Where’s the power supply?

It’s the little things.

Working on a relocation project, I am on the receiving end of equipment, inventory, and supplies while relying on others to identify, package, and ship the correct equipment and materials at a location 800 miles away.

First shipment included the shipping station equipment and we received all but a shipping scale, which was shipped separately and received a few days after IT set up the shipping station in its new home.  When I received and unpacked the scale, it was missing the power supply.  One data cable, one display cable, and no power supply.

A cheap wall wart power supply.

When managing a fast-paced recovery or turnaround project, we start with a broad scope and fill in the details as we dig in and have the conversations and ask the detailed questions. We miss things.  Shit goes sideways.  But the name of the game is fast recovery.  In this case, I simply went to eBay and ordered the 10 buck power supply rather than spend any more time thinking about it.

While in project management training, we learn all the tools and techniques for properly managing projects.  If you’re a certified PMP as I am, you learn the PMBOK, the structure behind successful project management.

That’s all well and good but when in recovery mode to save a business in 3 months, I don’t go to the book.  Not even once.  It’s all hands on deck and we keep drilling down every day.  As a project leader in turnaround situations I recognize what is at stake and the deal is we just need to get it done.  And when the shit hits the fan, we move quickly to identify and implement a solution.

There are damaged customer relationships.  There are lost sales.  There is broken or missing equipment.  There are some things that will not soon be recovered but many that will be.  That is the goal.  Hockey games are not usually pretty but you have to play hard and fast to save and win the game.

This is not to say there is disorganization.  On the contrary, it is well organized.  It just happens in such a compressed time frame with a lot of players who find themselves thrown into the fray.  Once everyone understands the mission and the need, most get on board and make it happen.  Some require a bit of hand holding as they find themselves suddenly out of their comfort zone.

But we get it done.  And once we get the big pieces into place, with big improvements made along the way, the team gets to polish it up after we start settling into the new current state.

I don’t often get to do much polishing.  Once the big things are in place, I leave it to the experts to polish.  I move on to the next project.  My next hockey game.

Did you remember to ship the power supply?


Standard work? Nah, I got this.

I’ve recently worked with a client on a turnaround situation in a small shop.  The technology is tried and true, even considered a bit old school, if you will.  The process contains nuances and requires finesse at times but generally speaking, if they were to apply some standard work, based on the fundamental principles of the technology, they would be a lot closer than they are.

But what if they are unwilling to learn and apply standard work and the fundamentals?

Standard work is a Lean Manufacturing term that, according to isixsigma.com is defined as follows:

Detailed definition of the most efficient method to produce a product (or perform a service) at a balanced flow to achieve a desired output rate. It breaks down the work into elements, which are sequenced, organized and repeatedly followed.

You know those perfect cookies that your mom or grandmother made?  They were no doubt created using the same ingredients, the same process, the same oven and temperature, and the same nuances nearly every time and the results were almost always predictable.  Yummy good cookies, right?

If you tried to make the same cookies in your own kitchen, the results might be different based on the variables in your process.  An extra minute in the oven, a different brand of butter or vanilla, a different cookie sheet, or anything that can create a shift in the standard process.

When a process is so out of control that no two jobs are alike, settings for process temperature, humidity, and timing are ignored, materials storage conditions are highly variable, and employees do it their own way, what can we do?

We create standard work.  Identify the correct environmental conditions, equipment settings, and material storage and handling requirements and stabilize all processes.

We then create standard work procedures that clearly define everything that allows us to replicated the process then teach and instruct every employee to follow them.  Teach the why it matters.  These procedures become the new standard and the only time they change is when the processes undergo controlled changes based on improvement.

The challenge in this case seems to come from ego.  The leader of this team has been educated on the proper procedures for much of this work yet refuses to implement necessary changes through standard work.  The problems continue.  The employees do what they want.  No two setups are alike.  No two products look the same.  There is no process discipline.  Customers are leaving.  Orders are late or cancelled.  Poor quality products are shipped.  The hole gets deeper yet nothing seems to improve.

It’s an amazing example of defiance at a very costly level.  How unfortunate for the business, employees, and customers.  It’s very frustrating to watch a business fail for something so simple.

I want to include an example of standard work as it applies to me.  Something simple, yet something I feel is important to my brand.  My logo contains 7 different colors, none of which pop up in MS Office programs when I am trying to match.  I contacted my logo designer who provided me with the RGB color numbers used which allows me to match any of the 7 colors used in my logo.  Simple, right?  The chart below is always nearby to enable me to quickly select and match my colors.


I can NEVER make a mistake matching my colors now.

Thanks for stopping by.  Take care of yourselves in the cold.



The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Revisited

As an independent, well-traveled consultant I see it all.  Hotels, airlines, restaurants, grocery stores, service businesses, clients, rental cars providers, Uber drivers, etc..  I previously shared some of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly I see along the way.  Today I’m adding a fourth category called “Really?”

The Good

An odd international call charge showed up on my latest cell phone bill which offered no details.  I pulled up live chat and within a few minutes, while I was conducting other business, I was reminded of a call I made to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Yeah, forgot about that.  Case closed with little effort or concern on my part and the live chat offered me the opportunity to continue working without hanging on the phone and suffering the being on hold annoyances.

I stay at a Candlewood Suites near Cleveland pretty much weekly.  I like the price and the kitchenette.  The staff is super courteous and responsive, the rooms are always predictable and clean.  They are always prepared for my arrival and departure and I rarely have to wait.  I am always greeted by name and always get a Mr. Bates, please, thank you, and we’ll see you Monday.

The Bad

I fly out of MKE weekly and there always seems to be something amiss.  The walkways in the skywalk are sometimes turned off, one elevator has been out of service for over a month, and there is a giant kiosk clogging up the busiest intersection on Concourse D.

And the parking pay stations always seem to be spotty.  The card readers require contortionist angles, the receipts drop or blow away because they push too far out of the machines, and either the ticket reader, card reader, or receipt dispensers often require multiple tries.  I had to back out of a pay lane more than once and there is rarely a human around offering any help.

Last night in the bitter cold and high winds, receipts were flying away before they were able to be caught, my ticket was unable to be read multiple times, and I had to honk and wave down the only available attendant as I was boxed in by honking cars behind me.

I get that things break on occasion but some weeks it’s a guessing game about what’s not going to be working this week and it’s always about learning what to avoid because you know something still hasn’t been fixed.  I spend a lot of time in a lot of airports and I just think they could make MKE just a bit better.

The Ugly

My wife and I ordered a futon and some accessories from a well known local establishment that pretty much just sells futons.  We paid over a $1,000 5 weeks ago and are being told, for the 3rd time, it’ll be another week or two.  I hate having to chase this down.  You take my money, you need to stay in touch with some updates.  Period.  The clock is ticking on this one.

The Really?

While visiting a supplier of a client customer, I was asked by a panicked shop leader to come out to the line with him.  As we approached the line, he explained there were 2 women on the line that had been tossing verbal barbs at each other for hours and it was coming to a head.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I was asked to break up a fight by a supplier I was visiting.  The fight did break out and I was required to give witness statements regarding my involvement.  Think about that for a moment.  A supplier asked a customer to help them break up a fight on their own production line.  That was a new one for me.

So I challenge you give this some thought and think about what your customers might be thinking.  Or just ask them.  We all have choices and one bad experience or even a series of minor incidents can drive a customer away.  A paper cut is a pretty small thing but get enough of them and you will bleed to death.

And please understand I am a patient person.  Life’s too short to be angry about any of this so any annoyances are usually fleeting.  But many eat up my time, which is precious to me and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Thanks for stopping by.


Do Not Underestimate…

Now that I am back in the consulting game, I was invited to take a close look at a fast-failing operation to see if I can lead a turnaround and after a 3 week assessment, it is not clear that we can fix all that is broken under the same roof.

This particular outsourced operation was completely underestimated by the owners of the business that agreed to take on the product line.  They assumed that this was a plug-and-play operation and it is anything but.  They took on a business with absolutely no competence or understanding on the core process involved with this line.

Within a couple weeks after startup, required production volumes were a mere 10-20% of required output to satisfy customer demand.   And the demand is growing.

Key issues leading to failure:

  1. No technical ability to execute the manufacturing process resulting in massive backorders, equipment breakdowns, poor setups and operation, and defective product.
  2. Poor equipment maintenance practices resulting in significant equipment downtime while attempting to repair complex equipment which is not understood.
  3. Leadership capability greatly underestimated resulting in the shop leader spread too thin to effectively learn the process, teach the process, perform effective setups and prepare raw materials, and instill a necessary sense of discipline.
  4. Management that is frozen in that they have no direction, no plan to get out of the hole with the ultimate result of the business calling in high priced consultants to try to salvage the customer orders.

Fortunately, we are able to mitigate the harm to the customers but at great expense to the business, nearly missing huge losses.  And ultimately, we will find another source to manufacture these products since the current source failed badly.

It pays to recognize the competence required to effectively and efficiently execute seemingly simple manufacturing processes.  These guys totally underestimated this process and it has cost them dearly.  I am reminded daily of bad business decisions that can take place and create great damage that can result within a very short period of time.

Perhaps the most painful aspect of this, is the toll this bad decision has taken on the employees that show up every day and do battle to make this happen.  Many thanked me profusely when I handed them copies of the manuals for the equipment they have been struggling with.

I found them sitting in boxes, untouched for months.

Their frustration trying to do well without training has been very painful to watch and through little fault of their own, they will never really get the chance to experience the success of this turnaround.

Stay tuned, we have some work to do.

164lbs082018Michael Bates has over 35 years’ experience as a Lean practitioner, including 30 years’ in operations leadership.  He holds numerous Lean certifications and is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  Michael is also certified in Project, Program and Portfolio Management and has led dozens of projects ranging from relocations, new product development, and turnarounds.


So now it’s time to talk about waste.  Muda.  Non-value-added.

There are a few ways to list the 8 sources of waste but for the sake of simplicity, I will opt for using the DOWNTIME acronym.

  1. Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Waiting
  4. Non-utilized talent
  5. Transportation
  6. Inventory
  7. Motion
  8. Excessive Processing

So here’s a few things you need to know about waste in any form.

  • It rarely fits into any one of these buckets.  For example, inventory is often found waiting to be processed and requires transportation to move it around sometimes by highly skilled workers.  Inventory is also easy to overproduce just to make sure there’s enough and can contains defects waiting to be found.  And for materials susceptible to environmental conditions, it can spoil rendering it, well, trash.
  • Every value stream contains waste.  I’ve never seen a single example of a waste-free stream.  Often, we will map a value stream for the first time and find over 90% of the activities to be considered waste.  Remember, value is defined by the customer, not the producer.
  • Waste is money.  It will pull profits out of your process if it is not eliminated.  It will create safety, quality, delivery, and cost issues.  It can make your customers very unhappy with you because it might not fit their definition of value.
  • Sometimes waste is necessary.  Usually it is not.
  • Waste likes to hide.  It can be wiley.  Sometimes it can only be seen when you look for it.  The good news is there are tried and true methods for identifying and eliminating waste.  Plenty of ’em.
  • Once you learn to see it, you will see it everywhere.  Everywhere.

So how do we see waste?

We draw a map.  A big, beautiful map.  Using sticky notes.  When we are finished with our map, we will see the waste.

It will be glaring.  It will be ugly.  But when we put our our waste goggles on and see it, we can begin to do something about it.

Up next:  The Value Stream


Michael Bates has over 35 years’ experience as a Lean practitioner, including 30 years’ leading manufacturing, engineering, and service operations.  He holds numerous Lean certifications and is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  Michael is also certified in Project, Program and Portfolio Management.


In my last post, I mentioned the game-changing book Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones.  They get right down to business with the 5 principles of Lean, the first of which is Specify Value.

Value can only be defined by the customer and it only has meaning when it is expressed in terms of a specific product that meets the customer’s needs at a specific price at a specific time. 

Value can only be created by the producer.  Womack and Jones state that this is the reason producers exist — to create value for the customer.  So, to restate this from a from a Lean perspective, in order to produce value it first has to be defined by the customer.

I have led product development projects that we, as the producer, defined the value to the customer and can say that the products and related services were, at the end of the day, off the mark.  Assuming we new best resulted in costly product feature changes and launch delays.  A couple of the lines never fully recovered and the 3-year life cycle was plagued with inefficiencies, delivery and quality issues, engineering mishaps, and ultimately, reduced margins.

Our most successful projects involved key customers in the features design process and subsequent service of our flagship products.  This allowed us to hear their definition of value and design a product flow that delivered that value successfully throughout the 3-year life cycle of the product.  The momentum of that success carried forward into the next flagship redesign, which proved to be more successful.

Once we understood the value as defined by the customer, we deployed lean methodologies in all areas of the organization and lo and behold, we had some pretty favorable margins as the result of the cultural shift.  It’s easy to speak in terms solely of the product, but we dug in to truly understand our customers’ business models which ensured timely invoicing and payments.


Up next: Muda


Michael Bates has over 35 years’ experience as a lean practitioner, 30 of which while leading manufacturing, engineering, and service operations.  He holds numerous Lean certifications and is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  Michael is also certified in Project, Program and Portfolio Management.

A Year to Make a Can of Soda?

I recently, for the umpteenth time, listened to Lean Thinking – Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation and in my opinion, it stands the test of time.  This gem keeps Lean, or Continuous Improvement, simple.

Regardless of the product or service, it is as important as ever to understand the value to the customer, the value stream that brings the product or service to the customer, how to ensure your product or service flows based on demand pulling it through your value stream, and the importance of continuously striving for perfection.

My well-worn book has plenty of marked up pages and the audio book brings the familiar and soothing voice of Mr. Womack into my car.

You must experience this if you care about bringing value to your customers.

And yes, it can take up to a year or more to make a can of soda. Pick up a copy in the media of your choice and find out why.

Your thinking will never be the same.

 Have a great day!