Error Proofing the Lights

What are some of the biggest wastes in a hotel or a resort?  The first answer that comes to mind is the waste of water.  Washing towels that may not need to be cleaned.  Many hotels and resorts reduced the water used to wash towels by asking guests to put dirty towels on the floor and hang ones that are clean.  It has become a fairly common practice.

So, what is the second biggest waste for a hotel or resort?  How about the consumption of electricity?  Have you ever left your room and left a light on or the TV going?  Earlier this month, I was on vacation at a large beach resort with over around 1,000 rooms.  Imagine if half of them left a light on in the room for 3 hrs extra a day.  That is a large bill.

The resort I was staying at found a way to error proof this and cut down their electricity consumption.  The picture below shows how they did this.

Light Switch

The slot on the right is for the room key card.  You have to slide the key into the slot to activate the electricity in the room.  The guests could then use the lights, TV and ceiling fans.  You always need your key when you leave the room (unless someone is still in the room), so you pull the key out and the electricity in the room is deactivated.

It was simple to use and made the right thing easy and the wrong thing very difficult.

Have you seen any other error proofing methods to save electricity?

Introverts or Extroverts as Continuous Improvement Leaders

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.  

A friend of mind just got a job at Simpler, a very well thought of Lean Consultant Company.  To get the job he had to go through a very thorough and intense process which included Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment personality tests, giving a speech to a group of professionals and review of his technical knowledge.

A brief summary of Myers-Briggs personality test  is that  it looks at these different aspects of the personality:

  • Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I),
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N),
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

He scored high on the extrovert aspect.  She said “if you had scored as an introvert, I don’t think you’d be good at continuous improvement”.  This struck me hard since right now I’m in the middle of evaluating those qualities in myself which started with reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  She now has a revolution on her hands after her TED talk by the same name – here is her website if interested  To determine where you are in the continuum, the most basic question is “How do you get energized?  From being alone in nature/reading a book or being with a group of people at a party?”

It turns out that there is a bias towards extroverts in our society.  I have found that I am mixed between the two – that is what my Meyers Briggs score says and my astrology chart also (if that means anything to any of you science types).  So, I felt inferior right off the bat.  If I can’t go in there and be aggressive and forward with people, maybe I’m not good at continuous improvement, operations excellence, whatever you call it.  If I can’t lead a kaizen with flair and good old fashioned pushiness, maybe I’m not good at lean.

Susan Cain says we are all a combination of both, but those who take a little time and think things through have great value.   It is important to be able to be the big, noticeable person but as or maybe more important to listen to others, to think things through and come up with the brainstorm that changes the way things are looked at.  We emphasize empowerment in lean which requires listening and giving away power, not taking the spotlight all to yourself.  All of these things are the qualities of an introvert.

So I think that both are needed and it is our goal as lean professionals to stretch the side that isn’t our natural strength.  Extraverts need to listen more.  Introverts need to be more of a cheerleader and be able to energize groups.

What the Silver Lean Certification Means to Me

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.  Connie continues to talk about certification.

At the time of renewal for the Lean Bronze Certificate from SME/AME, I thought, I’ll just go for the silver – how hard could it be. Two and a half years later, I finally accomplished the goal.

In 2007, my retiring boss was being generous, so I took advantage and had him buy the entire suite of books for all the lean levels (bronze, silver and gold). I even gave them as Christmas presents to my entire staff. They all acted excited but in truth there aren’t many people who get excited about lean books. They claimed they would go for the lean certification but nobody did.

However, I was stoked. I love books, I love lean, and so what is there not to love?

The Lean Bronze Certification Package consists of:
• Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy, Second Edition
• Lean Production Simplified: Plain-Language Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Production System
• Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation
• Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Create Value and Eliminate MUDA

The Lean Silver Certification Package consists of the following six books:
• The Lean Design Guidebook
• Office Kaizen: Transforming Office Operations into a Strategic Competitive Advantage
• Practical Lean Accounting: A Proven System for Measuring and Managing the Lean Enterprise
• Real Numbers: Management Accounting in a Lean Organization
• The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From the World’s Greatest Manufacturer
• Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production

The Lean Gold Certification Package contains these five books:
• Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Third Edition
• Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth
• Lean Transformation: How to Change Your Business into a Lean Enterprise
• Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
• Today & Tomorrow: Commemorative Edition of Ford’s 1926 Classic

I read the books, I took the test and passed and then the portfolio had to be written. That is a long boring story which resulted in working with the certification team and updating their entire system including the portfolio, scoring and results.

According to the certification leaders at SME “Lean Certification candidates will now encounter an improved program and more streamlined process in achieving certification. The hierarchical requirements – Bronze, then Silver, then Gold – have been eliminated. This allows candidates to obtain certification at the rank that is most appropriate to their career, knowledge, and experience. For more information go to Lean Certification Program Process Improvements Webpage.”

But back to the books – at the silver level, the books take you to another level of lean that none of us may ever see in our lifetimes but it is good to know it is out there. The subject some of us dread – Accounting. There were two books (see above – Practical Lean Accounting and Real Numbers) that dealt with how to lean out the accounting system. And this is the real revolutionary, transformational aspect to lean. Get rid of accounts payable, accounts receivable, all the systems that require us to do stupid things that aren’t lean, – that stop the flow of ideas from concept through to realization. The value stream is expanded to include EVERYTHING. The value stream has the material delivered to the location of the work, the material is reordered by the value stream, invoices are paid as material is consumed, and customers are billed as product is shipped.

So much of what we do in corporate life is related to how financials are measured and is our biggest roadblock. These ideas are what really cuts the costs and increases quality. This is what makes it transformational in my mind.

The Value of Certifications in Our Industry

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.

What is the value of certification in general? There are lots of people, old and young alike, who think that if they get a certification, they’ll get a job!

First of all, this is wrong. It might get your resume looked at, if it is a prerequisite to get through the screening process, but you have to know what you are doing. At this point with all of the certifications floating around, it is fairly easy to get a certificate by not telling the truth about the projects you have completed and just studying and passing the test.

On the other hand, if you know what you are doing and do it well and nobody outside of yourself has recognized that, then a certificate can help get you recognized.

I have a project management professional (PMP), Six Sigma Black Belt from ASQ and have just gotten my Silver Lean Certification from AME/SME. I am most proud of the Lean certificate. It was really hard – no cake walk. They dug deep to find out if I knew what I was talking about.

At first I got my PMP so that I could get a better job. I found that it did get me past the first gate of keyword search by the computer. Then I got my Black Belt through ASQ but I had the backing of the GE Healthcare University to help me with the projects and studying the material. The test was harrowing. I had a pile of books 3 feet high with sticky notes attached to the pages where I could flip to different sections as needed. I did study questions for hours and hours on the weekend. I spent much of my personal time to prepare. I did this mid-career and this is what I found.

It was very helpful for me to get back into the practice of test taking – to read carefully and slow down before answering the questions. I actually learned a lot in both the PMP and the Black belt literature. Did I use it in my work? Some of it. To be honest, not very much. But I had the foundation and the backbone to know when I could use something and when it didn’t apply. Unless you are working in construction or defense, the project management professional roadmap doesn’t apply. Hardly anybody uses Earned Value System. Six Sigma is useful if you work in a company that has lots of data and ability to affect the variability.

However, lean is another story. I find it applies to everything I do both personally and professionally.  Who can’t apply 5S to the cabinets and drawers in the bathroom? Who can’t use visual systems to allow others to see the progress of their work?

But AME/SME (the certification is actually backed by SME, AME, ASQ and Shingo prize – so it has prestigious companies behind it) lean certifications are very different. The books that you have to read really give you the picture of how revolutionary lean can be. Based on the Toyota Production System and authors like Womack, Liker and Dennis, you are getting exposed to the very difficult path of transformation. It has led me to Mike Rother and Toyota Kata which I think is needed to change the way we think. Liker has teamed with Rother in his Kata Summit to explain that without a way to learn new behavior we are forever stuck in using tools and not having success in implementing lean.

In the end, what is the value of a certification? For me, it meant reaching a personal milestone, having the ability to get the agreement from others in the business that I know the material and have proven it in the workplace and maybe it will help me to get a job that is satisfying and rewarding.

How Do You Help Leaders See the Change That Is Needed?

For today’s post, I am wanting the readers’ responses to help fill in the gaps on this topic.  It is one that I struggle with and thought a discussion here might be good.

What do you do when change is needed but no one will change?

I know.  The question seems pretty simple, right?  Leave the situation because it won’t get better.  People can be so stubborn so why fight it.

It isn’t that simple.

An organization is struggling mightily.  Going the way of GM in the early 2000’s.  Everyone in the organization sees the need for change and agrees that change is needed.

Not small change.  Big change is needed.  A different way of seeing and executing the business.

Lean is being “implemented” in the organization, so the leaders sanction a team to review a process and come up with a better way of doing the work.  The team develops a “new” process.  The process is the same as they are doing right now but with a technology fix.  When pushed by lean change agents to look for bigger change the team says they are good with what they have described themselves as “how we do it today, but with a central storage location.”

This one idea is a great one and on that is much needed but it won’t change the way the organization does business.

The concerning part was doing an interim report out the leaders who sanctioned the work were good with this.  They couldn’t even see all the waste that was left on the table to eliminate.

During the final report out some of the other leaders pushed on some bigger changes, but most of that was due to the lean change agents prepping the leaders to ask the harder questions.

So.  What do you do when everyone agrees dramatic change is needed but no one can see or envision what that might even look like?

I understand that not everyone can see it, but usually they are open to suggestions.  I see this as a leadership issue.  Leaders need to be able to see the change and help build the burning platform.  Some can see it.  But the extra push isn’t there.

What would you do?

Everything You Need to Know About 5S

Tony Ferraro, a friend and fellow blogger, at Creative Safety Supply has created a great resource for 5S.  It is a single source to learn about 5S. Here is a link to the website: 5S Study and Research Page.

There are several sections to the page:

  • What is 5S?
  • Origins of 5S
  • Why 5S?
  • Employee involvement
  • How to get started
  • Common misconceptions
  • Each step of 5S defined
  • Understanding the sixth S – safety
  • Tools for 5S

Tony reached out to many in the lean community to help build the page.  I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to give input into this great resource.

I would recommend it for anyone learning about 5S as a great place to understand what it is and how to get started with implementation.  There are plenty of great visuals as well.  Here is the link again: 5S Study and Research Page.

Take the 10 minutes to watch the lean parody posted on the page as well.  It is very funny.

Great work, Tony!

One Man’s Lean Journey: Perseverance and Creativity Help Provide Positive Experiences

A lean thinker will always continue to push on boundaries whether it be around processes or how things are viewed. It isn’t an easy road to continually be pushing against the normal thought pattern but when it works out it is very rewarding. One big breakthrough makes up for many failed breakthroughs.

The automotive supplier I worked for specialized in plastic trim parts. The parts had three finishes: molded in the color, painted or chrome. The facility had 30 injection molding presses ranging from 500 ton to 3500 ton. In order to reduce inventory and shorter our lead time we had the hair-brained idea to actually connect four molding presses to the chrome plating line. It was hair brained for two reasons: 1) we needed to moved 1800 ton presses and they weren’t easy to move and 2) the chrome plating line racks were 10 ft x 15 ft so a pit would have to dug in the concrete next to the molding press so rack could be lowered to where operators could load the top of the rack.

Studies on paper showed the molding cycles and changeover times lined up nicely with our rack storage capacity for the plating line as it was. The savings was in the neighborhood of $250,000 or more per year in inventory, lead time and labor. The VP would not sign-off. He just couldn’t picture it.

Fortunately, the plant manager wouldn’t drop it. So, I got approval to purchase a computer simulation package I had a history with and model the before and after states of the areas. It took about three months to get refreshed with the program language and then create the base models. We then spent another couple of months tweaking and playing with scenarios. This allowed for a better estimate of the savings and to help visualize how the facility would work.

We were able to present the idea again to the VP and he started to see and move on his original opinion. It took a few weeks of the plant manager following up with the VP before he finally gave his consent.

From original idea to breaking ground was about a year. When it was done it worked very well. We reduced the lead time about about a week, freed up employees to work in areas where we had temporary help and saved approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of space.

Nothing like this had been done before and even people in the facility said it would never work. When it did it opened up the possibilities for so much more.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see the “more” because I left and took a position at another company.


* It can be hard and frustrating to not be able to get others to see the potential and just continue so squash ideas, but if you have just one or two of the right believers it can make all the difference in the world. For me, that was the plant manager in this case.
* Sometimes you have to be creative to get people to change their views. You have to provide them with new positive experiences. For the VP, we couldn’t spend the large about of money to just do it and show him. We had to come up with a different way. That was the computer modeling. It allowed him to see things and ask questions to have a good experience in the new world. For the plant staff and employees, it was seeing the new idea actually come to life and work.
* I learned how to be stubborn with my beliefs but to do it a positive manner and how to back up, regroup and take a different approach to get the message through.

Error Proofing Swedish Style

I was at IKEA the other week and saw the best error proofing for cart safety.  If you haven’t been to an IKEA store, it is massive.  The parking for our store is ground level and the store is on the second and third levels.  Elevators are used to help get the carts down to the ground level as well as an escalator.  The shopping carts have suction cups on the wheels that engage as you get on the flat escalator.

For safety reasons, IKEA does not want customers to take the flatbed carts down the escalator.  Products could slide off and cause an accident.  In line with the traditional mindset, there are signs posted showing a normal shopping cart is OK to take down the escalator and the flatbeds are not.

In a lean error proofing mindset, IKEA made it impossible to take the flatbeds down the escalator.

IKEA_CartsThere are two poles that are four foot high as you enter the escalator.  The normal shopping cart fits through the poles with a couple of inches to spare.  The flatbed cart is made to be angled out wider so it can’t fit.  The poles are also positioned so neither cart can enter from the side.

It was a great system that a lean person can truly appreciate.

