow's morning."

a.       At times it seems that the effort to accomplish simple changes are too great. When the effort to execute change is to high, people will steer clear or avoid the topic. We have all worked in organizations where at times it appears that procedures and standards get in the way of quick and effective change. Enable change by removing unneeded barriers or by providing alternatives.


2)    "You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!"

a.       Change is only possible if the resources are available. All too often we manage teams that are spending 60 hours a week just maintaining the status quo. All of the sudden, a small emergency or surprise (like a burned out bulb) goes unattended. Managers need to make sure they allow for proper work-life balance so that people can proactively engage in change.

b.      Another point stands out in this response… all too often managers themselves find themselves in situation where they are unable to properly engage and follow-up with their teams, thus resulting in the dreaded declaration of “I told you a week ago.”  Make time to stay in contact and in touch with your team. Follow-up with them specially on issues that may not be part of their daily routines… (hint: Change)

3)    "We haven't got a policy on that".

a.       Don’t cop out on change! As a leader you must set the example. If you don’t have an answer, at minimum provide guidance, or commit to provide guidance at a later time.

4)    "I am on my way to a very important meeting, so we'll discuss it some other time."

a.       Similar to above, this is a way of coping out on your team. Furthermore, this also carries the message that you do not want to listen to your team, or do not think there is any urgency to change.

5)    Three. Two to find out if it needs changing, and one to tell an employee to change it.

a.       This one is a zinger for all managers. It illustrates the top heavy organization that stands in the way of nimble and agile change.  It further illustrates that management roles may not be clear, and thus a simple “Bulb Change” requires involvement from multiple managers. Of all the barriers that can stand in the way of change, this is perhaps the most significant. The more individuals that get involved in decision making, the greater the chance for disagreement and of course, delays in directing the task at hand… in this case, changing a light bulb.

As managers we are all too eager to put in our 5 cents. The real manager is able to empower his team, give minor strategic direction, but most importantly, stay out of the way of those that need to execute the change.


Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 by George R.

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23 January 2015

I speak from experience here, in fact we all do… when we were young – before we uttered our first words – we cried to get attention. We wanted our parents to listen to help solve a problem. We were cold, we were hungry, or our tummy’s hurt. In fact, reading medical journals, we never cried for the sake of crying. There was usually something we could not solve and needed assistance with.

This core human behavior doesn’t change much as we grow older, and the incredible parallels between the crying baby and those stressed out team members working for us in a crisis require that we, as mangers, pay attention to them in order to provide leadership and guidance so they can perform their functions.

This is one of the hardest things to accomplish, and I am yet to see an organization where the complete or partial shutdown of communication into the management level does not occur as a result of a crisis. Because they are tasked with leading organizations out of crisis, managers are in a particularly tough position since their job tenures are likely tied to their success.

Unfortunately crises bring stress, long hours, weekends, phone calls at 2:00am and many other circumstances that managers dislike, and that in turn has a tendency to lead to frustration which can easily be ‘shared’ with their team in the form of yelling, micromanaging, and not listening to the underlying problems. 

Unlike a baby, who’s unattended crying may result in disruptions to our sleep patterns, in the business world, not attending to our teams ‘cries’ for help can have dire consequences. Baby’s, by nature, will continue to cry until the problem is resolved, however adults, at some point stop ‘crying’ or appropriately said, they stop escalating issues and seeking guidance from managers. When this happens those issues can become the foundation of the next crisis.

Successful crisis managers, however, have figured out that in a crisis it is imperative to have a team willing to stand with you through those long hours, and endless weekends. The greatest thing you can do for your team in order to get out of crisis mode is this - Make a special effort to communicate and listen to your team – they are not babies! They will not only stand behind you in the current crisis, but they will provide the solutions for the current crisis and they will keep you from leading them into the next one.

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by George R.

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15 January 2015

In my 20+ years of manufacturing I have read and/or worked on hundreds of 8Ds. I would venture to say that less than 10% of those led to effective solutions. The biggest problem in those ineffective 8Ds was the problem definition. 

If the problem is not properly defined based on facts and data you may be leading your team down a path that will yield less than optimal results. 

Think about it… how many times have you read an 8D with a problem definition such as “None-Functioning Motor” instead of the more precise definition of “Cracked magnet inside motor”.

Starting with a poor problem definition can make it extremely difficult to find the root cause without assessing every component and every process tied to those components (extremely time consuming). However, with the smaller scope in the example of the "cracked magnet" the focus of the team would be around the magnet and the factors and processes that influence it.

The best 8D methodology I have had experience with was the Faurecia QRCI. Their methodology forced a re-definition of the problem after the initial evaluation of the facts and data regarding the parts. It went as far as placing the redefinition after D3 (Containment) in order to force the utilization of the containment data to further narrow the problem. In the QRCI methodology, the 5-Why process does not begin until the problem has been properly defined.

The logical question to ask is why is this so difficult to do? In my experience the biggest problem has been timely and un-obstructed access to the “Scene of the Crime”. In many cases the parts are removed from where the issue was detected, the parts are repaired, tampered with or even lost. This significantly limits the ability to gather the facts and data, leading most individuals to fill in the gaps with assumptions and more likely than not, defining the problem too vaguely, or incorrectly.

If you place a priority on evidence gathering and put procedures in place such as stopping the production line when a defect is detected, your ability to properly define and consequently find and effective solution go up significantly.

