‘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.

A matter of life and death

Call it human nature, but there are few feelings in the world better than the relief of exoneration, in matters big (a courtroom comes to mind) or small (a fender-bender comes to mind). We all hope for it and that connecting of the dots, that sudden calming of a fast-beating heart is hard to beat.

Lean thinking, then, comes as a bit of a buzz-kill as it teaches us to avoid directing blame and take responsibility as a group instead. This concept came to mind in a recent Q&A I conducted with a pair of professors in the Fisher College of Business’ Management Sciences department. Drs. Aravind Chandrasekaran, pictured left, and Kenneth Boyer worked with graduate student Claire Senot to examine the relationship between the quality of hospital care and patient satisfaction as organizations work to reduce medical errors and keep in step with government regulations. What they found: Those efforts to “chase zero” might work, but that comes with a trade-off in the patient experience.

This is touchy ground. On the one hand, who cares if you’re not smiling and satisfied as long as you leave the hospital in one piece? On the other, as an insurance-toting “customer,” aren’t you entitled to top-notch, error-free care in and out of the operating room?

Boyer (pictured left) in the Q&A offered a fascinating take on how the overall patient experience has become a metric along with clinical quality, one that will be directly linked to federal reimbursements starting next year. In the culture of medicine, a natural defense mechanism is to – yep – seek exoneration in seeing a patient death as an unambiguous result of illness. Over the years, however, it’s been more recognized that while some patients will die even if they do get “perfect” treatment, preventable errors also exist. With this realization, health-care providers can’t just pretend clinical quality is near-perfect, so it’s harder to brush off other problems that lead to less-than-thrilled patients.

“Revealing that there are excellent opportunities for improving one dimension leads to a realization that the other can be too,” Boyer wrote.

Process improvement, when done right, is infectious – pun intended.

A great idea without data = Whining

Matt Burns

The Center for Operational Excellence earlier this week hosted a kickoff event for the IT Leadership Network, a new subgroup of COE you’ll be hearing more a lot more about in the future. While turnout – for an offsite event at Nationwide Insurance – was great at nearly 200 people, I was equally impressed by our keynote speaker.

Mike Orzen, who quite literally wrote the book on lean and IT (it’s, uhh, called Lean IT), emerged as one of the most dynamic and engaging speakers I’ve had the pleasure to hear since joining the center several months ago. While the content of his presentation was tailored to an IT audience, the kernels of wisdom he shared about lean thinking and its place in an organization were universal and applicable to anyone at any point in their lean journey.

Speaker Mike Orzen
Speaker Mike Orzen

That’s why I’d like to share some of them with you right now.

“We’re really really good at describing what lean is. We don’t have a good track record of being lean and staying lean.” – This quote speaks to a topic of rising importance to our membership: Sustaining process improvements after the tools initially have been used. This is a challenge many of us face and is often tied to the level of engagement or buy-in at all levels of the organization.

“When everything’s a priority, nothing is a priority.” – Orzen was a wizard at getting to the heart of problem solving in a lean culture: Identifying what the problem truly is, not through the prism of our own work but in the prism of how it’s affecting the customer experience.

“Lean is invented by everybody in this room. It’s a growing body of knowledge.” – These are, I believe, the most important words Orzen spoke on Tuesday. Lean isn’t just a collection of scholarly articles and books. It’s a living, breathing way of doing and thinking that can take the shape of whatever problem is before you.

“The No. 1 value I see in many organizations: Self-preservation.” – No explanation needed here.

“We often see things from our paradigm. The hardest thing to do is to see reality.” – File this bit of wisdom under “Siloes,” what Orzen wisely describes as a necessary evil in organizations as they create and nurture specialization, but a factor that can complicate communication and efforts to see the whole value stream.

“A great idea without data – some people call that whining.” – Indeed.

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 columbusfoodie.com

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.

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.

What a wonderful World Café

As a journalist, I was taught to eschew jargon and cut to the heart of the matter, sending corporate buzzwords like “synergy” to the trash bin along with serial commas. I’m pre-emptively asking for forgiveness, then, as I describe the great things that went on in a recent Center for Operational Excellence-sponsored event. If our first attempt at a World Café wasn’t a textbook example of synergy, I don’t know what is.

If you’ve never heard of a World Café (or, like I did, immediately think of the NPR music program), here’s a crash course: A group of people assemble with the goal to tackle a topic in an actionable way. They’re split up into small groups, each at a table, and switch at regular periods with the exception of that table’s moderator. For the event we hosted with the Operations and Logistics Management Association last week, we put the spotlight on logistics and opened the doors of the Blackwell Hotel ballroom to Fisher faculty, students and industry players, some of whom were COE board members. Check out a slide show of the event here.

World Cafe
The World Café event allowed Fisher students and faculty to interact with logistics industry players.

Like any maiden voyage, nerves were on high alert and expectations were uncertain, but a healthy and enthusiastic turnout led to rounds of stimulating discussion. We design the COE experience for our members in ways that connect them with faculty, students and industry peers but it’s rare that this occurs, well, at the same table. Just strolling around taking photos, I could feel the energy, and the session-ending report-outs were rich with thought-provoking conclusions on a range of different facets of the logistics trade.

