Dec 12, 2012

My iPad Mini's trip around the world

I ordered an iPad mini for a Christmas gift. Here is its itinerary -- don't you just love package tracking?

LocationDateLocal TimeActivity
Louisville, KY, United States12/12/20126:52 A.M.Arrival Scan
Anchorage, AK, United States12/11/20129:10 P.M.Departure Scan
12/11/20127:29 P.M.Arrival Scan
Shanghai, China12/12/20124:45 A.M.Departure Scan
Shanghai, China12/11/20123:10 P.M.Export Scan
ShangHai, China12/10/20127:07 P.M.Departure Scan
12/10/20128:10 A.M.Origin Scan
China12/10/20129:39 A.M.Order Processed: Ready for UPS

Nov 23, 2012

Lean ideas can be like squirrels in the attic

WARNING: Some content in this post may be unpleasant to sensitive readers.

We said goodbye to a little guest today -- a little ground squirrel. You might think squirrels are cute, but when one is running around above your ceiling at all hours of the day, they lose their charm. In our case, as I listened to occasional scrabbling sounds, I went through the denial phase -- maybe it's on the roof outside, maybe it will just go away, maybe it's just my imagination.

Eventually, I accepted the idea that we had some kind of animal up there. It sounded bigger than a mouse. Dealing with such things is outside my job description, so I had to motivate the responsible person to deal with the problem. He too had to go through denial and disbelief. After hearing some communication that could possibly be called nagging, he filled some cracks in the exterior fascia with expandable-insulation-in-a-can and applied some duct tape. (It's black duct tape so the neighbors won't be horrified.)  If our hypothesis was correct that the animal was coming in and going out, we'd have a solution. I didn't say a lot about it, but the effort was really in vain unless all the other little cracks are sealed. But that would lead to a giant project, including painting all the trim on the house, for which I have yet to select a color. I'm hoping there aren't more ways in, and have yet to inspect the entire fascia. I know it's wishful thinking.

Eventually, it was clear that our attic had become home to someone. Let's think. Is it a big problem or a small one -- mice or squirrels? Put out some D-con or a live trap? What have other people done to solve the problem? Let's see what's on the internet. Let's see what's on offer at The Home Depot. (The guy at the pest control section had some pretty scary stories about people with squirrels in their houses.) We leave with mouse bait, mouse traps, and a live trap. We decide not to try pouring some beer into a bucket so that the creatures would be lured into death by drowning, a popular method advocated on the web.

Back home and inside the attic, getting to the source of the problem is not easy -- the roof is built with trusses and the attic is filled with a forest of 2 x 4s going up, down, and diagonally about 18 inches apart. No wonder he had been reluctant to deal with the problem! Mike struggled to squeeze through and get as close as possible to their favorite corner, in the dim and wavering light of the flashlight I held from the attic opening. Being close up -- closer to the gemba, if you will -- I could see another of his problems -- if a visitor liked staying under the blankets of fiberglass insulation, you couldn't see whether they were even there. The fiberglass added more risk -- contamination. All clothes will have to be washed after the foray into the unknown space. Nothing's simple.

The result? By the next day, the rascal was in the trap. He was taken far, far away so he'd never find his way back in. At least one visitor is out of the house. There could be more. We don't know.

There's an overhanging branch to be cut if more creatures aren't to creep in. Accepting the need and acting on it doesn't seem to have happened. But that's part of having the whole tree taken down (it's half dead), which involves asking the neighbor if it's our tree or theirs. And if we take down one tree, we might as well take down all the trees we need to get rid of. That's something we have not agreed upon. And is that part of a big landscaping job that will cost thousands of dollars and have to wait until spring?

One issue leads to another, but they all circle the reality that undesirables can get back in at any time. But we know how to get rid of them. And we can always call the exterminator.

If lean thinking is your vermin

Our pest control experience made me think about unwanted lean ideas in an organization.

People who don't want lean to make its way into the organization can deny to themselves that any lean buzz has started. They can try to eliminate any talk about lean by sealing off the people from any contaminated thinking. Do they fight the idea with another idea? Which idea? What have other people done to make the idea go away in their companies?

Ultimately, despite every effort to keep them out, lean ideas are so plentiful that it's inevitable that they make their way inside. You might seek out and terminate the idea carriers, but more are left behind. So far, most efforts to infiltrate the organization with lean ideas end in failure. Without help, they are just not powerful enough. That's why only 5% of companies who even try to allow lean ideas to come into the organization are able to use them. The owners of the old culture defend it.

Here my analogy fails, I hope. I don't want squirrels to proliferate in my house, but I do want lean ideas to take hold and prosper in businesses, hospitals, government offices, and in nonprofit organizations. I want them everywhere. I want them welcomed into organizations, not exterminated. But that's more wishful thinking, and I know it.

Nov 7, 2012

Which mild-mannered manufacturing person is really a superhero

Who was your favorite superhero when you were a kid? What about now? Mine may come as a surprise... You can read about it on the manufacturing news site, Manufacturing Pulse.

Oct 6, 2012

The Outstanding Organization: Book review

Karen Martin kindly sent me a copy of her new book, The Outstanding Organization: Generate business results by eliminating chaos and building the foundation for everyday excellence. We stayed in touch during the time she was writing the book, and I participated in some of her webinars, so I was pretty sure that it would be good. I was not disappointed. 
The Outstanding Organization


If they would admit it, leaders in many companies seeking lean as a business system are not close to where they want to be. People are still fighting fires, missing targets, producing defects, and dealing with weak buy-in at all levels. Karen Martin says one reason is that they did not take time to build a strong foundation for their lean structure. She identifies what the chaotic company usually lacks, how to recognize what's missing, and what to do about it. She gives good examples based on her experience and research. In addition to her own knowledge, Karen polled scores of experts and talked to many thought leaders to test her thinking, strengthening the value of the book.

Karen says that chaos in the organization is caused by:

  • Lack of clarity
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of discipline
  • Lack of engagement

Lack of clarity: People draw different conclusions about what they and their business units are supposed to be doing and what the company wants to accomplish, what their customer wants. Therefore, there are arguments, unnecessarily long meetings, and rework. It’s frustrating to work under these conditions and takes a toll on people as well as the business.

