In this podcast, I interviewed Amanda Zimmerman, a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt here in Portland, who has a wide and extensive background. We worked together briefly at a local not-for-profit, and have stayed connected for the past few years.
She talks about her journey from history major to learning about Six Sigma, her work in Oil and Gas and the impact it had on the environment, and her journey to Angola and the international travel that opened up for her. She recently self-published a book called “Travel Addict” that we discuss, including her recent trip to Antarctica. We also talk about how she manages her own workflow, the “Day in the Life” technique that she really likes, and the approach she takes with clients in her new consulting firm.
p.s. I apologize for my audio quality, luckily Amanda’s audio sounds good.
- Upcoming Webinars through Lean Portland
- Travel Addict: 50 Tips with Pics from Across the Globe
- Contact info for Amanda
- FREE online course called “Lean Six Sigma and the Environment”
- 6sigma.US Training and Certification Programs
- Creative Safety Supply – Free 5S Guide
Have you ordered the new book, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: Lessons from the Gemba (Volume 1)?” The book is made up of 8 chapters written about experiences from Lean and Six Sigma practitioners, to give you tips and tricks to help you work with nonprofits in your area. All proceeds donated to charity. We are also close to releasing Volume 2, so check back for the latest news.
You’re listening to the Lean Six Sigma for Good podcast. We help you learn how Lean and Six Sigma concepts can be applied to nonprofits, NGOs, and not-for-profit organizations. Visit us at leansixsigmaforgood.com.
Brion (B): We met when you were transitioning from Houston to Portland, I believe. Is that when we connected?
Amanda (A): Yeah, kind of. I was consulting in Texas and visiting Portland or staying in Portland in between.
B: Because I left my job in July 2017. I think I talked to you before that, maybe 2016 when maybe you were back in town for something.
A: Yeah, possibly.
B: I wanted to talk a little bit about our early discussions around Lean Six Sigma and the environment and then some other experiences you had and even your traveling and your travel book, which I went through. It was good. And just what you’re planning to do with the new consultants.
A: I think we met, I was working on my global MBA from Imperial College of London. I had started that three or four years ago and I graduated last year, in 2019. I think I reached out to you because I was really interested in the connection between Lean Six Sigma and sustainability. And so since when I do any searches, you’re pretty much at the top of that list, getting the chance to talk to you and getting a better idea of how you’re exploring that field was fascinating to me and helped move some of my ideas forward as well as you gave me a lot of good reading tips on places that I could find more information. I had reached out to you as I was working on my MBA and I think that’s when we first met as I was doing consulting in Texas at the time.
I started my career in Bakersfield, California. I went to school to be a history teacher in 2005, I graduated with my bachelors and it turned out that children in large quantities were not going to work out for me, so I had to come up with a backup plan. I would tell people, though, in the sense of history degrees, it is a degree where you are vetting and organizing facts to tell a story. So in terms of Lean Six Sigma, to me, it’s got a lot of connections to Lean and Six Sigma.
But at the time, I wasn’t sure where to go from there, so I ended up pestering a bunch of temp agencies until one sent me out to a company called Key Energy. I ended up spending six years there. That’s where I was first introduced to Lean and Six Sigma. They had a small department and, at the time, for Six Sigma, Sally Ulman with Variance Reduction International, she owned it at the time, really seemed to be kind of the lead thinker or the one that brought Six Sigma out into the oil and gas industry in California. She was the one offering trainings out there, so I got the opportunity to do training through Key Energy with Sally, got my Green Belt, moved into Lean Six Sigma positions, and got to learn a lot from her, eventually getting my Master Black Belt.
I stayed there for about six years, as I said, and in 2011, my partner of 10 years passed away unexpectedly right at Christmas. Sally, I hadn’t spoke to in a while, but she ended up messaging me about two weeks later and asked me if I was interested in consulting in Angola. At the time, I was kind of a small-town girl from a perspective of I hate flying but decided to go ahead and take a chance and go to Angola, which my friends and family thought I was kind of crazy for. I ended up working there, with their offshore operations in oil and gas, for about five years. I did probably over 50 projects there in Lean Six Sigma, mostly Six Sigma focused projects around reliability, before I decided that it was time for another change. I started working, like I said, on my MBA as well as doing Lean projects in the US and Europe.
