kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, Toyota Production System

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


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 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

7 Small Things that Could Unmake Job Applicants


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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People management, Work Relations

Whoever has the authority to hire workers, has the same authority to fire them

Image result for firing workers

I’M NOT SURE ABOUT THE PRACTICES IN OTHER COUNTRIES.  But here in the Philippines, I still encounter people asking questions on who should personally handle employee discipline, including the unsavory act of firing erring workers. True, employee discipline is an unpleasant task, but it doesn’t mean that HR should take the brunt, if only to take the dirty job away from line managers who have no backbone to do it.

The role of HR is basically a staff function with the responsibility of giving professional advice to line management executives. In Management 101, HR as a staff authority has a special task that includes studying and sharing of industry best practices, giving advice, and making recommendations to line executives within the same organization. HR, like the finance department, will have the same staff authority to coordinate with line executives on which accounting forms to use to facilitate the release of budget and eventual purchase of certain equipment or services.

Even without this theoretical underpinning, it is unthinkable, unwise, if not impractical for an HR department head to discipline all erring workers, while their line bosses whistle their way around until the next potentially problematic worker comes in. Let me tell you this once again. Problem employees and employees with problems are created by problem managers.

If only these line executives are qualified to perform their job of personally nurturing and motivating their workers, like a green thumb gardener (as opposed to a lumberjack), then there should be no disciplinary issue that could reach HR.

People managers don’t have much choice but to personally manage the conduct and behavior of their employees. There’s no other way, if they want to remain part of the management team. HR may come in to hold the hand of the concerned line executive, but the latter must still play an active and strategic role.

To make everything runs smoothly, HR and the line department must study the applicable policy, rediscover established precedents (or exceptions) and more importantly to observe both substantive and procedural due process. HR may only be present to support the line executive in issuing the charge memo and guide both parties (the boss and erring worker) on the proper procedure.

HR’s presence in the disciplinary process is helpful, if only to ensure that the worker is given his full day in court. Therefore, HR must remain objective and neutral in the entire process to secure the trust of the worker.

Remember that the higher purpose of employee discipline is to correct unwarranted behavior and therefore must be personally managed by the concerned line supervisors and managers.

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This article first appeared in Rey Elbo’s advice column “In the Workplace” in the Jan 26, 2018 issue of BusinessWorld. Image credit goes to iForex Blog.


Japan Leadership flyer C final 12132017

Inspirational, Perseverance

Forget the rain, look for the rainbow

How do we compare Watanabe with English-speaking, noted people like Thomas Alva Edison, Hellen Keller, Stevie Wonder, and Nick Vujicik, among others. In case you’re not familiar with their names or may have forgotten them, let me describe their personal qualities:

Edison was a lightbulb and phonograph inventor who was known for his famous edict: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Keller is blind and deaf who became the first such person to earn a bachelor’s degree and later on became an author, political activist, and lecturer. In recent memories—Stevie Wonder, whose real name is Stevland Hardaway Judkins, is a blind musician, singer, song writer, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist who is best remembered for the 1972 hit “You are the Sunshine of my Life.”

While Vujicic is a modern-day Christian evangelist and motivational speaker who was born without arms and limbs.

Their stories have one important lesson in life. If you want to succeed, never mind the cloud and its accompanying rain. Instead, always look out for the rainbow. If there’s no rainbow, at least be satisfied that the rain watered the farm, filled-up our dams, and made frogs sing their favorite songs. Never mind how old the stories are, but it’s timeless, positively evoking lessons. It’s like applying old solutions to new problems.

Therefore, how do you persevere despite all odds, including age and physical limitations? In the words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up!” Stay on course. Show commitment with relentless pride and positive energy in completing a task. Trying again and again and again like Watanabe who passed the bar exam after 17 attempts and Edison who learned 10,000 times from his failed experiments.

And of course, being patient as you work hard enough, day and night. That’s a common pattern when one tries to move forward. So the real questions—how do we explain the positive use of perseverance to our children. Well, at least, my wife can read Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider” to our first grandson, Teo, now a 3.5 years old energetic, playful, and English-speaking pre-school boy.

The busy spider is one important lesson on perseverance. Don’t mind all the noises from literal and figurative animals. Spin your web to your heart’s content. Do your job and do it well. Fortunately, the world has a lot to offer. You can turn a problem into an opportunity or vice versa, depending on how you appreciate things.

NOTE: This article is a modified version of the author’s article in his Sep 4, 2016 “Beyond Buzzwords” column in The Manila Times. Image credit to http://www.missouriskies.org

Humility, Uncategorized

Humility is Better than Being Good or Great

“GOOD is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life,” so declares Jim Collins, a best-selling author, in his 2001 opus. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.

Collins discusses many ideas about how organizations can become good to great. What strikes me the most, however, is you can become great, only if you’re humble. He calls it Level 5 Leadership – leaders who are humble, but driven to do what’s best for the company. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is difficult to find humility among our corporate leaders. That’s why they’re not great.

