COE member Giant Eagle gets national TV spotlight

If any of you watch CBS Sunday Morning and live in Columbus, chances are you paused mid-coffee sip this past edition during a five-minute segment on the capital city.

The five-minute piece, which you can watch in its entirety here, starts with a look at how Dublin-based Wendy’s tests its new products, pointing to the Columbus area as a perfect place for product testing for a diverse population that creates “a near-perfect cross-section of the country’s consumers.” That’s thanks in part, of course, to Ohio State University and its international student contingent.

Along with tips of the hat to restaurant upstart Piada and the Jeni’s ice cream empire and a brief appearance by Center for Operational Excellence member Nationwide Insurance, the piece broadens into a look at the uniqueness of the city and what makes it tick.

Make it to about 3:13 in the videoand you’ll recognize another COE member: Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, whose Market District concept in Upper Arlington was dubbed by the segment as “the mother of all grocery stores.” If you’ve been there and seen the store’s blend of restaurant-quality meals on the spot, wide selections in every category and the biggest sweet potatoes and onions you’ll ever see, it’s hard to disagree. 

Giant Eagle’s Market District
“Giant Eagle’s Market District location in Upper Arlington is a jaw-dropping shopper’s paradise.” Photo courtesy

Giant Eagle is just one of our many COE members making waves with innovative new concepts, driven by an underlying focus on operational excellence. Whatever lean thinking led the chain to try selling wine by the glass in the Market District store to allow sipping while you shop, well – keep up the good work.

Aggreko runs into face of disaster while others flee

An interview I conducted a few weeks ago with an executive at British temporary power generation company Aggreko was a little more complicated than your standard call. David Campbell, who worked with a team on a remarkable project you’ll read about soon in our newsletter, was on assignment in Africa for Aggreko, a Center for Operational Excellence member. After arranging a time that split the time-zone difference and setting up the conference call, I was horrified when the signal dropped mid-conversation.

Reconnected again, I told David I wasn’t sure what happened. Had I pressed a button? Had the signal faded?

“Africa happened,” he said.

Aggreko, at any given time, is at work providing generator power all over the world, ranging from major sporting events to mines and in the wake of devastating natural disasters. In a fantastic interview with CEO Rupert Soames in the U.K.’s Telegraph, he recounts his team’s arrival in Japan three days after the tsunami. The reporter also poses a provocative question: When disaster hits the news, “does a little cash till ring in his head?”

“No. Naturally my thoughts go out to the full horror of the event,” Soames tells the reporter. “And the next thing is we book a ticket.”

One thing Aggreko can’t complain about is having a boring CEO. Winston Churchill’s grandson, Soames recounts once having DJ’d the engagement party for Prince Charles and Lady Diana and tells the reporter his plans for the evening: “Take my ferrets to Hyde Park and see if I can catch a rabbit.”

Aggreko’s next big gig is the London Olympics this summer. The company will be providing all the power that isn’t taken from the nation’s grid. That’s a giant leap for a company that only several years ago had its stock trading on the London stock exchange for the equivalent of a few dollars. Its stock today converts to nearly $40.

We’re confident at least a small debt is owed to Aggreko’s relentless pursuit of operational excellence – and we’re happy to help.

The lean secret of … Indian bread?

I never fail to be reminded that lean thinking makes sense anywhere – and everywhere. The latest occasion was at a friend’s house a few weekends ago making an Indian bread called paratha. I had made them in the past, but this was the first time it really registered to me as a process. Just watch how lean thinking takes over in the kitchen.

My friend began the setup by making a large dough ball, kneading wheat flour,salt and water. The process steps entailed

bread making
The Indian bread paratha takes teamwork – and some lean principles – to make a successful meal.

her making a small ball from the dough, rolling it flat and placing it on a pan where I cooked it. I then removed it from the pan, placed it in a casserole to keep it warm.

Here’s where it gets tricky – just like any process a few steps away from its future state. Initially, we weren’t synchronized to create one-piece flow. If she slowed down, my pan sat empty and overheated, creating waste in the form of time and human potential and winding up the pitch for a defect. If I slowed down, she already would have rolled the bread, standing there and waiting for my pan to be empty. As a countermeasure, my friend kept a plate between the pan and her rolling unit where the rolled bread  began to stack up. With the pressure on, I pushed to cook the parathas faster, turning up the heat and burning the bread. When I turned the gas down, the bread would be undercooked. More defects. If you’re still with me, you see her countermeasure covered up a symptom of the problem but didn’t get at the root cause.

It took us time to get things under control, but we “stopped the line,” huddled and came up with the most efficient way of cooking the bread. This involved using the correct amount of heat so I wouldn’t burn or undercook the bread. We paced our share of work so we produced at the same rate, or takt time. We decided the empty pan would be the kanban for my friend to start rolling the next bread. If the pan was filled, she would use that time to undertake some standard work: Making the ball for the next bread.

Voila! The lean recipe worked for our recipe: Warm parathas with delicious egg curry. Take a stab at it yourself – and learn from our mistakes.


Huntington’s Buck ID deal shows customer savvy

Like many great innovations, Center for Operational Excellence member Huntington National Bank is adding a lean flourish to some of its customer interactions in a way that begs the question: Why hasn’t it always been like this?        Huntington Bank

The bank this week announced a deal that links Ohio State University student ID cards with some checking accounts at no additional card. As Columbus Business First explains it, the ID essentially becomes a debit card for Huntington’s Asterisk-Free and Plus accounts.

As someone always wondering how he can get one more card out of his wallet, this would have greatly appealed to me as a student. As someone watching Huntington progress on its operational excellence journey, I’m impressed with the move’s combination of ingenuity and loyalty building.

This bit of Buck ID reform isn’t an out-of-the-blue innovation. Huntington recently announced a $125 million deal with OSU to make it the school’s official bank for consumer accounts, which will increase the presence of its ATMs and branches on and around campus. It’s partnerships like these that make great strides – often with very simple improvements – in giving students up-close access to the growth and evolution at one of the city’s most important corporate institutions.

We’re proud to call them an important part of what we do at COE.

Time to change over

Understanding setup time in the manufacturing world is easy: A machine makes products with different specifications, and parts must be changed to meet those. The time you take to make those changes is setup time. The more setup time, the more wasted time and resources. Lean companies focus on reducing changeover times to make a range of products in a given period of time to meet customer demand.

How this applies to health-care is occasionally tough, so let’s start with the easiest example. In an operating room, the time needed to turn it over for the next surgery would be setup time. The quicker you clean, disinfect and stock the room with the relevant tools, the more surgeries can be done in a day.      

Setup time and its opportunities for greater efficiencies go far beyond an operating room, though. Take a blood draw for testing. Supplies are situated outside patient rooms for safety reasons and, once ordered, require a nurse to walk to a storage area. Then, depending on how a supply closet is organized, the nurse may need to spend time looking for the correct, unexpired tools before placing them on a tray and walking back into the patient room to do the draw – provided he or she hasn’t forgotten anything. Drawing the blood takes no more than a few minutes, but the time spent in preparation can create a great deal of waste, reducing the time a health-care provider can spend with patients. At its worse, these inefficiencies can result in delays in diagnosis and treatment, affecting the length of stay and patient satisfaction.

Just think of how much could be changed by just placing a phlebotomy cart right outside the patient room or spending some much-needed 5S time on the supply closet.

Blood Draw
A simple blood draw can become a nightmare of inefficiency for a health-care organization

That’s not the only waste-prone procedure in this setting. Just think about turning over patient rooms, adjusting diagnostic equipment or starting a new round of chemotherapy. Any sort of walking, waiting or looking around is waste and if a highly paid staff is spending a major chunk of its day doing it, those are resources down the drain.

Many employees aren’t even aware of the wastes that run rampant in settings like these. Instead, they consider it part of their work because that’s what they’re used to doing. All it takes is for someone to take a look at the process and separate truly value-adding activities from the waste.