Jan 27, 2007

Lean office? When, where and why?

Applications of lean are moving beyond manufacturing. Why? For one thing, services such as healthcare and insurance companies have been crying out for improvement and the principles of lean can deliver that. For another, it’s an ideal way for consultants ($$$) in a crowded market to differentiate and diversify. (Not that I have a problem with consultants…some of my best friends, etc.)

As editor of Lean Directions for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, I pondered this to come up with a working philosophy and editorial scope for the newsletter. I decided a “lean office” topic is okay when it’s closely related to a manufacturing operation. And it’s not enough for a lean office effort to be made just anywhere in a manufacturing company. In what “office” should a lean transformation be attempted?

Well, duuuhh…if you are in manufacturing, look at the value stream. If you’ve wrung out a lot of the significant waste in your factory, Upstream or downstream? where are your biggest obstacles and constraints now? The sales and forecasting process? Purchasing of raw materials? Logistics? The state of lean among your customers or suppliers? Product design and manufacturability?

There’s no one answer. Your situation has its own next constraint. So work on fixing that one. Filter your lean knowledge and that of the rest of your workers to the office process owners where you need the most improvement. Be deliberate, not random.


Pix from US Dept of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, sponsored by the US taxpayer.

Jan 25, 2007

I'm thinking Arby's ... wasn't thinking

Visual communication requires attention to layout, among other things. I don’t know how many people looked at this poster, displayed in the window of an Arby’s restaurant, but none of them were thinking. It matters where you put the words. Does Arby’s only want me to think of them for a limited time only? I rest my case.

Before you display, print or send -- read what you’ve written. It’s not lean if you sabotage your own communication goal.

Jan 9, 2007

And now for something completely different...

Last weekend I visited family in Delaware for a very special occasion. My sister Laura graduated from the university with a degree in anthropology. Laura was one of those people who went right into the workforce after high school in the accounting department of Dupont. Many of you will remember the days when "data processing" hit the scene, and there were no programmers around. Companies gave a lot of talented young people the chance to learn COBOL, and Laura took the offer.

Her career progressed to the MRP end of IT. When the subject of demand forecasts came up, she asked where they came from. When she was told they came from sales, her comment was, "You can't believe those people!"

Laura moved up to the project management and planning ranks, eventually reporting to VPs. When Dupont sold its IT people to CSC (I think it was), the consulting level people went to Accenture. There she was a senior consultant in the paint division and probably learned more about the titanium white business than most of us would want to know.

Then, in a typical corporate Amerca move, Laura was encouraged to take an early retirement. Her client said, "They really don't get it, do they?"

Before the graduation ceremony Saturday, Laura explained why she decided within a week to go to college and major in anything but IT or business. She chose anthropology. The following comes from a university PR guy who spotted us in the lobby:

“I started working on [my degree] when I was about 20, and I stopped because I had children,” Cummings said. “I worked in corporate America for 30 years, and when I retired I said, 'I'm going to go get that degree.'”

Her determination to get her degree crystallized, Cummings said, when she saw her son, Matt Terranova, graduate from UD with a degree in criminal justice in 2002. “At his graduation I thought, 'You know, I really want that. I'm going to get it'”

Laura got up at 5 am most days to study before classes. I feel sorry for her instructors. She was going to get her money's worth, and asked hundreds of questions. She'd learned to hold people accountable, and her professors were no exceptions. She didn't skate through her classes.

We're proud. My sister and her son came in from Oregon. My brother is back from a year in China and came in from Denver. I made it there from Detroit. Laura's husband's whole family was there, including a daughter from downstate Delaware, and another who lives in Germany.

Laura's accomplishment reminds us that learning is lifelong, and college isn't vocational school. She's not going to look for a career in anthropology, although observing people every day IS anthropology. We can't keep our noses to the lean business grindstone all the time, because there are many paths to understanding our world. So spend some time tonight thinking about what you would do if you weren't doing what you do now. Get on Amazon, buy a book in the field, read it, and follow a new branch of curiosity for a few hours. Then when you retire, remember Laura.

Jan 1, 2007

A leader lost this year

Michael Guido, long time mayor of Dearborn Michigan, died this year of pancreatic cancer at the age of 52. Mike deserves a tribute here as a leader of a community. I didn’t know Mike, and don’t live in Dearborn, although we both worked at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers at different times.

Mike’s leadership is reflected in the memories shared by friends in our local paper. They are mostly of small things that any leader can do. Some leaders may want to add little acts like these to their New Year’s resolutions.