One Man’s Lean Journey: Process and Data Don’t Matter…Just Emotions!

Following a structured problem solving approach takes fortitude and courage when the world around you wants to shoot from the hip and judge based on their emotions. I found this out when dealing with one of the automakers we supplied.

Our quality engineer (QE) got a call that our grilles were not fitting the front of the cars correctly and asked her to take a look into it. The QE asked me to help find the root cause. We first tested our gages at our facility and found they were certified and working properly. Our parts showed to be within the tolerances given to us by the automaker.

We decided a trip to the automaker was needed to see the process, talk with the operators and also run a couple of tests. The QE and I asked the automaker’s QE to pull two vehicles off the lot and save for us to test. One vehicle is a great example of how the part should fit and one vehicle where the part fits very poorly.

When we arrived at the assembly facility the first thing the QE and I did was go out to the assembly line and talk with the operators that assemble our grilles the the vehicles. The operators said our grille may not fit the first vehicle but would work great on the next one down the line. This was a big clue. Direct observation of the process was a huge help in understanding how our grilles were assembled to the cars. We ended up knowing the process better than the automaker’s QE.

Next we asked to see the two vehicles we requested to be set aside. Well, he only saved the bad vehicle and not the good one. This became a point of contention because we needed a good car to compare the differences and conduct a test. He argued with me for 10 minutes before I finally convinced him to pull one in from the lot outside.

I conducted my test and proved with a 95% confidence level that our grille was not root cause of the fit issues. There were two possible causes: 1) the fender or 2) the fender’s interaction with our grille (the fender on one end of their specs mixed with a grille on the opposite end of our specs could cause the fit issues).

This was not received well at all. The automaker’s QE contested everything I did and wouldn’t believe the findings even though he watched me during the entire test. It took a second automaker QE to come over and see what was going on to get any agreement. The second automaker QE heard about the test and backed up my findings.

I even volunteered my help to conduct more tests to find the root cause. They agreed to the help and both the automaker and the QE from my company had action items to complete in the next two weeks in order to do further testing.

As we followed up with the automaker’s QE over the next couple of weeks, we found he was not living up to his end of the action items and was still trying to blame our grille. The QE and I had to escalate the issue to our plant manager who supported us and called their plant manager.

A compromise was reached. The test was conducted as I laid out but I was not allowed back into their facility. In the end, it was the fender that had issues.

It was hard to stick to the process when every obstacle was being thrown in the way. It taught me a valuable lesson about how strong emotions on a subject can be even with data and facts presented.


  • A strong process is an amazing thing to be able to fall back on in times of stress. It showed exactly why people fall back into old habits when things aren’t going well.
  • The right thing isn’t always the easy thing. It can be hard to standup for the right thing even when it is good for your customer.
  • Having a leadership team that supports and encourages strong processes is critical when those processes are challenged
  • Solidified my belief in the power of a strong process to get predictable and sustainable results
  • Direct observation of the grille being assembled provided strong facts that no one that hasn’t seen the process could argue

One Man’s Lean Journey: If You Follow the Process, The Results Will Come

One of the most valuable lesson I learned while working in the automotive industry wasn’t about the industry or people or even myself. The most valuable lesson I learned was having a great process will yield predictable results. I didn’t learn this from a manufacturing process. Instead I learned this from a problem solving process.

The automotive supplier I worked for was part of the Chrysler Supplier Quality Program. As part of that program, I got to learn different methodologies for problem solving. One was Shainin’s Red X methodology. I followed the methodology stringently. The benefit was repeatedly achieving great results.

One example was the with the electro-plating line. This is a large vats of chemical baths that produced a chrome finish on plastic parts. The line was operating at a 84% yield. Any defects that came out of the line had to be trashed. The parts could not be salvaged. We were throwing away approximately $40,000/week in scrap. I was asked to problem solve the scrap and get the yield up.

I knew squat about chemistry then and I still don’t know squat. In fact, I needed a tutor in college to get me through freshman chemistry. But that was my task.

Following Shainin’s Red X methodology and never wavering from the process, within in two years the plating line was running at a 96% yield. The line had never ran above 91%. Scrap dollars were down to $10,000/week.

I learned that I didn’t have to know anything about an area to achieve significant results if I followed a good process. It is something that is stated repeatedly in the lean world, but until you have the experience it is hard to truly understand the power of this.

I was accused of “always being right”. I never said anything of the sort but when I was accused of that I would say, “Yes, because I follow the process not because I know anything.”

Have you experienced a good process that is predictable and repeatable?


  • A good process is more powerful than hero employees
  • You don’t have to be an expert in an area in order to produce significant results
  • It is easier to stick to a process when you are unfamiliar with the area, because you can’t rely on your “expertise”

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