VIBCO – Lean Moonshine on Lean Nation Radio

I had the privilege of visiting VIBCO Vibrators this week in Wyoming, Rhode Island. Straight from the VIBCO website homepage:

We’re the Expert Vibrator Guys! We create value by manufacturing high-quality, low maintenance industrial vibrators and construction vibrators; offering world-class technical support and personalized service; and innovating to ensure that you have access to the best possible industrial vibrators, construction vibrators, and other vibratory solutions. VIBCO is the Original Silent Turbine Vibrator.

One of the highlights of my visit was sharing some of my Wiremold background and discussing lean moonshine with Karl Wadensten, VIBCO President, on the Lean Nation Radio Show.  I mentioned to Karl during the broadcast that being on the radio show was on my ‘lean bucket list’.  I’m grateful to VIBCO’s Linda Kleineberg for the invite…I had a blast.

Click to listen to the Lean Moonshine Podcast.

VIBCO is a shining example of a company that has successfully maneuvered over the ’employee engagement’ hurdle by involving 100% of the employees in lean efforts with an amazing commitment to their ‘True North’.

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Missing Child from Orange, CT USA Found Safe!


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***Missing Child*** Orange, CT USA ***Please repost***


Tom Southworth, a lean colleague from Connecticut, recently posted regarding a missing 13-year-old girl from Orange, CT.  This is a link to Tom’s blog where you can get further information. The girl’s name is Isabella Oleschuk, she has been missing since March 20, 2011.  As Tom commented on his blog, my hope and prayer is that Isabella is returned home safe.

Please call the Orange Police immediately (Orange, CT USA) at 203-891-2130 if you have any information regarding Isabella Oleschuk’s whereabouts as of March 20, 2011.

Missing Child - Orange, CT USA - Isabella Oleschuk

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Japan News (and “Lean” Misunderstood – Again)

News continues to unfold regarding the damage from the earthquake in Japan and relief efforts.  This incredible disaster has provided huge amounts of ‘data’ to sift through, as I continue my never-ending search for unique angles on lean thinking in everyday life.  Reading an article today about the Fukushima nuclear reactor incident, I was reminded yet again that there is still plenty of opportunity to share with folks a better view on what this thing we call ‘lean thinking’ is all about.  More on that later, first…

Great to see/hear the concerns of many lean friends regarding Japan.  Many of us have professional contacts and friends that spend significant time traveling around the island.  My family just received word that a relative who lives in Tokyo is OK.  Humbling to hear reports of what living (and trying to sleep) on the 19th floor of a Tokyo high-rise is like, with frequent aftershocks causing the building to sway.

A couple nice lean links with our Japan friends, contacts, and family in mind:

Now…I read an interesting write-up by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT,  which details his take on the Fukushima nuclear reactor incident. Warning – it’s a lengthy read, but gives relevant info on how reactors are built.

[As I’m typing this post: FoxNews Alert – Yumiko Ono (Wall Street Journal) via phone reporting NEW blast at Fukushima site…wow, how’s that for timing?  First thing she reports, “…not a lot of information being given.”]

As I mentioned earlier, news about the Japan disaster is plentiful.  Having recently expanded my interest in the area of news reporting; I am fascinated by the fact (no pun intended) that much of what is reported, is NOT based on any fact(s) or reliable source.  As a matter of fact (sorry), you might say a new hobby of mine is trying to track-down who was responsible for initiating the news outbreak and comparing the original information with what is later chopped and diced into bite-sized pieces for our viewing/reading pleasure.

Remember the whispering game, ‘Telephone’?  Amazing what we can turn stuff into if we’re not careful.

The link I provided to Dr. Oehmen’s write-up was actually the 2nd link I was ‘sent’.  The 1st link sent me to this WordPress blog.  If you scroll down to the very end of this 1st version, you’ll find this bullet:

This all is only part of a much bigger picture. Emergency response has to deal with shelter, drinking water, food and medical care, transportation and communication infrastructure, as well as electricity supply. In a world of lean supply chains, we are looking at some major challenges in all of these areas.

And once again, lean takes a hit.  Not properly understood…at all.  (The bullet was omitted on the site for some reason)

Didn’t take long to find more.  Read this comment from Benjamin. Lots of opportunities to share a better view of lean.  Lots of opportunities.

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Garbage In, Wheat and Soybeans Out?

Interesting article by Mara Lee on the Hartford Courant website: Big Exports From Connecticut: Corn, Wheat, Soybeans, Oil; Feds Can’t Explain It.  The article provides a wonderful example of just how far one’s concept of reality can become skewed by not following the basic lean lesson…Go to the Gemba.

Apparently, we Connecticut folk are getting pretty good at growing and selling things like wheat and soybeans.  One little issue however…we don’t.

We don’t what, you ask?  Grow and sell wheat or soybeans.  Not in large enough quantities to justify even a teeny mention in any U.S. Department of Commerce report on state exports anyway.  Unless you’re the Department of Commerce.  Confused?  Read the article.

Two things I learned from listening to Dr. Deming back in ’93 immediately came to mind after I read the article and did a little research:

  1. Break down barriers between departments (from Deming’s 14 key principles)
  2. “By what method?” (common saying and teaching concept of Dr. Deming)

It should come as no surprise (God bless you if it does) that the U.S. government is composed of, among other things, hundreds of departments and agencies.  A brief visit to the website, shows you the only letters from the English alphabet spared from beginning the name of one such organization (their term, not mine) are Q, X, Y, and Z.

In an attempt to keep from hopping down an unproductive rabbit trail, I will not comment here on what I feel would be a better number of departments or agencies…perhaps another post.  I will mention however, that it is quite apparent to me that there is not a whole lot of communication happening between these groups, and that opens things up for some wholesome reminders on what can occur when we allow irrational and/or improper thinking to fog our lean minds.

“Show me the data”.

Sounds so good, doesn’t it?  We’re the chosen few who have been taught that real solutions are only possible when we can see and hold the data.  We gather the data, we sort the data.  Then, my personal favorite, we create pivot tables.  A few clicks later, out spits what we think is the correct answer.

“Garbage in, garbage out”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for data driven processes; but unless we validate any data we see by physically going to the place it was gathered from, we run the risk of being driven to nothing but frustration or confusion.  Even worse, we buy into misrepresentations of the truth.

As stated in the article, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the #2 export from Connecticut was wheat.  Wheat!  Coming in at #5 was soybeans.  Maybe the headings on the excel spreadsheet were screwed up and we got switched with Iowa?  #6 on their list was oil.  If the crises in Egypt, Libya, and other neighboring countries were not in full swing, I could start a new comedy stand-up career on that one.

I live in the gemba called Connecticut.  I’ve spent over 30 years of my life ‘in the CT gemba’.  You can drive from one corner of our beautiful state to any other within two hours.  You’ll see lots of hay fields, but not any wheat fields.  You’ll drive past quaint grist mills here and there, none of which are currently in production mode, due to the fact that wheat hasn’t been grown in large quantities in CT since 1830 (see the article).  Every so often, one of the local mills puts on a demonstration showing how wheat was ground into flour.  I don’t think we include any of the resulting product in our annual report of state exports though.  Besides, they buy the wheat at Walmart and I think it comes from Canada.  That shouldn’t count, should it?

Driving through Connecticut, you will see a few small patches of soybeans.  Emphasis on the word small.  You sure as heck won’t see any oil rigs.  Not even next to a Walmart.

All kidding aside, it boggles my mind at how messed up data can be reported from very large institutions.  I think it’s safe to say that when information conflicts with other information from within our own organization, there’s opportunity to eliminate some waste.

For example, if the Dept. of Commerce had access to the Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) reports on state export data for the past 5 years, neatly broken out by state and commodity group I might add, they would have quickly realized that perhaps there’s an error in one or more of their pivot tables…at least regarding the state of Connecticut.

From the USDA report:  Commodity group – Wheat.  State – Connecticut.

  • 2005 exports: 0.0
  • 2006 exports: 0.0
  • 2007 exports: 0.0
  • (sensing a trend?)
  • 2008: 0.0
  • 2009: 0.0

As Terri Long, data dissemination specialist at the Commerce Department so wonderfully concluded in the article; “Interesting. Wow.”

Commodity group – Soybeans.  State – Connecticut.

  • 2005 exports: 0.0
  • 2006 exports: 0.0
  • 2007 exports: 0.0
  • (hmm…)
  • 2008: 0.0
  • 2009: 0.0

What’s great about the USDA data is the consistency.  No need to carry any decimal points or divide by the square root of pi.  I came out with a nice clean standard deviation…did you?  And I bet you didn’t even use a pivot table.

Also, their data holds a tight correlation to what you actually see being produced around the state; feed grains (hay, etc.) and broad leaf tobacco for example.

So how did the Dept. of Commerce manage to come up with numbers so far off from their colleagues at the USDA?  Glenn Barressey, chief of the special projects branch in Foreign Trade, offered his views (stunning as they are) regarding some of the issues:

  1. “Maybe the owner of a warehouse in Connecticut accepts shipments of soybeans from states that grow it, and then sends those combined shipments to another state before they leave the country.  The Commerce Department relies on the paperwork exporters fill out about origin of movement. Could someone have reported the wrong state? Absolutely.”
  2. (Barressey acknowledges it’s just a guess)  “You’re introducing logic to a situation where sometimes logic doesn’t work.”
  3. (Near the end of the article)  “We can’t really tell whether exports from a state are increasing at all.”
  4. (In conclusion) “I completely agree, we have that problem with a lot of states,” he said. “It can be misleading.”

With comments like that, I’m simply left with but one thought; “what the heck (revised thanks to WordPress spellcheck) is the value of the Commerce Dept. report?  It can be misleading?!  Shame on me for trying to introduce logic, I guess.

The sad fact is, this kind of fodder (sorry) causes damage.  As Mara reported in her article,

When the government reported last month that Connecticut exports increased by almost 15 percent in 2010, state economic development officials were delighted.

A few news outlets reported that the value of the state’s exports was over $16 billion, more than recovering what was lost during the recession.

Then we all spend countless days and weeks calculating and recalculating the figures, trying to make sense out of data that leaves us thinking, “We can’t really tell whether exports from a state are increasing at all.”

I can’t help but think there’s more than a few ‘number crunching folks’ deep within the walls of our state government buildings trying to figure out exactly where the error is in the pivot table.

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Implementing Lean Ideas – Why Bother?

A local gas station recently improved their facility by installing some new items and upgrading some outdated equipment.  I assume their plan was to invest a significant amount of money to spruce the place up a bit…and hopefully recover those costs (and more) by drawing in new customers through the clever use of shiny plastics, brighter lights, and more customer-friendly features.

While I’m almost certain those involved upfront in pursuing such a worthwhile endeavor agreed that the improvements were needed to keep the business thriving, I’m not so sure they were all on the same page.

Excuse much for the Plus?

Apparently, the Extended Weather Canopy Dept. was not properly synchronized with the folks responsible for Visual Management.

Don’t worry everyone…it probably looks OK from the street, where drivers will be viewing our shiny new sign from, as they decide in 1.2 seconds or less whether to pull in…or not.


How long has that telephone pole been there?

Crap.  At least they’ll know we’re charging $3 something…

Isn’t that the way things end up when we focus on just getting things done…rather than focusing on the PROCESS?

Too often I hear stories from lean leaders about how management is simply interested in getting things done.  “Never mind worrying about the standard work…just get me the Value Stream Map!”  Huh?

As lean leaders, part of our responsibility is informing management that silly pursuits, such as the one just mentioned, do not lead to anything sustainable.

I can already hear the comments…”Excuse me Mr. ThinkShack, I’ve been there and done that.  My boss is only interested in results.”

He or she should be. That’s what implementing lean ideas is all about…isn’t it?

Some questions are in order.  Why bother?…

  • measuring takt time
  • work on reducing cycle time
  • documenting standard work
  • shaving 5 or 6 seconds off that setup time
  • posting that shiny new piece of visual management

If we don’t have a PROCESS and the proper METRICS in place to showcase results, good or bad, we lose our way and folks start focusing on just getting things done.  No vision, no plan, no teamwork…just get it done.

The bad news is, it seems to work for a while.  After all, everyone’s busy.  That’s good, isn’t it?  “Look at all the projects we’ve got lined up.”  “Isn’t Bob doing a great job on the weather canopy?!”  “Yeah, and I hear the new sign is ready to go up tomorrow!”

And we look across the street and watch all the people pumping gas.  Sad.

What process do you have in place that enables everyone you work with to consistently achieve great results?

How simple is the process?  How long does it take for newcomers to join the fun?

According to those you work with…Is it fun?

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