Practicing what we preach

Even if many of the speakers who come before COE members have lean-transformation success stories to share, all of those tales have to start with some gory details about problems at their organizations. In the spirit of quid pro quo, I’d like to share one of ours and fill you in on what we’re doing to make it better. Think of it as the Fisher College version of US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!”

Our Dec. 2 seminar featured fantastic and well-received presentations from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp. (don’t believe me? Check out these pics). If you logged in to watch either of these events via a live webcast, however, you got a front-row seat to some technical problems we had in the morning and afternoon. Live audience members in the afternoon were privy to an audio glitch at the start of the Starbucks presentation as well.

Fisher College COE cause mapping
COE joined with the audio and visual teams that helped with the Dec. 2 seminar to dissect some of its glitches.

In a world without lean thinking, we’d hoist the blame on the shoulders of the good folks at Fisher and the Blackwell Hotel who handle audio and video for us and be done with it. Easy? Sure. Fair? Not at all. So in the spirit of lean thinking, we spent a half-day this week creating cause maps with the audio and visual teams that revealed a number of issues that fueled the fire. And like the dutiful lean thinkers we are, we emerged with some proposed changes to our event planning and execution next year that should boost the quality of COE members’ experience and lower our blood pressure readings.

It’s disheartening and even scary to dig beneath the surface and expose the frayed wires in our process but they remain a problem waiting to happen until you do.

Discuss: How has operational excellence influenced the way you or your organization dissects problems after they occur?

COE member Cardinal Health gets supply chain honors

Sometimes the scope of the machine can obscure the beauty in the little cogs that make it all work. Take Center for Operational Excellence member Cardinal Health Inc. for example: It’s a $100 billion-plus company, highly profitable, one of the largest employers in the Columbus area and manager of a network of distribution centers so vast its products can reach a staggering share of hospitals nationwide in no time flat.

It’s also an extraordinarily efficient and nimble enterprise, having navigated through the recession with few bruises, shed a piece of itself to create a new West Coast entity and plotted an ambitious expansion into Asia that could pay untold dividends in the future. It’s the efficiency and its translation into high-quality service to customers that has captured the attention of the number-crunchers at research firm Gartner, which recently named the Dublin-based company the No. 1 health-care supply chain in the nation.

To reach No. 1, Cardinal moved past last year’s holder of the top spot, Owens & Minor, which slipped to No. 5 this year. Nos. 2-4, in order, were Mercy, BD and the Mayo Clinic.

It’s reasons quantitative and qualitative that got Cardinal the honors. Gartner perused data on financials and inventory levels, combining that with other survey data and peer opinions (Cardinal’s top-notch there, in specific). The company in bestowing the honor called Cardinal “a complex combination of well-connected businesses … (that) combines the varied strengths of a medical-surgical distributor, a pharmaceutical wholesaler and a large manufacturer.”

So why all the hoopla over a health-care supply chain? Gartner gets at a key distinction that strikes at the heart of why operational excellence in the health-care realm is so important: “Losing sight of the customer, in most industries, results in frustrated tweets and blog posts about a product or service that may lead to lost sales opportunities. Losing sight of the patient, however, can reduce the quality of life for particular patients and, in the worst case, can lead to the loss of life.”

So congratulations to Cardinal, an all-star on COE’s roster that recently came to Fisher to share its lean story at our Dec. 2 quarterly seminar.

A congratulations by proxy goes to fellow COE member Abbott Nutrition, whose sister pharmaceutical operation made Gartner’s top 10.

Stepping outside the COE box

Attendees of last Friday’s professional development meeting hosted by the Center for Operational Excellence can thank the executives from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp. for the insights they carried into the office Monday. Those of us at COE owe them gratitude for a pair of touches outside the norm for our programming that proved wildly successful.

T-shirt folding activity led by Starbucks
Seminar attendees participated in a T-shirt folding activity led by Starbucks

In the morning session, at the suggestion of lead speaker and Cardinal executive Whitney Mantonya, we devoted the entire second half of her time to a panel discussion featuring her colleagues who have helped with the Dublin company’s lean transformation. A panel on a topic featuring all employees from the same company? It isn’t something we’ve tried before and it’s not even the traditional form of a panel.  What transpired, however, was a detailed dissection of the bird’s-eye view Mantonya provided in the first half, the exact kind of sleeves-rolled-up scrutiny our knowledge-hungry members want. It seems the group’s favorite part of the morning session was the very section we didn’t originally plan.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to step outside the box.

That’s exactly what we did in the second half of our afternoon session as well, when we escorted the entire crowd of attendees from Pfahl Hall to the Blackwell Hotel for a hands-on T-shirt folding activity suggested and led by Starbucks that taught the basics of standard work. We’ve been hands-off with hands-on activities at our seminars before, but the overwhelmingly positive feedback (and happy faces on our Flickr page) indicate it was exactly what the doctor – err, barista ordered.

COE adds staff amid growth spurt

Life brings bad problems and good problems, and the Center for Operational Excellence is happy to be right in the middle of a very, very good one.

Tom Goldsby
Tom Goldsby

To put it quite simply, we’ve grown our membership base at such a steady clip that a group once numbering four in 1992 has hit 34. This has translated not only to more people actively working with Fisher on their pursuit of operational excellence but more attendance at our quarterly professional development meetings. A lot more. Our Sept. 30 event that featured a retired Kodak executive and Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell peaked at about 200 attendees, a record. This past Friday, when hosting executives from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp., we would have hit and potentially exceeded that record by opening the events to the public but invited members only because of space constraints. Once again, a very good problem.

In our member roster and the decision-makers who come to our programming, these aren’t just manufacturers with a shop floor. COE is embracing the notion of continuous improvement in the most inclusive way possible, paving the way for the entrance of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., Huntington National Bank, OSU Medical Center and others in the transactional and health-care spaces.

Not that we’re leaving our core constituency behind. We’ve come to recognize a growing contingent of members in the logistics and distribution sectors needs specialized attention. For that, we’ve brought on one of the brightest minds tackling logistics in academia today, and we didn’t have to look far. Prof. Tom Goldsby, PhD, of Fisher’s Department of Marketing and Logistics, has stepped in as an associate director for COE to work closely with several companies that will benefit greatly from his award-winning research.

Goldsby already has made his debut before our COE board. We expect you’ll see a lot more of him.

Want some value-stream mapping tips from the pros?

Our good friends at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Lean Enterprise Institute are giving operational excellence junkies a chance this week to learn from a few masters this week – without leaving the office.

Tuesday Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. EST, the institute is hosting a free webinar titled “Learning to See the Whole Value Stream: The Power of Extended Value-Stream Mapping.” It’s set to last one hour and will be led by Jim Womack and Dan Jones. Those of you brushed up on your lean reading might notice they’re the gents who quite literally wrote the book on some hallmarks of lean thinking including, well, Lean Thinking, Lean Solutions and Seeing the Whole Value Stream.

recent value-stream mapping session
COE Executive Director Peg Pennington hosted employees from Grange and Huntington for a recent value-stream mapping session

The cost? Your time, an hour of it to be exact. Click here to register for the webinar.

The concept of value-stream mapping will be fresh in the minds of a few of our member companies: Grange Insurance and Huntington National Bank. A group of employees from each company came to Fisher earlier this month for a day-long session on VSM led by COE Executive Director Peg Pennington. They’re part of a growing contingent of transactional companies in COE – and they’re making great strides in apply operational excellence strategies to new realms of the corporate world.

Amy Tomaszewski, Grange’s assistant vice president of operational excellence, told me the event was a great success for her company and “provided quite a few ‘Ah-ha!’ moments.”

“The instruction was excellent and tailored to the service transaction environment, which is often overlooked in lean training,” Tomaszewski said. “Through the real-life computer simulation of the movement of electronic work and the team exercises around value-stream mapping and a simulated Kaizen event, we were able to see the result of both positive and negative changes that can occur when a company looks for and acts upon improvement opportunities in a value stream.”

When opportunity knocks

Any time I see a great lean process at a company or in real life, it looks so natural I’m shocked it wasn’t always that way. That’s probably why I had to read a recent Akron Beacon Journal article featuring Center for Operational Excellence member Akron Children’s Hospital twice before I saw the lean thinking behind the innovation.

Akron Children's Hospital

The Oct. 30 piece by medical writer Cheryl Powell focuses on the growing importance of so-called advanced-practice providers – you know them as nurse practitioners and physician assistants – at Akron Children’s and other hospitals. This is taking place because of restrictions on resident work hours and growing demand for service. Akron Children’s, however, is using that situation to create a lean environment where ownership is shared and the blame game isn’t played. Think about that when you read the anecdotes that open the piece:

“When the medical staff executive committee helps chart the future of Akron Children’s Hospital, nurse practitioners sit side by side with doctors as peers. As the hospital’s pediatric neurosurgeon finishes a complex brain operation, he usually steps back and lets a physician assistant close the child’s head. And if a cancer patient has a problem in the middle of the night, an advanced-practice nurse or physician assistant often provides the care.”

Much of the article focuses on the promising salaries of those advanced-practitioner careers, but what struck me were anecdotes about the Cleveland Clinic, which is using those workers to help patients with less-serious problems, “which frees up doctors’ time to spend with people who have complex problems.” Sounds like standard work to me.

The results, by the way, are the true goal of any standard work implementation: Smooth flow and more time for innovation. The clinic also boasts of higher patient satisfaction and quality scores coupled with lower average stay length and readmissions.

As in any industry, sometimes a problem becomes an opportunity.

‘People are the glue’

Hanging around operations professors for a few months has made me realize I think entirely too little about the small wonders in my everyday life. In short, I’m starting to feel like I should take a moment of awed silence with my iPod Nano before I shuffle to my running mix and hustle down the street. The supply chain for even the simplest product out there (a bottle of water, for one) is really anything but. On a global scale, it’s a tightrope walk of symphonic precision with a healthy dose of interpersonal diplomacy for good measure.

Professor Edward Anderson

It’s that diplomacy that slowly took center stage at the latest supply chain forum hosted by Fisher’s Center for Operational Excellence and featuring Prof. Edward Anderson of the University of Texas. On the surface, Anderson’s presentation to dozens of COE members on campus and streaming live was about the potential potholes that form in distributed product development (COE members can view the webcast here). As he illuminated ways for determining the best strategy to avoid potentially costly problems, a prominent theme emerged: This globe-spanning process doesn’t come down to widgets and machines. It comes down to living, breathing human beings.

And we’re a complicated and costly bunch, Anderson told the crowd.

“People are the glue,” he said. “The problem is, we’re expensive glue.”

This is Spinal Tap stonehenge
this-blog-goes-to-eleven.blogspot.com

Central to Anderson’s presentation was the idea that with the right people in place to manage risks from one boundary to another in product development, the lower the risk of lost money, drained value and public embarrassment.  And these crucial patches aren’t grand gestures – sometimes they’re as simple as hiring someone who knows how to tactfully ensure a supplier’s “i”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.

A favorite example of mine: If only the titular rockers in the cult mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (pictured above) hired a designer who knew their Stonehenge replica should be 18 feet…not 18 inches.

How has your company used its work force to break down barriers in a supply chain? Have a “Stonehenge moment” you’d like to share?

Kind of a big deal

We’re pretty proud of the successes we’ve seen in just three years running Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence program. And the same can be said of the industry heavy-hitters we line up to give students top-notch wisdom in lean leadership. Among those big deals is John Shook, the CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute in the Boston area. Modest and easy-going as Shook is, he wouldn’t tell you that, but having him spend a day with our students is like taking a film-school course on westerns with Clint Eastwood as the prof.

Shook was kind enough to sit down with me after a full day of breaking down A3s with the MBOE cohort for a wide-ranging chat on the future of lean and some of his personal experiences (read the full interview). If you don’t know much about him, he spent time in Japan at Toyota Motor Corp. about 30 years ago and, quite simply, is one of the reasons lean is alive and well in the U.S. today.

John Shook Lean Enterprise Institute Fisher MBOE
Photo by Peg Pennington

While our chat was full of insight, one thing Shook said near the end has stuck with me since, and it’s about why companies make mistakes in a lean transformation, and more specifically in using A3s to solve problems. “All lean tools and processes,” he told me, “are like an iceberg. There’s more underneath them that embody different ways of thinking and going about work, and if we just copy the tools it’s possible for us to miss that and be implementing the tool for the tool’s sake.” Shook then referenced an old saying about hammers in search of nails.

He’s not talking about carpentry here. This is the heart of the matter when it comes to lean, the idea that we shouldn’t just be putting out fires (hammering nails) but digging deep behind them to discover what caused that spark. Switching metaphors here: A layer beneath the tip of that iceberg is the crucial root cause.

So what does digging for that root cause, maybe with the help of an A3, do for your company? Shook says it best:

“It helps us solve problems and create a problem-solving culture all at the same time so it can help us choose the right hammer.”

Now I’m a Believer

Unlike my blog-posting colleague, I’m a relative newbie at lean, having spent my years out of college in the newspaper business and only recently making the jump to Fisher’s Center for Operational Excellence. I’ve pored over the Lean Enterprise Institute’s Lean Lexicon, scratched my head at A3s and learned very well how to nod politely at jargon as I scribble down mental notes for later. No amount of memorization, however, has taught me more about the transformative power of a lean approach than my first simulation.

Only weeks into my employment at COE, I joined a small group of my colleagues and employees from member companies for the three-part, day-long effort, hosted by Institute for Lean Systems Executive Director David Veech. My table’s task: To cobble together the hull and carry out final assembly of a Star Wars-inspired Lego aircraft with enough small pieces to strike fear into a playground full of toddlers’ parents.

lego naboo starfighter
An example of the final product in the lean simulation.

With a stack of directions, the first round seemed simple enough, mimicking a batch production system still used by many companies. But when game time came, the results were an unmitigated disaster, wasted pieces and frustrated “factory workers” everywhere. The second round, a simulation of a company partway through a lean transformation, wasn’t much better as purchase orders piled up and attempts at “milk runs” for Lego pieces floundered.

Round three, a simulation of a fully lean enterprise, was catharsis defined. Tasked with picking up a carefully chosen selection of Lego parts for the final product, I flew around the room and handed off deliveries with a smile. Completed Star Wars fighters began piling up and the collective morale – as grim as a Netflix boardroom at times – skyrocketed. Literally and figuratively, the pieces were locking into place. And the jargon made sense.

Only after the dust cleared did I realize it was necessary to feel the intense frustration of a wasteful production system before I could appreciate the logic of lean. The problem in many industries today, however, is that operations don’t realize they’re in round one because the status quo is so ingrained. Even once the “Aha!” moment comes, much work remains to be done, and change – even for the better – isn’t easy.

It’s the job of those of who have experienced round three to communicate its value. I’ll certainly never look at Legos the same way again.