Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Sensei Goes to College

John Peterson is far left and Ed Bonviso is right next to him 
I am convinced that "doing lean" for a living is challenging, fulfilling, and eventually, after you finish losing your hair and get your blood pressure back under control and stop talking to yourself, fun. Not to mention the fact that good lean leaders can make a good living. Yet, I'm not sure than any 5th grader ever said "lean leader" when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up.  Usually it's cowboy, police officer, doctor, nurse or astronaut. Not even sure if a high school senior ever answered "lean leader."

I have had the opportunity to teach this one class, Lean Operations Management, at Central CT State University for 4 years, and I have one mission: I am determined to convince my students that lean is more fun than being a cowboy. No two days are hardly ever the same, and the lean champion finds herself involved in every corner of the business. Coaching continuous improvement is obviously not limited to one office or only the production floor. In the greatest companies, the lean champ is the adrenaline toward the strategic goals.

My students are largely engineering types. The predominant majors are Mechanical Engineering Technology, Industrial Technology, and Construction Management. 99% of this semester's class are seniors who are graduating in May. All have had various real-world internships, many are working now, are all HIGHLY motivated and they are all wicked smart.  

As a special treat, I recently invited a couple of real life lean leaders from Ulbrich Steel (North Haven, CT) in as guest speakers. John Peterson is an experienced, well seasoned lean champion with 30+ years experience. His team of 130 people have already closed 96 improvement projects using temporary, self-directed work teams (via A3) this year. When you read about the "Chief Engineer" at Toyota in "The Toyota Way" or "Toyota Kata", well that's John. His work week is essentially spent doing 3 things.....learning, teaching and helping. Continuous improvement is what John does and who John is.

Ed Bonviso has worked at Ulbrich Shaped Wire for a couple of years. He is also currently a college student himself, taking 3 classes and working full time.  The facility he works in is much smaller than where John is, and Ed's primary role is in drafting and design. Ed is resilient and smart. His "alternating career" is lean champion, where he spends time learning, teaching, and helping. 

The message? Both the master and the apprentice echoed the same sentiment. The lean tools are about 2% of the challenge. The other 98% of the challenge is in building an entire army of lean zealots. One person at a time. One improvement at a time. Both teach lean tools in the context of solving real problems. Both suggested "taking what you can get" vs. getting frustrated because everyone doesn't "buy in" right away.  People will become zealots when they are convinced of the value of what you are teaching, and not a minute sooner. 

The other message John perhaps inadvertently delivered is the same thing you see with the most successful coaches on the planet. When you win, it's THEM, and when you lose, it's ME. In the case of both John and Ed, I hope my students picked up on the humility. When you listen to John speak, you would think all of the successes have been in spite of him. 

John and Ed played to rave reviews from my customers. I'm thinking I need to get them talking to preschoolers to plant some seeds much earlier!

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