Lack of focus: Leaders change priorities almost randomly, try to solve too many problems at the same time, and fail to think through what they are trying to do to improve.

Lack of discipline: Improvement programs often have weak commitment and are expected to produce too much too soon. There isn’t time for training and experience to make people proficient. I call this the failure to “pick something and do it” syndrome. Leadership waffles about what to fix and wastes time deciding. Almost anything will start to create the thinking that the company wants to leverage more widely. Too trivial or too knotty a problem will make progress difficult, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick a problem, like late deliveries to customers, that is visible to everyone. As long as everyone understands that working on that problem is like picking up a messy piece of string -- one knot will lead to finding another that is connected. That’s OK, as long as everyone knows it takes some time to make the whole tangle visible and surface many interrelated problems. Then, as Karen says, they need to have the discipline to stick with the improvement method of choice and work through more problems without becoming discouraged.

Lack of engagement: This is the problem that everyone seems to be talking about these days. Having an engaged workforce and leadership seems important, but how do you change hearts and minds? Karen says that working on the first three problems will begin to produce that engagement the company is looking for.

Quick read or deep study?

The book is easy to read quickly -- nearly anyone can do that, even in the midst of chaos, and get something out of it. But ideally, the reader will take time to absorb each section carefully and reflect on how it relates to his or her organization.

Because of its simplicity, it would be a good book for a leadership study group. Together they can read about and discuss chaos in their organization, and look at the state of the foundation they have tried to build in their effort to achieve transformative business results. Each of the four “lacks” would make a good topic of a separate meeting. Because Karen provides a good introduction to hoshin planning, the team would better see how to cascade goals and plans for both business results and continuous improvement, while filling in what their organizations lacks.

As an overall summary of business problems and solutions, the book can only be a starting point, which I believe Karen recognizes. I don’t know when I’ve seen an author refer to as many books by prominent lean experts as intelligently as Karen has. In the process of writing, she talked to many of them, which assures us that she really knows what they are saying. If you wanted to learn the most about lean, you’d read each of the books she cites.

I would have liked to see more diagrams and sample work documents, especially since Karen gives significant time to visual management. While producing and placing illustrations in a book adds to development lead time and expense, it would reinforce the text and especially help the person whose primary learning method is visual.

I must say that I found a certain elegance to Karen’s writing. Not the type of elegance with frills and decoration, but a subtle touch with words and style that lets knowledge and ideas shine through. 

Overall, I give the book high marks and think it would be especially helpful for business leaders outside our bubble of lean aficionados.

You can get more information about the book and Karen Martin's work at You can also find her on Twitter (@karenmartinOPEX) and on LinkedIn.

Aug 7, 2012

What matters now: energy technology transfer

Feeling cool despite the August heat? As we depend on air conditioning ever more, this is also the season for blackouts and brownouts -- witness the massive energy outage in India, which happened after I wrote my latest What Matters Now column for Manufacturing Pulse, A long, hot summer stresses global energy networks.

I’m sure it nags at the back of your mind, like it does mine, that the U.S. energy grid infrastructure is in such precarious condition, as the American Society of Civil Engineers says.

Read my article for some words of hope, as innovation makes a strong grid more attainable, if only we  would act.

Manufacturing Pulse ( is a new website from Gray, a global industrial construction leader, created to keep manufacturing leaders informed of the latest news about our industry. It is featuring a growing list of regular columnists, including me and Dr. Jeffrey Liker. More about the company and why they have invested in this site.

Jul 26, 2012

Heat wave should not cause harm to employees

Manufacturing leaders who don’t often visit factory and distribution facilities may be ignoring a serious safety hazard. And it's one that can get them in trouble. An employer has a general duty under OSHA to provide a work place free of recognized hazards, which includes excessive heat. And an employer that claims to be lean implicitly promises to respect employees, not to enclose them in an inferno.

Besides the respect due to workers, poor working conditions come at a cost. Absenteeism and lagging production are just surface issues. Workers overcome by heat need immediate medical treatment, a risk to their health and an increase of health care costs. Heat-induced illness also causes interrupted production, perhaps higher insurance rates, and belongs in OSHA safety records. In a union shop, poor working conditions can result in work stoppages and serious conflict.

The NIOSH website of the Center for Disease Control website is pretty clear about criteria and consequences. I'm quoting pretty closely, because a manager in an air conditioned office may not look at working in a heat wave this way:

  • During unusually hot weather conditions lasting longer than two days, the number of heat illnesses usually increases. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, fainting, fatigue send workers to the hospital or home.
  • Some causes are body fluid deficit, loss of appetite, buildup of heat in living and work areas, and breakdown of air-conditioning equipment. It is advisable to adhere to preventive measures during hot spells and to avoid unnecessary or unusual stressful activity.
  • Heat promotes accidents due to the slipperiness of sweaty palms, dizziness, or the fogging of safety glasses.  
  • Working in heat lowers the mental alertness and physical performance of an individual. Increased body temperature and physical discomfort promote irritability, anger, and other emotional states which sometimes cause workers to overlook safety procedures or to divert attention from hazardous tasks.
  • Many industries have attempted to reduce the hazards of heat stress by introducing engineering controls, training workers in the recognition and prevention of heat stress, and implementing work-rest cycles. 
  • The amount of heat produced during hard, steady work is much higher than that produced during intermittent or light work. Therefore, one way of reducing the potential for heat stress is to make the job easier or lessen its duration by providing adequate rest time. 
  • Mechanization of work procedures can isolate workers from heat sources (perhaps in an air-conditioned booth) and increase overall productivity by decreasing the time needed for rest. 
  • Another approach to reducing the level of heat stress is the use of engineering controls which include ventilation and heat shielding.

John Holmquist, blogger at the Michigan Employment Law Connection, also reminds us that it is only a matter of time before we hear of employees being disciplined for complaining in Facebook about heat at work and the employer’s unwillingness to do anything about it. The NLRB has supported employees making negative social media posts, and even employee action like walking off the job when safety hazards are not addressed.

