Sunday, June 21, 2015

LEAN: Don't Pay Tuition Twice for the Same Class!

We all know how mind blowingly expensive a college education is. What cost $7500 per year when I went (Flintstones, meet the Flintstones) in the early 1980s will set you back a cool $50,000 per year in the fall of 2017. I get it, milk was a quarter, the movies cost 6c, blah, blah, blah. It still didn't mean most people could afford many mulligans with regard to repeating the same class more than once. My freshman year, Thirsty Thursday night always turned into Friday morning Organic Chemistry class. Seems my professor didn't really care what a stud I was on the dance floor. Come the end of the semester, if I placed a higher value on stepping out than digging in, no doubt in my mind he would have flunked me. I don't doubt this because very early on, before I had found the proverbial "balance" between working hard and having fun, I scored a whopping 37 on a quiz (I believe Thirsty Thursday may have been preceded by Why Not Wednesday, and Two AM Tuesday that week). As a chemistry major, failing OC meant paying to take OC again in order to avoid spending my career in college. Also, it seemed fathers were a lot less likely to "talk things through" back in the day. Immediate countermeasures needed to be put into place. "Stepping out" will have to be limited to one night a week, Friday, with an occasional Saturday night thrown in. Without this one countermeasure, chances are I might still be living with my Mom, in my old room (minus my four brothers), with a Farrah Fawcett poster on the wall, complaining that we're "having meatloaf again."

In your business, did you ever have the feeling you are learning the same lessons over and over and over? I distinctly remember signing a check to remedy a mistake we made that I could have sworn we wrote five or six years earlier. When the first check was written, it probably felt good to get that particular problem "behind us". Onward and upward, could have been worse. 

Then I led the company onto our Lean Journey, and specifically, the Toyota Production System. We learned that one of the "4 Ps" is to "make problems visible and the curriculum of your learning." Problems suddenly became extremely valuable opportunities to improve, as long as we made them visible. They became visible by showing up on the A3 board. Complaints, scrap, defects, injuries, etc. Cross-functional, 3-5 person, self-directed work teams led by the people who actually do the work would grab onto the problem, and take it through the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze (root cause analysis, usually by five why), improve (countermeasures!) and control (little to no chance of recurring). At weekly closings, these teams would teach everyone else what the problem was, how they got to root cause, and what the countermeasure(s) were. As the completed A3s started to pile up (hundreds per year), I noticed something remarkable. I no longer had such a sense of deja vu! Suddenly we were always working on new problems, not retreads! No more Freddy Kreuger coming back again and again.   

Countermeasures. The secret of success. The thinking here is that we will never ever pay tuition twice for the same class again. Sometimes the tuition is high, sometimes low. Doesn't matter. Sometimes paying tuition for dozens of small problems is as costly as an occasional big one. 

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