Jul 31, 2008

Maybe we could rob Peter to pay Paul

Two items in today's news provide quite a contrast:

The first, from the Daily Executive Briefing you can get as a member of SME (really, you should join), says that we ought to spend our tax money to bail out companies that couldn't figure out things that Toyota and Honda have been doing right ---

The AP (7/31, Thomas) reports that car companies "could receive up to $6 billion in direct loans to modernize their assembly plants to build gas-electric hybrids and advanced vehicles under an agreement reached Wednesday by Senate budget leaders." Of those funds "$300 million would help research and develop advanced batteries critical to plug-in hybrid vehicles," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), "who has sought the funding," said.

The Detroit News (7/30, Shepardson) added that the $6 billion "for Detroit's Big Three automakers, which have struggled to raise funds in a weak credit market," would be "in low-cost loans." According to Stabenow, "the Senate [will] consider a second stimulus package in September, which will include a portion of the $25 billion in loan guarantees over five years for auto plant retooling." Stabenow explained that "she had won an agreement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the $900 million in funding" necessary for Congress "to back the $6 billion in loan guarantees for automakers." Senate Democrats described the "$300 million funding for advanced battery research" as "necessary 'to help resolve problems in developing long-term, cost-effective storage systems, the biggest hurdle to bringing plug-in hybrid or pure plug-in vehicles to the marketplace.'"

The Detroit Free Press (7/31, Hyde) notes that the legislation "will run into the election-year politics...and Democrats did not offer details on how they would pay for the measure. The Bush administration has said it opposes a sequel to the $168-billion stimulus program passed in February." Senate Democrats argued that "the bill would create about 200,000 jobs, including 60,000 in the auto industry through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program."

The other came via Google News from Market Watch. You won't be surprised at that -

Exxon Mobil on Thursday said second-quarter net income rose 14% to $11.68 billion, or $2.22 a share from $10.26 billion, or $1.83 a share in the year-ago period.

Really, if we want to give money to automakers, why don't we make the oil companies - whose prices have killed sales of higher-profit vehicles - some temporary help? Then we can continue to waste oil on unrealistic commutes in SUVs, but we could buy some time for the Detroit Three (they're not the Big Three anymore) to rationalize their product line and figure out how to reduce costs to the point where they make some profit on prices that represent value to the customer.

Jul 30, 2008

Leadership lessons from Danny Boy

I have not posted to this blog as much as I would wish in the last couple of months, but I have what I think is a good reason. I am coauthoring a book with AJ O'Neil, owner of a coffeehouse in Ferndale, Michigan. Last March, AJ started off a whirlwind when he decided to have a 50-hour marathon of singing the song "Danny Boy" in the days up to and including St. Patrick's Day. When it came time for this thing to take place, there were stories in hundreds of newspapers around the world, interviews on public radio in four countries, coverage on CNN and a visit from Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan, where she led the crowd in singing the song. The time goal was achieved, although Guinness has rejected the record because they don't have a category it fits in. So when AJ invited me to help with the book, as improbable was his promise that we'd be on Oprah promoting it, I decided to go along.

Click on the picture to see a few more...

I could see early on that Danny Boy had some lessons for lean leaders, but just hadn't teased them out of the 50 interviews and e-mails going into the book. But I might have known, AJ came up with a pretty good one to start with. It must be said that until 18 months ago, AJ had never owned or even managed a retail food business. He was a roofer. Dennis is AJ's brother, who has some cognitive disabilities, but a great many other types of intelligence. Dennis is AJ's key employee in the coffeehouse and he makes a great tuna sandwich and serves it with true caring about his customer. Here's AJ:

An outsider on one of our roofing jobs might see me loading heavy shingles on precarious peaks very high off the ground, then measuring, applying and facilitating an installation job to complete a finished product. complete with flashing, capping, and trimming to what may appear to be a lion's share of the work.

Dennis would be either assisting me by handing me shingles, one at a time until completion, or meticulously cleaning the ground and throwing out all the debris into a dumpster. He may have to root through a messy truck bed to find another hook blade, or a piece of metal or some such thing. An average bystander might think that he has the easier of the tasks on this job, that his percentage of total work load might seem much simpler.

What they would not see is the years of experience and dedication that both of us had put in, to streamline and create a system where each of us knows exactely what we are doing, and we have found the fastest, most efficient way to complete a job with the minimal amount of effort on BOTH of our parts.

What they would not see, except for the fellow roofers with whom we have taught, is that we are completing a job that would easily be a four person task; quickly, easily, and with as little exertion as possible. We will take breaks as often as we need them, whistling and singing and joking as we work, and our job will be done so well that we will get complimented and referred to by our customers. That would be the norm for us.