It can be worse than just a mention on Facebook, witness Amazon’s embarrassing position when newspapers reported that fulfillment center employees in several U.S. cities were expected to reach high production goals in sweltering conditions. The company has since spent $52 million [corrected from $52 on Aug 1, 2012] on air conditioning for those facilities. If they had done it sooner, they’d be hailed as enlightened instead of hardhearted. 

Jul 14, 2012

A customer's view of waste: another long story

Weeks ago, maybe months now, a cable guy worked on the thing where our underground connections go. He left the box open, and we thought he’d be back the next day, or he had perhaps just forgotten it. Mike tried to close it, but it wouldn’t budge. After waiting for a really long time, I thought I’d better call the cable company and report it.

Comcast is our cable provider, so I called them. A reasonable amount of time on hold, if there is any reasonable time to be on hold, and a polite rep took my report and said someone would be out the next day. (Later Mike said I should have called Ameritech because it was their name on the box -- wasting my own time for not looking at the box for information before calling them.)

True enough, the cable guy came, looked, and talked to me: It wasn’t Comcast’s box. It belonged to WOW, who had bought Ameritech's cable delivery business in our area. He told me he tried to close the box, but the thing inside was too big. 

I didn’t want to waste another piece of my life calling another company, but did anyway. I was optimistic about WOW, having heard CEO Colleen Abdoullah speak at an AME conference about outstanding customer service. Uh oh, not so. First, the phone menu actually lacked any option for a service request. I tried the old trick of hitting zero to get an operator, but no luck there. I decided I just had to connect to a sales rep and see if they could handle something outside their functional area. Well, they could do that. The woman took the report and said there would be a guy out the next day.

WOW. The WOW cable guy looked at the box. Then he said that WOW knew that it was sitting like this. It happens that they installed a gadget that was bigger than the box. So they would have to come back and put in a bigger box. That was many weeks ago. Well, it’s not my cable service that’s going to go out when water got into something electrical or electronic. The lawn service has been getting grass inside it. About time for a mouse to start nesting there. Or the bees that were colonizing my mailbox.

Let’s look at the unnecessary waste here. Several people in the neighborhood have stopped to do a good deed and try to close the box. I made two phone calls, wasting my time and the time that WOW and Comcast were paying their customer service and sales reps for. The service divisions of both companies had to schedule service calls, pay for the gas and the service guys’ time, plus our time getting the story from them. The box could be damaged by the weather. In any case, the installers will have to clean it out when they finally get here.

How come they didn’t know before they installed the new device that the receptacles in our neighborhood weren’t big enough? Seems like their database ought to have that among the details of location, age, and so on, of their equipment.

Isn’t it just as easy to switch the boxes now as later? Can’t the scheduling process handle that? Are they trying to minimize miles by batching the installation of the new boxes? Is that a cause of all the unplanned waste?

I doubt that financial reports will reveal this extra cost. If the right people were at the dispatch yard or the call center, riding along on a route occasionally, or listening to the service and call center reps, they could agree to a better process. If they were accustomed to lean thinking.

Till then, we live with the irritating “what’s wrong with this picture?” mental alert every time we catch sight of this thing, and think a little less of WOW as a company. 

Jul 4, 2012

Fireworks at the gemba

Seeing fireworks from a distance is like managing from your office.

Our city held its fireworks display last night, not too far from my house. I'm not attracted to huge throngs of people, and by 10:15 pm, I'm usually in bed with my book. I couldn't see them, but the explosions were rattling my windows. 

I can choose to hear and feel the fireworks from down the road, look at pictures on the local news website, or watch them on YouTube, perhaps,

But when you are at the park, lying on your blanket under the bursts of light and color, the ground shaking with the blasts, your hands over your ears, going "Ooooh" and "Wow!" it's a completely different matter. 

So is being at the gemba. You hear the machines, feel the impact when the press meets the die or the cutting tool winds the metal off the workpiece, feel the heat of forging or heat treating.Your sense of smell, perhaps below your consciousness, informs you of something overheating, fumes that should be exhausted, grease that should be cleaned, if conditions are in need of improvement. You are immersed in the experience, from feeling the floor beneath you as you walk, the activity 360 degrees around you, cranes above you, whether the illumination is adequate, too bright, or murky. 

You can answer or ask a question the moment the opportunity arises. Does the employee or manager know about the process as a whole or the operation in front of you? Is there enthusiasm and confidence, or hesitation? You see the faces of the employees: concentrating, smiling, or scowling. 

If you're miles away, you can get detailed real-time reporting on your new "dashboard" or get weekly or monthly "numbers." You can call or skype somebody, or even get a live video feed if you want.

If you're getting trained, you can read a book, go through a simulation, do some online learning, watch videos.

If you are in IT or engineering, you can talk to people, work to specifications, and test, test, test.

If you are in HR, you can collect performance evaluations, train people, and interview new hires or departing employees.

But you don't really get it if you're not THERE!

It's a choice. Be surrounded by the drama and excitement of the Fourth of July fireworks, or stay home, feel an occasional "boom," and listen to your windows rattle while you focus on something else. If it's your business, you need to be there -- at the gemba.

Jul 2, 2012

Thinking about starting a company blog? Rob Olney shows how to do it right.

Ever feel like everybody has a blog, and you should get one too? Well, if you do want to start blogging, do it right. How? Let’s go-and-see…

ETM Manufacturing has been fabricating and machining sheet metal and assembling products for its customers for more than 40 years. It aims to have a customer centric culture, and CEO Rob Olney’s blog demonstrates how that culture operates daily. When I look at Rob’s blog, I see these qualities:

Informal: Rob tells you a story in his own words. No corporate-speak. No stilted phrases.

