Listening and Speaking Skills

Listening and Speaking Skills by Walter McIntyre

A process improvement team is from the beginning a team of investigators. They investigate process performance by looking for improvement opportunities and the root causes of problems. All of us have seen detective programs on TV where a sleuth investigates a crime. They ask questions, listen, set up stakeouts, and eventually discover what really happened. Process improvement teams follow the same strategy. They ask questions, listen, and monitor processes. All of this to discover the root causes of process problems. An improvement team will use all four basic communication skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. These skills become the lubrication that allows a diverse group of team members to work through an improvement project successfully.

Operational Excellence Teams

Operational Excellence Teams by Walter McIntyre

In Operational Excellence, Innovation teams and production teams have different functions and purpose. They also have an area of overlapping responsibly. Both play a critical role in improvement efforts.

Production teams are typically made up of the production line employees, the doers, and have the responsibility to optimize the existing production process within existing SOP’s. They see the production process at the ground level, in fact, they experience it. It is this closeness to the work that makes their engagement so critical on a daily basis. Their’s is the domain of continuous improvement in small, but critical steps.

5S and Lean

5S and Lean by Walter McIntyre

The 5S tools are associated with Lean thinking. The objective of Lean thinking is to provide a business with long-term profitability by developing a more effective workplace, which is accomplished by eliminating waste in the work environment. The result is a safer workplace, improved product quality, and lower costs for both the business and its customers.

Lean thinking may result in a reduction in work force, but that is not its purpose. In fact, the application of lean thinking for the purpose of reducing the work force is not lean thinking at all. Since some companies have done this, lean thinking has been given a bad reputation and has made waste reduction efforts more difficult.

Operational Excellence

Operational Excellence by Walter McIntyre

Trying to define operational excellence (OE) in a way that fits every organization is difficult.  It is also area of business strategy which is sometimes viewed myopically.  Myopically, in this case is an unbalanced approach to everything in the article below.  Remember , no customers equals no profit.

I prefer to break OE down into areas focused on customers, sustainability, innovation, performance, leadership and people. To be effective OE has to be relevant to all aspects of business operation. Therefore, OE may have a hierarchy of definitions as it is propagated throughout a business.  The core values are the same, but there will be differing levels of granularity, all focused on the core business objectives.  For example, an operator working on a turret has the same high level goal as someone from HR, but different granular objectives specific to their tasks.

Project Management

A current project I am working on involves 4 companies. The principle, a web services company, an electronic hardware and firmware company, and a contract manufacturer. I am using a traditional Gantt tool, along with Excel, to manage the overall project. We rely on each of the other companies to have their own internal project management tools. The contract manufacturer uses a traditional Gantt tool to manage their multiple projects both corporately and individually. The hardware/firmware company also uses a traditional Gantt tool. The web services company is using their own in house project tracking strategy. None of the companies involved use Agile tools.

Building Great Teams

I did some research on team building recently.  What I found were lists of qualities that define effective teams.  The problem is that these lists are typically filled with descriptions of characteristics that are superficial.  I can say, or do, whatever is necessary, when it is necessary, so that I look like a great teammate on a great team.

I believe that building a great team requires great teammates. It is much more personal than a list of qualities. You do not want to build a house on a foundation of sand and you do not want to build a team on a foundation of individuals whose sole focus is on their own personal value propositions.

Innovation and Creativity in Motion

Many of the activities and strategies we use to innovate and manage are actually road blocks to creativity and innovation. Certainly, the enforcement of a time line and being cost conscience, are important, but only in respect to their appropriate place in the life cycle of a product or service.  When applied to the creative and innovative phases in this life cycle, they are disruptive and cause sub-optimization.

Innovation is a creative process that requires open-mindedness and a safe environment.  Creativity and innovation are processes that rely upon failure and the ability to learn from failure. You cannot create or innovate where failure is unacceptable or penalized.

The Origin Of Things

Engineering begins with the axiom that there is nothing we can’t figure out.  I used to call this roof top engineering because it requires a shift in the way we view challenges.  Viewing a challenge from different perspective gives us a 3D perspective of it.
Here is an example of this shift in thinking:
When we see the numbers below, we intuitively understand what they mean, but why these shapes? I believe that it is important to know the origins of things.
Our number shapes come from the Hindu-Arabic number characters.  Remember that these characters were used as a universal way to count for commerce.  One need not intuitively know the name of the character, just how it represented a quantity.
Can you figure it out? (Hint: Count the angles on each character)

The Fundamentals of 5S

I coached high school basketball for 4 years.  A significant learning from this experience was the importance of the basics, or the fundamentals.  We won a lot of games because we rebounded better, passed better and had fewer turnovers than the other teams we played.  Every day in practice we worked on the fundamentals of blocking out to improve our rebounding, the fundamentals of passing to get scoring opportunities, the fundamentals of  how to avoid dribbling so that we could overcome trapping defenses.  Because we did the little things right, the bigger things fell into place.

Seeing the Big Picture

Be aware of how much of the “Big Picture” you and your direct reports see. A common mistake in organizations trying to improve is the assumption that everyone gets it.  The diagram below shows how our scope of vision (how much of the “big Picture” we see) can be affected by our place in the organization.  

Top Down View

This phenomenon leads to sub-optimization and silo’ing. For example, one department applies 5-S strategy by moving their stuff into someone else’s area, or throws something important away.  Another group optimizes a value stream at the expense of other value streams, or the business in general. Buy-in is weak at best.