Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ulbrich Steel: Putting Innovation Into Action

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists a very simple definition of innovation:
  1. the introduction of something new
  2. a new idea, method, or device

Respected author and consultant Ken Cook recently penned what I consider a very well written & insightful article in the May 15th edition of The Hartford Business Journal titled "How One CT Company Puts Innovation Into Action".  In the article, CEO Chris Ulbrich explains "action is about transforming ideas into committed action, and having an adherence to and a focus throughout the organization to those ideas and plans. To do it year after year is the art." 

Ken goes onto explain Ulbrich's commitment to a LEAN strategy and how Ulbrich Steel completed over 600 events in 2016. Over 3/4 of these events started with an idea from an employee looking to improve their own work. Their lean journey is a ride that is open to the most seasoned veteran as well as the recently hired. Everyone is invited and encouraged to innovate every day, and they are provided the resources to turn their ideas into action. 

Ken explains that innovative companies become adept in three intertwined areas: climate, thinking and action.  Of particular interest to me are the qualities listed for climate (how people and ideas are treated):

• High levels of trust and openness

• Collaborative approach with less focus on hierarchy.

• Leadership consistently and visibly models open-minded behaviors.

• New ideas are heard with an ear toward possibilities.

• Risk-taking is prudent, flexible and creative.
This culture of continuous improvement (kaizen) is indeed innovative and really an unfair competitive advantage. It is the end result of an incredibly uncommon level of TRUST. Quite simply, it is trusting that a furnace operator with 30 years experience is the best qualified human on the planet to make improvements to his work. My favorite definition of "respect for people"  is that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job.  Temporary self-directed work teams using A3 thinking are comprised of the person with the idea as the leader and anyone that person may need in the entire company to see that idea all the way to action using the scientific method of problem solving, define-measure-analyze-improve-control. No approval process, no silos. The more often people do this, the better they get at it. Ulbrich people have done this thousands of times, learning lean concepts as they go! Compare THAT to a suggestion box sitting on a wall empty for months or years on end. Imagine working in a company where process changes happen so fast that the ink on the "standard work document" isn't even dry before the next improvement happens?

I learned in my own company that innovation cannot be thought of as the realm of new product development or a few people alone. It is incredibly innovative to learn how to tap into the single biggest (and often unused) resource.....the brainpower of every single human. Ulbrich Steel, accompany that began over 90 years ago, continues to emerge as a global force in an industry with it's share of uncertainty.  They are thriving and growing and as innovative as any company I know.


Ken Cook is the co-author of "How to WHO: Selling Personified," a book about building business through relationships.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Don't Build Your Church for Easter Sunday!

Ever notice how packed church suddenly becomes on Easter Sunday? Suddenly it is standing room only. People need to show up at least an hour early just to get a seat. Every square inch of wood bench is taken up, people are cheek to cheek with their neighbors. You cal most pass out from the perfume and cologne. Sometimes, the mass has to be doubled up......one mass upstairs, and another downstairs in the church hall. More people are needed to make sure everything goes smoothly. There are parking attendants working outside with orange cones to make sure the parking lot is used to capacity, and to make sure nobody parks on the grass. An extra priest, extra deacons, extra people to serve up communion. The church probably has to buy the communion wafer in bulk just to satisfy demand for the weekend. 

Then think about July 12th. One priest, no parking attendants, no orange cones, not too much perfume and cologne, no standing room only, no wafers in bulk. Back to normal. The "regulars". Just show up at church with 5 minutes to spare and you are all set. 

Now let's think about our businesses. How often do we "build it for Easter Sunday"? In the majority of cases, our people costs are are usually our single biggest investment year after year. Yet, how often do we find ourselves throwing labor at spikes in demand or at problems? More people, more overtime, etc.  How about our inventory levels? Does it look like Easter Sunday? Raw materials, WIP, finished goods? 