- More on Problem Definition:

The Key to Innovation: Problem Definition (Part I)

Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2015 by George R.

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09 November 2013

In the world of idea management, innovation, employee suggestions, or if you want to call it Continuous Improvement, management can make or break the success of a program. It is very often that we hear about programs that got started with a BANG and ended with a bust.

Any system, program or process that an organization wants to adopt, needs to be adjusted to its business processes in order to achieve sustainability. If it’s not, it will be sidelined and ignored by the organization. The main reason… it will create extra work which may not be viewed as value added to organization goals.

The reality is that innovation, cost cutting, and continuous improvement activities are critical to remaining competitive, and therefore the ‘extra’ work required to run one is necessary. These activities have to be viewed by an organization as being as important as other business-critical functions in order to succeed.

It is imperative, for that matter, that upper management take active part in the development, implementation, and running of a suggestion system. A suggestion system, if implemented correctly, must be woven into the corporate culture. Management must ensure procedures are compatible with organizational goals, and they must hold stake holders accountable for the success of the program.

Perhaps the five most important tasks that management must perform to make a suggestion program successful are:

1) Encourage and support participation in the continuous improvement and innovation process.
2) Prioritize idea implementation.
3) Encourage innovation and creative thinking.
4) Recognize the good ideas through rewards or congratulatory activities.
5) Allocate the resources needed for investing in ideas and rewards.

Management MUST manage and facilitate the resources and time necessary for their team to properly engage in the process. Managers know that one of the most dangerous things regarding a suggestion system is the effect it can have on employee moral if it is allowed to disappoint on high expectations. Not managing a suggestion system can degrade the products and services the organization is providing to the market thus undermining its competitiveness and profitability.

Posted on Saturday, November 09, 2013 by George R.


25 July 2013

Two part video series showing the origins of Toyota. A must see for Innovation fans and Lean Manufacturing Fans.

It contains great anecdotes on automation, Poka Yoke, waste elimination, JIT, value added, Kanban, NUMMI, and the birth of Taiichi Ohno’s “Go to Gemba”.

These videos will do away with any thought that Lean is to blame for Toyota's current quality problems.

Posted on Thursday, July 25, 2013 by George R.

1 comment

19 April 2013

I recently read some very interesting discussion points answering “How to get employees to be more innovative and creative?” in the Operational Excellence Group on LinkedIn. One of the points that was brought up, and that I’ve witnessed myself, is that in organizations that do not subscribe to lean philosophies, management in these organizations tend to build their organizations with silo structures.

There seems to be a utopian view of silos by some managers where assigning resources to a specific function and ensuring they only focus on that function brings a certain level of control. In fact, it can be said that the silo structure is a very good way of controlling and knowing what everyone in an organization is doing. In general, managing silos is easier because functions are dedicated and thus knowing where an additional resource is needed or not needed is relatively easy to identify. This makes for ease at work-load balancing.

We’ve all heard the terms: “you have a job to do”, or “don’t color outside the box”. The big problem I have seen with Silos, and I’ve experienced this first hand, is that the spirit of cooperation between groups is limited to working and improving deliverables from one silo to another. Because the nature of silos is to ensure resources are used to the max, individuals have little lee-way in experimenting with extracurricular tasks. The goal is to do the job that’s been assigned. Even the attempt to assist or make an unsolicited suggestion to improve another silo is viewed as interference.

Lean organizations, by nature, break with the silo mentality and thus require a different kind of management team. They require one that is engaged with and spends time at Gemba. Because resource allocation is not black and white, they need to coach and foster a cross-functional culture. They understand that 80% of an individual’s work load is to complete a specific job, but the other 20% is to engage in extracurricular functions. These functions, in general come down to cross-departmental training or participating in kaizen activities. These managers understand the value of giving individuals flexibility to learn and observe. They provide the tools and time to allow them to engage functions outside the box.

The benefit of lean is that individuals are encouraged to work outside the box, and think outside the box. The very nature of lean requires everyone to continually improve. It’s not about delivering the task you’ve been assigned, but going one step further and improving it. Teamwork and idea sharing (yokoten) is a key component here, and thus individuals are welcome to participate and collaborate in problem solving cross-functional teams.

This type of functional cross pollination results in what is termed a ‘learning organization’. The ultimate benefit is that teams and individuals are not only trained on their tasks, but also have good knowledge of other functions of the organization. This allows them to improve and innovate more effectively because they have an understanding of upstream and downstream processes. They no longer innovate to improve their work areas, as they would in silos, but rather innovate to improve not only their area, but other’s areas. Often, workers in lean organizations are referred to as "engineers" because they are in a position to not only identify problems but solve them too.

Ultimately, for managers, this gives them a different kind of control. Even though they must spend more hands-on time at gemba, they are given the benefit of the agile organization. One that is more adaptable to rapidly changing situations.

So what how does this translate to that original discussion on LinkedIn? In silo based organizations it is hard for individuals to be innovative because the encouragement is not there. They are constantly being reminded to “do their jobs”, and that usually does not mean to engage in improvement activities. In a lean organization individuals are encouraged to improve. In fact “do your job” has a different meaning in lean… it includes not only performing you main functions but also working to improve the organization as a whole. At the center of “the house of lean” is people, teamwork and Kaizen… and Kaizen is innovation (albeit, incremental innovation).

Thinking outside the box is a byproduct of lean.

Posted on Friday, April 19, 2013 by George R.

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