Blog Archives

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.

Best of Beyond Lean in 2012

I was looking at the Top 10 posts for 2012 and noticed that only 2 posts from 2012 made the Top 10.  Both posts were from earlier in the year.  I finally realized that a post from about May on in the year has very little chance to overcome posts that have a 5 month or more head start on gaining views.

I decided to highlight 5 of the most popular posts written in 2012.  Then in January I will post the Top 10 posts for the year.

Enjoy and have a Happy New Year!!!!

5.  Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma (April 2012) – How Six Sigma and Lean can be misrepresented in what their purpose is.

4.  Strategy A3 Downloadable Template (April 2012) – This is the post about the new downloadable template to help with strategy discussions.

3.  Visuals Used in the Office (October 2012) – A couple of visual management examples from the transactional workplace.

2.  True Mentoring (May 2012) – This is my take on true mentoring versus fake mentoring that goes on in business today.

1.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

Have a Happy New Year!!!!

Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma

I had a conversation recently with a very smart and talented consultant.  He is a Lean Six Sigma consultant.  He knows the tools of lean and Six Sigma backwards and forwards.  The consultant also talked ab out the importance of having leadership buy-in from the top all the way to the bottom to be the most successful at both lean and Six Sigma. Overall, he was a very astute about both lean and Six Sigma.

During his presentation, there were two misinterpretations that stuck out to me.  I found them to be quite a difference in thinking.

1. Six Sigma is focused on the customer while lean is focused on elimination of waste.  I find this to be a significant difference in thinking.  Lean’s #1 tenant is to focus on the Customer first and foremost.  By focusing on the customer, an organization can learn what the customer finds of value.  What is not of value can be considered non-value added (waste) or non-value added but necessary (government regulations).  These should be eliminated or at least reduced.

Most people focus on the elimination of waste and miss why eliminating the waste is important.  It is because it is of no value to the customer which is the main focus.  Once the waste is eliminated it frees up resources allowing an organization to grow the business without having to invest in more resources.

Thanks to Mark Graban. This picture was borrowed from the Lean Blog.

2. Six Sigma focuses on making the product right while lean just focuses on making the product.  The consultant mentioned the 7 types of wastes.  One of the 7 types of wastes is directly solely at making the product right.  That is the waste of defects. Not to mention the concept of building in quality (jidoka).

As mentioned above, when a company focuses on the customer first it will recognize quality is very important.  This is why building in quality is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System.

After the presentation, the consultant and I had a very good discussion on these points.  I admitted to being raised in the Lean House.  I wasn’t arguing that Six Sigma was wrong or companies can’t benefit from it.  Just that I have a different perspective of lean on the points mentioned above.

30 Rock Definition of Six Sigma

A couple of weeks ago, I posted something from a guest blogger James Lawther (“Do They Get It?”).  During our emails, James showed me the 30 Rock Six Sigma approach.  I found it to be very funny so I thought I would pass it along.  It is a good way to go into the weekend.

The Six Sigmas are (link to the 30 Six Sigma page):

  • Teamwork
  • Insight
  • Brutality
  • Male Enhancement
  • Handshakefulness
  • Play Hard

Not sure where they came up with the six attributes instead of the variance, but it adds humor to it.

I also enjoyed the acronym for C.L.A.S.S.  Consuming Lunch and Simple Socializing.

That sounds just like the reason most people go to all day classes, doesn’t it?  Get a free lunch and because either friends or people you want to know are going.

Here is one last very short clip of Frank’s definition of Six Sigma is

Have a great weekend!

Lean Considered A Poor Investment

Earlier this week, I saw an article titled, “Lean Manufacturing Program Seen As Poor Investment For Most Companies.

The article gives statistics as to how companies did with meeting their cost savings/reduction.

Most large manufacturers last year failed to reach their cost-savings targets, despite significant investments in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and other productivity programs as part of their overall retrenchment efforts in this tepid economy. Nearly 70 percent of manufacturing executives say that their manufacturing-improvement efforts led to a reduction in manufacturing costs of less than 5 percent, the typical minimum threshold for successful productivity programs. That’s according to a survey of manufacturing executives conducted in May and June 2011 by AlixPartners, the global business-advisory firm.

There are a lot of companies trying to implement lean.  Some are doing a nice job while others seem to be L.A.M.E., as coined by Mark Graban (Lean As Misguidely Executed).  So it shouldn’t be surprising that some companies think lean is not delivering what people say it will.

The article even mentions Shingo Prize winners and their results.

According to AlixPartners’ research, winners of The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence have, after three years’ time, generated revenue growth and gross profits just on par with, or even weaker than, their peers’.

That does cause an eyebrow to be raised.  The Shingo Prize has recognized how it use to grade organizations.  In the last couple of years, they have revamped their criteria and awarded more on process, results, and thinking.  Were these companies awarded the Shingo Prize under the new system or the old system?  I don’t know.

“Most continuous improvement initiatives focus too much on implementing a particular ‘checklist’ of program tools and processes, rather than on basic execution,” says Steve Maurer, managing director and leader of AlixPartners’ manufacturing practice. “Many traditional lean and Six Sigma programs also tend to fail to institutionalize the improvements that they do generate. As a result, the cost benefits often aren’t sustainable. That was reflected in our survey, where some 60 percent of the respondents believe that half of the savings that they generated last year will be unsustainable. Only 13 percent said they could sustain more than three-quarters of the identified savings.”

I would have to say the company is practicing L.A.M.E. if results are not sustaining.  A lean company values standardized work and when  are made the results have a much higher chance of sustaining.  If a company is focusing on implementing a checklist of tools and processes then they are not understanding lean to be about the thinking.  The companies are trying to copy and paste solutions that will not fit their needs.  When that happens there is no reason to believe the results will be sustainable.

Steve Pfeiffer does hit on a few very good points.

“What’s good about lean and Six Sigma manufacturing is the emphasis on process control, defect prevention, and the elimination of waste,” says Steve Pfeiffer, director in AlixPartners’ manufacturing practice. “But such programs come up short when companies decide to implement techniques without the prerequisite process discipline. And, companies that have relied too heavily on investing their capital in automation find that such projects are often expensive and slow to implement.”

Lean and Six Sigma are focused on process control.  If you don’t have it before an improvement is made then you can’t expect the improvement to be sustainable or even know if you made an improvement.  Steve also speaks to creativity over capital because capital investments take too long to implement and are expensive.

I don’t believe the article was intended to attack lean or Six Sigma.  I think it highlights the misconception that companies still believe lean is about implementing tools and concepts and not about the thinking and understanding of their own business and how it applies to them.

As a lean community we still have a long way to go to help the masses see lean how it is intended.

Guest Post: Leadership Lessons from John Mayer

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

Sometimes a song can highlight something better than anything else is able to.  (Which makes sense if you think about it.  Songwriters make money on being able to convey an idea, thought or emotion in an extremely concise and memorable way).  It happened to me the other day as I was listening to the Continuum album from John Mayer.  Probably my favorite song on that album is “Belief” and the lyrics hit me in a different way than they ever had before.

Why did it hit me so differently?  Probably because it feels like lean transitions are so much more about arguing about belief than tactics.  Lean transformations are littered with conflicts about the value of reducing inventory to highlight problems or push backs of ‘command and control’ vs empowering team members or even how single piece or small lot production can be more cost effective than traditional economies of scale thinking.   Even within the community of improvement thinkers, we spend time debating whether Lean or Six Sigma is the best or if Lean Six Sigma fixes the ills of the other two…always over beliefs.

I realize when I ask someone to do something that is more a Lean (or SS or LSS) method than a traditional manufacturing method, I am asking them to believe what I believe or at least suspend their own disbelief.  I also know that for any example I want to pull out about a success that Toyota has had, somebody who really wanted to do their research wouldn’t have to look hard to find other very successful companies who don’t use these tools.  It’s tough, but sometimes you just need to lay enough examples of collaborated successes in front of people to show the value of your beliefs without attacking theirs.  Give them something to believe in about you and what Lean can do for them.

Guest Post: Reasons Lean May Fail

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

I have been a part of  a handful of conversations lately with people in what I’ll call “non-lean” organizations.  Because of my background, these folks will tell me about how they have a Lean position or Six Sigma position or they know of someone trained in the toolbox.  The common laments that I hear break down as either “We have this person, but I don’ t know what they do” or “This person has the training, but doesn’t seem to do anything with it.”  This is certainly not the first time I’ve heard these type of comments, but they have come with an alarming frequency lately.  Being a self-described Lean Thinker, I can’t help but begin to ask Why this seems to come up so often.  Not only that, but what does it mean in the big picture for Lean and/or Six Sigma as movements.

Why do people perceive this situation?

I guess there are a few reasons why people could see things this way.  One of the first possible reasons is that people in the organization don’t know or understand what is going on could be trying to avoid contact with the individual(s) or the initiative.  I’ve seen this happen for several reasons.  Sometimes it is out of fear of what the initiative is intending to do.   (Not wanting to get too close to the perceived ‘axe’.)  Others could ignore it out of a ‘Flavor of the Month’ cynicism.  I can understand both of these mindsets blocking the message or the messenger.

Another reason the perception exists could be a company/system failure.  Maybe it IS a Flavor of the Month or a side project and not a true commitment from the organization.  Maybe it’s a pilot program that isn’t ready for mass communication yet.  Maybe the organization just stinks at communicating and this is symptomatic of other issues.

A third, and by far the least comforting to me, option is that some of the people in these roles just aren’t the right people.  Sometimes these roles get filled by people looking to add some training or a job title to their resume.  Sometimes they get filled by people who had some available time or were expendable from their current roles.  Maybe they aren’t either of those and are truly interested, passionate people who are missing a trait that helps them be effective in their role (i.e. communication skills, technical aptitude, ability to teach others, ability to influence others to change, etc.).  These aren’t the easiest jobs to do and sometimes it is difficult to define exactly what traits you are looking for, especially for new initiatives.  Sometimes these gaps can be filled as an individual grows and develops, sometimes they can’t.

What do these problems mean?

Aside from the avoiders and willfully ignorant group in my first possible reason, the other two causes should be real concerns for those of us in the Lean community.  The more people are exposed to bad views of Lean, the harder it becomes to sell the good stuff.  (As a side note: I am distinguishing between Mark Graban’s LAME and just flat out poor execution of Lean here.)  The less people are willing to buy in to Lean because of previous bad experiences, the more entrenched people become in the ‘old way’ of doing things and the more trouble industry as a whole will have working to compete.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clean solution here.   We can do the best we can and hope that our good outweighs some others not so good.  Either way, I find myself much more interested lately in failed lean initiatives than successful ones.  Maybe there are as many lessons for all of us in places that it hasn’t worked as there are in Toyota’s (and other companies’) successes.

Guest Post: Beyond Lean?

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

Beyond Lean…

My first thought upon seeing the title of this site was, “What the heck does ‘Beyond Lean’ even mean?”

At first in conjures up images of the ‘next big thing’ in trendy manufacturing lingo and training classes.  It seemed like it was going to be a super hybrid manufacturing system that encompasses Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Kepner Tregoe, Red X, DOE, TQM, VORP, WHIP, PER, QB Ratings, and some ninja stuff mixed together.  All of which can be outsourced to the lowest possible labor cost country and managed remotely by an iPhone app.  Knowing Matt, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t where he was headed, but I was still struck by the name and what he meant by it.

Without asking for his reasoning behind the name, I’ll offer up my take on what it has come to mean to me.  I think ‘Beyond Lean’ is a way of stripping off the extra baggage of the names or origins of what we are talking about and looking at why something does what it does and what it would do for you.  I think it’s about pointing out where lean principles exist in the world around us without stretching to see it in places that it isn’t.  I think it’s also about looking past the words in a book (or from a video) and knowing that your path to greatness is going to be different than somebody else’s path.  Ultimately, I think ‘Beyond Lean’ is a mind set of sorts that reminds us that there is no such thing as achieving lean.  There are always opportunities to be found, problems to be solved, quality to improve…and the only way to chase that greatness is to be willing to look and reach beyond where the map tells you to look.

Then again, maybe Matt just thought it sounded good….



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