It’s timely, indeed. Humility was the subject of yesterday’s gospel – Luke 14: 8-14 on the parable of wedding feast: “8When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.

“9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you —‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. “10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.

“11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Humility is difficult to understand because when people reach a certain status they tend to project themselves more in every situation and in every step of the way so that they will not lose sight of any imaginable status that they want in life.

In any situation, the seat or any location you’ll choose is the one that gives you a vantage point where you’re fronting the stage or the white screen (for any presentation) while at the same time you can have an easy eyeball-to-eyeball exercise with everyone.

To protect your territory from invaders, ensure that a disposable prop (like a thought-provoking bestseller that you bought from a book sale) to be on top of your desk or chair where you can leave them while you’re at the restroom.

The situation can be applied in a photo session. You know you are fingerling but you can prop yourself up like a mean shark by shunning the chairs. Instead, go upright behind the chairs and position yourself behind the chair at the center. It’s just like in a game of chess. The one who controls the center of the board would always win.

Now, you know why an average performer can’t be an excellent worker. That’s because it’s easy to become an average person than a great person.

NOTE: This article is an abridged version of the author’s article entitled “From Good to Great…to Being Humble” which was published in his Aug 29, 2016 Beyond Buzzword’s column in The Manila Times. Image credit goes to hub.n2growth.com  

humor, Lean management, Waiting time

Patience is a virtue, but not when you’re at a fast food restaurant


YOU see it everywhere: at Jollibee, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chowking and anywhere you’re forced to wait for your food, beverage or whatever. At times, when I would be intimidated by my wife to wait at a bank, department store, or supermarket, I’d be 110 percent ready to make my time productive, so you’d see me reading Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Why not? It makes you feel justified with Tolstoy’s words: “Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait.” However, there are 7,230 times that I would reject such false idea. Being an incurable student of work efficiency, I’m the first person to reject waiting as one of the most hateful problems in every situation. After all, waiting is a universal form of waste that robs customers on one hand, and the service provider or product manufacturer on the other, of opportunities.

Let’s study this carefully. When a customer sees a long line of customers in a restaurant, he is often confronted with four options: One is outright rejection of the situation, no matter how tasty the food is or how well the price of the merchandise on offer matches your budget. When you see a restaurant overflowing with customers, you move to a next-door competitor with fewer customers, even if they charge exorbitant rates at modest quality and quantity.

Two is to wait and reject. You enter the restaurant, join the queue, evaluate the situation, and if you feel like it’s a hopeless case, you leave the place with a smirk on your face, if not a dagger look at the unconcerned branch manager who’s checking updates on his Facebook page.

Three is related to number two above, except that you try to learn from a problem situation like that. You attempt to make a scientific analysis of things and the people around you. If there are four cash registers manned by four service crew members, with each line averaging at seven customers each, you literally and figuratively calculate the situation in your head.

You’re now occupying a queue with five customers ahead of you. Would you transfer to a shorter line or stay in line with those five who were ahead of you? Without thinking, the obvious answer is to move to a shorter line. The trouble is that – it’s not always the correct answer. Why not?

If you’re too shy to ask each person ahead of you for the volume of their order and the exact bills (it takes time to change P1,000 bill than P100), more often than not, you’ll use their age, appearance, and body shape to give you a clue on whether to move to another line or not.

For example, a late-40s management professional wearing decent clothes may order a set menu, plus a side dish and gives a P500 bill as payment. While a 20-year old college intern in her uniform may simply be satisfied for a one-piece chicken meal or plain hamburger, to be downed with a standard-size cola drink. She pays with a P100 bill, if not with an exact change, unless she fumbles looking for coins in her counterfeit Hello Kitty wallet.

But what if, the five customers (two males and three females) ahead of you are all heavyweights that approximate the size of Orca, the killer whale? If you’re not a fan of Animal Planet, chances are you know nothing about killer whales being alpha predators—meaning they are on top of the food chain and no one is interested in dealing or frolicking with them, much more in preying on them.

Would this little known fact push you to take your chance to reject a line of five Orcas in favor of a line composed of eight persons with average height, size, appetite and earning capacity?

Now, you know what I mean, except that what we know represents only one side of the clock (errr, coin). These fast food restaurants know what they’re doing best to reduce the customers’ waiting time.

That’s why you encounter student part-time crew members taking advance orders while you’re on the line during peak hours, among other waiting time reduction strategies.

Then you also wonder, among others, why Jollibee and McDonald’s use the multi-server (several cash registers) and multi-line (several customers queue) approach, compared with Starbucks’ single-server (one cash register) and multi-phase (one cash register and one order pick-up point)?

Which one is better in appeasing customers who have every right to vote with their feet?

SOURCE: This article was first published on June 13, 2016 by The Manila Times under the title “The Science of Waiting Time at a Fast Food.” Image credit goes to http://www.payscale.com

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