The biggest reward for people who create a culture of continuous a improvement is the ability to do much more value added work (the work our customers will pay for) with the same hours, energy and effort. A leap of faith we lean zealots have is that 90% of any process is non value-added work (the work our customers won't pay for, the 8 wastes).  To avoid building our church for Easter Sunday, we need to create a culture where every single person is working to recognize and eliminate waste every single day. If we do build our church for Easter Sunday, fluctuations in the marketplace might find us a n a position where we are ready for Easter and get July 12th (remember 2007-8 & Wall Street). Then we need to downsize or gulp, liquidate. Many of the things that impact our business are out of our control......our competitors, our suppliers, the weather, the economy. But, we can control our own processes! If a process takes 12 minutes, figure out how to do it in 10. And do this relentlessly for all 3000 processes in your business. Think about the concepts of pull and level loading so inventory doesn't hide our problems. 

Do your lean hard when times are good so you can make money on July 12th!!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

P4 LEAN Bootcamp: Six Sigma for Kids, No Belts Required: 4 Good Reasons to Show Up!

You may want to consider taking a day off from work to attend our "boot camp" coming up on May 9th in Cromwell, CT. Let me give you 4 good reasons.

1. Meet some really smart people from other companies who are on their own "lean journey" (Green Mile). During my own first lean journey, it was always so refreshing to learn that others were suffering as much as I was. I always made it a point to go and see other companies and what they were doing once per quarter. Then they would come see me. It made me realize at times that we had miles to go, but I also saw that in some cases, we were miles ahead! Shaping your own lean strategy (based on your unique culture) is VERY difficult to do in a vacuum. Come network, meet some new friends, and then go and see each other's GEMBAs!
2. It doesn't take a genius to confuse others. The real genius is making the complicated so simple even I can understand it! At this boot camp, we'll focus on Six Sigma tools. Whether you've never heard of it or hold a black belt,  we're convinced that of the dozens of Six Sigma tools, there are 6-8 that you might find extremely useful when you're stuck. Our Boot Camp leader, Lance Boynton, likens this to Batman's utility belt. Batman seems to have a handful of tools he uses all the time. His "go tos". The Batarang and Batrope immediately come to mind. I've seen the Caped Crusader use smoke pellets and the Batlaser several times. He also carries glue gobules and a remote claw, but I can't remember the last time he ever used them!  Expect to learn some "go-tos" by firing a catapult around the room.
3. Don't be afraid to have some fun. I get it. Lean & Six Sigma is serious business. Gaining agreement, getting buy-in & changing hearts and minds can sometimes feel like banging one's head on a concrete wall. That is exactly why we'll be firing catapults and using a handful of tools and not engineering cross-media deliverables, recontextualizing cross-media convergence or morphing open-source ROI. Dress comfortably and prepare to enjoy yourself!
4. Come expecting to eat well. A hardy continental breakfast and a healthy (or in-healthy) lunch. And cookies. Plenty of cookies.

So, network, simplify, fun & cookies......if those aren't 4 good compelling reasons, I don't know what are. Sign-up is easy, just click on the pink Boot Camp banner above!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Good Business=5 Good Relationships

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, my gut instinct is to talk about lean manufacturing, the Toyota Production System, Six Sigma, blah, blah, blah, blah. Root cause this or heijunka that. Usually, when someone says, "hey, what do you do?", that is how we're supposed to answer. Consultant. Doctor. Car Salesman. Nurse. Dog Neuterer.

Why not relationship builder?

Because if you really think about it, we all really build relationships for a living. That's what we do. The strength (or weakness) of our business is really the sum total of the strength(or weakness) of these 5 relationships:
  1. our families
  2. our team members (employees)
  3. our customers
  4. our community
  5. our suppliers
If we make it a priority to delight, not satisfy these 5 stakeholders, the scoreboard takes care of itself. It really doesn't matter if I own or work in it 1000 person manufacturing company or a 12 person frozen yogurt shop, like my wife Gloria.

