Process Improvement Blog

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Looking for ways for your organization to increase productivity and trim budgets? You’ve come to the right place.

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Bill Waddell

Consensus versus Fiat

May 06, 2014

One hallmark of the lean companies I have had the honor of seeing up close is a decision making process that is often maddening and frustrating to people new to the organization who are not yet immersed in the culture. As one exec described it to me, “It’s like eating at a Chinese restaurant – you really don’t want to look in the kitchen and see how they do it. Better to just stay out in front...

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The Manufacturing Cultural Norm

April 30, 2014
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It's Not Management For Dummies

April 29, 2014

It’s always fun to see how the things lean companies do thoroughly confuse traditional thinkers. Toyota’s announcement that they are bringing manufacturing, engineering, sales and finance together in a new headquarters campus in Texas is a good example. At the same time they are moving procurement to close proximity with the design folks in Michigan.

Before the formal announcement from Toyota the...

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Productivity Problem Solved

April 27, 2014

The Toronto Globe and Mail covered the BCG report on global manufacturing competitiveness, bemoaning the fact that Canadian manufacturing is lagging, especially behind its North American neighbors. The big issue, they point out, is productivity. Canadian productivity measures are just as screwed up as American measurements with the economists not knowing the difference between productivity and...

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The Chinese Jig Is Up

April 25, 2014

There is an interesting – but not too surprising to me or just about anyone else who understands manufacturing in reality, rather than as something that can be completely described in a standard cost calculation – study from the Boston Consulting Group about the shifting and current costs of global manufacturing. Among its conclusions:

The gap between China and the U.S. in overall manufacturing...

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Nike: People are people no matter where they work

April 23, 2014

An interview with Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight relates the story of his son’s tragic scuba diving death and Knight’s reaction. “Knight and his wife, Penny, were devastated. In a note to his staff, Knight told them that instead of sending him condolences, they should make a point of spending more time with their own families.” Obviously the reaction of a caring, compassionate man, and a...

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Freudian Lean

April 21, 2014

I came across an article called “When Big Data Meets Manufacturing” that has been widely blasted across the Net. It is actually a very good collection of examples of how companies have created greater value for customers in a wide range of ways what one of my clients calls “Customer Focused Manufacturing”. It is well worth a read, but the authors demonstrate just how little they really know about...

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Assessing for Continuous Improvement... or Not

April 18, 2014

You may have heard something about the ‘Nine Box’ employee assessment approach. I really don’t know who thought it up, but the academics love it and GE seems to have taken it to an art form. Like most of what academia and GE view as a grand. Critical concept, it is a very, very good idea that misses the critical point entirely. The problem is that it is built on the notion that their tried and...

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Time to Rethink HR

April 16, 2014

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article about the number of companies that are disbanding their HR departments. All in all, a very good trend, I say. It gets right at the heart of the knotty question of ‘value adding’ versus ‘necessary’. By and large, HR is neither – at least much of the conventional HR role.

The big problem with HR is that it is mostly built around the same...

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Good Culture Flows From Good Management

April 14, 2014

The ongoing debacle at GM is providing a real lesson on culture. Seems certain CEO Mary Barra really doesn’t know why people would make decisions that would get the company into its current predicament, and that her telling the GM folks that they should really, really care about customers and product safety will actually fix things. Like so many leaders she seems to be under the illusion...

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Value in Plain Vanilla

April 08, 2014

I firmly believe that just about everything is better when chipotle is involved, but apparently that puts me in a distinct minority. That conclusion is based largely on the fact that the most popular flavor of ice creamvanilla. It seemsat least to their palate.

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Playing to Win, or Playing to Tie

April 08, 2014

In one corner we have the Germans with their love of Technik. At the big show in Hanover robots and advanced automation were center stage – “machines take over factories,” the headlines proclaim; and the experts say, “where the technology has been implemented, increasing automization is leading to significant improvements.” Given Germany’s position as a manufacturing powerhouse and the fact that...

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You Can't Improve If You Think You Are Perfect

April 08, 2014

Let’s suppose I am a bit of an amateur mechanic and I like to take care of my own car repairs to the extent that I can. Now let’s suppose the water pump on my Buick goes out on a sunny Spring Saturday morning. (Yes, I own a GM product. As much as I admire the manufacturing and business models at Toyota, Honda and especially Subaru, and as much GM bashing as I do in the blog, I unapologetically...

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MBM Is Managing For Linearity

April 07, 2014

For as long as I have been advising manufacturing companies I have been telling them that the single most telling indicator of whether they are doing any good or not is their ability to set a plan for the next week and execute it – schedule attainment. Rarely, if ever, does a plant actually execute its schedule exactly. In most plants whatever happens is not even remotely close to the...

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180° Wrong Assumptions

April 03, 2014

It’s hard to understand how people can quite often look at a situation and come to a conclusion that is not just wrong but 180° wrong – the utter and complete opposite conclusion that straight logic would dictate. Yet is happens, and it happens so often that the inane, wrong conclusion very often becomes accepted as correct and assumed by others to be correct without question.

Case in point: “...

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The high cost of cheap labor

April 02, 2014

In an amazing, but not really very surprising, article in the Economist we learn that the big companies are boosting headquarters staff – “Some 44% of the firms had increased the headcount at HQ, whereas only 28% trimmed.”

Why? “Globalisation meant that the mother ship had more far-flung operations to oversee; new digital technology made it easier, in theory, to centralise control and oversight;...

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Working outside in rather than inside out

March 31, 2014

Perhaps one of the most inane – but very typical – aspects of the business process in manufacturers is the construction of the supply chain from the inside out. Three times in the last week – count ‘em – three for three – I visited a manufacturing company with (1) problems delivering in the time frame customers want; (2) lots of inventory but rarely the right inventory; and (3) a supply chain...

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When it comes to people, objectivity is over rated

March 28, 2014

I worked my way through college a long, long time ago selling high end men’s clothing at a small retail chain in Cincinnati. Well, that was the theory, anyway. In fact, I am so hopelessly color blind that I was perhaps the most unqualified person on the planet to do that job. I was able to do OK by sheer rote memorization – watching the people who were good at it and memorizing which suits...

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You can't compete with a DIRTTbag

March 26, 2014

I came across a company called DIRTT some time back and keep coming back to them for the simple reason that they seem to be the ultimate example of just what a lean company can be. There are lots of reasons to be impressed with them from their culture (DIRTT stands for Do It Right This Time and they call themselves and their employees Dirttbags - no job titles), flat organizational structure,...

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The money people have a hard time focusing

March 24, 2014

Deutsch Welle reports that Siemens outbid Caterpillar and GE and won the contract to build 32 locomotives for the first European-style high speed rail trains in the United States. The bidding wasn’t particularly close – Siemens came in at $226 million, while the Americans came in at $260 million.

This isn’t the only bad news for Cat and GE lately.

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You don't need Eastern mysticism to be world class

March 19, 2014

I don’t know much about Canadian politics – I have a few very, very good Canadian clients but nights in Canadian hotel rooms are more apt to be spent catching up on my reading or watching reruns of Duck Dynasty than taking in the news. The exception, of course, is any time the mayor of Toronto is in the public eye. The boys from Duck Dynasty can’t hold a candle to him for sheer hoot value.

So...

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America Makes ... little sense somethimes

March 18, 2014

Autonomation, for those unfamiliar with the term, is ‘automation with a human touch'. A very good definition can be found at businessdictionary.com:

Technological innovation that enables machines to work harmoniously with their operators by giving them the 'human touch.' Called jidoka in Japanese, it employs automatic and semi-automatic processes to reduce physical and mental load on the...

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"I seriously doubt they are any more responsible"

March 17, 2014

So GM put a bunch of defective switches into its cars and dragged its collective feet for a dozen years in launching a recall. “GM has reported 12 deaths and 31 crashes among the 1.6 million recalled cars.” “A study commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety found that 303 people were killed in crashes of now-recalled General Motors vehicles where the airbags did not deploy …” The truth is...

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Self-preservation of wasteful work

March 16, 2014

I’m no big fan of Tesla, but I am slowly warming up to them. The story a few weeks back about them working with the boys from Valor Equity Partners to bring production back from Asia, resulting in a reduction in costs of some $30,000 per car went a long way. But this post is not so much about Tesla as it is about resistance to change.

The state of New Jersey, in its infinite wisdom, has decided...

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An Important Anniversary: The Cortés Principle

March 13, 2014

495 years ago today the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés with 11 ships and some 500 men landed in Mexico and launched one of the most audacious escapades in history: The conquering of the Aztec empire with its population numbering in the millions and dominating army of over 300,000 warriors.

Now there is not much a leader can learn from Cortés. By all accounts he was a greedy, arrogant and...

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