Personal and emotional: Words and phrases like “stunned,” “shocked,” and “We had a scare the other day…” humanize ETM. When we care about our work, we feel the same emotions, and these glimpses can help us feel a connection with Rob and his team. (Some research says that triggering these feelings releases oxytocin in the brain. It’s been called the “trust hormone.” Scientific American, To trust or not to trust)

Smart: Rob tells a story about deciding whether to bring powder coating in-house. It spells out costs and alternatives, and how the ETM team worked with a customer to make it feasible. Although it’s a breakeven proposition, it’s the right decision because it increases process velocity as the part moves between customer and supplier. Sharing the thinking with blog readers shows a business decision that another company might not make. In addition, because employees often don’t know the dollars and cents analysis behind a decision, laying it all on the table makes them smarter too.

Constantly seeking improvement: Rob says, “For the first time, I saw through Jim (Womack)’s perspective the waste in our quoting and job release processes.  We take pride in 24 hour turns for any type of quote, but Jim had me see that 24 hours may not be valuable to the customer.  Two hours might be valuable on one quote and two weeks might be valuable on another quote.”

Partner attitude: As a customer or supplier, I would feel ETM is interested in making my company competitive and help me improve my product and process when I read, “An enclosure’s cover is getting scratched during the removal, storage or replacement processes… Keith’s solution was a 3M protective sheet to wrap the top enclosure... This is not a bad idea, but the lean thinker in me sees all the waste… A better solution came from Rich, our salesman.  Why not use returnable packaging between Keith’s company and our company?  We would build wood boxes with foam inside for each enclosure…”

So much is revealed in one little story: Rich is engaged with the customer, understands waste, and knows the processes involved. Rob knows an improvement opportunity when he sees one.  Rob gives Rich credit for his idea. And ETM takes responsibility for making the returnable boxes, which now become kanbans and produce all sorts of other savings.

Confident: In the story about the enclosure cover, Rob doesn’t neglect the sell, however soft it is… "You probably can think of several other solutions… you, me, and Keith’s end user don’t want to pay for waste…Once we adopt this customer attitude to our approach as suppliers, new opportunities always open up to help reduce waste and increase value.”

Available and helpful: “We have started working with a select group of customers to dive deeper into supply chain partnerships…We’ve found that those partnerships require a lot of training and process improvement work… customers who are searching for deeper, more integrated approach will be supported by our dedicated sales force.” (This post also announced that ETM has hired new salespeople, and how that can benefit you as a customer.)

Inclusive: Rob talks about people at ETM and customer companies, always by name -- Rich, Ed, Shawn, Kerrie-Ann. The team is the center of the story.

Friendly: I really feel Rob’s openness and connection with his team and customers.

Humble: “I used to think… Now, I know better.”

Direct: Whether it reveals a weakness or a problem with his company -- which of course he and his team are working to correct -- Rob tells it like it is.

Persistent: Rob blogs about once a week, which I think is about right. (I’ve been called out on not blogging often enough, and I can tell you how hard it is.)

I could go on about ETM’s website, Twitter feed, news releases, photo gallery, LinkedIn company page, YouTube channel, and networking activities with other manufacturers in the region. But you get the picture, and can explore these on your own.

So inside the social media buzzwords, you can use these new tools to share how your company works... and who doesn't want to read a story?

Jun 24, 2012

Girl Scouts ask: How do we inspire girls to enter careers in science or engineering?

Here’s the situation:

• Women account for about only 20% of the bachelor’s degrees in engineering, computer
science, and physics.
• Regardless of specific area of STEM, women hold only about 25% of these positions.

While Boy Scouts offer merit badges in welding, nuclear science, and other potential career choices as I wrote about in a previous post, Girl Scouts of America are asking the key questions. Not why aren’t girls going into these careers, not what’s wrong with the system, but what do girls want, what really interests them? In short, what’s the customer pull?

Last year the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) conducted a study, and reported out this year in Generation STEM: What girls say about science, technology, engineering, and math.(1)

Contrary to the belief that girls don’t like math and science, or aren’t smart enough, the study found:

• 74% of high school girls across the country are interested in STEM. 
• Girls like the process of learning, asking questions, and problem solving. 
• Girls want to help people and make a difference in the world. 
• Girls interested in STEM have supportive adult networks and are exposed to STEM fields. 
• Girls who are interested in STEM fields are also interested in other subjects and career opportunities. 
• Girls perceive gender barriers.

Girls interested in STEM like to understand how things work (87%), solve problems (85%), do hands-on activities (83%) and ask questions (80%). Two thirds of them like building things, understanding how things are built, and doing math problems.

Interest in STEM went along with confidence. Girls interested in STEM believe that they are smart enough to have a career in STEM -- 92%. On the other hand, only 68% of girls not interested in STEM think they’re smart enough.

Awareness, family support, and early experience mattered when it comes to building interest in science and technology. 53% of girls interested in STEM know a woman in a STEM career, compared to only 35% who are not interested. Their dads tended to be more interested in STEM than their moms, but were encouraged in that direction by both parents. Fewer girls in the non-STEM interest group had done hands-on science activities when younger, gone to a science museum, or were involved in an extracurricular STEM activity.

Meet Ariel: Reduced hospital-acquired infections from stethoscopes
Girl Scouts 2011 Young Woman of Distinction

Girls want to help people and make a difference in the world. They want to have input into how the job is done, make money, think, practice what they love, collaborate, be creative, work with their hands.

The reality is that girls said their social influences -- their peers -- aren’t planning for STEM careers. They feel uncomfortable about being the only girl in a group or class, and they think they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously. Sadly, not much has changed in the decades since women first pushed their way into the STEM workforce.

Girl Scouts of America say they reach 2.4 million girls ages 5-17. That’s a conduit that can bypass our educational system that we blame for many of our workforce problems. What can we do? 
Just as I said you can do with the Boy Scouts, you can extend a helping hand to your local or regional Girl Scout council. Open your doors to tours. Fund trips to museums, robotics competitions, and science camp. Make girls aware of scholarships you offer -- you do offer them, don’t you?

Importantly, give women employees the time and support to reach out and mentor girls in your community. Girls need to see themselves as part of the manufacturing and continuous improvement future -- and not as the only girl in the room.

