Posts Tagged ‘improvement’

Do I Ask Too Many Questions?

I work with a lot of smart, committed, enthusiastic people. That simple fact makes it hard NOT to solicit feedback wherever possible.

(As a side note, they’re also fun, funny and charming people, which means I definitely talk too much in general because I enjoy my conversations with them. But that’s a separate post about how I need to start looking to see if people are wearing earbuds before talking to them…).

In regards to ‘questions’ however, it’s more difficult, because we all sit together, everyone is willing to help most times and they have incredibly valuable thoughts to contribute to any decision. But there’s a point of diminishing return that is challenging to measure, because efficiency requires decisions to be made – and sometimes made solo, quickly.

As things now stand, I solicit a lot of discussion and feedback. Which helps me a great deal, but potentially helps my colleagues less. I’m looking for approaches to help walk that line if anyone has some. For now, I think I’m going to only ask one question of a person a day. Basically, force prioritization on myself.

If I can only have someone’s full attention for one minute, what would I need to have answered?


Education Needs More Chinese Resturants

Charles Leadbeater’s TED presentation “Education Innovation in the Slums” blew me away; I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it a week ago.

The man spent years researching innovation in education (and the need for it) and his speech is drawn from the innovation and change he saw happen in places as challenging as Rio and Kibera slums. What was most striking to me is how important innovation and change in education is for not only the developing world, but for first world countries as well. From his presentation:

  • Motivation: The challenge, as Leadbeater points out, is that education in the developing world can’t afford the luxury of time in motivating students- “Education in these settings works by pull, not push.” Curriculum and compulsory education won’t motivate students to learn, because they offer rewards that don’t apply in the developing world.
    • In the developed world, info was pushed on us and we tried to learn it well so we could move on. We did so because the motivations fit (or we thought they did).
      • Extrinsically there was a payoff 10 years down the road (do well now, get into good college, get high-paying job later).
      • Intrinsically there was a payoff- our self worth (and the value we see others put on us) was linked to performance.
    • In the slums of Rio and Kibera, though, that doesn’t work! Payoff for education 10 years down the road doesn’t apply when you have no food or both your parents have died of AIDS.
      • Motivation must therefore be different- education must contain information that is necessary and useful now, in this moment, and it must be engaging. Education that succeeds in the slums begins with the premise that you must engage students before they will learn.
  • Chinese Restaurants: To accomplish this on a worldwide scale, a “Chinese-restaurant” model of education is necessary. Schools shouldn’t follow the McDonalds franchise model (exactly the same, precise and dependable everywhere) but rather the Chinese-restaurant model of growth.
    • Leadbeater talks about Madhav Chavan, who helped found Pratham, and how he came up with this model. Typically you don’t see Chinese chains, but you see restaurants everywhere. And yet, despite that they are not chains, everyone knows what to expect inside, although there will be subtle differences. Schools will feature new and different ways of learning that will catch on and spread across to other cultures, in slightly different ways.
    • He points out we spend a lot of money on sustaining the model of education we have in places like the U.S. (trying to improve it by sinking billions of dollars into it.) What we need is innovation in how we do it.
    • “We need a global wave of social entrepreneurship to create highly motivating, low cost ways to scale in the developing world.”

I thought this was an amazing speech and it is frightening in how it applies even to countries like the U.S. I won’t go into details to argue about for education in the U.S. and how it’s failing- suffice it to say that I think most of us can agree it needs to change. Not only does it need to change because it’s not working, but it needs to change because the world that students are entering is vastly different as well. Extrinsic motivation in the United States must change to mirror our circumstances. Seth Godin writes in his excellent and inspiring new book “Linchpin” that we have been indoctrinated in a system that has failed us. We went to school believing that if we did well, we would find good jobs. If we found good jobs, those companies would take care of us. We would rise through the company, be rewarded and have a pension.

None of that is true anymore. You don’t get paid for showing up, you aren’t sure of a promotion, and your company won’t take care of you in the future. The world has changed; if it weren’t already dead, this recession killed it. And if that extrinsic motivation no longer exists, then why should we learn?

Just as the developing countries need to change their method of teaching, so do we. Seth Godin thinks we need to teach two things: (1) solve interesting problems (2) lead. I think it may be a few more (Cameron Herold gives an interesting TED talk about teaching kids to be entrepreneurs) but regardless of what it is, it has to change.

The world is no longer the same- why do we continue to reward educational achievements that don’t connect to reality? Shouldn’t these things align? Don’t we need them to?

Danaher Kaizen & Sandwich Example (India Post #1)

I’m back! It was an amazing trip, and there’s tons to tell….there were three main themes of the trip, so I’ll separate the blog posts into those segments – #1 will focus on the Kaizen exercise; #2 will concentrate on the culture; #3 will focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, including a visit to a series of businesses in a Mumbai slum. So….on to #1!

First and foremost, a huge thank you to Danaher for hosting this trip. They generously took care of our hotel, food, and car transportation in India, and made us feel safe and welcome at all times. Thank you for that, for allowing us to work in the Portescap plant for a week on this exercise, and for teaching us the Danaher kaizen methods. I don’t want to share anything proprietary, so I’m a little limited, but I’ll explain what I can.

Our Team: Our group of 8 Darden students (and one former student, now a Danaher employee), was split into two groups, and each group was given a production “cell” to focus on, along with targeted improvements (space usage, productivity, etc.). This “kaizen” exercise used a process developed across Danaher, called DBS (Danaher Business Systems). Our job was to apply that process to our cell, work with the line workers to find areas of improvement, and implement new changes to those areas for quantifiable improvement. My team is shown below (huge thanks to Anant, Sharad, Siddarth, and Rutesh for all they taught us). The entire line of operators were women. Tiny, under 5′ women who worked on tiny, delicate motors.

How it Works: To explain it without using DBS terms, or violating confidentiality, I’ve created a Fake Sandwich Production Line example. Imagine you have a line of 5 workers who make you sandwiches. Delicious sandwiches, but it takes them too long to make them, and your wife/husband says you have to improve the cost structure of your sandwiches, since you’re eating the family out of money.

  1. Watch It: You would start by figuring out what each worker is doing….What exactly is going on in that line? To do this, you watch it. For several hours, standing there with a timer in hand, just watching….and you figure out how it goes. One worker toasts the bread, then passes it to the mustard guy, who spreads mustard on it, then passes it to the veggie guy. The veggie guy puts on tomatoes and lettuce, then passes it to the meats guy, who adds in salami and ham, then passes it to the plating guy, who cuts it, plates it, adds a glass of milk and hands it to you. Great, now you know the process!
  2. Calculate It: You take your notes back and look at them, and try to figure out how timing across the line works. So, for instance, the toast guy stands there waiting for the toast for 30 seconds, doing nothing. And while everyone else’s job takes under 15 seconds, the veggie guy takes 45. So he’s slowing them down. And you look at the workers, and the time, and try to figure out how a different allocation of resources makes everything faster and cheaper. You ask questions like: Does this process have to stay in this order? Do we need this many operators? What’s the slowest part of this (the bottleneck?) How can we speed this up? By asking these questions, you begin to realize opportunities to improve things just by working on operator loading (how much work they do) and order. So perhaps the toasting guy goes and cuts the tomatoes while waiting for the toast the pop. Or perhaps the mustard guy and the toasting guy become the same guy, because together those two jobs only take 35 seconds, and since the veggie guy takes 45, that still would be under the slowest part of the process.
  3. (UPDATE – Takt Time): My teammate Benson reminded me of an important point- takt time. Takt time is basically the max time in total to make One Unit- the max time allowed per unit to meet demand. In Benson’s words, “For example, if your sandwich shop was open for 20,000 seconds per day (roughly 5.5 hours) and your avg demand was 50 sandwiches per day, your takt time would be 400 seconds (roughly 6.5 minutes).   So you know you have to load your operators such that every 400 seconds you have a sandwich on a plate ready to serve.” You need to know the takt time in order to know the max time each of your operators can spend, so that as you make decisions for step ii, you’re keeping the time below the takt time.
  4. Change It: Once you have that data, and you’ve made some decisions on what can change, you go back and make some changes. You teach the toast guy how to cut tomatoes, or you add mustard to his job, or you switch the veggie and meat guys…whatever the data told you, you change.
  5. Improve It: While you’re doing this all, you’re also looking for ways to create efficiencies and speed the jobs. Maybe the toaster can be set to 4 instead of 5, speeding the process by 10 seconds. Perhaps the meat doesn’t come pre-sliced, but it could (from the supplier for free). Maybe the tomato guy is slicing them too thin or too thick. You make these changes to improve things.That’s not a full Kaizen process, nor does it show the depth of DBS guidance, but I wanted to avoid oversharing, and that should at least give you a general breakdown of what we did. But with motors, not sandwiches…..

Learnings: It was a truly incredible learning process. DBS provides all the templates and tools to guide you, but the process requires you to think in a specific way that takes time. For the first two days, it was difficult to really see areas of improvements to watch a process and visualize small, specific changes that would improve it by seconds or milliseconds. After that it began to come more easily, and you started to naturally notice areas of possible improvement more easily.

Learning to work with the line workers was a challenge given language barriers, but with the help of Anant and Sharad, we were able to translate back and forth, and eventually workers began trusting us enough to come straight to us with issues and communicate via hand signals. That was especially true for the “lead girls” who managed the workers directly, as they understand each step in the process and are best able to articulate small improvements that impact each activity.

Buy-in from the operators is key for ensuring adherence to the changes; if the workers are not bought in, the changes won’t last and the impact will be minimal. Also, no matter how long you watch a process, the workers are doing that process nearly 1,000x per day- THEY are the voice of experience here, and know better than anyone the changes that would help. So it’s integral that you solicit and follow their suggestions.

One of the key features of this approach (that my teammate Tim reminded me of), was a daily “report out” where we reviewed key steps, findings, and goals for the next day, and presented those to management. This feature kept us accountable, ensured we planned out the next day, and allowed us the chance to receive in-the-process feedback from those who had done this before. And knew where we could improve.

I could write a ton more, but I’ll leave it at that. Hopefully this gives you some idea of what the “kaizen” exercise was like. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the culture, and what we saw out in the city, and while working with our India friends.

Bombay Bound (Mumbai Meant?)

Tomorrow I leave for India, where I’ll spend the next week working in a manufacturing plant owned by  Danaher. I cannot think of the words to explain how excited I am.

I’ll be at Danaher’s Portescap facility in Mumbai starting Monday (after a little touristy action Sunday), where 7 other Darden students and  I will strive to conduct a Kaizen exercise in specific areas of the plant, despite the fact that we speak a different language from most of the line workers and that we’re completely ignorant of Danaher’s typical processes. To say it will be a challenge is an understatement.

The difficulty of our exercise is compounded by the fact that Danaher is a fantastic company that already runs continuous improvement processes in their facilities. So all of these workers have been through lean exercises, and are held to daily standards of efficiency and improvement.

In fact, to say we’re running a kaizen exercise is misleading, because a key tenet of kaizen is that it is a daily activity; an activity in which everyone from the janitor to the CEO participates. So our focus will actually be on partnering with workers to understand where possible improvements can be made, to identify some possible areas with an ‘outside eye,’ and then to use some of what we’ve learned at Darden to help them implement these changes and convince workers the change is for the good.

I write a lot about innovation- it’s a topic that fascinates me. And what is so compelling and exciting about this opportunity is that it puts me right at the root of innovation. This is a chance to enter a world-class company, look at what they are doing, identify areas of process innovation and improvement, implement changes, and measure the results. Sure, I have to do it within a week, in an emerging market, with a language barrier, but……but, goddamn this is gong to be fun!