Sunday, April 26, 2009

Searching for Your Organization’s Susan Boyle

Before she sang, Susan Boyle, the 47 year old, unemployed, Scottish woman, and current Internet phenomenon, was asked why her dream of becoming a professional singer “had not worked before?”  To which she replied, “I have never been given the chance before.”  Moments later, she delivered an amazing rendition of “I Dreamed The Dream.”  Now ponder this, how many employees in organizations across the world could say they never had a chance to shine?  Here is one such story that I observed first hand.


Facing a significant financial and quality challenge, the leadership of an organization realized radical change was necessary.  They understood, as Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” To avoid corporate insanity, their only option was to embark on a Lean Six Sigma journey.  Their first decision was to seek out the “informal” leaders in the organization.  Next they approached those key individuals with the ability to influence their peers; to make them aware of the issues and the plan to implement Lean Six Sigma.


One of the key influencers in the informal network was a long time employee who had the reputation of being negative and critical of management.  Reaching out to him, the leadership outlined the reasons for the changes and the new course of direction.  He was told that his opinion mattered and that his input was required to make the organization successful.  He began to share his very insightful thoughts and ideas.


After being recognized for a particularly thoughtful observation, the employee replied that he was now being praised for the same thing that would have landed him in trouble with previous management.  In retrospect, this employee was his organization’s Susan Boyle.  He was an amazing talent who had never been given a chance.


The beauty of the Lean Six Sigma processes is it provides for involvement from all levels of the organization.  It allows employees to voice their opinions and experiment with new ideas in try-storming sessions.  It allows their voices to be heard and their input considered.  It shouts you have value!  You are not simply a commodity!  You are a person with a brain!  When implemented correctly, it demonstrates to the employee that their input matters.


So what happened to that employee after he became engaged?  He went on to facilitate his plant’s Morning Market and was a leader in the deployment of 5S and Visual Controls.



I cannot emphasize enough that one of the key jobs of a Lean Six Sigma leader is to find and use the amazing talents of their employees who have been overlooked and/or underutilized by providing a vehicle for them to voice their ideas and shine.  After all, every company’s got talent.  




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Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Are You Leadership Material?

When many people hear I run a business consulting firm specializing in Lean Six Sigma, they will frequently indicate that they are familiar with these principles and have implemented them into their own organization.  Many will then go on to highlight their accomplishments using staff reductions as evidence. This attitude is a common misconception among individuals who have simply read a book or two on Lean Six Sigma and consider themselves an expert.  My reply is always the same, “Actually, it is about respecting individuals and company resources while enabling them to participate more fully in value added activities.”  Lean Six Sigma is not about the elimination of jobs.  It is about the reduction of waste and improving overall quality while respecting the individual.  A core principle of Lean Six Sigma is respect for the individual.


So what does respect for the individual really mean?  In cases of old processes no longer performing adequately because of planned or unplanned staff reductions, respect for the individual can be demonstrated by removing the non-value added activity so that the individuals do not feel overwhelmed. 


Many companies today have already cut their labor costs to the bare minimum and beyond.  Unfortunately, as the size of the staffs reduced, the amount of work requiring possessing may not have reduced proportionately. The goal in these organizations is not to eliminate more labor.  The goal is to eliminate the non-value added activity so that the existing staff can perform the work consistently, efficiently, with quality, in a timely manner, and without being overwhelmed.  In this case, respect for the individual is demonstrated by making the jobs easier to perform.    


Another common misconception is that respect for the individual is synonymous with employment for life.  Respect for the individual doesn’t mean employment for life.  Respect for the individual refers to how you treat and respond to people.  Treating people with respect basically means following the advice given by parents around the world, treat others, as you would like to be treated.


When you’re speaking with someone, you need to make eye contact and listen.  When leaders conduct a Gemba Walk, don’t simply walk around observing and writing on a checklist. Engage people in conversation. Ask questions. Communicate.  Don’t be afraid to ask for input.  The insight provided may surprise you. Communication is not simply taking turns talking and formulating a response while the other person is still speaking.  Communication involves sending and receiving information.


Another way to respect the individual is to show interest in their development.  However, this doesn’t mean sending people to every training program imaginable.  This could be something as simple as taking the time on a Gemba Walk to explain why certain decisions were made or why certain things are important to the organization.  Educational moments present themselves all the time, a true leader has trained to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.


Developing people provides the individual with additional skills that can be marketed if they need or elect to search for another opportunity. Respect is not employing people forever; respect is providing people with enhanced skills that can be used in the marketplace should the need arise.  I have been fortunate enough in my career to work for several good mentors.  They were good mentors, in part, because they were excellent role models who took an interest in my professional development. 


Everyday a leader has the opportunity to be a role model of the Lean Six Sigma principles.  Every leader can be an exceptional role model.  The choice however, belongs to them which type of role model they will be for their staffs. Will they be a positive or negative role model?  The choice is theirs. 


The Lean Six Sigma principle of respect for the individual is simply treating others, as you would like to be treated. 


Learn more about the author by accessing my LinkedIn profile at



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gemba, The Library, and Breakthrough Performance

I recently had an opportunity to visit a good friend at the library where she is currently a manager.  10 years ago we worked closely together in continuous improvement and the pursuit of excellence in a service environment. She is a regular reader of this blog and I was eager to see how she had applied the information. When I first arrived, she asked if I wanted to meet in the office or discuss the improvements in the backroom.  Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to go to gemba and see first hand how their new lean journey is progressing. 


Like most organizations today, the library has found themselves unable to replace permanent staff that have resigned.  Furthermore, lacking the necessary capital to invest in state of the art automation, they had no choice except to pursue a lean enterprise solution. They immediately began to attack the visible waste.   To learn how to swim, you must get in the water and they proceeded to jump in with both feet.  The eagerness they displayed for learning and adopting lean concepts serves as an example for all.


Their first project was analyzing their check-in process and focused on removing the lean waste of motion and transportation.  In the pre-kaizen current state, the staff staged the material to be checked-in on one side of the workstation then, after check-in, moved the material to the other side of the workstation, before finally placing the material on a cart for re-shelving.  Additionally, the process included re-shelving the material when only 1 of 3 shelves on the cart was full. 


The problems occurring in the pre-kaizen state included …

·      the checked-in material could not be located prior to being re-shelved

·      checked-in and material waiting to be checked-in was frequently comingled

·      the staff was making excess trips to reshelf the material due to underutilized carts


In the post-Kaizen process, the staff moves the checked-in material directly to the cart for re-shelving.  Furthermore, the carts have been colored coded by library location and are moved only when 2 of 3 shelves on the cart are full.  The new process has reduced the number of trips to re-shelve the material by 50%.  The process has also enabled the staff to locate material waiting to be re-shelved and has greatly reduced the risk of comingling unchecked-in material with checked-in material.


At this point some of you may be gasping because the re-shelving is a batch process.  The beauty of lean is that it is adapted to each individual environment.  Lean is not about ensuring use of all the tools, lean is about breakthrough performance and doing what is right for the organization. 


Are there still improvements required? Absolutely, but kudos to my friend and her staff for realizing and addressing the need to change.


Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009 The Williard Group

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Economist hypothesizes the “deflationary meltdown has past.”

The Governor’s 3rd Annual Utah Economic Summit was held in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 30, 2009. The Summit featured some amazing speakers including Governor John Huntsman, Wells Fargo Executive Vice President/Economist Dr. Kelly Matthews, and Pixar/Disney Animation Studios President Dr. Ed Catmull. While all had great speeches, Matthews’ message was particularly impressive and it was reassuring hearing good news about the economy as he put forth his hypothesis that the “deflationary meltdown has past.”  Matthews went on to make a compelling argument to support his hypothesis.  


Matthews proceeded to ask what has changed in the economy that would account for the approximate 20% growth in the S&P in recent weeks?  He then answered his own question by stating that the growth in the S&P could be explained with three events.

The first significant difference he offered was the fact several major financial institutions (i.e. Citigroup and Bank of America) operated at a profit during the first two months of 2009 (4 & 7).  This dramatic turnaround came after both institutions had received an infusion of federal bailout money in late 2008. Citigroup received $25 billion in October and $20 billion in November (3).  While Bank of America was the recipient of $15 billion (6).  Matthews contends the positive news of profits posted by Citigroup and Bank of America is creating some expectation among investors and the public in general; that the worst has past.  Please note, Matthews was not implying that the bailout funds were responsible for the institutions posting a profit.  He was simply stating the fact that by generating a profit for the first two months of 2009, the positive impact on the morale of investors has been significant.


The second point Matthews offered in support of his hypothesis is that consumer spending has leveled off in the first two months in 2009.  Matthews was careful to say that consumer spending had not increased; rather he indicated that it was no longer continuing to decrease (2 & 8).  While Matthews said that he expects more job losses in coming months, he also stated he expected the job losses would end as soon as consumer demand and the existing supply reaches equilibrium.


The third significant event Matthews offered was the action of the Federal Reserve on March 18, 2009.  By purchasing $1 Trillion dollars in Treasure Bonds and Mortgage Securities, the Fed’s action reduced the cost of long-term debt (1).  According to Matthews, these actions had directly aided in the edging down of long-term interest rates as evidenced by drops in the 30-Year mortgage rate to 4.85% and 10-Year Treasury note yield to 2.72% (as of March 27, 2009).  The 30–Year mortgage rate is now at the lowest rate in approximately 50 years (5).


Many in attendance commented that Matthews’ message was both uplifting and well thought out.  After returning to the office after the Summit, this author and Lean Sigma Champion set out on a mission to independently verify the items Matthews put forward as fact.  The references and citations included in this post are the sources located which collaborate facts set forth in Matthews’ hypothesis.


So is Matthews’ hypothesis correct when he proclaims the “deflationary meltdown has past”?  Only time will tell, but after researching the facts offered in support of his hypothesis I agree with him and believe that the “deflationary meltdown has past.”






1.     Andrews, Edmund L. (2009, March 18). Fed plans to inject another $1 trillion to aid the economy. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from The New York Times Web site:


2.     Jake (2009, March 27). Personal consumption holding steady. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from Economopicdata Web site:


3.     Lagorio, Juan (2008, November 26). Citigroup bailout slammed by New Yorkers. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from Reuters Web site:


4.     Lepro, Sara (2009, March 10). Dow ends up nearly 380 on Citigroup profit news. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from The Huffington Post Web site:


5.     Lewis, Holden (2009, March 26). Mortgage rates drop to lowest since the '50s. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from Web site:


6.     Snow, Mary (2008, December 23). Where's the bank bailout money. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from CNN.Com US Web site:


7.     Unknown, (2009, March 13). Bank of America expects 2009 profit - Lewis. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from Ub News Web site:


8.     Unknown, (2009, March 27). Savings rate continues to be high. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from The Wall Street Journal Web site:






Post Author: Royce Williard

copyright 2009, The Williard Group


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

4-Year Old Lean Practitioner Identifies Waste!

The beauty of lean enterprise is it’s simplistic.  Most waste is clearly visible if you will only take the time to see it. It has been said that the most dangerous waste that can exist in your business is one you can’t see. The good news is that some wastes are visible enough even a 4-year old can see it and counsel adults not to repeat the non-value added activity.


One of the lean wastes is transportation. This waste is defined as any movement that doesn’t add value to the product or service.  In lean manufacturing, this is characterized by unnecessary movement of finished goods or component inventory. In lean enterprise (a non-manufacturing environment), this waste can take the form of unnecessary movement of paper, information, or personnel.


Recently, my wife, grandson, and I were driving to a 5K Walk/Run and Easter egg hunt, when I inadvertently had to drive around searching for an open ramp to the highway.  During this drive and prior to discovering that my preferred ramp was closed, my wife and grandson saw a large building with a rounded dome on top. My wife explained to our 4-year old grandson that this structure was the Utah State Capitol. 


After driving a short distance further, I discovered that the ramp to the highway that I intended to take was closed due to construction. We had to circle back around and found ourselves driving back toward the Capitol from the opposite direction.  As we neared the highway ramp, our grandson pointed out the window and exclaimed, “Look, the Capitol!”  He then went on to lecture me on my excess transportation by blurting out, “Papa don’t drive in a circle!”


In this case, the transportation waste was so visible that even a 4-year old could see it and counsel me not to repeat the non-value added activity.


As a Lean Sigma Practitioner (LSP) dedicated to continuous improvement, you have to learn how to see waste.  Once you have seen the waste, you must be willing to raise and discuss the issue.  An organization will not achieve the next level of performance unless everyone communicates his or her thoughts.  In many respects, LSPs must take some of their behavioral cues from an inquisitive 4-year old.  LSPs should question everything and express any concerns over what they observe.


Most waste is visible and correctable, assuming we train ourselves to see it and not accept the non-value added activity as the norm. Just because the task has been accomplished by following a particular process for years doesn’t make it the right process for today’s environment.



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group