First, our families. Business Consultant is only 1 of the many roles I perform. Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, football Back Judge, lacrosse coach. All of these roles contribute to me being OK to be around (I think). Nobody ever said they wish they spent more time at work on their deathbed. There's nothing more important and satisfying as a good balance of all of our roles.

Second, our team members. Am I paying people simply to do tasks, or is my intention to help continuously develop them?  One of TPS principles is "to continuously develop your people." How much time do I spend doing this? Shouldn't this be my only job as manager/coach/supervisor? Or, are people scapegoats when things go wrong & expendable? Do I express appreciation and gratitude for their efforts? Do I look to see if I can help if they're distracted or upset? 

Third, our customers. Funny thing is, if we work hard to develop our team members, this relationship really takes care of itself. Still, do I call or visit customers just to check in to see how we're doing and tell them we love them? Do we bend over backwards when they complain, or do they go into the "quality system".  One reason people like doing business with small businesses is because they feel valued and important.

Fourth, our community. Do we reach out to the schools, charities, neighbors, soup kitchens, etc. to see how we can help? This doesn't always need to be about money. One of the root causes for the success of my wife's froyo shop is her effort to help reading teachers, little leagues, churches, scouts, etc. etc. 

And fifth, our suppliers. If they struggle, we struggle. Our customers don't really care if our excuse is our supplier's inability to perform, Do we show our suppliers respect by challenging them? If we're a "lean" company, do we share what we've learned? Do we involve them in problem solving? In our goal setting?

Our business isn't about a product (others can and are making it 99% of the time) or our packaging or branding. It's really about our ability to make and keep friends! People do business with people they like and trust.

I can't wait for the next time someone asks me what I do! (Hope they don't just walk away before I get through all 5).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

LEAN Concept: How Do I Spend 20 Minutes?

There's nothing more stupefying than thinking about how the very best "continuous improvement" organizations in the world do continuous improvement. Toyota employees are responsible for doing and improving their jobs. Every shift. 1200-1500 improvements per day?  One can only imagine how ingrained "getting better" is into company culture after 60+ years.

I don't think it's likely to build this type of continuous improvement culture by doing periodic week long, all day kaizen activities and calling that lean. Or, deploying a lean department or certifying some black belts.

From my own experience, especially when my business faced a few challenges (does Wall Street 2008 ring a bell?).  In nearly 100% of the cases, there is no "magic bullet" to significant improvement/lead time reduction. Usually, a whole bunch of little things need to improve, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands. The only people that know these opportunities are the people who actually do the work.

So how do I engage everyone? Start by asking them the magic question, "if you owned the company, what is the one change you would make to your job right now? Then, give people 20 minutes per day to work on that (using A3), and you spend 20 minutes helping them (leader standard work). If every single person spent just 20 minutes per day on improvements with discipline, a 100 person company would spend 480000 minutes per year working ON vs. IN the business. That's 8000 hours. I think of this as applying heijunka (load levelling) to my lean strategy. While making improvements, I can teach the 8 wastes and the lean tools that may apply.

As managers, can you pull this off? Can you afford not to? Lean can't be something that is assigned or something to do when we have time. Realists know there is NEVER time. We need to make it. Remember that if people don't see you spending the 20 minutes, they will quickly conclude it isn't important! "Busy" is the number one enemy of a lean strategy!

How many hours do you spend as a business now?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

LEAN Cell Phone

My iPhone
Lean, in it's very simplest terms, is a laser-like focus on your customer. My customer might be someone who needs someone to give their hard earned money to, or my customer might be someone I hand my work to, or my customer might be people who I'm responsible for developing, aka employees.

Lean is also about figuring out ways to delight, not satisfy those customers. We lean zealots understand that satisfying is just not good enough. Perfect quality? Expected. On-time delivery? A given. Fast answers to my questions?  Check. Remember the words of wise sage Chris Rock: "you don't get a cookie for doing #$%^ you're supposed to do!"

