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.



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.

Lean Six Sigma is simple.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet tonight.

Lean is all about increasing the throughput by eliminating waste.

Six Sigma is all about improving quality by reducing variation.

Lean Six Sigma is a highly synergistic combination that brings value to the customer.

You can call it whatever you’d like but the principles are the same.  Find the waste and the sources of variation, identify the root causes, and implement solutions to eliminate the sources of waste and variation.  When you’re done with that, do it again.

Every process has waste and variation.  Your job, everyone’s job, is to learn to see it.  Google it if you don’t know how.

That, my friends, is continuous improvement in a nutshell.  But please, just keep it simple.

Thanks for stopping by.



Tasty treat I would love to share


So I met this guy at work and discovered he is a local musician. As my faithful readers know, I am a huge hard rock and metal fan and love to dig into different things. Chad Novell is in a band called Fibonacci Sequence, as well as a Netherlands-based band called Mercy Isle (also worth a listen!)  Feel free to look up the term if you don’t know what it means (I have yet to hear the story behind how the band came to name the group such an intriguing name).

All I know right now is that this is some pretty good stuff.  Great musicianship, high-end production, wonderfully flowing melodies, and very cool package consisting of double vinyl with booklet and phenomenal artwork and photography.  Top notch!


The music defines itself far better than I ever could so stop by the website and sample the epic pieces then buy the CD or vinyl.  Best thing I bought this year outside of Maiden’s The Book of Souls.  This is some very tasty prog rock in the vein of Savatage and Trans Siberian Orchestra, with a splash of vintage European prog rock.


I also know these guys have played in the WMSE studio and you all know my affinity for Tom Crawford and crew over at WMSE.

You never know, one of these tasty tunes just might end up on one of my future WMSE shows!

Thanks for dropping by!


Mason and His Best Buddies

My 18-year-old son’s name is Mason. I’ve been raising him since he was 6 years old and adopted him a few months after his father passed away 3 years ago. Mason has Autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and is non-verbal, speaking fluent gibberish. He is currently a senior at Hamilton High School in Sussex, WI, and is a loving, caring soul that has captured the hearts of all who know him. He loves HHS and is often seen wearing the hand-me-down and leftover football or basketball tee shirts that have been given to him. Every day he enthusiastically runs out the front door to start his school day.

This is Mason’s third year in Hamilton’s Best Buddies program. Best Buddies is an organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hamilton High School welcomed Best Buddies during the 2015-2016 school year.

Mason was matched with Best Buddy Sam Herriges the first year, a young man named Erik the second, and a young lady by the name of Harper for the current school year. He has attended dances, school sporting events, and in general, hung out and watched movies, listened to music, or grabbed a burger at the local Culvers.

Mason, as is the case with many young folks with Autism or IDD, does not have the option of texting friends to meet up with them or simply ask to go hang out. Best Buddies has opened up that opportunity for Mason to expand his network and be with friends as any normal teen would. He loves cruising and singing with Sam and Erik while jamming to Fallout Boy’s Immortal, and swiping Erik’s fried cheese curds at Culvers. He is thrilled every time Sam calls him on FaceTime from college in Minnesota and is left with a long lasting smile. He’s not much to engage in meaningful conversation but the ear-to-ear grin and body “stims” speak volumes.

Best Buddies has turned out to be a great opportunity for Mason to socialize and do things he normally would be excluded from in high school. Next weekend he is off to another dance to enjoy another passion of his.

Mason, and so many others like him, thrive through this program but they need our help to continue to grow this to bring kids that used to be shunned and parked in back room of our schools out into the mix. To be a part of high school. To teach others how to interact with those with special needs. To simply be a normal kid when, in all actuality, many are not. Life will be long and hard for Mason with his disabilities, but his high school experience got immeasurably better when Best Buddies entered his life. Please consider helping spread this to all Wisconsin schools.

And many thanks to HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank, for allowing me the opportunity to be of service to Best Buddies on this special day. Such a great and giving organization, one I’m proud to have recently joined.