Chrysler exec, Cardinal CEO headline COE’s Nov. 22 seminar

Time and time again, we see evidence that the companies most successful in driving real, lasting change throughout their organizations are the ones that don’t treat operational excellence as a project – they treat it as a large-scale culture change that’s always a work in progress. We’re thrilled to be featuring for our final quarterly seminar of the year two fascinating examples of this: Chrysler Group LLC and Cardinal Health, the latter a member of our center since 2013.

Opening the seminar from Chrysler is Mauro Pino, who leads the NAFTA Manufacturing and World Class Manufacturing arms of the automaker. Since its 2009 alliance with Fiat, Chrysler has made huge strides in financial performance and industry market share – and part of the credit for that goes to its own renewed commitment to cutting waste while improving safety and quality. The operational excellence system it has deployed, dubbed World Class Manufacturing, focuses on giving workers hands-on experience in problem solving that they can take back to the company’s plants and apply immediately.

As it continues to roll out WCM, Chrysler means serious business. The company last year opened up a 25,000 WCM Academy in Michigan where more than 3,000 workers across North America were trained in 2012 alone.

Our featured afternoon presenter is George Barrett, chairman and CEO of Dublin-based pharmaceutical and medical supply distribution giant Cardinal, a more than $100 billion-a-year operation that ranks in the Fortune 20. Over the past four years, the company has increased its position in hospitals, clinics, surgery centers and specialty practices, doctor’s offices, and the home. Its journey to make health care more cost-effective and simultaneously drive balance and growth has included operational excellence as a key component of cultural transformation and a foundational capability of its go-to-market strategy.

Barrett will discuss the company’s approach to creating a culture of excellence and creative value across the health-care continuum in what is a rapidly changing landscape.

As always, the morning session of our seminar is open only to employees of our COE member companies, while the afternoon session is open to members and guests.

Join us!

Are your meetings a waste of valuable time?

itln crowd

McKinsey & Co. Partner Krish Krishnakanthan shared a number of sharp insights about the application of lean principles to the world of information technology, but what seemed to resonate the most were his thoughts on how we view two very important features of any organization: Meetings and managers.

krishnakanthan mckinseyMeetings, Krishnakanthan (pictured) told a crowd of 80 at last week’s IT Leadership Network forum, often serve the function of an all-hands-on-deck “firefighting” session. Here, issues that could be resolved on individual team members’ time instead are tackled en masse, contributing very little value or eroding what value there is.

“Staff meetings truly have become problem-solving meetings, not status-reporting meetings,” Krishnakanthan said.

Check out photos from the event here.

Where organizations often fail to contain much-dreaded waste in processes, he said, is in firmly establishing objectives among individual team members and leveraging “huddles” or meetings for valuable communication – not triage.

This same attraction to firefighting, Krishnakthanthan said, has seeped into the role of managers. These leaders, he said, should find themselves coaching their teams to develop the skills they need to solve problems – not solve the problems themselves.

“Most managers, though, would love to just solve the problem,” Krishnakanthan said, “and they get rewarded for this. A reward system must be built to reward really good problem solvers, not crisis managers.”

The key, he said, is to be a leader who knows how to ask the right questions, not jump to provide the answer.

Krishnakanthan was the featured speaker at COE’s sixth forum in its IT Leadership Network series, which began with a visit from Lean IT co-author Mike Orzen in April 2012. Check out for a look at past speakers and our upcoming events.

COE women ‘lean in’ at book discussion

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In didn’t so much create buzz in the biz-book world as it did a jet-engine roar. Nearly six months after its release, Lean In seems still as talked-about as ever – so much so that at least a few of our member companies are hosting ongoing discussions centered on the blockbuster.

Sandberg’s manifesto and its subtly powerful stance – that in a male-dominated world, women unwittingly hold themselves back too – resonated with us at the Center for Operational Excellence. And like some of our member companies, we decided to do something about it.

lean in women
Topics at COE’s “Lean In” discussion included “The Search for 50/50” and “Are You My Mentor?”

Last week we hosted an experimental “book club” discussion on Lean In featuring more than 50 women from COE member companies. Instead of a panel or a “breakout” into small groups, we decided to make a cocktail out of them both: Eight tables, eight topics, eight facilitators, and 15 minutes for a group to share their thoughts before the next rotation.

Click here for a look at photos from the event.

We’re thrilled with the results of our round-robin book club, which provoked some provocative discussions on topics that are crucial to our professional and personal lives, but not always easy to talk about: Self-doubt, career mobility, finding balance with a partner, parental guilt, and a number of others.

Some of the women who attended wrote down their thoughts during the discussions, and we thought we’d share some of the best:

“Accept that there will be guilt” – This, from our table on “Raising Future Leaders,” echoes Sandberg’s own struggles with being a working parent.

“Expectations are an invitation to resentment.”

“Are you an arsonist at your own fire?” – This, at our table on finding balance with a partner.

“Have difficult conversations now!”

And, an audience favorite: “Laundry is always a problem.”

COE summit keynote Duhigg wins Pulitzer Prize

You’ll be reading and seeing a lot more about the incredible experience of our first-ever three-day Leading Through Excellence summit very soon through photos, blog posts and details on our next one – but one piece of news can’t wait.

Charles DuhiggSummit keynote speaker Charles Duhigg joined us Friday to talk about his bestselling book, The Power of Habit, and how “companies are the engine of social change in America.” What he didn’t know then was that he was about to win a prestigious Pulitzer Prize just three days later.