At his funeral, Mike Guido’s son, Mikie, remembered his dad: “He loved people and they loved him. He loved his family and we adored him.”

Lily Amen was head of the PTA in the 1980s. The kids desperately need a place to play, and she was getting no action from the city’s recreation department. She went to Mike. “He came through is less than two weeks.” He helped build the playground and visited and played games with the kids.

Tim Briody was asked to be King of Mardi Gras at a local Senior Center activity, and it was reported in a headline that read, “It’s great to be King.” Mike called Briody and said, “This is your friendly mayor, and when did we get a king here in Dearborn?” Briody responded, “Mr. Mayor, in Dearborn the king reports to you.” The mayor’s response? “Thank you, Your Regalness.”

Mary Jane Happy, editor of the paper’s “Parent Talk” column told of when the mayor chaired the U.S. Council of Mayors’ advisory board for science progress. He declared the city’s “science in the school day” initiative, and as part of it, visited a third-grade science class. He sat down with the kids to lead them in building a gumdrop dome to see how much weight it would carry. It was a challenge to keep the kids from eating the gumdrops, Happy said, but the kids learned that triangles were stronger than squares.

“My Way,” was Mike’s favorite song, and he sang it when he was inaugurated as president of the U.S. Council of Mayors in June this year, not long after he learned he had cancer. Despite chemo and illness, Mike carried out his duties as president until he came close to the end of his life.

The mayor of neighboring city Dearborn Heights, Dan Paletko, remembered the day of the funeral of a police officer, killed in the line of duty this year. Mike called Dan and asked if he and Dearborn could do anything for us. By the end of the conversation, Mike told Dan that Dearborn’s police would patrol Dearborn Heights so that all the city’s police officers could attend the funeral. “As a good neighbor,” Mike said, “that is the least we could do.”

Reporter Gary Woronchack said Mike was known to stop and pick up a piece of paper littering his city’s sidewalks, and that Mike was seen early some mornings sweeping the street in front of city hall. No cameras around, either. Even so, Woronchack said, Mike could steer a multi-million dollar project like the new Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.

City clerk Kathy Buda told of when the mayor and his wife took time out of their schedules to attend Buda’s 50th birthday party. “He lit up the room. He was always finding time to be our mayor and be our friend. That will be with me for all my days.”

Fire chief Nazih Hazime said, “He was a great friend and a great boss. What he instilled in all of us department heads was to reach out to the community.”

Mike supported the city’s large Arab community before September 11 and since. There were no ugly incidents. He joined the ACLU and ACCESS, the city’s local Arab community group, in assuring that no Arabic men answered a night-time knock on the door for a trip to an FBI questioning. Letters had to go to any of these men in advance of a “meeting” and they had to be assured that bilingual and legal advisors could accompany them to any such interviews.

Hattie Bryant, founder and producer of weekly PBS TV show, “Small Business School” spoke to Guido when she profiled Ahmad Chebanni, (with Mike in picture) business owner and a founding member of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. She asked Mike why the Arab American business community important to the city of Dearborn.

He answered, “Most people know Dearborn as the home of the Ford Motor Company. But in reality, we have a multitude of small businesses. And along Warren Avenue, the Arab community has taken that and helped transform it into one of the most vibrant shopping districts in southeastern Michigan.”

“You're a visionary,” said Bryant. And you had to have lived here, watching blight creep from Detroit to the east side of Dearborn, to appreciate what the Arab-American community has done to revitalize the area. The work was done by the residents and business owners, but the mayor’s support was critical to success.

Mike participated in an annual school clean-up day when residents and students would clean, fix up and paint 20 community public, parochial and private schools. He read to kids during Reading Month, making faces to get the kids laughing.

Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Hughes said “He helped get new schools built, he helped get Federal money for programs the city got national recognition for.” DPS school employee Jacqui Rivait said Mike was at a sports banquet and asked the team managers and statisticians to stand up for recognition along with the players.


Mayor meets Korean students visiting the city during their immersion program in Dearborn.

Laughter and his penchant for telling jokes were remembered by one person after another in the newspaper’s interviews. He was remembered as a friend, neighbor and parent by people all over the area. Hundreds crowded Sacred Heart church for his funeral, and all seemed to feel his death was a great loss to Dearborn. Although he left a loss, I think he left something more. Everyone he touched will be a little more human and a little better citizen through his influence. And from his example, we can all learn to be better leaders.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm