sábado, 31 de diciembre de 2016

Listen to the Voice of the customer! Please!

I have been luckily exposed over the past years, to concepts such as voice of the customer, critical to quality, customer first and so on. 
All strive to the need and importance of capture what the customer wants, in order to be able to deliver it to retain the customer and build loyalty over time. 
Listening to the voice of the customer is not an easy task. Sometimes we need to traduce the voice of the customer into requirements/characteristics a product or a service must comply. Some other times, we may need to translate those characteristics into specifications for the product or service, that will dictate how the process should perform. And sometimes, finally we also need to define the settings of our process, to ensure the process always performs within specifications, that eventually will meet the characteristics and/or requirements that the customer wants. Being the settings all rules, procedures, instructions, tools that will prevent the process from shifting away from the expected performance. 

This is more less the idea:

The hard part is to translate and capture the voice of the customer to succesfully bring it to your organization and deliver consistently what the customer expects.

There are different methods to capture this, such as surveys, face to face interviews, trends analysis and so on.  This post is not about those techniques, but to outline the importance of correctly capture what the customer wants. 

This came to me as a post, from Christmas. My 2 years old son, wanted a car for Christmas. So, as the tradition in Mexico requires, he and her sister wrote the letters to Santa and left them waiting at our Christmas tree (yes, Waste of Wating is present even in Christmas). So as we were getting close to December 24th, ran to get all the gifts and presents for the holidays, and got a small car, of about 1 feet long, pretty cool. So Imagine that my son would be very, very happy with it. 

To my surprise, my wife took him to visit some friends, and for some reason they ended up going to a Walmart, where my son saw a big massive electrical and expensive car. Those where the kid can actually get in the car and "drive".  Of course he said, "Thats the one I want, the one I asked Santa to bring me for Christmas".  

Of course my wife told me his terrified, since she knew that we already got all the presents. Luckly there was couple of days left and was able to find the right one. 

In the end everything ended up being just right. But this small - huuuge mistake could have brought the holiday down. 

Imagine that instead of my son, that would have been a customer! The expectations and requirements definitely wouldn't´t have been accomplished.  

Has something similar ever happened to you? If so, please share with me, I´d love to read your Christmas or business story. 

And of course, Happy New Year!

domingo, 25 de diciembre de 2016

True Crime meets Lean.

Its holiday, and I really hope you had a great time this Christmas. I hope Santa brought all your gifts and really hope that companies, as well the economy in general will get better for everybody in the world. 
Tonight I want to talk about podcasts. I´m kind of addicted to podcasts. I have been subscribed to Gemba Academy and Mark Graban´s podcasts for a while now. They are really great, so if you haven´t listen to them, I urge you to do it. You will get insights related to Lean and different other topics, such as Customer Service, leadership, continuous improvement and one of the most important, that I have been able to know other authors, speakers and leaders who work everyday to spread the knowledge and principles around Lean, and also to correct the misconceptions around it.  
Podcast: a program (such as a music or news program) that is like
radio  or television show but that is downloaded over the Internet.

Thanks to that and that I read the New Yorker, I came across with Serial. The famous podcast that during its first season, told the story of Adnan Syed, who was charged on the murder of his ex-girlfriend and locked for the last 17 years. The people who know me on a personal level, knows that I am true crime fan. And also a fan of series. So if you haven´t heard it, and you like the topic, listen to it. It is very good and the quality on the production is something that deserves a try. This is relevant because I found, recently a new podcast; Accused.  This podcast, in the tradition of Serial, tells the story of Elizabeth Andes, who´s case remains unsolved. Well at least that is what the journalist Amber Hunt says about this case. Elevator speech is; Elizabeth Andes was murdered, the police charged the boyfriend as the killer, but two different juries found him not guilty and he walked.
Accused: Podcast about the Elizabeth Andes case. A jumping to
conclusions case that has remained unsolved for 37 years.
So, what do this horrible story has to do with Lean? A lot in my opinion. Police was convinced the boyfriend was guilty, they even got a confession, but still, the boyfriend walked away. In the podcast, the Cincinatti Enquirer digs deep to try to know the truth. And what is noticeable is that despite the amount of evidence, the many suspects that weren´t investigated, the Police is still convinced that they charged the right guy, but they say that:

The justice system, just didn't work. 

This is the main reason why the police hasn't investigated further, and why this case is still unsolved and open, even though the police says they had the right guy. Through the episodes, is clear that police didn't like the fact that someone suggests that they may have Accused the wrong guy. Over and over we hear that they got the right guy, they don´t believe anybody else did it. And made me reflect why it is so hard for humans to accept the possibility of making an error. 

Basically  this story, is about jumping to conclusions before making a proper analysis: the result is that the case has remained unsolved for 37 years. Does that sound familiar? Jumping right away to conclusions? Pointing fingers to someone who was later determined to be innocent? This is very similar to business. I realize that we don´t like to be told that we committed a mistake. I believe it is because we have been taught that being wrong is bad. That we should avoid being wrong and that too often being wrong may bring undesired consequences. We are, basically taught to fear making mistakes. Being wrong is in fact, one of the best ways to learn and develop skills such as resilience, discipline and careful observation. PDSA is  based on trying different solutions, and observe the effect those solutions have on a given problem. Learning from each experiment and re-think the approach to the problem, until the issue is either solve or the solution is improved. Toyota kata are a series of routines that allow controlled experiments to be conducted in order to solver a situation or specific problem and, learn from them. So basically, encouraging, in a controlled way, failure and learning about our the plan, what´s preventing from achieving the results, and what to do next. Which I find powerful, because in the end, we are learning more from the situation we try to modify. 
Toyota Kata Process.
Source: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrother/Materials_to_Download.html

I think that´s why  babies do a lot of disasters. They throw things, paint walls, and basically create a big mess every time they can. Through this experiments, they learn, and absorb knowledge about the world and the situations around them. If this is a natural manner to learn? Why isn´t failure encouraged? Why taught kids that failing is wrong? Of course, nobody wants to fail. However, if we fail in a controlled way, is actually something really good. Just ask Toyota. 

I guess changing our beliefs, and the things we have been taught since kids, isn´t easy. But we must start at some point. And recognizing that we may have made a mistake, is a very good start. And of course, take actions to either confirm our mistake and take a new route, or be sure that we did it right the first time. In both cases great learning can be found. What have we done correctly to achieve the desired result? and of course, What have we done incorrectly and what needs to be done now in order to achieve the desired results? 

Of course, to do this, we require methods and systems that allow experimentation on a continuous basis. But also, experiment without harming our customers. Here is when Lean can help to create those systems. And at the same time, change the way failure and mistakes are perceived.  It may not be easy, but sure can be done. Probably in the case described in Accused, may not be right away, but  I´m confident that new techniques, technologies and methods will help to bring light to the situation soon. In the mean time, Lean thinkers should take lessons learned, reflect, and at the same time hear our podcasts this holidays. 

Hopefully this new year, won´t commit the same mistakes we did last year. I truly hope that this 2017 would be a better year for all!

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. I would love to read your thoughts about this topic. Please leave a comment and read you next time. 

sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2016

Engagement and the extrinsic motivation in daily job.

Good day. I haven´t been very active lately, due to many things I have been doing this past weeks. But I promised to myself that I will be more active, so I can share experiences and some Lean & Six Sigma templates for free. So if you are interested on using them, you could actually save some time while surfing the net and go straight to that section and download the template. I know that is hard to find the right tool and template to use it for an specific situation. So, If you are interested on this, stay tunned and soon will start uploading interesting tools and templates for you to experiment, have fun and learn.

Now, this week I wanna talk to you about an important topic that seem to be simple. But that actually is not. Many organizations do not know how to maintain engaged, motivated, happy to people in their headcount. Very often, organizations believe that conducting annual surveys on engagement will actually help to understand, and identify the gaps that need to be filled to increase engagement. And too often, that is far from being the solution. Although, an annual survey is a good start, I truly believe engagement happens on a daily basis. Every small activities we do every day, have a massive impact on motivation and engagement.

This comes to the table due to the fact that I heard some days ago, someone talking about attrition or (Labor turnover as it is also known) in the US. Remember that I´m located in Mexico City, but very often, have contact with colleagues in the US. This person, was referring to the low attrition we have in Mexico City and saying that basically in Indianapolis, where he is located, is very hard to maintain a very low Labor Turnover rate. The explanation he was giving is because his facility was located next to other facilites that actually were inside different industries. But mainly because if you looked for a job, you could find it, eventhough the salary would be almost the same. Sometimes workers left because they were offered 50 cents or even 1 more dollar. So basically he was complaining because, according to him, employment was good in the region and If a job didn´t like you, basically could find another without much trouble.

A few stats.

So, first I decided to look a little bit to see if that was right. If the unemployment rates where low in Indiana. Googling found that the department of labor in the US have a very cool table with statistics about divided by states. And you can actually see the actual rate, and the historical high and low. To grasp an idea of the variation on the process.  It is in fact true that there is low un employment in that zone.
Fig 1. Unemployment Rate by state.  Source: Department of Labor US

Fig. 2 Unemployment Rate by state. Actual, max & min.
However, if we look at the histogram we can see clearly that Indiana is no better than the rest of the country, is about the mean. Also the Histogram on employment rate, shows that Indiana performance is around the mean.
Fig. 3 Unemployment rate by State - Histogram
Source: Department of Labor US

Fig. 4 Hire rates US Oct 2016.
Source: Department of Labor US.

The run charts show however that Indiana is getting better compared to previous years. But even though things are getting better in recent years, looks like Indiana is no different to other states.

Fig. 4 Employment - Unemployment Yearly Evolution
Source: Department of Labor US.

Fig. 5 Unemployment Rate Yearly Evolution
Source: Department of Labor Us.
But it is true that as employment rates is getting better and unemployment is getting also lower, that combination might suggest that  this guy has a point. Probably isn´t a problem specific to Indiana, but to the whole country. Remember that I live in Mexico and tried to use data to validate and get a conclusion on this subject. So if this in fact is getting worse or better,  What can this facility do to solve this problem?

A lean approach to this problem.

Engagement is a people´s problem. There is no surprise to find that some people will eventually loose stamina on the long road if they find no motivation, but to get a pay check every month. I have heard that having a job, and getting a paycheck every month should be enough. I have heard that should be enough motivation to get up every morning and go to work. How ever, we know is not that easy. Even though we should be thankful for having a job, it´s almost natural to loose interest, stamina or motivation if we only have extrinsic motivation to do things. 
In this case it is very important to distinguish extrinsic from intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the kind of reward or recognition a worker gets in the form of gifts, bonuses, awards, etc. A raise is also a motivation of this kind.
So, what´s wrong about it? everybody wants a raise right? While might be good and even necessary and healthy to get raises, bonuses, awards or so, the problem is that the effect don´t last long. The excitement and energy that strives from this kind of awards tends to fade on the long road. The reason is that our brain and mind gets used to it. It adapts to the changes we have in our lifes and soon, will accept this new income or raise as something natural. Something normal. And eventually will go back to the old state of low motivation to perform. That´s how we are designed. It is completely normal and is good for businesses that now we know about it. 

So, what shall we do about it? Accept it and move on? Live with a high attrition rate in our businesses? NO. There is something we can do about it. Daniel Pink, Best selling author of Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us claims that there are 3 things we can do to drive Intrinsic motivation, the kind of motivation that lasts longer. The first is autonomy. Grant autonomy to our workers. Let them decide what´s the better way to do their work. What ideas can they bring in order to improve? How can they work with management together and improve/solve problems at their jobs? Involving workers in daily problems is a good start. Is even better to involve some of them in solving bigger problems the organization is facing. Two key things must be considered here. First not all the people want´s or believes that needs autonomy Due to the fact that most organizations and managers do not allow people to think and they are just told what to do. Some people may not be used to this kind of freedom. Second, when an employee is showing engagement and is actively participating with ideas, proposals, etc. We should´t kill that initiative, by saying things such as "No, thats a bad idea" or "No we don´t have budget" or even "No, we tried that and didn´t work" and don use the famous "No, that was invented somewhere else and won´t work here". Because, if that employee is motivated, eventually will start thinking that there is no point for proposing improvements if he/she is constantly rejected. If we have budget constraints and the idea requires investment, the right thing to do is to work with the employee to figure other cheaper available options. If the idea may not be the best for customers, don´t just say no. Work with the employee so he/she can realize the idea is more likely to harm the client, and coach him to come with a better new proposal that could be a win - win type solution. 
Second, is mastery. When we do things over and over, eventually we become masters in what we do. One good strategy I followed in the past was to use those masters to teach and coach others, to achieve two things: engagement from the "master" as he is instructing other rookies. And second show appreciation and respect for the "master´s skills" so he could help me to teach less experienced ones. By that, they become some sort of authority in the organization.  Third is purpose. When we know how our work impacts the organization, how our work impacts the client, and how our work is appreciated by our bosses we start to understand and find purpose in what we do. This is a hard one. My experience has shown me that by sincerely talking to employees, getting to know them, understanding their skills and passions, we can better use their talents and assign them challenges on a continuous basis so they could feel appreciated and find purpose beyond their daily responsibilities. It is the managers job to be aware and sometimes simply ask what employees like and dislike about their job. As an example I am very skilled in powerpoint, I can do amazing presentations in PPT. How ever, even though I often have autonomy over my presentations, and I have mastery, for me the purpose of a presentation often adds no value to the organization or even a customer. However mapping processes or creating lean systems is something that I like because I can have autonomy to create and use the tool i find better for the process. I believe I have mastery on doing that and i know that by creating and implementing a lean system will help the organization to improve its efficiency, eventually its costs and will be a contributor to keep the business alive; I have purpose.
“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

One last thought 

In my mind, that gentleman complaining about labor and unemployment attrition, instead of thinking that´s the way things are, should be thinking a way to engage personnel so they don´t want/have to leave somewhere else. Showing respect for people is the best way to engage them and ensure your labor turnover/attrition is low. If you engage your employees in continuous improvement, eventually they will get addicted to it. They will start thinking better ways to do things and will achieve innovation and improvement momentum. Just be careful. I´m not saying that employees shouldn't be paid well. In fact if you try to engage people, but they aren´t perceiving their salary being enough to cover their basic needs, eventually will leave because their needs aren´t obviously covered. So take care of their needs first (short term) but think ways to engage them (long term) so, no matter if other companies want your talent, employees will find so infatuated with your company that will find it hard to leave. That isn´t easy. But once you get it, is a powerful tactic to become a more efficient, leading company in your market. Remember that having the right engaged people, is one key input for your organization to deliver and exceed what the customer needs.

What is your take on this matter? What is your proposal to diminish attrition on a very competitive environment? Please leave a message, I´d love to read your thoughts.

Thanks for reading by the way. 

sábado, 19 de noviembre de 2016

Oakland A`s, Boston´s Red Sox & Chicago Cubs too???

The first time I heard about Moneyball was in Summer 2013. I was an engineer working at Ford and at that time I was into Stats. Due to the fact that a couple of years earlier got my 6 sigma Black Belt certificate.

From the moment I saw the movie and the controversy that rose from the fact that stats were being used to improve a team´s performance, I was hooked. Made perfect sense to me, use data and evidence to assess a player´s habilities to help an organization.  Therefore shape better team´s roster in order to maximize their potential and achieve goals. 

I later learned that the Boston Red Sox used similar techniques and methods to break the Bambino´s curse, and win 3 World titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013.  A few days ago, as I was driving home, heard that Cubs general manager was the mind behind those 3 world titles for Boston. And that he was the sponsor for the STATS, pioneered by Bill James and applied successfully by Paul DePodesta, first at the time he worked with Billy Beane at Oakland.

Started to Google about Theo Epstein and after reading a little bit on different websites, found myself reading about DePodesta and Bill James. Read about the Bullying they have suffer through their career. Specially because SABERMETRICS are (I believe) little understood, and because some people believe they are meant to replace the experience and knowledge many “Experts” have regarding sports.

Chicago Cubs: Breaking the goat´s curse.

In a sport that many believe curses are true, but at the same time generates a lot of stats, is funny that data analyzed by people like DePodesta, do not receive the same credit. I´ve heard some criticism about the fact that critics say that this method tries to gather a team, only by looking at stats. And that experience from scouts, should not be neglected or denied. 

This kind of behavior is normal and it happens in sports, government, companies, and even in marriage. We have a hard time accepting that we have done something wrong, or that are opportunities in how we are managing things. It is hard to accept that things could be improved. It´s even harder to accept other methodologies or ways of thinking, because we believe that if those methodologies or techniques haven´t been invented here, won´t work since we are different. 
I have experience that behavior in the steel industry and logistics. Some people believe that if you do not have previous experience in this industry, automatically you do not have the right to talk about problems, because you don´t know what is like here. 

Something similar happened here, with DePodesta and Bill James. 

“He is a security guard”

I´ve read in many sites the quote, previously stated here, about the work of Bill James. This attitude just reveals how disrespectful sometimes people is. Just because Bill James was a security guard, doesn´t mean he didn´t have the intelligence to think about new ways to assist coaches and trainers to understand better the game. Today many wearables provide constant data generated by athletes, so they can improve their performance almost real time.
DePodesta, during his time at NY Mets.

This same thinking in Baseball, reigns in Industry when some people hears about Lean. Or when a foreign proposes suggestions or solutions seen in other industries. The mentality of “Not Invented Here” is present, and mines companies abilities to innovate and also acquire professionals from other Industries that could contribute in great ways to solve and get a competitive advantage. 

Fortunately there are a few people who do believe experience is important, but it is much more important people´s ability to learn. I remember clearly that when I was interviewed by the final assembly manager, when I was going through the recruitment process to join Ford in early 2009, he asked me if I was able learn by myself. I answered yes I´m able. I believe that, that was the moment when I got the job at that time. Thanks to god that guy didn´t believe that experience was determinant to perform well. Otherwise probably I wouldn´t have worked for Ford and wouldn´t be writing this, since my previous experience was in the paper Industry.

Have you been disrespected by other colleagues for not being native in one area or industry? Please add a comment below. Would love to read your thought´s and experiences.

martes, 11 de octubre de 2016

Lean stories at Nummi & pride at work.

NUMMI & the joy of Work

Recently I was able to find and old NUMMI episode from This American Life, where describes more less why GM wasn´t able to replicate the operational & cultural practices from its peer Toyota. Well, at least, they didn´t replicate that in a quick manner, but until the 2000´s almost 20 years later after the NUMMI plant opened in Fremont Ca, as part of a joint venture with Toyota. If you haven´t listen to this episode, I suggest that you do it. Clic here to go that episode, but please come back as i Have another suggestion on this topic. 
After re-visiting this fascinating story, I was able to find other “New” podcast on this story. “The Bridge” is a podcast from San Francisco, and it mainly is about interest topics or issues that This City experiences. Some episodes explore the bay one street corner at a time, there´s another about Parkinson´s disease, homeless people and so on. The end of the season 1, talks about a familiar story for the Lean community: NUMMI. But explores the side effect of this plant´s closure. It is called the Life after NUMMI. If you haven´t hear it, i suggest you also do it by clicking here. 

New United Motor Manufacturing, in Freemont CA.

The half hour show talks about what happened after the plant was shutdown. It examines the life of a couple of workers, they tell some stories about the jokes, the people they worked with, the struggles of finding another job. Please remember this car factory closed in 2010 when the recession was at its peak, and finding another job like that, was just almost imposible. 

Although the podcast takes a couple of workers, I believe the represent the feeling and what it was like to work at NUMMI. The show opens describing the 5 year reunion from NUMMI employees. Sara Rogers, She was the tour coordinator at the factory, and worked there for 11 years. In the chapter she described the way she used to conduct the tour, and interact with workers as they assembled cars. At the beginning of the explanation she remembers explaining visitors the key values practiced at the factory: Kaizen, Kanban, Jidoka, Muda, Genchi gembutsu, etc. As she used to drive around the plant she named the people working at the worked stations. She remembers, the tour being about the factory and the people working within the factory, as she explains:

“ Here´s a tire, and here is Bob, working with a tire. Here´s an engine, and here´s Jason working with an engine”.

She used to tell stories about the people, she also says:

“ Those where the folks I worked for, you know I worked for those folks”.

The podcast also explains that during the various slumps car demand had through out the years, NUMMI never lay anyone off. When demand was week, one shift took classes about, safety, sexual harassment, history of Toyota and so on. Rogers remembers teaching about that last topic. And at this point, if you are listening, you can still hear the excitement in her voice, remembering all these concepts, stories and the fact that NUMMI never layoff anyone. Until the plant closed, and 

“And the Dream ended”.

April 1st, 2010 a red Corolla was the last car that came out of the plant. She explains that she wanted to be there until 90. She had no plans to retire, and she wanted to be there forever. 
I feel that there have been very few times where I´ve felt this same way. But I don´t remember feeling like that all the time. Typically in my case, there are times where you feel super motivated at job and there are some others, where you feel more like, you gotta do what you gotta do, is your job, and the motivation is pretty low. What place was NUMMI that a worker felt like working there was worth it doing it forever?

Ok, probably you´re thinking at this point; right her job was conducting tours. Is not the same as being assembling parts together every minute, attached to a work station, in a repetitive job. That´s true, but also, being a tour guide, doesn´t really help to change the world right? So, my thought is related about how good, happy environment it was and how was possible that those people would stay motivated to actually love their jobs. Is not that i don´t like my own job, but as I have explained before, at some point motivation isn´t at its peak. 
So, to me the fact that someone like Rogers still remembers her work with such pride, tells me one simple thing, and is the fact that she felt joy at her work. She had a purpose, which as a consequence, Intrinsic Motivation. It is supposed to exist two kinds of motivations, according to the book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates Us, written by Daniel H. Pink.
Intrinsic motivation and Extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation are all variables such as wage, benefits, the things we buy and would like to posses that come as a consequence of having a job.  They are powerful, but they only do the trick in the short run. Cause as we know, the brain has a feature to adapt quickly to changes in our lives, so If you have a raise, it´s exciting, motivates you super high, but it only lasts for a short period of time. As the brain gets used to having more money on your wallet and accepts that as the norm. Intrinsic motivation is the kind of motivation that busts us in the long run. It requires autonomy, mastery and purpose to keep that kind of motivation driving our behaviour. Rogers describes how she conducted tours, and looks like she had the three  (motivators) at her job. But, speaking from experience, this is not something you can easily have, or achieve or even look for. Must son us, work because we need to cover basic needs: food, home, health, etc. and if along comes some of the intrinsic factors just discussed before, is a bonus. 
If you hear the podcast as the last Red Corolla was coming out of the line, you could hear people cheering  and clapping with joy. I don´t think that was coincidence, and all those guys, weren't also tour guides. So to get to point, I believe is because the management style and system created that allow people not only cover the basic needs “extrinsic motivation”, but also, the deeper needs “intrinsic motivation” that help a worker stay focus, motivated and with joy in the long run, as he works. 
Dr. Edwards Deming

This makes me remember Dr. Deming who put a great amount of responsibility on managers/management.  Pointing that creating good systems is management´s job, allowing people to take pride and joy at work. I´m convinced a true Lean System can do that. I´m convinced that that´s what TPS did at NUMMI, despite what Labor Notes claims, I know Lean works and can be great for everybody. 

Looks like for all the people who worked at NUMMI, things will never be the same. As Mario Mendes explains later in the podcast:

“It´s ok, It´s not the same. You get greasy and dirty. And is not like NUMMI”.

What also caught my eye, is the fact that Tesla Motors, bought the old building, after NUMMI was  closed,  for a really cheap price. Many of the workers from NUMMI, couldn´t make it to the new company. Which is really sad, as they had the skills, the culture, and the habits to help Tesla be more efficient, and perhaps, save some money on the training. Mendes explains it was really hard to get hired at Tesla as they weren't hiring people over 50. Same thing happen when I worked at Ford. When the Cuautitlan plant reopen, and I was hired back in 2009, most of workers where under 30. I believe it was because of budget, culture, and thinking that younger people would fit better than older people. I will go there on a future post, about the similarities Ford tried with Cuautitlan plant and NUMMI.

What do you think? Do you feel motivated with your the job/system you work in? What changes can we make to keep motivated ourselves in our current jobs? 

Would love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below. 

viernes, 16 de septiembre de 2016

Tolerating behaviours and creating a Bad culture.

With the recent Scandal under which, the biggest bank in US, Wells Fargo has been for the last days, much has been going on and the bank as well as the CEO have been on the spotlight. More than than 5,300 people have been fired, using the old saying of bad apples.

This makes me think about practices most companies and leaders tolerate, that may not necessary be productive neither wanted. But, before you continue reading this, If you still don´t know what I´m talking about, clic here to get a quick brief summary on the scandal and go back here. 

Wells Fargo CEO, John Stumpf

The story says that employees illegally, and without customers consent, opened millions of accounts in order to achieve the goals and targets set by managers.

The bank, of course, blames the employees who archly did this, without managers and supervisors knowing. Of course this shows the poor leadership practiced in the bank, starting from the CEO: John Stumpf who said:

On average 1 percent [of employees] have not done the right thing and we terminated them. I don’t want them here if they don’t represent the culture of the company
As you can see in the rest of the article from Washington Post, he blames employees, and explains little about the company, the management practices that need to change or completely stopped. The culture of the company might be one, pushing for metrics, forcing employees to do whatever needs to be done to get the quota and then tolerating when those same employees took wrong, illegal decisions.

My first thinking is about the supervisors or managers who saw the emails linked to the ghosts accounts. Email addresses with names of 1234@ or noname@ i believe aren´t hard to notice, so my question is, did managers or executives knew about what was going on and did nothing? Did they encourage this behaviour' or decided to tolerate it?

Wells Fargo CEO said he seeks for perfection and I truly believe that in order to achieve perfection we need to stop tolerating the small things that drive a company´s culture. Why is it ok to tolerate that workers do things just to comply with a "requirement"? Why is it ok to tolerate the thinking that quality is quality´s department responsibility? Why is it ok to tolerate results/metrics manipulation in order to show everything is ok? Why is it ok to tolerate indifference to improvement? Why encourage the thinking of not invented here? Why is it ok to allow meetings to start late? Why is it ok to have meeting that lead to nowhere?

Those small activities in my opinion aren´t small at all. They reveal the true culture of a company, beyond the slogans or quality policies hanging on walls.

One might think that there is no comparison between allowing a meeting to start late and allowing workers to open fake accounts. But maybe, one thing let to another. First you allow a meeting to start late, allow that meeting go nowhere, then you start allowing people to deliver wrong information, late, then you start allowing people to tweak a little the metrics, and so on.

I believe that leaders and managers, need to be aware and correct these behaviours in order to maintain the right culture in the company. To achieve perfection details count. Details are important because reveal the company´s culture, and the kind of leadership that is held across managers and top executives. If executives and managers allow "these small details", we shouldn´t blame workers, but the system the company created that allowed wrong behaviours every day.

Wells Fargo might have forgotten one of the most controversial points from Dr. Deming:

Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force.

In this case, this point from Deming is perfect for Wells Fargo situation. They created this crazy numerical quotas that forced people to do extraordinary things to achieve them, because of the fear to be fired. Workers shouldn´t fear something at work. They should enjoy and find purpose in order to give their best. As Dr. Deming demonstrated long ago.

What are your thoughts regarding this unacceptable Wells Fargo behaviour? Do you think am I being too tough when comparing meetings and opening bank accounts?

miércoles, 27 de julio de 2016

Two bad chilies

Today I write about an incident that happened to a famous foods company in Mexico. La Costeña is a foods company with a history of more than 90 years in Mexico. Famous for being one of the first to market chilies in the early 1920´s. 

In the past days has been on the public eye, not for the quality or the taste of its canned chilies, but because a photograph. A couple of temporary associates took a picture unloading trucks. The trucks contained chilies, and in the picture can be seen two associates, one of them seems to be peeing on the products. The picture isn´t explicit as this guy was giving his back and cannot tell wether he was doing it or not. but his pants where down.

The story is that this picture got to the social media, where it went viral and of course, the company was under scrutiny. Obviously the company fired the two workers, but what is worth  to analyse are the responses his president and CEO gave today to a Radio show in the morning. 
Rafael Celorio, president and CEO of the company, gave an interview this morning where he talked about the pictures and provided his points of view on this matter.
He explained that those workers where temporary. This time of the year, he continued explaining, the company hires temporary workers to unload the extraordinary amount of products the plant receives everyday. 

Celorio said that the recruiting process was really good. That they do hire workers based on recommendations given by permanent workers in the plant. And he continued explaining that during this time of the year, they have to hire many workers, and many of them stay in the plant, and others come back the next year.

What bothers me about this, is the fact that the company blames the workers and plays the old game of two bad apples. In a separate declaration the public affairs manager , said that in the plant work 3000 workers, meaning it was impossible to watch everybody at every moment. To my understanding and view, the company lost a precious opportunity to recognize the opportunities within their recruiting process and the root cause as to why, two temporary workers would do something like that. What could have happened that encourage those associates to behave like that. The easy part is to blame the bad apples. The hard one, is to recognize and find why those bad apples got mixed with the good ones.

Companies that hire temporary workers know in advance that hiring temps, is a risk. How can those companies minimize those risks? How can those companies improve the systems where situations like that, simply cannot happened? 

Where was the supervisor? Too many workers to supervise? Was the plant running understaffed? Those are the kind of questions the company should ask themselves. How the system allowed that to happened? Of course, the system, is what should be reviewed. 

Temporary workers deserve the same respect as permanent. They should be trained, coached and empowered too. It is worth to follow the same process to recruit a temporary worker, compared to a permanent one. Since those workers for a given period of time will impact the company the same as a permanent worker. I´m not saying this wasn´t the case. I criticize how hard it is for companies accept there are opportunities to improve. Especially in public. 

Thank´s for reading, would love to read your thoughts.

jueves, 16 de junio de 2016

"Mysterious" lean methods & respect for people

As some of you may know, there is soccer cup being played in the US this month.
The oldest soccer tournament takes place in US. Where national Teams from north and south america will play for the first time to define the best team in Copa America.

Juan Carlos Osorio, writing his findings during a soccer match.
This year the tournament, includes countries from all over America. Typically includes teams from south america with special guests. This year is different, since the cup reaches 100 years. Mexico is playing and had a strong first game, beating 3 to 1 to the powerful team of Uruguay.  Mexico´s Coach, Juan Carlos Osorio has been on the spot. Not only for being a foreign coach training Mexico´s team, but for the strange and unusual ways to train a team.
Watching Mexico´s game couple of days ago, the TV analyst told a story about Juan Carlos Osorio that made me remember how lean methods may seem mysterious, weird or wrong for people who isn´t related to it.

The analyst mentioned that Osorio often, in the middle of the game, would call a member of the team (a player) and would ask him to give his opinion on the game. Which is of course, something very unusual for a coach to do in soccer and I bet is not common in other sports either.

Usually coaches are the ones who give opinions, take decisions, speak up, and players need to obey and follow the strategy the coach impose.

That made me think about how Lean organizations, involve workers in improvements, in operations design, and also in the solutions to solve problems. Successful lean organizations, allow the workers to speak up, point out problems, and work to solve them. They are encouraged to give their opinions and to work on issues or problems. They find purpose on their jobs. How many organizations do not allow people to speak and discourage any creativity inherent in workers? It`s true the common rule in sports and companies is that the leader speaks, everybody else listens, and obey. When a leader admits that needs some input, that doesn´t know all answers or decides that it is necessary to hear workers opinions, people around him/her wouldn´t seem to understand why.

It is expected that leaders know what to do. They should direct, provide answers and guide. How ever, as many lean organizations have taught, listening and showing respect for people often provides greater results in the long run. It is through people engagement that true continuous improvement can be achieved. Clic here  to be re/directed to Toyota's website where they explain further the concept and how along with Continuous Improvements shape the Toyota Way.
Remember during my early days in manufacturing. I was a young superintendent and was often in the floor learning and sometimes doing things myself. I learn better by doing and to really know what the workers were talking about, used to do things myself (whenever was possible). And I remember that one time I heard some managers talking about me, saying that my problem was that I didn´t act as a manager, but as a worker. I imagine they meant that my future was doomed if I continued doing things in the floor. 

Its true, small details such as doing things and getting dirty, or perhaps, ask for a worker´s opinion might seem odd. Even when they are the right things to do. 

What do you think? Why is people surprised about this small details? Do you consider that in some situations these examples could´t be applied?

Please leave your thoughts, would love to read your comments below.

Thanks for reading!

viernes, 13 de mayo de 2016

Can lean help to improve tributary processes in México?

Good day, everyone. It´s been two frustrating weeks for me. And I needed to write all my experience dealing with governmental agencies, here in México.
Unfortunately, had to wait, until this experience was over, to try not to jump on conclusions that would bias my writing. I guess is hard for people in general, to wait and see. Often we desperately want to solve things right away, with little investigation. I guess this is natural, and it´s because the things we experience and see, are granted as THE TRUTH.
Anyway, I´m happy that this awful experience is over. This experience has to do with taxes and the requirements to present my anual tax declaration to the state. Yes, as its often said, you can´t skip death and taxes.

A little bit of context

In Mexico, it is required that every April, you have to declare your earnings and expenses the year before, in this case 2015. The process can be done through the website and it is supposed to be easy. Like myself there are many who hire accountants to do the trick for them. By the mexican legislation, if during that year, you pay more taxes than the regular limit imposed by the law, the excess should be returned to you within a short time frame.
Sounds cool right. So every April, most people present their anual tax declaration and hopefully their balance is positive so they can ask to be refunded. But there are rules, you should follow. Dead line is April 30th, you gotta do it through the website, and you need an RFC code; which is a code that the tax agency provides to you in order to identify you and track your operations. This RFC code is formed according to your birthday, and other data that it is supposed to be exclusively yours. The legend says, that one person cannot have 2 RFC codes, because the system would detect and won´t allow to create a new one, unless you delete the previous one through a specific procedure the agency does. The other requirement is that if you would require to be refunded by a quantity over 10,000 mxn (about 800 usd) you require an electronic signature. This signature is match with your RFC coded and your CURP code (This one is a code that the population agency provides to identify you as a mexican person, with all rights and obligations according to current legislations). Yes, this code is supposed to be unique for every person, and one person cannot have two. Sine this CURP code is formed by your birthdate and other important data that should be unique for you. Two people with the same name, should have different CURP and RFC codes. But going back to the electronic signature,  once you show your CURP and RFC, the employee puts your data into the system and the system woul tell all about your working history, your tax declarations, etc. Here is when the thing gets tricky for me.

CURP Code First.

This year the law changed, if you needed to get a refund over 800 usd you need to have an electronic signature. This signature is supposed to be super safe. The story says that not even anonymous can break it down. Its a combination of your fingerprints, eye iris and a password created by you.
April´s first week I sent all information i gather to my accountant. We have worked for years, and this was the first time something went wrong.  Sent al my bills, payments & charity donations. She already had my info so that was it. Started to getting anxious because i had no news from her for over a week. When she finally reached out, told me that this year my refund would higher than 800 usd so, would need the electronic signature. She told me this 4 days before deadline, so the next mourning when to the agency office to get the damn signature. to my surprise, the offices were clean, furniture was in good shape, personnel was nice and treated everyone with respect. The employee who had me, told me there was something funny and that I won´t be able to get the signature that day. When look for me in the system, I had 2 RFC´s codes, and 3 CURP codes. Remember when I say that a person cannot have more than 1 of these codes? Bullshit!

So, first I had to go to the population office to know what had happened with my CURP.  How could I have 3 different CURP codes. the lady who helped me didn´t have the answer but thanks to god, she was able to leave active the correct one.  One mourning lost. couldn´t do anything more that day was a wednesday. Thursday and Friday couldn't do anything else since I had a training so couldn't missed it. So decided to go on Saturday to the tax office. For people reading this in Us, Canada or even Asia, you got to know that government offices do not open on Saturday, but as the deadline was close, decided to open. Unfortunately could´t do present my tax declaration, since Saturdays they were only processing requests to get the electronic signature, so the girl who had me, passed my case with an older lady for her to explain me what the process would be in my case. Remember that at this point I still had 2 RFC codes. So the lady told me that should come back on Monday, to perform an RFC code cancelation due to a duplicity. I asked if this was common, and said that it is. But she also lecture me saying:

But it is people's responsibility to check everything is alright with with their tax situation.

So, It is my fault then, for you not having the systems to prevent this. As the lady said, I came back this past Friday and this time could do it. In one hour I was able to cancel my duplicated RFC code and get my brand new electronic signature. My accountant was able to present my tax declaration 1 week after deadline.  I just hope, the SAT would be able to get my money back with little delay in one week or two, otherwise...

What lessons can be seen here at a personal level?

Of course the first lesson is that I need to learn how to do it myself. It is supposed to be very easy. The tax declaration is done through a website, filling a form filling the blanks and there you go. Next year won't be a delay, because my account had my tax at her desk for 2 weeks to find in the last minute that I need something else.

How can the SAT office lean to further improve processes and attention?

  • The first one is of course, improve the security to avoid one person having 2 different RFC codes. When I finally got my electronic signature, the guy who had me, told me that they should have notice back in 2008  when I got my CIEC code. During the investigation, I found that I had another RFC code since 2005. So, I guess the guy at that time, didn´t check properly. But should´t be a man´s decision to follow a process. Processes should have controls in place to avoid this kind of mistakes.

  • Second, I found the duplicated codes where requested by a company I worked for in 2005. But as you remember from reading the top of this story, those codes are supposed to be unique and you cannot get a CURP or a RFC code for your mom. The interested person should get the codes for her/him. How is it possible that a company got those codes for me? Again, system failure. The system should be able to tell you if a person already has a code or not.

  • Although I´m sure the SAT office did the best to help people to get their tax declaration, there´s definitely room for improvement. To start, from the 3 times i went to the local office, people was treated in batches (see VSM).    
Fig. 1 VSM Tax declaration with E - signature process. Only 3.94% of Value Added.

  • Wouldn´t it be better to establish one piece flow, and avoid having people early in the mourning  being moved from  in batches from one office to the next one and reduce/eliminate transportation? Even better, why not allowing people do their own registration?

  • Third, the electronic signature is electronic, but you cannot get it through the web. You gotta go to the office to have your information (birth date, your city  and then they take your fingerprints, iris and signature. Would´t it be better if people performs the first part of the process themselves at home? I mean, is just getting your data in the system; registration. And as this story illustrates, looks like there is not much of a difference if the data is placed in the system by me or by a SAT employee. As the system isn´t error proofed, the probability of an error is basically the same. This way, people would only attend the office to get the picture, signature digitalised and eyes scanned.
  • Another one, there is the possibility of getting an appointment though phone or internet. And it depends on the process you will follow (VSM to be followed). However although most of time this works properly and helps customers to go through the processes faster, does not work when its Tax time.  I´m saying that isn´t working since, when i look for an appointment, there wasn´t room. Why not opening the range and provide more time so people can present their tax declaration on time.  

  • Finally, do not lecture people.  In the case of Mexico, workers must wait for companies to deliver their tax payment certificate, so each and every one of the workers can present the tax declaration based on that information. If the companies do not deliver on time those certificates, you cannot blame the workers for doing late their declaration.

If you put any people in a bad, weak and fragile, process, without error proofing, or strong controls to diminish mistakes and error, the results will be bad, undesired ones. Such as presenting late the tax declaration.

As usual, thanks for reading this stuff. I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. 

sábado, 16 de abril de 2016

Workers who work hard are the best ones. Is that so?

Dr. Edwards Deming was an exceptional person. I first heard about him in late 90´s when I was in University. I found and I still find his thoughts and teachings, way forward his time. A Lean thinker and an Innovator. Unfortunately most companies, and professionals, event College professors, acknowledge his famous 14 points, along with his PDSA cycle (PDCA) cycle. What is often missed, is his extraordinary philosophy that lead to a country out of the ashes. I think his Red Bead Experiment his a great proof on what he taught about managers, systems and the way work was done back on his days (and probably today).

His controversial thoughts on Individual Performance Review aren´t as well known or understood as other aspects of his legacy and they might be the most important lessons from all his work.  They are as relevant today as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

The quote:

We need to work smarter not harder.

Sadly, today in 2016, there are a few managers that still think that, a worker who sweat, runs, and finishes exhausted at the end of her/his shift, are the best ones. Those who try to work, run, move, sweat less, but still meet her/his targets are the bad apples that will contaminate others, into seeking working less. I don´t blame those managers, cause I used to think the same way. Years back, around 2005 I used to think that way. 

I remember that at one production meeting, I said:

We need to tell them  (the workers) what to do, they just need to do it.

How wrong I was. I see clearly now, but at that time this was a common thought for me. And even for others. I remember that when saying that infamous phrase others nodded with their heads, approving my statement.

But fast forward to 2016, this kind of thought is still really common everywhere. As another proof, I saw a LinkedIn job post that caught my attention. It was from a trendy company. At the end of the job´s details there where enlisted all benefits this position was offering. One caught my eye, saying.  Unlimited vacation days: Work hard and take time when you need it. Even though the benefit sounded great, immediately saw the wrong word on that phrase. Work smart and take time when you need it would have been a better statement.

There is no mystery that we all want to be comfortable at work. There are so many articles and studies with scientific evidence that tells you that, when a worker has the right conditions, his performance will increase automatically. You can read some here, here and here. I remember that during my days at Ford, we had the manufacturing standards. Those standards meant to ensure that the technician would have the right resources available and the right conditions in place, to ensure that will comply with cycle time, meeting safety, quality, and cost expectations. Those standards included, number of walks from the workstation to the rack of materials, light in the workstation, workload (work content) in the station. I remember that in one chat with my manager of that time, He told me that he was involved on the meetings to discussed flow of materials, layout, etc. And one key consideration was that there shouldn´t be a point on the floor where the bathroom was more than 65 ft away. During these meetings, the committee involved in the discussion, found that often the 2 elements the worker hated the most were:

  • Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the cycle time.
  • Sweating because of heat.   

The way to control the first one, was to place bathrooms closer to the workstations to avoid stress on the worker because he wanted to go there but the line couldn´t be stopped. This way a worker could go, and the team leader could support during his absence for brief periods of time. 

The second condition, the committee thought about air conditioned, but unfortunately, as the plant was old, couldn´t support the installation of an AC system, plus the cost was way over the budget. Again, damn cost – benefit analysis. Will write on a different post about that.
The thing is that they tried to provide the best conditions they could, for their workers. They were sure and they knew their efforts would payoff later. 

However, even though ergonomics and work conditions have been recognized in the recent years, we still have managers who look at you when you leave the office early. Some others classify people as lazy when they just try to do things easier. Now, we have to recognize that too often the path from our current conditions and practices to an easier work environment, process or practices isn’t easy at all. Cultural and mindset changes may be involved, and this isn´t easy to achieve. Many of our current managers, bosses, directors haven´t been exposed to different ways of thinking. Many of them recall and practice the original management style they learned at the beginning of their careers. I cannot blame them. After all, they have reach managerial positions with this style and it is very difficult to change their ways. However, we must think that if we do not recognize the undisputable facts that conditions, have on the productivity, on processes (industrial, administrative, services, etc.) other companies will, and in fact have, taking a competitive advantage over us.

Deming used to think that the majority of problems were due to poor managerial practices. Most of times it is true. It is management responsibility to provide the best conditions for workers to perform. That includes not only physical conditions, but create openness, team work and creative environments where workers can help with ideas, suggestions and experimentation. Recently read a phrase attributed to Taichi Ohno, that stated:

In Toyota we hire people to think.
In order to do so, management must create and environment where workers are allowed to think,
proposed and experiment. But at the same time, managers must be willing to listen, coach, provide , challenge and respect people´s opinions and ideas. That is the second pillar on the TPS system.
And that´s why is often missed from many companies who think or try to implement Lean practices.

Thanks for reading, hope to see your thoughts at the bottom.