May 30, 2010

Take that, AT&T!

For a few weeks now, people have been telling me that when they've tried to call me they got a busy signal, for hours. But some calls came through. Those who recall my last episode with AT&T, know that tackling them again could be more than I could stand. I remained in denial for some time, making a decision eventually to go to internet phone service. Not having had a problem with Comcast in at least 15 years, I finally broke up with the phone company.

The lady at Comcast, available after 7 pm on a Friday unlike our friends in the public service business, was properly sympathetic at my moaning about the phone company, and got me set up for my new service to be installed next Friday. Not instantaneous, but reasonable.

I had to have the decision verified by a "third party" -- a recording that got my name and had me state that I was the holder of the phone company account. It warned me not to hang up in the middle. Here's where I might run into trouble. While I've been a party to a phone company account for more than 30 years, and paid the bills myself, my account has always been in the name of a spouse. In a sense, I had perjured myself. My fingers are crossed that I don't go back to square one here. (There's a good story about Microsoft on this subject, but I'll save it for another day."

So if you've tried to call and haven't gotten through, e-mail me and I'll call you. In a week my heart will belong to Comcast - let's hope it doesn't get broken.

May 21, 2010

Management Improvement Carnival #98

Once again, Lean Reflections gets to host the Management Improvement Carnival for Curious Cat. My picks include a look inside Toyota, lofty thinking about design of organizations, and on-the-ground mistaken beliefs encountered in a service setting:

LeanBlog Podcast #90 features Tim Turner, a plant team member at Toyota Kentucky, who compiled stories from 80 fellow team members from every level of TMMK organization about what it feels like to be part of Toyota.

Design Thinking -- Can Organizations be Beautiful? IDEO's Tim Brown ponders the aesthetics of an organization. What would a beautiful, innovative organization look like or feel like?

Daily Kaizen -- Understanding Demand Lee Fried works at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, recently grappling with the belief that it is impossible to predict when the end customer is going need a service.

New: When you see a good blog post or article, vote it on John Hunter's Management reddit list. Let's all share daily.

May 20, 2010

From customer service problem to authentic social relationship

Rather than post this as a comment on my previous post, Defects and Emotions, I decided to feature the response from Tomasso Melani Gori as a new one. I received a marketing followup from Tomasso and decided to just shoot back a note about my experience and a link to my blog. Tomasso's response is an outstanding example of forming a relationship from a problem...

Dear Ms. Wilhelm,

I really enjoyed reading your blog, that leads beyond the single experience to deeper emotions on how expectations, efforts and commitment do not always meet!

I’m extremely sorry that you did not share with us your concerns and disappointment right away. I’m exactly like you and I usually do not express my concerns nor I complain, so I do understand why you didn’t. But when I’m sitting on this side of the counter, please be sure that I never consider customers’ complaints as a bother, but on the contrary it’s a way to perfect what wasn’t and help us strive for the best quality we can deliver.

I can obviously offer you to return us the jacket anytime to fix the imperfection. If you decide so, please make sure to email me first, so that I can give you apposite instructions and avoid you problems with Italian Customs upon import to Italy.

I will take care of the seam and mail you back the jacket in no time.

Looking forward to hearing from you, I send you my very best regards,

Tommaso Melani

Tommaso Melani Gori, MBA
Marketing & Export Dept. manager
Scuola del Cuoio, Firenze

May 19, 2010

Changeovers and art

My friend Mike Thelen fielded a question recently that he agreed to share on Lean Reflections, so here it is...

Q:  I have conducted two changeover events in the last month and in both cases, we were able to pull out the obvious waste but in the internal change, the tasks that the operators went through were highly technical and required lots of adjustments (Art). I know we teach to 'remove as much adjustment as possible' but I am stuck! We are setting a thread rolling machine to make high precision screws for aerospace. Tolerances are very close. One of the operators suggested that the way to improve the set-up was to get a new machine! Thoughts

A.  I, too, have been working with Lean - for about 9 years now. Currently, I'm in a machining setting using similar equipment (thread rollers, thread grinders, lathes, mills, etc). Even with tolerances of +.005/-.000, it is a challenge. Inspection becomes critical and, although a true waste, is very hard to eliminate.