That’s where my career started and then I had the chance to move to Portland, about two years ago, and become a Quality and Lean Six Sigma Manager for a company in town, NWEA. That was a really exciting opportunity that I loved, but something else came along that had been working on for many years that was really hard to get, which was an opportunity to work at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. I just got back from that about a month and a half ago and that’s how I ended up in Portland, starting to get back into consulting through Beautiful Opportunities.
B: Cool. Let’s start with Angola. Where is it, for the people who don’t know, and how was that experience? that must’ve been quite a change of what you’re used to.
A: I think that’s a good point that I often forget is a lot of people don’t know where Angola is. It’s not like a common one that comes up when you’re doing geography. It’s near the Congo in Africa. It’s just north of Namibia and just west of the Congo. It’s definitely a lot different than where I grew up in Bakersfield, California. It was a really exciting opportunity for me because it was really a blending of so many different cultures. I got to do training, project mentoring, project execution with people from all over the world, with all different types of background, whether you mean like leadership, from VPs to operators, from people who maybe didn’t even have a high school education, to people that had PhDs. It was a really exciting opportunity to just get to interact with a large group of people from different backgrounds and trying to get projects together that are really going to have an impact.
As I said, Six Sigma seems to be more popular, I would say, in oil and gas than maybe Lean tools or Lean projects, so a lot of the projects that I worked on there were reliability and maintenance focused. I know you had mentioned, Brion, about some of the environmental projects that I had taken on there.
B: Yeah, I’m curious.
A: In looking at those, I looked through some of the different projects I did and the ones that I think probably in my career will be the largest impacts in terms of environment are going to be the ones that I did probably in Angola around flaring. One of the things that sometimes was an indirect benefit or sometimes was specifically what we were targeting was reducing flaring. That’s where natural gas is burned off, which obviously releases carbon, just like if you were going to use it, but instead of using it, you might see, at any refinery or a place where they’re producing oil and gas, you would see that flare, that flame, continuously burning.
I had a project there that, indirectly, we ended up reducing flaring significantly just because we did a 5S project where we found a piece of equipment that otherwise we didn’t even know that was there. We would have spent six weeks trying to expedite this piece of equipment to get in and, instead, we found it. Had no idea it was there and ended up being able to use it to replace a piece of equipment that crashed. That was one I think that was about $1.9 million that we benefited from being able to have that piece of equipment ready so quickly, which meant we reduced flaring.
Another project that we did was specifically looking at the stability and identifying, out of all the flaring events, what were the different reasons for all the flaring events and how could we identify those root causes and then eliminate or reduce them. That project had a benefit of something like $25 million.
B: Holy cow.
A: For me, I think of oil and gas and I’d like to associate myself or align myself more with the things that I see value in. Probably the projects that I’d have the biggest opportunity to environmentally impact or projects that would have an environmental impact benefit would have been those projects that were in oil and gas that were quite large.
B: What is flaring exactly? is that they’re overproducing and they don’t have a need for it so they’re burning it off?
A: That can be one reason. It could be part of the way it was designed, maybe they don’t have a way to produce that. It could also be like it’s better to keep it in the reservoir than it is to have it come up. There might be ways that they can control that too, I believe. Mostly, the petroleum engineers handled a lot of the hard questions around flaring, but I think one would be the process design, two would be the process upsets.
On occasion, you might see, if you’re near a refinery or something, a day when the flare is a lot bigger. That’s generally going to be due to some kind of upset within the plant that didn’t allow them to produce that gas. Because essentially all of that is money that’s burning up for them, so there’s a value for them to not do it, but sometimes, just the way it’s designed, they’re not able to do produce that.
B: When you started these projects, what level had you gotten to with Six Sigma? were you still a Green Belt at that point or were you further along when you went there?