Tom Goldsby, a Fisher logistics professor and COE associate director, tells me “our students benefited from the viewpoints offered and the very interaction with business professionals. The business professionals, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the interaction just as much and indicated that the students provided fresh insights on the table topics.”

A crucial sign things were going well: Goldsby says several participants wanted to linger at the tables longer.

“In sum, it seems this first-ever event was a great success – one that we will repeat soon,” Goldsby said.

Break out the bubbly

It’s a point of pride at the Center for Operational Excellence that we’re able to maintain a strong link between our industry members and the inner workings of the Fisher College of Business as an educational institution. That’s accomplished in part by staffing our center with Fisher faculty who work closely with our students and add to the value we work to create.

Nancy Lahmers

We’re very unsurprised, but very pleased nonetheless, to let you know that two of our COE team members not only have raked in awards for their dedication to Fisher students but are advancing in their journeys at the college.

Nancy Lahmers, in charge of COE’s women’s initiatives, was given the 2012 Mount Award, an honor handed to “the faculty or staff member who is selected as the most exceptional example of commitment to leadership, scholarship and service and the dedication to students.”

Andrea Prud'homme

Additionally, COE Associate Director Andrea Prud’homme on Monday was given the Undergraduate Programs Teaching Award, a student-nominated honor.

On the heels of those awards, Fisher leadership has announced that Lahmers will be serving as executive director of the college’s Graduate Programs Office starting spring quarter. Lahmers over the past eight years has served as the director of Fisher’s Honors Cohort program. Taking over for Lahmers is – you guessed it – Prud’homme, a favorite professor among students who also advises the Buckeye Operations Management Society.

Very wise choices we couldn’t be happier about. Congratulations, ladies.

Akron Children’s cardboard ward makes headlines

How many times have all of us gotten that bright idea, mapped it out in our minds or on paper and then watched in horror as its real-life execution goes terribly wrong?

When it’s a romantic dinner or a driving shortcut, all that’s lost in the process is a little dignity. When it’s an entire ward in a pediatric hospital, the stakes are higher and the cost could be lives. I’m entirely unashamed to brag, then, that some of our Master of Business Operational Excellence graduates demonstrated their panache for avoiding a situation like that with such innovative aplomb that it garnered them ink in the Akron Beacon Journal.

ACH LogoThe article details an effort by MBOE grad Sherry Valentine and others to revamp the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center at ACH to handle more workers and cut down on patient wait times. Instead of taking plans from the blueprint to the contractor, though, Valentine marshaled a cardboard recreation of the proposed overhaul to allow employees to try it out.

A key facet of the revamp was reducing travel time as samples were moved for testing. “When lab staff tried out their initial attempts to renovate the department,” according to the article, “they discovered the changes left too little space in their work areas.”

“Sometimes, the teams have found what looks good on paper doesn’t work in real life,” according to the article.

From a lean perspective, a couple of teachable moments are at work here. In its own creative way, this mock-up operation is a kind of gemba, where management and workers can immerse themselves on the ground floor instead of a bird’s-eye view. The article also mentions that the simulation “allows the team members who will be doing to the work to be involved with designing their workplace.” Is there a better example of a no-blame, shared-responsibility culture than that?

Valentine tells the paper it’s unusual in the health-care sector for an entire mock-up to be created before construction begins. With change agents like her applying what they’ve learned at Fisher, that might not be for long.

Bringing it all back home

It’s a common occurrence but a sad fact of life in the business world: Lured by cheaper wages and less red tape, a company uproots U.S. manufacturing operations and sends them to China or another country in an effort to cut costs.

Harry Moser has made a crusade out of asking those companies a simple question: “You sure about that?”

Harry Moser Reshoring Initiative manufacturing Fisher College of Business
Moser brought the message of his Reshoring Initiative to Fisher in January. Image courtesy Emily Tara.

In a recent visit to Fisher, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative outlined how he’s working to broaden companies’ understanding of all the costs of offshoring – and the benefits, in turn, of keeping or moving it stateside. Sure, the price tag initially might look cheaper on paper, but factor in a host of other risks and costs that escape that first glance and the U.S. is much more competitive, if not less costly altogether over the long term (run the numbers with Moser’s handy Total Cost of Ownership Estimator).

“We’re much more competitive competing here than we are competing there,” Moser said.

At the forum, sponsored by the Center for Operational Excellence, CIBER and the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, I was thrilled to see Moser talk about the costs of offshoring from an operational excellence perspective. Based on evidence Moser presented, a compelling case can be made that running an operation offshore can create waste that would make any lean thinker shudder.

Just think about the impact the big blue ocean between your offshore plant and your customer can create. Bringing product back makes the most financial sense with large batch shipments, but what happens when demand shifts your product mix? And what about defects discovered after a product has been shipped from half a world away? Research in the pharmaceutical manufacturing realm by our own John Gray indicates offshore production – even by U.S. drug-makers – carries a greater quality risk than its American-made counterpart.

Advocates for bringing it back home, take heed: It’s easy to make the case for reshoring not just with dollars and sense, but common sense.