Duhigg and his colleagues at the New York Times won a Pulitzer in the “Explanatory Reporting” category for a series of pieces dubbed “The iEconomy.” Take a look at some Pulitzer submissions here. Duhigg was on a team that was a Pulitzer finalist a few years back and has won his share of awards for his other reporting work – but this is the big one, and we’d like to extend him a note of congratulations.

Anyone who has read The Power of Habit or saw him deliver a dynamic keynote address this past Friday knows this likely isn’t the last great honor he’ll receive. We look forward to what’s next.



Airport tour added as COE summit moves closer to sell-out

The Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit is a little more than 30 days away and we’re selling seats at a rapid clip. If you haven’t pulled the trigger on registering just yet, we’re recommending you act fast as parts of the event are selling out.

leading through excellence logoAs of this week, three of the originally scheduled four plant tours for Wednesday, April 10, have been completely booked. We still have a few seats left to our trip to Mills James for a look at operational excellence in creative spaces and, to accommodate demand, we added a trip to Port Columbus International Airport. This, however, only amounts to fewer than 20 slots, which we expect to book soon.

We’re thrilled to have additional features to announce for the summit as well. Summit sponsor LLC is running a workshop Friday, April 12, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on process design. This is a critical skill for every organization – but it’s too often left to chance. Every day, people are busy designing new processes with not much more to work with than good intentions. But process design doesn’t have to be a complicated engineering exercise – and MoreSteam is planning to outline some simple tools and common-sense methods to help get the job done.

And finally, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve booked a special appearance by Jon Waters, the director of the Ohio State University Marching Band, a.k.a. the Best Damn Band in the Land. He’ll be speaking at lunch on Thursday, April 11, in the middle of a day packed with simulations, workshops and case studies led by our Fisher faculty.

So what are you waiting for?

Ohio State president, Momentive CEO to speak at COE’s April summit

E. Gordon Gee

Case studies. Plant tours. Simulations. Bestselling The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg.

The list of reasons you should sign up for COE’s first-ever Leading Through Excellence summit is already long. We’re going to add a few more reasons, and one of them is none other than the bow tie-clad leader of our esteemed institution.

COE has booked Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee for an appearance on Thursday, April 11, at our summit. He’ll be speaking in the afternoon amid our triple threat of breakout sessions. Before that, however, you’ll also get to hear a special address from the chief of one of the 50 largest private companies in the nation: Momentive Performance Materials Holdings CEO Craig Morrison.

Craig Morrison

These are great additions to an already stellar lineup. Gee oversees six campuses, 65,000 students and 48,000 faculty and staff and is one of the most highly respected leaders in American higher education. Morrison led the 2002 effort to combine the former Borden Chemical with three other companies into Hexion, one of the nation’s largest specialty chemical makers. After merging with its sister company in 2010, Momentive as it’s known today emerged and has grown to a nearly $8 billion organization, dwarfing its size a decade ago.

Both of these men will be at our summit to talk about the crucial role leadership and problem-solving play in the success of your organization.

You can read more about the summit here, but trust me on this – just register.

Happy New Year from COE

The Center for Operational Excellence entered its 21st year of existence in 2013, but it’s unlikely this year will be anything like what you’ve experienced before. At the top of the list for why is our Leading Through Excellence summit, which begins in little more than three months and marks the first-ever multi-day event for the center.

My task board is filling up already in the “Backlog,” “WIP” and “Done” columns.

On a smaller scale, we’re running the same busy slate of programming as usual but making some great changes to respond to member demand and keep things fresh. You can check out the first of those, also our first official event of the year, in little more than three weeks when we host our second-annual Link Symposium, which we ran last year under the guise of a “world café.” If you have a thing or two to say about sales and operations planning, you should join us by registering now.

Later on down the road, we’re offering a look at doing business in India, following up on our successful Business in Brazil forum last spring, and continuing our slate of lean IT forums. You’ll hear more about speakers for those events in the next few months and can take a peek at our other events in 2013 here.

As for COE’s resolution for 2013, we’re committed to practice more of what we preach, improving the processes we have in place for the events you attend and the connections you make. I took my own long-overdue stab at it around the holidays by creating a task board, inspired by a recentgemba to COE member Nationwide Insurance. Now, every day, looking down at me from above my screens, is a backlog, a WIP area and, best of all, a “Done” column. Just a few days in and I’m already enjoying moving those Post-Its.

Have something for my task board – or your own resolution to share? Drop it in the comments.

Taco Bell COO hosting exclusive chat with students Friday

When the Center for Operational Excellence hosted Taco Bell COO Rob Savage on campus last month, he told the crowd it’s important to never feel stitched into one line of work.

“You have a lot of skills you can apply to different industries in different situations,” Savage said.

Taco Bell COO Rob Savage
Taco Bell COO Rob Savage spoke at a COE seminar last month.

He would know. A graduate of Ohio State University’s engineering program, he got his start in the world of manufacturing, working as a production supervisor for General Motors. Two decades ago, he joined Taco Bell as a market manager and has risen through the ranks to oversee the operations of a chain that serves 35 million customers a week.

Savage’s undying love for Ohio State (and its undefeated Buckeyes) is bringing him back to Fisher this Friday at 9 a.m. in Pfahl Hall 202 in an exclusive chat with students, hosted by COE. Fisher offers students a wealth of opportunities to interact with successful people in the world of business – but not every chance will be as intimate as this one.

The smashing success of Taco Bell in recent years (Doritos Locos Taco, anyone?) says plenty about Savage’s skills as an executive, but his passions extend well beyond expanding the brand and driving financial success. Savage is passionate about the success of students at all levels of education – and he’s here this week because he wants to be.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. E-mail Jackie McClure at to reserve a spot.

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.

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.