A: I was a Master Black Belt at that point and working with other Master Black Belts there, which was exciting. It’s always an amazing opportunity to learn from others and I really benefited a lot from having our schedule, which was a month on and a month off. Every time I walked away from my job, somebody else came in, which means that they had a different perspective, they had different tools that they were comfortable with, and then I would come back in and have to pick up whatever they had started. So for me, it was a great learning experience in addition because they may have used tools I wouldn’t normally use or they may have gone in different directions. And just trying to understand that there’s not always one solution to these projects, that there are multiple different types of Lean Six Sigma tools that we could use to make improvements and see the improvements that we’re looking for.
B: How did that work, logistically, with where you were living? did you travel there? Were you living in two places or you had a month off in Angola that you were traveling around or just getting settled? How did that work?
A: As soon as I decided to go to Angola, I gave everything up, my apartment and everything. Put everything in storage, became one of those people who just had a storage unit as an address. The first time I was off, rather than flying all the way back to the US, the first month off, I stayed in Europe, I’d stayed in Australia. Each month off, I would fly somewhere new and experience that place, and then Angola was kind of the home-base that I would go back to every month or every other month.
It was a great opportunity and, like I said, for me, in my personal life, I had started over not because I wanted to but just because of the way the circumstances were. So for me going to Angola and getting the chance to travel really was incredibly transformative. When I think of Lean Six Sigma, it’s quite hard for me, sometimes, to separate the benefits at home with the benefits that are abroad because I use define, measure, analyze, improve, control in everything I do, I feel like, every day. There’s Lean tools that I feel like I use every single day. So whether you’re talking about business and aligning yourself with value there or personally aligning yourself with the things that you find value in, either way, I just have such a passion for Lean Six Sigma and for really genuinely knowing that it can improve the way that we do our work.
B: I think every day, you start noticing this works in lots of different areas. I keep thinking I’m going to run into the situation where this doesn’t apply or doesn’t make sense, but I just can’t imagine where you wouldn’t see the ability to collect data and look at WASTE and better organization. All that just is rampant everywhere, that things will naturally degrade away from that. I don’t think there’s going to be a situation where that doesn’t apply or there isn’t something that can be adapted to that situation.
A: Definitely. And I think it’s funny because, for me, I started my career, since I started in oil and gas, that’s not manufacturing. I quite often get these questions around, “That’s manufacturing; that’s not going to work here. This is software,” or this is whatever type of production you’re doing. “It’s not going to work. This is our finance department, it doesn’t make sense.” But no matter what you do, once you start to open people up to the tools and to present the different intent behind the tools and how they can utilize them, it’s surprising how many people are able to just take them and run with them and leave that idea that they’re somehow associated with one industry or one type of work, leaving that behind. I think that that’s an exciting shift that’s happening within Lean Six Sigma overall is getting it into so many different industries.
B: I think that people are looking for that experience to say they need to know our industry to know how to help us. I think there is some value to that, to a point, but I think I’ve spent so many years in aerospace, I felt like, towards the end, I was starting to become part of the infrastructure and I don’t think I was as good at challenging stuff because I accepted a lot of the things. That takes so long and you have to get these approvals. I felt like I was starting to become too ingrained and less likely to identify some of the opportunities because of that. So I think a little experience to be able to talk the language but not too much where you’re just saying this can’t be done or there’s no way around it or just feeling [impeded 00:15:40] by the industry itself.
A: It’s funny how you see Lean Six Sigma people, as often as it is to have these teams that are long-term within these different companies, you get very complacent. You get very acceptive of this is the way it’s always been, you can’t change this, there’s nothing we can do about it, we tried to years ago. I see myself do that. Like I said, I was in Angola for five years and at Key Energy for six years and you start to get that talk unintentionally, just saying this can’t be done. You really have to be careful with that in Lean and Six Sigma.
I see a huge value, also, to being those fresh eyes that have to say why are you doing this? because I always like when someone new comes on the team, the newest employee on the team, and they’re like, “Why are we doing it this way? where did that come from?” and it turns out it’s some system they bought three years ago that they don’t even use and, for some reason, this was a rule that was still around. It’s funny those challenges that we miss when we get complacent.
B: We think that we’re so good at spotting this stuff, but when it’s in our own processes, I think we easily get blinded by that too. I catch myself doing something and I’m like I’ve been doing this for years like this. Why aren’t I able to identify that and resolve that? someone could easily have watched me for 10 minutes and just said something and I would’ve been too close to it basically to see it myself.
A: Even score carding, I think. I’m so passionate about getting people to use scorecards and getting some data that they look at routinely, whether it’s weekly or monthly or quarterly. Then for myself, I’m like do I really need to write it down? Yes. The answer is yes, you really need to write down what your goals are and align yourself to that because that’s what you’re going to move towards.
B: I had that discussion with my wife here. We were talking about business stuff and trying to explain to her what I do. She’s got a little bit more time now that she’s learning some of it and as I explain it and talking through this, I’m like you know what? we should really be doing this ourselves, like walking the talk. We should measure what’s important to us. We’ve been doing that the last couple of months and it’s been good to have that forced discussion, getting in the habit of just, every week, sitting down and talking through what’s our score this week on these specific different categories. But this other part of me is like why haven’t I been doing this for 20 years now? I should’ve been tracking progress on things that are important to me. I recommend those types of things in a process, but I don’t even do it myself, so I really think there’s that.
A: Yeah, just like adding up my bills and saying I want to reduce these by 5%. There’s 80 things that you can do to reduce your bills by a small amount each month if you want to take the time to look at it and take some action on it. Sometimes, that’s the hard part is taking the action. I’m sure the organizations that you’ve been in and that I’ve been and is that you have a lot of people with a lot of ideas, but taking action on those and moving them forward can be really challenging.
B: Yeah, that’s a perfect example, like the bills. We all know that we could sit down and organize our bills and probably find some things that we can cut down and reduce, but that takes work and we’re all busy. That’s exactly what we do with at our work too. People are busy and they have got an overload of things. If they have the time, it’s not complicated sometimes, maybe it is pretty easy if they just were able to take that first step. But since I’ve been a consultant on my own, I think I really noticed the lack of things that I’m doing in my own personal life that I should be doing, so it’s been good.
A: The graph, I need more graphs at home.
B: That’s right.
A: I have, the last I guess it’s been about four years now, I have a Post-it activity that I do at home where I brainstorm all the different things that I’d like to accomplish or different pieces. Because sometimes they’re such large goals, it’s hard to break them down into smaller things, so rather than saying, “I want to do stuff with whales,” because I’m really into cetacean groups, the first thing is I’m going to go to a talk. I might put some of those things up there and then I prioritize them. I choose only the top three and I just focus on trying to accomplish those small top three goals. I’ve been doing that for about three or four years and I’ve found a lot of success in just dwindling things down, looking at impact versus effort, looking at what I’m interested in, and then prioritizing just a few goals at a time to go after.
B: I think that’s so important. I think I, for years, used the action item list approach and kept trying to find new ways of making that work and I could never really get it really usable because it just would balloon into this monstrous thing after a while.
A: Mine’s a hundred long I think, right now.
B: So now, the last year or two, I’m trying to use the Kanban approach. I have an additional version I use. I’m using it more for projects instead of daily actions, but I still have a shortlist of things I want to get done in the day, but just try to switch to whatever major projects that will take maybe a couple of days or a week or so, try to limit that a little bit and then put all those other things on the backlog and try not to think about them. But just document it because that’s what I think I was most afraid of was losing the ideas.
Now, I log the idea, stick it in the backlog, and if it’s really important, it’ll probably come back up relatively soon and show up on my list at some point. And if it’s not, I know it’s always in there. If I ever run out of things to do or ideas, I can go back to that list, some I may never get to. I think that’s really helped me a lot trying to not feel overwhelmed by all the things I want to do.
A: I think there’s an important piece there, whether it’s at home or whether it’s at work. I definitely try to do it as much as I can with the prioritizations that I do, is whenever you complete an item, is to really celebrate that and acknowledge it. I know, for me, I tend to go what’s the next goal? that one’s done, let me move on. But I started using a journal so that I take that Post-it, I put it in the journal, and I write a page about I did this. I accomplished this and I’m going to take a moment to enjoy that rather than to just jump into the next thing because there is such a value in us celebrating those moments and not just jumping onto the next.