Why? Simply because if operation "A" has that tolerance, and the machine naturally drifts in the tolerance due to variations in material (not just piece to piece, but within the piece being machined itself - thus causing inconsistent tool/insert wear daily), it makes operation "B" (thread rolling or grinding) EXTREMELY difficult to set up without 1st piece and in-process inspection. Since the variation is inherent to the product and the processes, and the whole is run as a jobshop with different specifications and sizes running continuously through a machine, with different operators on each shift, as well as parts from different machines funneling through a single machine, you are left with testing/inspection as a standard part of your process. Would a new machine help? Maybe. Ours tend to be old, bought used, and run into the ground without a good TPM process. But, how would buying a new machine help when those practices aren't corrected?

I suggest - start by simplifying the inspection. Create standard work on the process of setup and inspection. Strive to build inspection processes that ALL operators can do within a timeframe (I guarantee one operator is very good and very quick, while some aren't good or quick!) You can make some reasonable setup reduction gains in the inspection process here.

Then build a strong TPM program. Why buy new machines when the operators and maintenance staff are just going to run them into the ground. This will also require educating the scheduling folks on the importance of routine maintenance.

Have the design folks work on the BEST specification (+anything / -0 is a STUPID design spec).

RETRAIN ALL operators to work toward the exact, not allowing +/- to get out of control - yes a little SPC. Again, I guarantee some work to hold the bottom of the tolerance, some work to the top.

Most importantly - remember this is NOT an overnight fix - no matter what your plant manager or GM thinks. EVEN WITH FULL SUPPORT - financially and culturally this will likely take years to complete. I've never worked in a facility that had full support both financially and culturally. When machines and processes are beaten down, $200.00 can't fix them...

May 9, 2010

Defects and emotions

I went to Florence last week and fulfilled my dream of seeing the leather school at Santa Croce, and splurging on something made with care, the best materials (leather produced in Italy), and attention to detail. I picked out a leather jacket with a distinctive smocked effect. The sleeves were too long, but Vito assured me that they could shorten them immediately and I could pick the coat up that afternoon.

I agonized over how much it cost, being a very frugal person, and not given to buying the luxuries I often covet. This coat was producing a lot of deep feelings. Call me silly, but that's the truth.

When I picked up the coat, however, I noticed that the new seam on one of the sleeves was a tiny bit crooked and made an undesirable tuck in the smocked material. It's something most people would probably not notice, but I immediately felt a pang. I was in an emotional state, I was pressed for time, and I didn't want to complain. I wanted to believe that this was the most wonderful leather-working organization ever. My mind started working on how I could rework the piece myself without leaving needle holes showing.

I've gone through the "should haves" over and over again. I should have insisted on a coat without the defect, and waited a little longer or refused to take it. I'm not the only customer who has accepted a product with a defect and gone away disappointed and disillusioned about all the things an organization has done to create its reputation.

I felt so let down that I couldn't open the bag later to look at the coat. I took the unopened bag through the airline check-in and hand-baggage approval, through Italian customs to get my VAT refund approved, through numberless security checks, on two airplanes, through American customs, and home. It took me three days to open the bag and take out the jacket. All the feelings I wanted to have were crushed by this defect that they allowed and I accepted. I haven't cried over it, but I might.

This is an extreme reaction to a product defect, but think of all the people working in systems that allow defects to occur and how powerless they may feel to prevent them. No one comes to work to do a bad job. People get hardened to the knowledge that customers get defective products, but I think they have deep emotions tied to it.

That's why mistake proofing, quality at the source, training, and consistent standards are so important. Everything must be in place so the customer gets perfection. Every employee must be confident that they produce the best.

When it all works right, you can have the hearts and minds of employees and loyalty of your customers. When it doesn't, you betray them, and they know it.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm