Snake Oil and Instant Pudding

am tiring of all these discussion online and in the management media on acronyms, systems, lean, six-sigma, BPM, all of them. They are various grades short of effective because they are copies. They are copies that pale in comparison to the ideas they stole from people like Taylor, Gilbreth, Ohno, Dewey, Charles Pierce Smith, Shewhart and Deming.

They are watered down, incomplete versions packaged to make them tolerable at best, 19th century solutions that didn't work then, and won't work now, at worst; even if dressed up in fancy clothes with a lot of marketing dollars behind them.

If you think it is in a book….

As it says in the good book, if you think it is in the sea, the fish will get their first, if you think it is in the sky, the birds: it is within you and every person who works with and for you, not in books, nor in packaged methods, nor on websites, nor in methods. You can learn to follow recipes, but you can't learn to cook from a recipe. And while killing yourself to do what cant' be done, make things perfect, make things certain, what about the market?

The aim, to be clear, should not be to run to the max, unless demand requires full time usage, Forget the investment in machinery, or what the machine could do if given a chance. Produce for sales, not for inventory, and increase the flow of Gross Profit Dollar contribution per hour. I have a very short, very "lite" but very true youtube on the subject.

It depends...

The aim of flow is to streamline from raw material to sale, without unnecessary motion, eliminate unevenness and overworking machines or people, and to bring problems to the surface, where they can be seen, as they happen. It is not worrying about increasing productivity (local optima) as local improvements done without considering the whole shebang inevitably make things worse. Produce to what you know you can sell, no more no less. Stop worrying about lost opportunities, work the middle, not the extremes. Cut the time in process by working on the in-betweens. Then, IF, and a big IF you sell enough to create a constraint, run the constraint around the clock, and slow everything down to that constraint until you HAVE to elevate it. We are talking economic production, not pure productivity.

Don't Copy

Don't copy other companies wholesale. No two companies or lines or jobs, or processes are the same: USE YOUR BRAIN.

Don't focus on defects, but focus on reducing the range of variation around the centerline: more uniform product quality to match the needs and the level of the marketplace, made economically to meet what people in those markets can afford to pay Your processes need to deliver capably what the market wants and needs. Less range of unnecessary variation means less loss during the life of your product or service..

See for yourself, with your own eyes. Engage others in the process, even the cleaners and dock workers and interns. Never underestimate the talents of the people you are working with, when given the right training, and a chance. Create a workplace with dignity, where everyone can rise to their own level of best, forget heroes.

Schmoozing at the Water Cooler

Use both formal and informal channels of communication. People pay more attention to what is said at the water cooler than what is told to them from the C suites and offices.

Use statistics in market research and  design your products, services and processes robustly, (See Taguchi) to ensure the best initial result. Get your customers involved. Don't listen to what they say as much as to what they do with your product. Anticipate their needs. They are in the forest and it is hard to see the forest for the trees, truly..

Get out of your computer screen and go where they use your product or service and simply observe. Where your product or service is made, or delivered. Draw little flow charts, cause and effects, look for the pareto, the 20% that matters, look for what breaks the Flow..

Look at the people, who are they as individuals, what makes them tick, how can you help them? Give them the chance to express their dignity as human beings through work. Never underestimate them, expect them to rise! These are the things that make great, incredibly successful, enjoyable companies. Worrying if you are defect free, or if you productivity dropped 10% is for the small of heart, and small of mind.

For those who think what they need is somewhere other than in themselves. A bit of knowledge, a lot of your brain Yes, you need a bit of knowledge; principles, tools others have used, and methods. But they are not an end unto themselves, and chances are, if they have an acronym, they are set up to keep information from you, to focus on what they are selling. Juran, Deming, Shewhart, Gilbreths never put a name or acronym to what they shared.

In over five years working together, a client of mine has increased net profits by over 400 percent ongoing, from when we started. Their net profit percent is running 4 to 5 times the benchmark for their industry, and they did this without process control, or nostrums like six sigma or lean. Instead of statistical tools, they were using statistical thinking. Only this year, five years in, did they begin to depend on Process Behavior Charts, as they had removed assignable causes and had streamlined their processes, and made them predictable. Statistical Thinking, with no tools? How can that be? Deep conversation, training using a TWI type system to develop both training and standard work, better communication, the ability to quiet their minds and simplylook™ in order to see what really is, and digest it thoroughly, without using indoctrination, or mindsets, without shooting from the hip. The only tools were flow charts, affinities, and cause and effect charts done by hand, with post-its: as Thinking aids.

They found the magic in the spaces between processes, where the real waste and opportunities hide. Overall productivity rose more than 800% without ever measuring the individuals, or setting goals. People are working calmer, not just smarter, and enjoying their work. They are a proud workforce. I am not the only one doing things this way. If you are, or know of someone who is, share with us here, please!

Worrying about the productivity of a single worker will not raise productivity for the long term. The magic is found in engaging people, effective training, simple observation, SimplyLooking™, simple charts with pencil and paper, and the application of statistical thinking, as defined by the ASQ, until the frontline employees are ready to understand how to use SPC. Do we want to be smart, or do we want them to be smart? That is the question. When we want to learn to cook, start with recipes, but to cook, you have to leave recipes behind.

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.