(1) The Generation STEM study LINK was conducted March 2011by the Girl Scout Research Institute. They held eleven focus groups in six geographical areas, which included 140 girls, half of them Girl Scouts, and half with exposure to STEM (after-school, camp, Girl Scout event). They also conducted an online survey a national sample of 852 girls ages 14-17. Lockheed Martin helped support this study.

Jun 17, 2012

Boy Scouts explore welding as well as the wilderness.

While pundits moan about the lack of a young, interested, and trained workforce for today’s high-skilled manufacturing jobs, the Boy Scouts have teamed up with organizations like the American Welding Society to change that. In addition to badges for wilderness survival and wood carving, Scouts can now earn badges for welding, nuclear science, composite materials, engineering, and robotics.

In a February press release, David Landon, vice president, American Welding Society, said, “By the end of the decade, it is estimated there will be a critical need for over 200,000 new and replacement welders in the United States. The future of the welding industry depends upon preparing the next generation and that’s why AWS is really excited to work with the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America possess the leadership and values necessary to advance the productivity of the welding industry.” 

The Boy Scouts of America have had help from schools, companies, and government organizations. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, iRobot Corporation, LEGO® Education North America, Museum of Science, Boston, NASA were all involved in the development of the Robotics badge, and similar resources were recruited for the other badges. Each one has a menu of requirements.

Boy Scouts introduce
welding merit badge

What does the Scout have to do to earn the Welding merit badge?


Understand safety hazards and what to do about them. Be able to explain terminology like electrode and oxidation. Be able to describe the welding process in terms of equipment, materials, and some metallurgy. Know what the various types of welding are, and describe two of them, including advantages and limitations.

Set up for welding, with all the equipment, materials, and settings made ready. Under the watchful eye of the counselor, after scribing your initials in a metal plate, weld a bead on the pattern. Cover a 3" x 3" x ¼" with weld beads, tack plates with a square groove butt joint, then weld them, do the same with a T joint and fillet weld, tack and weld a lap joint.

Scout out the manufacturing landscape. Find out what career opportunities there are and what education and experience are needed, then discuss them with your counselor. Learn how the American Welding Society fits into the welding profession.


More new merit badges

The Drafting badge is mainly focused on CAD and includes an optional requirement (is there such a thing?) to visit a drafting facility, see the drawings, find out about what software they use, and understand the drawing process fits into the process of producing the company’s end products.

I also like the Truck transportation merit badge. Its scope is the whole supply chain, including mapping the international flow of goods, understanding types of trucks, visiting truck terminals and talking to drivers, learning about safety and maintenance issues, and government agencies in the whole system. The Scout gets to know how a trucking company is organized and what jobs are found there, and how to prepare and dispatch a shipment meeting specific time requirements. The skills explored range from the drivers to the dispatchers to the supply chain managers.

Composite materials
merit badge

What I like

  1. The learn/practice/explore pattern for earning each badge.  
  2. The role of the counselor to coach and evaluate the Scout.
  3. How the requirements reveal the skilled trades, engineering, and scientific facets of each process or field.
  4. Whatever career path the Scout envisions following, he will have an understanding of the other facets of his profession.
  5. There is no steering, tracking, or ranking of the available careers.

Be prepared

I talked to my friend Tim McMahon, author of A Lean Journey blog, about his Boy Scout experience. Tim was an Eagle Scout and says he earned every merit badge at the time. His oldest boy is in Cub Scouts. He says that aside from skills built through merit badges, “The boys learn leadership skills by running patrols or other groups -- teams -- in Scouts. I think if you search for company CEOs you will find a number of them are Eagle Scouts.

“The Scouts also learn teamwork and problem solving skills by solving challenges, typically related to the outdoors but not always.  It is not uncommon to be given a box of items that the boys have to build something to solve a problem -- build a fire, measure a distance, find a location, and so on.”

Tim’s in tune with the Boy Scouts of America parent organization. When the Robotics merit badge was first announced, BSA Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca has said, “While the guiding principles of Scouting—service to others, leadership, personal achievement, and respect for the outdoors—will never change, we continue to adapt programs to prepare young people for success in all areas of life.” 

How to help. 

You don’t have to be a parent of a scout age kid. Volunteer to help your local troop. Arrange a tour of your facility. Conduct a lean simulation? Like all things troops vary in how active they are, how they tap outside resources, and what they focus on. You might have to look around a bit to find the troop you are in sync with. But think about it. For more information on the Boy Scouts of America, please visit

What’s missing?

There is no equivalent program in today’s Girl Scouts of America. We’ll take a look at that in my next post.

Jun 2, 2012

Quality problems at Johnson & Johnson cost $$$ and risk lives

When I went to CVS the other day to stock up on Mylanta (don't ask), I noticed that the shelves were half empty. First thought -- this store isn't doing such a great job on restocking.

Then I saw the signs tacked up in the spaces where the antacid belonged. Mylanta is unavailable from the manufacturer, but the CVS brand is in good supply. I hadn’t noticed before because I buy the store brand anyway, but what was going on?

Later I fired up Google. Johnson & Johnson has been having a rash of problems, and not just with Mylanta.

The Mylanta issue was one of labeling compliance. According to, J&J recalled it because minute amounts of alcohol from flavoring agents was not noted on the packaging. But this happened in 2010. Does it take more than a year to reprint labels?

Retailers with their own sources of supply are reaping a bonanza as J&J suffers. CVS doesn't hesitate to persuade consumers to try a store brand. Think they will go back to paying more for a branded product when it gets back on the shelves?

How about Tylenol? J&J announced last June, 60,912 bottles of TYLENOL®, Extra Strength Caplets, manufactured in February, 2009, were pulled from retail stores due to reports of a musty, moldy odor. J&J says trace amounts of 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA), which is a byproduct of a chemical preservative used on wood pallets. In January 2010, J&J instituted actions to reduce the potential of TBA contamination. Suppliers must now certify they don’t use such pallets. TBA problems also caused recalls of Benadryl, Motrin, the HIV/AIDS medicine PREZISTA, RISPERDAL, and Topamax. (Press releases issued through 2011)

In August, J&J recalled TYLENOL® Cold Multi-Symptom Nighttime Rapid Release Gelcaps when product sampling showed that Chlorpheniramine Ammonio Acetate (CPAA), was higher than expected. J&J says that some CPAA, formed from the combination of two product ingredients, is present normally, but less of it.

Frightening to parents, 574,000 bottles of Infants' TYLENOL® Oral Suspension were recalled in February 2012. Some parents found that the flow restrictor would be pushed into the bottle when the oral dosing measurement syringe was inserted.

The problems in children’s products caused U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to call William Weldon, Chairman of the Board and CEO, and Colleen A. Goggins Worldwide Chairman, Consumer Group, to Washington in September 2010. Weldon ceded the CEO role to Alex Gorsky in April 2012.

Packaging problems caused a recall of IMODIUM® products just two weeks ago. Some blister units have dents, pinholes, or tears. (May 2012)

Sudafed: a typographical error on the label, which incorrectly repeated the word "not" as follows: "do not not divide, crush, chew, or dissolve the tablet." (Feb 2011)

Rolaids: Rolaids are supposed to “spell relief,” but reportedly contained metal and wood particles from production at a third party manufacturer. (December 9, 2010)

More troubling are some recalls of vascular devices, hip replacement systems, and blood glucose test strips.

A vascular sheath was subject to fracture, which could cause perforation of blood vessels, requiring “unplanned open surgery.” (October 2009)

OneTouch® SureStep® Test Strips: Blood glucose levels test strips that gave false low results for glucose levels higher than 22.2 mmol/L. (February 2010)

Unpublished 2010 data from the National Joint Registry (NJR) of England and Wales shows a five-year “revision surgery” rate of approximately 12% for J&J's DePuy brand resurfacing system, higher than in other similar systems. DePuy must cover costs of monitoring and treatment for services, including surgeries, associated with the recalls. The company’s first quarter 2011 earnings cited $271 million in litigation and DePuy recall expenses. (August 2010, April 2012)

In the 2012 first quarter financial report, problems in the consumer OTC brands were cited as a drag on revenue -- manufacturing at a facility in Fort Washington, Pa., has been shut down for two years due to “ongoing efforts to enhance quality and manufacturing systems," and likely will be stopped until the end of 2013.

Newer products like Remicade are bolstering revenue and earnings, blunting the pain of lost revenue and increased expenses. And oddly, company surveys show that consumers still trust J&J. (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 2012)

May 22, 2012

More healthcare experience: a timed visit to urgent care

Sometimes you test the healthcare industry by mishap. On Friday I came home with a trunk full of flowers to plant. I went through the garage into the house to enlist Mike's aid in unloading them, walked back into the garage and found myself falling.

As I looked back at the dangerously placed step, I thought about putting "fluorescent tape" on my shopping list when we bought this house, and thought about how I never  had followed through. I wasn't looking at my feet, however, and I'm still pondering how to render the hazard safe.

I hobbled into the house, took off my sock, and found a big blue goose egg blooming below my ankle. Sprained? I could move all my toes, so I decided it wasn’t broken and I didn’t need a trip to Urgent Care -- which is many times less expensive than Emergency, I’ve learned. I figured the first sunny weekend in May would mean a crowded waiting room, not an attractive prospect. Mike made me an ice bag, and Ace bandage, and got me some naproxen, while I made a bid for sympathy on Facebook. (I was kinda proud of remembering from Girl Scouts how to properly bandage a sprained ankle. I did get that First Aid badge.)

I spent Saturday on the couch with a book, and went to a play we had tickets for, limping. It didn't hurt much, just swollen. By Sunday morning, Facebook comments were in favor of getting my foot checked out. It was even fatter than it had been before -- not a good sign.

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital has an Urgent Care unit not far from us, so Mike drove me there.

Here’s a rundown of their performance:

12:09 I arrive.
Go through doorway marked urgent care.
Stand around near the lone clerk signing a patient in.
Eventually she looks up and tells me I should have stopped in the lobby to sign in.
Mike goes back out to sign me in.
He goes home to start planting.

1:09    I’m called to triage room.
           Problem assessed, course of action determined: X-rays
           I’m sent out to waiting room

1:15    I’m called in to wait in hallway for X-ray.

1:25     Lisa, the X-ray tech, checks with me, gets room ready
            Xrays taken
            Back to waiting room -- all the exam rooms full.

1:40     Called to the exam room by the nurse
            Nurse leaves.
            Nurse comes back for more assessing.
  Doctor comes in, looks at the foot, goes out to look at the X-rays, back in, there’s no obvious fracture, but she wants to immobilize with a splint until I can see the orthopedist.

2:09      Getting ready for splint. It involves wrapping the foot with gauze, adding cotton, molding a quick-cure fiberglass slab to the foot and wrapping with elastic bandage, while I lie on my stomach with my knee bent and foot in the air. My foot shakes because I’m pressing my knee on a reflex nerve. Lisa comes in to hold my foot still. Finally the job is complete, but it feels like I’m wearing a wrinkled sock, and I know that will drive me crazy. Nope, not gonna do it.

Rework: the nurse is not pleased about taking the whole assembly apart to get at the gauze. She starts over. I continue to complain about wrinkles, she leaves and comes back with the doctor. (The doctor implies this means she’ll take responsibility for any future flak.) The first fiberglass mold is not going to work. They have to stand there holding another one through the cure time.

I decide to accept the work this time.  Doctor tells me to follow up with the orthopedist. Lisa comes in to say that she can’t burn my X-rays onto a disk because the computer isn’t working right. I can pick them up in the morning, however.

I get exit papers from the nurse. I get crutches. Nurse gets more frustrated when I fail to catch on to how to use them. She gets wheelchair, loads me on with my crutches, and takes me out to wait by the front door, giving the receptionist the responsibility for me.

 3:09             Call Mike to come get me.

Three hours from in to out.

Monday morning: I call an orthopedic surgeon’s office, finding one at the same facility so the X-rays wouldn’t have to be picked up and taken anywhere. Woman tells me the doctor will read the X-rays and decide what’s next. She’ll call back.

Tuesday morning: Nothing from the orthopedist. I call back. Woman said she called yesterday and left a message -- someone must be wondering why somebody called them about foot fractures. The conclusion is that there is no fracture. I should baby my foot. But what do I do about my splint? The woman and  I decide I should just take it off myself, and not go to get entangled with another medical intervention.

Bought a Futuro ankle stabilizer at CVS. It, combined with a trusty hiking boot, is about as much support as the splint. Good thing too, because I did a poor job of protecting the splint in the shower this morning. 

I’d give the whole healthcare service  I received from St. Joe’s a “B.” Some courteous and caring people, some quick flow in parts of the process.

So what do you think? How could it have been improved?

May 14, 2012

Social media at Teva: how supply chains should handle the unexpected

The typical supply chain is a sluggish system, unable to quickly respond to change. Demand fluctuations cause shortages or gluts because procurement and ERP systems are inflexible. Some kanban and pull-based systems can be better, but even they can be jolted by the unexpected.

When disruptions in the supply chain occur, it takes people to solve the problems. But if they struggle with silos and barriers to collaboration, they can't do much. When social media flattens inter- and intra-organizational structures, the speed of communication lets people improvise solutions just in time.

Tony Martins, Vice President of Supply Chain at TEVA Pharmaceuticals, believes this to be true, and shares his insights in a great video produced by my new friend, Peter Carr, for his online Social Media for Business Performance course at the University of Waterloo.

Tony Martins and Peter Carr on YouTube

Tony Martins says that the significant supply chain connections are people to people, not system to system. We still need ERP and other systems to handle structured processes, the way the system is supposed to behave, all things being equal. But we know that all things aren't equal.

A supply chain runs into what should not have happened. Conditions change. If people can spontaneously gather around the problem, they can improvise quickly to set things back on course. Uncertainty is all around us, as asserted brilliantly in Mike Rother's work on Toyota Kata. No one can plan all the right steps. Sometimes they must be discovered.

Only if people have the means of connecting, and can quickly find  other people who have knowledge and access, those who can tinker with the actual vs. the plan, can they counter the disruption.

Collaboration is most effective if key players already know who's who and who knows what. When supply chain nodes are scattered around the globe, people aren't going to get to know each other at the microwave in the break room. Social media tools need to provide for profiles that index people's knowledge and interests so they can be found in an instant. They also need to have groups and communities where people can just hang out and get to know each other. Skype and video conferences can humanize the supply chain actors.

At Teva, they are beginning to manage supply chains socially. What's happening in your company?

May 10, 2012

The disrupted membership organization model

Like you, I belong to a few membership organizations. Some of you know that most of my career has been spent working inside them as well.

TEDx Singapore: can we now have
a conference that never ends?
Since the 1980s and earlier, most engineering-related professional organizations have lost members at a devastating rate. Those groups are shadows of what they once were. Participation in local chapters and large conferences, and number of people willing to plunk down $100 bucks or more a year, has diminished. What has changed?

You may be surprised to learn that not long ago, companies paid for dues when employees joined professional societies. The first day on the job, your boss might tell you that one of your responsibilities was to go to a local chapter meeting. He (pretty much always "he") would be there. In fact, part of his work time was being spent writing a technical paper that he would present in front of a crowd of peers at an upcoming conference. The company would pay fees and travel costs without complaint. Cincinnati Machine, in the 1950s, had a chapter right there in their company. Try to get dues covered by the company today!

Though it's easy to spend $100 on a short trip to Target, it somehow seems like a lot of money to part with for something of vague value. The current value proposition is invariably "networking, education, and discounts." It's not exciting, aspirational, or unique.

"I don't have time." Employees are burdened with so much work that they hardly ever get off at the end of an eight-hour day. Then they are much more involved with family and home. The Little League game or ballet class is more important to them than it might have been to our dads back in the day.

The engineering workforce in the last 30 years has shrunk too. Take a look at the US Department of Labor's tables some day. The tools that make us so much more productive today mean that fewer people are needed.

Professional organizations have fought with all their might to stave off the losses. Growing has become a faint hope.

But in the age of the internet...

First there were the BBSs (online bulletin boards), chat rooms, and listservs (round-robin emails that would keep you informed about a subject from people who also wanted to know). Then there were forums on Yahoo, Google, and on hundreds of websites. By the time the membership organizations got their own interaction apps on their websites, people had moved on.

For many, LinkedIn is now the default. It's more intuitive -- I think -- to learn than Yahoo or Google groups. With the ability to jump into the cloud to discuss something with the millions of people using LinkedIn, a small forum on an association website is of little interest, if you even know it was there. In defense, those organizations eventually went to LinkedIn and formed groups. Now many have twice as many members of their LinkedIn groups as in their home organizations.

Whoa - marketing opportunity, right? Let's drive those people in LinkedIn to join our organization! Never all that successful an effort. Eventually one must realize that you don't "drive" anyone on the internet. You can invite, attract, or flirt, but the citizen of the cloud decides and determines everything.

The social sphere
Today's membership organization model was created long before 1880, when the ASME was founded. Why would we expect it to fit the way we live now 130 years later? It fits the blossoming of the industrial revolution, not the onslaught of the digital revolution.

Leaders and managers in those organizations are struggling so mightily to preserve an antiquated model that they can't see what business and professional relationships, learning, and discounts have become. Networking has become a web of virtual relationships. Learning has become a discussion group, webinar, or YouTube search results. Discounts are expected to be 100% off -- free.

Individual membership dues isn't a revenue stream with much opportunity for growth anymore, but leaders and managers of professional organizations have difficulty letting go. But having so many fewer members on the books, members are all around them, from the far reaches of the world. While they may not give money, they give the gifts of their attention, coaching/learning, and influencing. The more committed of them may go to the trouble of officially joining and contributing money.

So if the old membership model is trashed, what happens? Do those organizations die? This will take creativity and "fresh eyes." To run an organization, put on live events that still draw paying customers, and give vendors access to an interest group still takes money. In the union of two worlds -- the traditional and the virtual -- something will emerge from leaders who experiment, innovate, and cultivate centers of gravity that have distinct identities and roles.