We have found a way to take the best of what each of us had to offer, find a common goal, and streamline that into utmost efficiency. We did not go out and define this ahead of time. We just became open to learn from each other, not to compare abilities, but to identify with what each other best brought to the given situation and , as the comedian whose name escapes me puts so well, "get 'er done!"

That is precisely how the Danny Boy Marathon evolved. A task was before us , all of us in this case. I had "sold" a job, the marathon, and that was the task that we were facing. We had, just as a roofing job, a well defined goal. In the case of the marathon, our charge was to complete fifty hours of non-stop performing of Danny Boy. We had a specific start and finish time, an array of workers and were able to do just as Dennis and I had learned to do; that is to find a way to take the best of what each of us had to offer. We knew our common goal and we streamlined that into utmost efficiency. We were open-minded to each others abilities and identified with them. We brought the best of what each of us had to the given situation and we "got 'er done!"

Needless to say, we whistled, hummed and sang along the way! I hear so many comments at how well organized our event was. Truth is, we only had these principals to go on. This had never been done before, by us or anyone else. Anything can get accomplished if you have ethic and principle to guide you. Work is so much a part of a persons life that I would hope that what Danny Boy teaches us all is that work does not have to be bad, awful, drudgery. We all will go through these periods, to be sure, but it does not have to be the norm!

While it sounds like it ran like clockwork, its organization was almost completely improvised. AJ didn't write any job descriptions or org charts. He just talked about the goal endlessly to anyone who would listen and they began to believe it could be done -- if they just gave what they had. So a video engineer came in and set up the stage, the sound system, the video recording system and the flow path for the performers. Where the plan for flow didn't quite work, a choir director quickly tried out and found a better way. People who had run open mics before organized themselves into a battalion of hosts to keep things running, even overnight. People who had never even thought of it before in their lives wrote and sent out press releases.

It went on and on...which is what the book is about. So AJ just sent me the paragraphs above, and I have to get to work on the project that's become a joy to my heart and a perfect way to spend many hours of interviewing, writing.and editing.

Jul 16, 2008

Engineering and art intersect

For you geeks (I say that in a good way - I married one and gave birth to another) who love 3D simulation, fancy data gathering, and technology you probably already know about Velodyne Lidar that lets you do things like:

Autonomous vehicle navigation (commercial and military)
Automotive safety systems, adaptive cruise control, lane following
3-D mapping
Surveying - mobile, as-built
Autonomous agricultural vehicles
Movie set rendering
Mining vehicles, profile monitoring
Tunnel surveys
Security - building perimeter monitoring

Well, it's penetrated art and the making of music videos. Take a look at this

Be sure to view this video about the making of the video.

Info about the video on Stereogum

Also here's a discussion of the technology

If nothing else, you can at least talk about Radiohead to your kids or younger associates and see if they think you are any cooler than you were.

Must be a lean application in here somewhere - maybe you can think of one and tell us about it.

Jul 12, 2008

Why it's hard to change

In order to be effective, truth must penetrate like an arrow - and that is likely to hurt. Wei Wu Wei

Jul 4, 2008

The retail gemba

People who know me know that I take shopping seriously, so naturally I want to read about it. At the risk of making this blog a book recommendation site, I have to share a story from "Why We Buy: The science of shopping" by Paco Underhill. His consulting firm, Envirosell, is based on the premise that you can take the anthropological view of marketing - watch what people do when they are shopping, then use that knowledge to make it easier for them to buy your stuff.

The lean view of that is that shopping and buying are part of a process. The purchase is the product of the process. So you have to go into the store and watch what happens. Underhill's observers spend hours watching and making notes, videotaping, and studying all the factors of the shopper's gemba.

Here's a fun story:

A company had a new line of microwave popcorn meant to appeal to kids and advertised it heavily on the TV shows kids watched. Food companies select positions in grocery stories and pay rent for shelf space, and the company assumed the parent would buy the popcorn when the kids started asking for it. So they put it on a shelf at a height convenient for the parent to pick it up. The product was flopping.

A gemba video showed one reason why. A little boy was making "repeated flying leaps at the shelf where the popcorn was kept, trying to knock one to the floor. He finally got it down, but when he took it to mom, she said no. Dejectedly, he put it back on the shelf -- not where it had been, but down at his own eye level. And sure enough, the next kid who came by saw it, grabbed it and tossed it into his Dad's cart, where it remained."

Obviously, a bunch of folks in a conference room make poorer decisions about how a process will work than if they go where the work is done and learn something first. The other lesson you already know -- a lot marketing people have watched the gemba and know exactly how to get your kids to make you buy stuff that's not on your list.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm