Get your head out of your inbox

I’m not a betting man, but I’d be willing to lay down a few bucks that as you’re reading this you have your e-mail open and a to-do list stashed on your desk or in your head measuring a mile long and never shorter. Full disclosure: This is me on both counts, and I’ll throw in a foot-tall pile of papers on my desk for added effect.

Like many people in the world of process improvement, I do just fine talking lean principles, but come over to my desk and you’d wonder if I’d ever laid eyes on a kanban (it’s probably buried in this stack to my left). It’s this disconnect that the Center for Operational Excellence hoped to help our members fix with a Friday visit from Dan Markovitz (pictured above), chief of TimeBack Management and the author of the award-winning A Factory of One. What Markovitz does isn’t really presenting or speaking – it’s coaching, pushing the audience to look at how they manage themselves personally and instilling a desire to be as lean in the office as on the shop floor.

Considering the biggest complaint was that two hours wasn’t enough time for the forum, it’s safe to say Markovitz garnered rave reviews. If you missed it, here are some key takeaways:

‘You are your calendar’ – Markovitz accurately points out that most users of sophisticated software such as Microsoft Outlook use it only for e-mail (more on that next) and for meeting scheduling. , Take a cue from the Tom Peters video linked above and show a tasks’s importance by scheduling time for it. Using the simple tools of visual management, you can transform your calendar from a meeting alarm clock to a road map for your day.

Don’t live in your e-mail – “We all spend too much time with our heads in our inboxes,” Markovitz says. Save phone calls or in-person chats for serious, timely matters – save the e-mail for anything you can check just a few times a day.

Create value, not just deliverables – If there was one “A ha!” moment in Friday’s presentation, it was Markovitz’ insistence that “we trap ourselves into thinking about deliverables and not value.” How much of your work is driven by the former, and how much do those deliverables ultimately enhance the customer experience? Reverse your thinking, put value up top and the rest will follow.

These points all lead back to Markovitz’ challenge, that “if you’re creating a lean culture, you’ve gotta live it.”


The Ten Commandments of lean management

The folks over at the Lean Enterprise Institute have pointed out a new article circulating in lean academia from Management and Production Engineering Review that breaks down the basics of applying lean philosophy in a tried and true form: Ten Commandments-style.

Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston (or Moses, your choice), improving flow like a true lean leader (source:

The stone tablets here are a PDF you can download, but the piece is a detailed breakdown of each “commandment” that links it to its originating Japanese terminology (often a problem in communication) and drives home its importance. The team of authors, led by researchers at the Wroclaw University of Technology’s Institute of Production Engineering and Automation in Poland, do a nice job of summing up leadership duties and how the rest of the team comes into play.

No parental dishonor, coveting or “thou shalt nots” here, but take a look at the first five:

1. Have a clear vision and improvement goals for the whole organization.

2. Be an engaged boss initiating changes.

3. Improve processes and the results will come as a consequence.

4. Create an Obeya-like management center.

5. Determine indicators and bonuses that show one direction to the managers.

Thou shalt read 6-10. Feel like bearing false witness and suggesting better commandments? Leave them in the comments.

Finding flow in daily life

If you haven’t followed my advice and moseyed on over to to read the online newsmag’s operations series,  bookmark me and make haste. Writer Seth Stevenson over the past couple weeks has turned out a great batch of pieces on operations success stories that, while a bit elementary for your average ops vet, are a reminder that simplicity breeds success. His latest piece – the result of a call-out to readers – is the best yet, sharing process improvement success stories in our daily lives.

Based on the theme of the piece, the grocery store appears to be a major problem – sorry: opportunity – for many of us. Like many processes, the chances for variation between that initial opening of the automatic doors and the final bag during check-out are myriad. As a writer with little to no exposure to the ops world before joining the Center for Operational Excellence, I’ve found myself making changes in that process. Coupons are organized in the order of where I’ll see the product on my route, and the shopping list itself gets the same treatment. 

Grocery shopping
Grocery shopping can provide plenty of stress but provides plenty of opportunities to go lean

Some grocery shopping frustrations remain: The deli counter still takes forever, a sign I should follow one Slate reader’s advice to drop off the order and pick it up at the end of the trip.

Opportunities like these in daily life are everywhere, and I’d like to hear yours. Where have you gone lean outside of the office in an effort to find a few more precious minutes to spend while off the clock?

COE member Aggreko tackles fuel-spill problem

You’ve probably seen one or 50 of those Morgan Freeman-narrated Olympics promos already, but you might not know that one of our Center for Operational Excellence members will have a front-row seat to the action.

generator aggreko
Aggreko's generator fleet at any given site can be massive.

UK-based temporary power supplier Aggreko Plc’s generators will be a behind-the-scenes player for this year’s Olympics, marking the biggest moment in the sun yet for the company. Ever a process-minded organization, Aggreko recently has turned to the Fisher College of Business and COE for training and project work. I wrote about a fascinating and important project one group of Aggreko improvement leads undertook over the past year in this quarter’s COE newsletter.

Read the full article here, but here’s a snapshot: Aggreko in recent years has experienced massive growth and secured deals all around the world in all kinds of climates. With that variability came the occasional fuel spill in its generator fleets, a problem team members were determined could be resolved through process, not a mechanical fix.

They were right, and their journey illustrates the remarkable change that can be brought about by a thorough, reasoned approach to problem-solving instead of the knee-jerk quick fix.

That’s a story that merits some Morgan Freeman narration.

Online series takes a look at operations

Leisure reading and work are typically two things I like to keep separate, but our operations readers might want to mix the two and check out an interesting new series at online news mag Slate.

A new series on the website, crafted by author Seth Stevenson, is taking a look at key tenets of operations over the next few weeks. You can get started by reading his first article here, one entitled “What You Hate Most About Waiting In Line.” This is solid, sprucely written material, though anyone with a years-long background in operations management might find it a bit basic. He’s already waxed poetic on Eli Goldratt’s The Goal and viewed operations through the prism of Southwest Airlines’ successful string of profits.

None of this might be new, or news, to you. What’s at play here, though, is a spotlight being shined on operations at a well-read website that spends much of its time on current events and pop culture. If even a few enterprising, undecided college students feel a light bulb going off reading this, that’s a few steps forward for a field that needs all the bright minds it can get.

Culture counts – inside and out

Depending on your level of skepticism about the intangible in work and in life, the notion of culture being as important – or more important – than process and strategy might ring true or completely hollow. Culture itself became an important aspect of the past two events the Center for Operational Excellence has hosted, and the arguments for its impact on building a team and dealing with the outside world are enough to convert a non-believer.

In late May, we hosted Quicken Loans President and Chief Marketing Officer Jay Farner at our quarterly professional development seminar. In a compelling look at how Quickens’ culture has driven its success, Farner said the nation’s No. 1 online mortgage lender doesn’t really talk mortgages much in its hours-long employee organization. 

Jay Farner
Quicken Loans President Jay Farner

 “We’re a technology company, we’re a marketing company and we just so happen to do mortgages,” Farner said.

 Instead, it’s all about the kind of company the employee is joining and what maxims – they call them “isms” – they need to live by. It’s this focus on “isms” such as “Every client, every time, no excuses, no exceptions” that have helped Quicken win honors for being one of the best places to work and for having one of the best corporate IT infrastructures around.

“When people join an organization, if they don’t understand what they just joined, they can’t become a part of the family or understand its philosophies,” Farner said. “How can they be expected to excel?”

 What better way to foster a sense of ownership – a do-or-die ingredient to driving process improvement – than getting everyone on the same page culturally?

A different angle on culture took center stage at COE’s June 1 forum “Business in Brazil: An Insider’s View.” A group of about 60 COE members and guests joined to hear from a trio of experts on the challenges in doing business in and with the South American country, one that’s on fire economically these days but not the easiest to navigate. Sean Corson, an international sales exec for Ohio’s Cast Nylons Ltd., gave a look at import export challenges, while David Wilson, of counsel at Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter, helped the crowd scale legal hurdles. 

Closing out last Friday was Atila Noronha, a Brazil native who’s now an executive at McDonald’s Corp. Noronha gave a lively look at the key cultural differences between the U.S. and Brazil and how they might come into play while striking a deal. 

Atila Noronha
McDonald’s Corp. executive Atila Noronha

Think the “American way” is the best route? Tell that to a Brazilian and see where your transaction goes, Noronha said.

When it comes to driving change for a group based on “my way,” that same caution might be useful.

Congratulations to COE-funded scholarship winners

Aside from putting on events and connecting our members, part of the Center for Operational Excellence’s mission is to support the great work our faculty and students are doing here in the Fisher College of Business. A big way we do that each year is in giving out scholarships, and we’re proud to recognize a group of students we selected.

COE this year awarded five students $500 each through the Logistics Scholarship Fund. The first-year MBAs to receive the honor are: Jennifer Bartlette, Arshita Raju, Joe Robinson, Jeremy Mink and Bradley Stuetzer.

Awarded the $2,500 William L. Berry scholarship was Piyush Sinha. This honor, endowed by the emeritus professor, is designated each year to a student expected to have an impact in the operations world. With his strong experience in the field and a reputation as a high achiever, Sinha was a natural choice for the honor this year.

Our winners this year, along with past honorees, posed (left) with COE leadership and associate logistics professor Mike Knemeyer to celebrate the honor. Check out more photos on our Flickr page.

As the icing on the cake, some of our honored students are putting in work as interns at some COE member companies. Bartlette is headed this summer to Delaware industrial packager Greif Inc., while Stuetzer is headed to Greif’s Argentina office. Other members set to welcome our students: Rolls-Royce Energy, where Sinha will be interning; and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., where Robinson is heading. Congratulations as well to Raju, set for an internship at the Ohio auditor’s office, and Mink, who is heading to Petsmart.

Congratulations to all of these students, and best of luck as you continue your journey at Fisher.

Fisher class tours COE member Huntington

One of the Center for Operational Excellence’s many partnerships within the Fisher College of Business is its financial support of the Operations in Action class. This course launched in the 2010-11 academic year and is aimed at encouraging sophomore female students to consider operations management as a major and a career choice.

Now in its second year, the course got out in the field recently with a tour of COE member Huntington National Bank hosted by Jeannie Raymond and John Largent (click here for more photos of the student group). This was no normal walk-through. COE Associate Director Andrea Prud’homme tells me a team of students did research on Huntington and gave a presentation to the rest of the class on the morning of the visit. They then took the lead in engaging with Huntington managers and prepared questions in advance to fuel a Q&A session.

Andrea Prud'homme
COE Associate Director Andrea Prud’homme, far left, poses with Fisher students and Huntington executives at the bank’s headquarters


Raymond told us the bank greatly enjoyed hosting the students and said management was “very impressed by the students’ questions and their overall level of engagement and interest throughout the day.”

Huntington is one of a number of member companies that support this important course, and we’re always looking for female mentors to step up. Think that could be you? E-mail Andrea Prud’homme at and we’ll make it happen.

COE welcomes member Mills James

You might not know the name Mills James, but chances are you’re familiar with their work.

Founded in 1984 by audio-visual production industry veterans Ken Mills and Cameron James, the company over the past three decades has grown and evolved into more than just the go-to shop for high-quality craftsmanship in Columbus. It’s a competitive player on the national stage with a broad range of capabilities and an innovative verve that feels in-step with what’s happening tomorrow.

On a tour of Mills James’ headquarters, from left: Robin Rasor Thompson, administrative director; Peter Ward, co-director; Matt Burns, program coordinator; and Peg Pennington, executive director.

It’s possible they had a hand in crafting and polishing that training video you had to watch. They might have helped you in the grocery aisle with an electronic display or served as the man behind the curtain for your company’s annual meeting. And if you’re a regular viewer of or wannabe participant in Ohio’s “Cash Explosion” lottery game show, they’ve entertained you from their home office on Columbus’ northwest side.

Mills James is the latest company to become a member of the Center for Operational Excellence, and they’re yet another great example of the ever-expanding diversity of our member base. What once was a hub for best-practice sharing among manufacturing plant managers has grown into an exciting organization whose members are committed to pursuing excellent operational practices and sharing those journeys with others. While we’ll work to provide value to Mills James, they’ll also be helping our own center as we grow our brand and deliver a better experience to all of our members.

COE formally kicked off its relationship with Mills James this week with a tour of the company’s headquarters. They were nice enough to give us a welcome that’s a tip of the hat to the movie marquee days as you see in the photo.

Now it’s our turn. Welcome to COE, Mills James.

‘Adversity is a part of life’

The arc of Gail Marsh’s personal and professional life is part success story and part cautionary tale – and she’d acknowledge that as much as anyone.

Gail was gracious enough to share that story as part of a regular series of women’s leadership breakfasts the Center for Operational Excellence hosts, sparking a discussion with nearly two-dozen women from our member companies and students at the Fisher College of Business (check out more photos here). The strategy chief for the gargantuan operation that is the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, Gail also is actively involved in community efforts around town. Those garnered her the honor of being named one of six Women of Achievement by the YWCA of Columbus last year.

Gail Marsh Wexner Medical Center
Gail Marsh shared her story and offered insights at a COE women's leadership forum.

If that isn’t enough, she’s a mother to three children she raises with her husband, Dr. Clay Marsh, an OSU professor and vice dean for research in Health Sciences and the College of Medicine.

Listening to Gail speak last week, I was impressed with how her story contains not only great wisdom for women but for anyone who works hard for what he or she earns and takes a step back, wondering how to balance it all. An undergraduate and master’s degree-earner from OSU, Gail was the proud owner of post-graduate student loans as she worked her way up in the male-dominated world of health-care administration, found love and started a family. It was the loss her mother that prompted her to realize she was moving too fast, life was too short and she needed to hit the reset button. With that, she began to create a work-life balance she says she’s still working to perfect, even though it has the flexibility she needs.

Not that her flexible schedule came on a silver platter.

“You have to be stellar at what you do for people to give you flexibility,” she said. “Everybody is balancing things.”

Some other wisdom Gail imparted at our event:

On taking the plunge into community service: “If you wait until all your work is done, your laundry’s done and all your kids have straight As you’ll never do it.”

On the secret to her own life: “Understanding that adversity is a part of life is the secret to my life now. It’s just going to be that way.”

On career mobility: “I like to think my promotions in the medical center have been because I know how to solve problems.”

Check out more from Gail in a video tied to her Women of Achievement honor.