There’s value, as people, with the way that that resonates with us. I think that’s, to me, Lean Six Sigma, too, is why we try to do these projects that are incremental so that we have that moment afterwards to be like we improved this by 10% or by 5%. Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for a moment before we move on and take on that next step and give people a chance to celebrate that they’ve made a change, that they’ve done something that they’ve worked really hard for.
B: Absolutely, you’re right. You can just check off the list and move on. You had a book released recently. That’s a big accomplishment. Is that something you celebrated?
A: That was a bunch of Post-its for a long time, different goals I was working towards. Trying to summarize things that I’ve learned and experienced over six or seven years of travel. I’ve been to 50 countries, all seven continents. Like I said, a lot of that was dealing with grief, learning how to overcome those things, but also learning about yourself. Solo travel, for me, has been so empowering and sharing some of those tips with people just on what to do and what not to do, that makes it just a little bit easier.
I know I’m really passionate about Arctic and Antarctic explorers. Roald Amundsen has a quote that he says adventure is just bad planning. I think that resonates with me so much. If you want to have an adventure, you can plan less and definitely have an exciting vacation. But if that’s not what you’re looking for, then you need to do a lot of planning. And its even in the work we do is our outputs are a function of our input. It’s an exciting adventure to be able to share those tips in Travel Addict, which is the book I just published last week.
Are you looking for Lean or Six Sigma certification programs? check out 6sigma.us. I’m actually one of the Master Black Belt instructors. We offer computer-based online webinar and classroom training in Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt, and Lean agent training. Complete an improvement project and achieve your certification. Visit 6sigma.us for available classes near you or search for online classes that fit your schedule.
Want to better organize your work area or bring 5S methods into your organization? Check out the 5S Guide from Creative Safety Supply. You also get three free bonuses. Bonus number one, free 5S poster. Bonus number two, free 5S PowerPoint, and bonus number three, free 5S audit card. Go to leansixsigmaforgood.com/5S for the free downloads. They also provide floor tape markings, labels, signs, phone tool organizers, red tags, label printers, and other organization tools. Make sure you use code BPI at checkout to save 10%.
B: I think a lot of people think about things being really structured, and especially you get talking to people in research and development some of those areas. They’re like, “We don’t have really structured processes,” or, “I don’t want to get to a point where I have a detailed itinerary nailed down and a checklist of everything I accomplished and time nailed down.” I tell people you don’t have to. This is not something you have to apply to every single thing.
A good example is that travel. I don’t want it to be structured, I want it to be loose. When we traveled to California, we had no plan because I wanted to be flexible. I wanted to have that agility to go and say we want to stay two days here or let’s get out of here, I don’t like it. Let’s go somewhere else. What’s this off to the right? I don’t want to feel structured by that. That doesn’t mean that’s wrong, it’s just what are you try to get out of it and then say do I need structure there or not? so maybe that is the right outcome is I don’t want the structure. I want to see where this takes us.
A: It’s all about aligning yourself to your values, so what are you looking to get out of it? when I went for first went to London and Paris and I hadn’t traveled anywhere, I had every day of those 10 days planned. I wanted to see everything I could because I didn’t know that I’d ever come back. But now, that’s not what I’m getting out of it. I’m getting the chance to just walk around somewhere completely new and take in all the smells and the sights and the sounds. Sometimes, just that freedom of relaxing in a new place or wandering for a bit to get a chance to kind of learn from new people, to not know what’s next.
I know I traveled with a friend a few years ago through Europe and she planned everything in England and Scotland to the letter, which was great. That was fine, but I said we’re going to go to Ireland for a day on St. Patrick’s Day and we’re not going to plan anything. The waitress that we had, ended up inviting us to her condo, where she had a party, just outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we got to watch the parade. The lead St. Patrick’s guy in the parade ended up coming to the apartment afterwards. We couldn’t have ever had that experience if we had sat there and bought tickets for the bleachers, so you have to decide.
There’s a level of risk there too. You have that risk that we could have been part of the crowd, trying to look over somebody’s head. You’ve just got to decide what type of adventure you’re willing to take on. For the Antarctic and the Arctic explorers, those risks were quite high. It’s quite fascinating to me to see the ways that they implemented efficiency, that I would even argue Lean tools, to make their expeditions more efficient.
B: How about setting up an organization? NWEA, or just in general when you’ve gone into a new place, what are some of the things you look for or hope to set up? what do you look for first? what are your thoughts on building up the culture? do you do certain types of training first? How do you approach it from a leadership side of it? can you talk me through your approach? maybe this falls under your new consulting, but what would an engagement look like?
A: Especially coming in as a consultant, one of the most important things that you’re going to need or be looking for is that management commitment to change and really getting an idea. Not just we want to implement continuous improvement, but what does that mean for you? what are the things that you want to see? what does a good day look like? what does a bad day look like? are there any specific goals that you’re going after that you want to see change? is there data for that? Who do we talk to to have that data? What do the cross-functional teams look like?
the first thing that I want to really understand is what that organization sees as value. Once I see what that organization sees as value, then we can start developing a plan in terms of how to improve and get the efficiency that we’re looking for within that organization. Because what you see over and over again are these organizations that have these islands of efficiency, but they’re not effective. They’re not moving the dial on the specific thing that’s important to the management team or to the organization or, essentially, to the customer. Whether that’s nonprofit or whether that’s a for-benefit corporation or a benefit corporation, regardless of that, you’re going to have some kind of customer or person or organization that you’re serving, so really understanding what that benefit is that you’re providing so that we can make improvements on that first is what I’m going to be focused on.
The second thing is going to be understanding the organization as a whole. What does that culture look like? is it a culture that shuts down its employees when it shares issues and mistakes or failures? Is it an organization that embraces that? if you’re looking at an organization that needs to go through a culture shift to adapt continuous improvement, then that’s going to be an engagement that might be longer-term. That will definitely need management buy-in, but it will also need the bottom-up, the other people in the organization, to build that trust and excitement and energy that we can turn that ship that we can make those goals we seek out to.
I think one of the things that I really bring to the table in the organizations that I’ve worked in is, over and over again, I hear, “What makes you different? We’ve had all these different consultants in, we have different people come in and we just haven’t achieved the benefit that we’re looking for. We haven’t got it off the ground. People aren’t excited.” For me, a lot of it is about being persistent, about not letting people excuses or frustrations keep you from thinking that this is something that can be achieved.
I know when I worked with a refinery in Texas, one of the first things I heard was, “You guys have been here for a year and nothing has changed.” I had stepped into the engagement that a team had already been in there and it took probably three to six months for that team to trust me. But once we started to see the changes that we were looking for, that team gets an entirely different perspective on the engagement.
Also, if you start to find out what’s important to the teams you’re working on. One of the first things that I like to do are day-in-the-life observations or going out with some of the key employees and sitting down and observing what they do all day, from the time that they arrived to work to the time that they go home. Inevitably, at the beginning of the day, what I hear people say is, “Everything’s great. I’m fine. I don’t know why you’re here,” but as long as you keep an open mind and you keep them talking and interested and that you are genuinely interested in understanding what’s going on with them. I’ll often ask them questions like what makes you excited to come to work everyday? some people say it’s the team I work with. I like finishing these jobs, so you can get an idea of how happy the person is in their current position.
I also like to ask them things like what improvements do you see? at the beginning of the day, and I’ve been doing this since I started in oil and gas and driving a Prius up to a rig and tack, what is it that we can do or what ideas do you have to improve? at the beginning, they’ll always say there’s nothing. They’ll shut you down and walk away. But then throughout the day, as they see that you’re committed, that you’re interested, that you’re not there to audit them or inspect them or tell them what they’re doing wrong, they’ll come to you with these great ideas like we’re using a wrench to do this when we could be using an impact gun or whatever that tool is that it’s like this team is using this and it’s way better. Those are little things that you can do to help those teams get better as well as gain their trust so that when you do do harder projects, they’re there with you and they’re interested and the improvements that you make are sustainable.
