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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 http://www.quietrev.com/.  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.

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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.