Which brings me to my cell phone. More and more, our customer's favorite way of contacting us is through a device that didn't really exist 25 years ago, the 2nd generation digital cellular phone. Tons of people I know are even deep sixing their "house phones". When people call me, a lean guy, they are expecting the absolute shortest cycle time possible between the time they dial me to the time they get their question answered.

After you take your phone out of it's box, it comes with what I call a "6 feet under" pre-recorded voice mail prompt, that goes something like this "Verizon customer (Bill) is not available. Please leave a message after the tone (beeeep)." I call this the 6 feet under message because you can literally have this in your pocket after your funeral, and your customer wouldn't know the difference.

So being a bit more advanced, I recorded my own version of the 6 feet under message. "Hi this is Bill, sorry I missed your call, please leave a message and I'll call you back as soon as possible." The message tells your customer that whatever you happen to be doing is more important right now than their pesky problem/question/crisis.

Then it hit me. If you think you're so lean, why not reflect you're intention of delighting your customer with a really lean message?  It goes like this: "Hi, this is Bill Greider, today is Tuesday, March 14th, I'm sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message and I'll call you back within one hour." OK, now I've created what we lean professionals call a "JIT condition".  It's really interesting how that message increases my sense of urgency to check my phone even when I'm on someone's plant floor, or teaching a class, or in my garden or fixing my sink or giving my dog a bath. My goal is also to always pick up my customers before the 4th ring so my customer doesn't have to wait at all.

It also forces me to change my message every single day, and occasionally it forces me to apologize to my customer when I miss the hour. Don't forget one of the definitions of "respect for people" is "to not trouble your customer and do not make them wait!"


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

5 Why is Like the Electric Slide

Nothing looks stupider than someone doing the dance the "Electric Slide" solo.  You know the one I'm talking about. 25 or 30 people run onto the dance floor at a wedding and start marching around and dipping their shoulders to the music. Even if you've never seen it before, you can catch on in about 20 minutes by watching the people in line next to you. Really fun to do and watch when there's a group. Time to shut someone off if they're doing it alone.

Root cause analysis is very similar in that it is most beautifully and artfully done with groups of people. An A3 team of 3-5 people is a good group size to do "5 Why", for example.  For those of you who may not have done 5 Why, the idea is that in order to understand the root cause of a problem (and not just cure symptoms), all you need to do is obnoxiously continue to ask "why" 5 times, like a toddler. 5 is a rule of thumb. Sometimes you can get to root cause in 3 whys and sometimes it takes 7 or 8.

Let me give you my favorite "real life" example. Let's pretend that every once in a while, I find myself with a stiff, sore back. In this case, most normal people don't really care about getting to "root cause". What do you do if YOU get a backache? Maybe aspirin? A massage? The chiropractor? A hot tub? 

Let's pretend I decide to do root cause analysis with a "team" (my wife, one of my kids, a friend) using 5 Why. Just for fun, let's see how many whys it takes!

Why 1-"Why do you get a sore back once in a while?"
(My daughter) Lauren: "Dad, it seems you've been sleeping on the couch more often."
Why 2-"Why do you seem to sleep on the couch more often?"
(My wife) Gloria: "Well it seems you and I seem to be fighting more often."
Why 3-"Why does it seem we are fighting more often?"
(My wife Gloria (again) (she seems to be taking this exercise over): "Well you never seem to remember my birthday, Valentine's Day, our anniversary, etc."
Why 4-"Why don't I seem to remember important days?"
My friend Fritz (who invited him): "Well, let's face it, you're not very organized."
Why 5-"Why is Bill Greider not very organized?"
Lauren: "Because you don't use technology to help you remember!!"

OK, so to eliminate a bad back once in a while, I can learn to program my flip phone to twitter at me when Gloria's birthday is coming! Instead of aspirin, massage, a chiropractor or hot tub!!! (Those are what we call "jumping to solutions). Think about it. Do you think I would have gotten to root cause without the team?

See, told you root cause analysis is just like the Electric Slide!!  I think I'll go post that on Facechat.