What do you think it will look like?

Apr 25, 2012

How long has it been since you painted?

Blue Opal
I painted my kitchen yesterday. Why is that worth writing about? We have been working on this house for a year. It was owned by an elderly couple who had not painted in 20 years, so the kitchen had accumulated a film of cooking grease and paint degradation. It was depressing. Gloomy. Dark.

I was reminded of the lean implementations we started hearing about 20 years ago. Painting everything in the plant was one of the first things that people did, often as part of 5S, often believed to be right place to start. Many people still believe that. Sometimes it's true. Regardless, there are undeniable benefits to painting. Brighter, cleaner surroundings may improve employee morale and make defects more easily noticed. Some people actually understand that the purpose of painting a machine is to make problems visible to operators, who are trained to diagnose it or make a prompt call for maintenance.

How many of those plants are like my kitchen? Could it really have been 20 years since that plant-wide cleanup? How discolored and beat up have the walls, floor, and equipment become? Can you still see the yellow lines? How much STUFF has accumulated? If you thought a makeover was a one-time thing, you are probably in one of those organizations that never really figured out what lean is.

My kitchen's much improved, and I don't have that subliminal
Mystic Harbor
feeling of oppression when I'm in it. Unfortunately, I don't think I got the right shade of blue. I even bought samples and studied them for days, but Blue Opal looks too gray. (Not as gray as the image above, though.) Was Mystic Harbor really too intense? Live with it, or try again? Would one coat be enough to cover the Blue Opal? Even if my work's wasted, I thought lean when I bought my paint and got one gallon rather than two. My just-in-time purchasing plan means I only lost $23, not $46.

Mar 19, 2012

Following standard process has healing results

Nine days ago, my 86-year old mother had a stroke. Today she is fine. In large part because we had a good process set up, and everyone followed it.

Two years ago, she had two strokes. Both were mild, and left no damage that anyone could find. But it was a wake up call for my four siblings and me. Mom lives in Delaware and we are scattered from Maryland to Sydney Australia. She is too independent to want to live in an assisted living facility. So making sure she can get help in an emergency became a huge priority.

We got her Life Alert -- you have seen the commercials. When the person using the service needs help, she presses a button on a device she wears around her neck, and it communicates to a radio unit in the house. Someone immediately responds, "Are you all right?" Most of the time, the answer is that she's just fine, but set it off accidentally. (Should this not be true -- let's say she is being coerced by someone, the process is to ask a question just like you do with an online account. Give the wrong answer and help is on the way.) If there is no answer from the Life Alert customer, police and ambulances are dispatched immediately.

This time she said no, she was not all right. Her left arm and leg were numb -- she couldn't feel them at all -- and she had fallen when she tried to get out of bed.  Everything worked as it should. Her door was locked, but the service has on file where a key is hidden outside. The ambulance and paramedics came from just a few miles away and were there immediately. They had her on an IV, and EKG, and in the ambulance in minutes.

Christiana Hospital-Newark is not far away. When they arrived, a room was ready in the ER, a neurologist was waiting along with the ER team, and they were CAT-scanning her before she knew it. A small artery in her brain was narrowed and blocked.

Life Alert had already called my sister who lives nearest, and she arrived at the hospital not long afterward. All this is following a standard procedure set up when we started it. 

Because of the speed and smoothness with which the process was executed, the ER staff could perform a procedure that her doctor has since said is rarely even possible, because it must be done within a very short time of when the stroke occurred. They gave her t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator), the "clot-buster." Within an hour, feeling came back to her left side. She spent the next two days in bed, being awakened every two hours to make sure she hadn't stroked again, getting the carotid ultrasound, etc. One of my sisters spent three nights with her. Mike and I spent three more.

I took her to see her primary care doctor six days after the stroke, and he was exclaiming in amazement at how good she looked. Well, she didn't really look good. The t-PA, plus her fall from the bed, left her with two black eyes, bruises on her arm and hip, and a bruise on her head. (It can cause serious bleeding - a risk the patient must be informed about and decide whether to accept.) Because he is a member of the Christiana Care network, her entire story was in her electronic medical record, which he read from the laptop in the examining room.

I had seen on Twitter a few days earlier that a speaker from Christiana was presenting at the upcoming ASQ conference (which I retweeted), so I knew this hospital is serious about quality. They had obviously instituted many processes we would call lean. (In fact, I had seen signs of visual controls the two years before when Mom had her first stroke.)

The Christiana Care Quality and Safety Report does not contain a lot of details about their quality programs, but the excerpt below shows the emphasis on people and respect for them.
From the Christiana Care 2011 Quality and Patient Safety Report

Here's more about Christiana Care and its quest for quality: 

Changes on Transitional Surgical Unit...
Highlights: Patients' families included in daily rounds, shift change meetings, whiteboards, fewer patient moves to ICU, fewer falls.

Leveraging Multidisciplinary Teams to Improve Quality: Q&A With Christiana Care CMO Dr. Janice Nevin

Defining Value in the Surgical Environment 

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Innovation Profile: Hospital-Wide Inpatient Screening for Alcohol Withdrawal and Algorithm-Driven Treatment Improve Care and Reduce Acute Delirium Episodes

We are grateful to the doctors and nurses at Christiana Care and the Christiana Hospital in Newark for the excellent treatment our mother received there. (And to the dieticians, and cooks - Mom kept remarking at how good the food was.) I'm sure all the cleaners, porters, administrators, and aides played their parts well. We also thank the Millcreek Fire Department's emergency service personnel for the fast response to the call from Life Alert. The operators, planners, and communications staff at Life Alert performed perfectly. 

Mom's taking a couple of weeks off, then getting back to her life. She drives, takes five classes a week at the University Academy, is writing a book about her homesteader great grandmother, does gardening, volunteers at her church, and takes meals to her former boss who is now homebound. She'll be doing all these things rather than going through a long recovery because of PDCA, standard processes, elimination of the waste of time, planning, and people.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm