kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, Toyota Production System

If You Can’t Solve a Problem, Try Common Sense

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THERE’S a toothpaste factory with a major integrity concern. At times, they shipped hundreds of empty boxes without the tube inside to customers and distributors, who complain that the factory is cheating on them. Understanding the problem, the CEO assembled his department heads and decided they hire an external consultant to resolve the issue.

Four months later, the consultant recommended a fantastic solution – a high-precision scale worth $8 million that would sound a bell and flash red lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. Immediately, the expensive scale was installed.

As expected, the scale would automatically stop the line as soon as it detects empty boxes, and the assigned workers walk over into it to remove the defective packs, and then, press another button to restart the line.

The management was pleased with the result. There were no more empty boxes being shipped out to customers and distributors. The CEO beamed with pride and told his management team the $8 million investment was worth it.

He read the production report of the past three weeks showing the scale’s performance was consistent with the projection of the external consultant. The production line prevented around one thousand empty toothpaste every week, which could, otherwise have been delivered to their customers and distributors. However, after one month, no empty boxes were reported to have been blocked by the expensive high-precision scale.

The CEO was disturbed. He verified the report with his production manager who affirmed it. Not satisfied with the claim, he came down to the shop floor and saw just before the scale a $20 electric fan blowing the empty boxes away off the conveyor belt, directly into a recycled large wooden bin.

He asked the production supervisor what that was all about. “Oh, you mean the electric fan?” he replied. “Bert, that young kid from the agency put it there because he was tired of walking over, every time the scales’ bell rang for the empty boxes.”

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With this story in  mind, I can’t understand why people and organizations prefer the expensive and complicated Six Sigma to solve quality and productivity, when there are easy to implement and low-cost practical solutions like Kaizen and Lean? I’m not saying that Six Sigma and the Black Belts are useless. What I’m saying is that, not all workplace problems can be solved by Six Sigma, which, according to Mark Deluzio, is a “problem-solving tool,” compared with Lean as a “problem-solving toolbox.”

To put it in the extreme – why use a flame-thrower to kill a pesky fly, when all you need is a swatter?

“Most waste-related company problems can be solved by using simple Lean tools. Six Sigma is appropriate for 5 percent to 10 percent of defect reduction challenges. Lean is easier to learn, easier to deploy, and is faster and lower-cost than Six Sigma. Lean principles and techniques can be used by every employee. Lean encourages input from all people in the organization. That’s not the case with Six Sigma, which requires highly-trained specialists,” says Deluzio in his 2016 book Turn Waste into Wealth: How to Find Cash in Every Corner of the Company. TPM Freddie Flyer 02042018 (4)

Kaizen and Lean are generic terms used by Japanese and western managers, respectively, while the Thinking Production System, aka Toyota Production System, is known as its famous, branded version.

Six Sigma became popular due to Jack Welch’s prominence in the American business community of yesteryears, until sometime when “Six Sigma gained a reputation it does not deserve. Six Sigma practitioners use data to make decisions on how to minimize process variation…(and therefore) requires extensive training in statistics and data analysis. (Further) Six Sigma is expensive and requires a lot of problem-solving time, often six to nine months per project,” claims Deluzio.

If you’re not yet convinced, learn from another story: “During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, NASA quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. On the other hand, the Soviet Union, when faced with the same problem, used a pencil.”


Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is a business journalist in The Philippines and an advocate of Kaizen/Lean tool as a simple and practical approach to problem-solving. “Elbonomics” is a collection of personal maxims and articles that reflect on his anecdotes.

The spot cartoon of a man sawing a branch is from happydays-365.com 

This article is sponsored by Kairos Management Technologies — event organizer of cutting edge programs on quality and productivity.

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Management Consulting, Total Quality Management

The Solution is in the Same Place Where the Problem Was First Created

IMAGINE yourself looking around for the best Total Quality Management (TQM) program amid various proposals being offered left and right by consultants. The goal of finding the best consultant is on everyone’s lips after your organization has fallen victim to an inexperienced scammer, who charged the lowest consulting fee of $1,000 a day but produced nothing. Talk of paying peanuts to a monkey.

Now, they’re doing it all over again. The first one on the prospect’s list is Consultant “A” – a mature, seasoned management consultant who has retired from the corporate world. The trouble is that – he charges $3,000 a day, one of the highest consulting fees around, though reasonably lower than those charged by foreign consultancies staffed by good-looking, young but raw local talents whose claim to “fame” are their MBAs from exclusive schools.

And so the CEO invites “A” to the boardroom where department managers sit ready to conduct a wolf-pack interrogation. After an overextended exchange of pleasantries, punctuated by obligatory laughter over some anecdotes, “A” is requested to deliver a presentation on how he could help the organization.

After the presentation, “A” coaxes the managers for questions. The CEO removes his eyeglasses and looks at “A” with a puncturing smile: “How do you sustain a program like that so that it will not be relegated into the dustbin? How would you propose to defeat the ningas-cogon (flash-fire, sudden death implementation) mentality of people?”

Consultant “A” smiles back: “There are many ways to do it. We’ll only be limited by our own imagination. For one, as soon as we’ve pulled off with at least three pilot projects, focusing on low-hanging fruits, we’ll give rewards and recognition to deserving teams every month. All monthly winners will compete in an annual competition where the grand team champion is sent to Japan for a weeklong training and pleasure activities.

“I’m confident that the cost savings that we can help discover are more than enough to pay for that. Also, we can vary the monthly theme to focus on safety, health, quality, productivity, environment, etc. By and large, you as the CEO should play an active leadership role in making this happen, beyond giving inspirational speeches.

“You must be ably supported by department managers who must play an active role in coaching their problem-solving teams to come up with their best performance. This must be complemented by requiring all workers to make problem-solving as part of their key performance indicators.”

The next question comes from a maverick, talkative manager who has been whispering side comments to the lady seated next to him. He asks, “Who are your clients on this program? Can you list down some names that we can verify?”

Consultant “A” says: “Of course, I’m ready to give you the names of my clients as soon as I’ve secured their permission. Please understand that I have a non-disclosure agreement with my clients. The same thing that I will do as soon as your company hires my services.”

As soon as all questions have been asked, Consultant “A” turns the table by asking the company about its current issues and challenges. “What’s the total amount of 5 plus 5?” The boardroom suddenly falls silent.

No one dares to speak, including the CEO, who waits for his deputies to give it a try. Apparently, everyone suspects a trap. “A” scans the entire room for answers, and after close to 60 seconds of silence, he answers his question – “5 plus 5 is 10, right?” And he continues: “My five-year old grandson knows that. You are all department managers with an apparent average of 20 years of corporate work experience, why couldn’t you answer such question?”

Then, he launches a mild set of tirades aimed at a well-behaved audience. “As I entered your office, I saw a good number of opportunities that you may want to uncover. For one, the job applicants are exposed to the elements, while filling-up some forms using a wooden bench as desk. Why don’t you give them the decency and self-respect to do that in the anteroom of your office?

“Second, the security guard didn’t know where I should go. And third, I saw tarpaulin banners all around the office promoting the ideals of 5S good housekeeping. It looks like you’ve been practicing 5S for some time now. But what are those piles of carton boxes doing at the back of the room? Why are you making this board room a warehouse?”

The CEO and the managers look at each other with a confident smile. “Those are Christmas decors!” says one department manager.

Consultant “A” retorts: “Those carton boxes don’t have labels which are essential in practicing 5S. After the holidays, where do you intend to place them? Look, I’m not here to give you a hard sell and to put you down. I’m beating the grass to startle the snakes, with the intention of telling you that the solutions can be found in the place where the problem was first created.

“This is not rocket science. The key, therefore, is removing your blinders to problems. Truly, the greatest problem of all is to refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem. The enemy is within. You don’t need a consultant to make this happen.”

Everyone turns quiet. The meeting closed with feigned smiles from all over. No one knows what hit them, except Consultant “A,” who believes in the tagline of ANA, Japan’s 5-star airline: “Little things can go a long way.” No one knew that “A” is known as an “insultant” in the industry, more than anything. Now, the snakes are back to the grassy land.


Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is a newspaper columnist at BusinessWorld and The Manila Times, two major dailies in The Philippines. He’s also a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest.

The image of “problem-solution-success” is created by Nairaland Forum.

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est.1997) – the organizer of the following public events:

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Career, Job-Hunting

The Body Language of Job Applicants Tells a Lot if the Interviewer Can Read It

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UNDERSTANDING the body language of job candidates is a strategic approach we can use to predict how they will behave and perform on the actual job. Even if the applicants can ace all of the hiring manager’s killer interview questions and they appear to be qualified, still…we can’t ignore those small things that candidates would show in their unguarded moments before, during, and after the interview process

No, I’m not talking of the applicant’s tardiness. That’s too obvious. What I’m referring to are minor gaffes that some managers don’t take seriously or tend to ignore, because they’re too insignificant to consider, given the fact that we decide based on the total package of a person, and not on small things alone.

Career expert Richard Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? talks about the principle of “microcosm reveals macrocosm.” It means that what job applicants “do in some small ‘universe’ like in a job interview reveals how (they) would and will act in a larger ‘universe.’”

Bolles is right. Small things can make or unmake a job candidate. Excellence in the hiring process can be done by paying attention to details. And so, how would you read and interpret the body language of applicants, particularly those who are interested in some managerial position in your organization? There’s no other way but for us to pay serious attention to the following body language of applicants:

1. Showing poor personal habits. You know what it means about good personal hygiene. It includes having clean fingernails, freshly laundered clothes, pants with a sharp crease, and well-polished shoes. Further, the applicant must not give any hint of tobacco smoke or wear an overpowering cologne that fills the enclosed space of the office. This is important even if one is applying for the post in the preventive maintenance department of a factory.

2. Having nervous mannerisms. This is often manifested when an applicant responds with a limp handshake or continually avoids eye contact with the interviewer. According to experts, avoiding eye contact possibly relates to stress or anxiety, complemented by nonverbal cues like an endless fidgeting of hand, cracking knuckles, or playing with hair during the interview.

3. Lack of self-confidence or being defensive. This is evident when an applicant speaks softly, reluctantly gives an answer, stammers a lot, or responds with very short answers. On the other hand, an eager beaver is someone who constantly interrupts the interviewer, or is overly critical of his current or past boss or employer. If not, the applicant may appear with folded arms and crossed legs, in a defensive position.

4. Lack of consideration to other people. This is best shown in the applicant’s lack of courtesy to the parking attendant, security guard, the receptionist, or the secretary in the office or to the waiter or waitress, if the job interview is being done in a restaurant. If an applicant snubs the greeting of any of these people, then we have a problem that pertains to one’s lack of social skills.

5. Forgetting about social courtesy. This is related to number four above. Conducting the job interview in a restaurant or hotel gives the hiring manager the best view of a candidate. You can learn a lot about the candidate if he orders the most expensive meal on the menu, or some messy meal like crab or spaghetti, finishes his meal ahead of you, or orders an alcoholic beverage during the interview process.

6. Showing signs of emotional instability. This can happen when a job applicant talks a lot about his political or religious belief, criticizes some government officials, the minority groups (including the LGBT community), badmouths his past or current employers, if not mocks the religion of other people. These topics are inappropriate in a job interview, even if the hiring manager opens up with those topics as a way to break the ice, if not to establish rapport.

7, Disregarding personal health and safety.  Many employers, including those who smoke, prefer a non-smoker over a smoker. I guess this is true even among tobacco manufacturers who admit that smoking is bad for one’s health. This could mean a lot if we are to choose between two candidates on the shortlist. Bolles says 94% of the time, the non-smoker will win, citing a study done at Seattle University.

Even the smartest hiring manager can be easily fooled by dumb job candidates if the former ignores those little things. It is not enough that an applicant must ace the killer questions in an interview process. There are many things that one must consider, including the personality of the applicant. After all, the hiring manager or anyone who makes the ultimate decision to hire will be working with the candidate on a daily basis.

Now, imagine this. Who would want to work with someone with smelly feet?

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Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is the pioneering newspaper advice columnist on total quality and people management issues in the Philippines. His “In the Workplace” column started in BusinessWorld in 1993 and “Beyond Buzzwords”  column in The Manila Times in 2002. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com. 

Image on waiting job applicants is credited to Vcool.com

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est. 1997), organizer of the following cutting-edge management programs. Contact Ricky Mendoza at inquiry@kairos.com.ph or call (632) 846-8951 or mobile 0915-406-3039.

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