I know at the refinery, like I said, there wasn’t a lot of confidence that we were going to be able to achieve the changes that we were looking for. We were asking those teams to really do something incredibly challenging that they did not think was achievable. While we did achieve our goal, which was reducing work orders by 40%, which was something like 8000 work orders in the year we eliminated, it was a huge amount, but that team, one of the biggest steps forward that we took at the beginning was I went out with the planner all day.
I did a day-in-the-life observation and I saw he was on the speakerphone all the time, it was really loud, people were coming in and out, somebody else on in the office was on the speakerphone. He had his screen with the work order up. Every time you wanted to look at the work order, he had to scroll right and then scroll down rather than having a monitor that fit the whole screen of the work order. So the next few weeks, we reorganized where all the planners and schedulers sit, we got people the monitors that they needed, and we got them headsets. We came in, it was spring break, we came in and it was so quiet we thought everybody’s off on spring break. But the next week, it was quiet, and the week after, it was quiet. So we started seeing an increase in their productivity as we also got things that made their jobs way easier.
B: I think that’s a great approach. I think it serves two purposes, too. It’s not only building trust, which I think is the most important element of that, but whenever I go into an area, I’m pretty clueless what they’re doing and so I am learning. By sitting and watching, I get to understand their work so I can be helpful to them by saying, “Now I understand how the flow works and I kind of understand the type of work you do and the difficulty of it and where there’s challenges and how you make decisions about what work to work on next and where you take things.”
I think of the side conversations that happen. Something will happen that then triggers a comment, like you said, “Everything’s fine,” and then it’s like something happens and then you’re are there and you see it and you ask that question like, “What’s going on there? can you explain that a little bit?” “Every once in a while, this seems to keep coming up and this glitches,” or they lose the information and have to go back and retype it in. That would never have come up had you not been there sitting and watching and then they probably wouldn’t have mentioned it because they don’t really know why you would want to know something minute like that. It happens all the time, it’s really not that big a deal because they’re just used to it now.
A: When I started my career at Key Energy, I was working for the West Coast Director on a project where we took all this information and we put it into a database that then spit out a daily scorecard that management could look at. I was working with the software gut to develop all of this and if the software developer and the manager sat down together, they couldn’t even speak to each other. They had no idea what the other one was trying to communicate. One was saying, “I want this chart that’s this big that does all of these things,” and the other guy is going, “What color do you want the font?” They were just on such distinctly different paths.
I think as we work as Lean Six Sigma consultants coming in, we get to be, one, the advocate for those people on the front lines, but two, we can start to articulate some of those concerns in ways that they’re communicated in management in terms of numbers and data and really speaking those terms that management needs to make decisions about what’s right and what’s going to be the benefit for the organization if we do move this forward and some of that communication barriers.
B: The number of steps that someone is walking, I think that’s something eye-opening. We’ll do the math and say, “Holy cow, they were gone eight minutes between operations,” then you multiply the math and the manager is like, “Yeah, that’s a no-brainer. Why don’t we fix that?” But before, no one sat down and watched or counted something like that, so they just think it’s just a minor thing, no big deal. But over the course of a year, that’s hours and hours of time.
A: I had a dispatcher I worked with. He had to communicate to all of the pilots of the vessels by radio and all the pilots of the vessels had a screen where they could see where all the boats or vessels were. It was like to get this dispatcher this screen. This reduces 90% of the radio chatter. Just make his job so much easier. Once they did that, it had such a great improvement. It was so much quieter, one, in their office. Two, he didn’t have to ask all these questions to find out where the boats were. It’s funny how those little things just somehow slip through the cracks with all of the other information.
It’s just like when we talk about Lean and value-added and non-value-added steps and just trying to see through all the waste to see what is the value. As you start knocking out those big things, that are often somewhat simple, you can start to see the bigger opportunities and get people used to capturing data and let’s start talking in terms of numbers. Let’s teach those people, those operators, how did they start to be able to articulate this?? How do they put that information together? it’s exciting to be the one to help them communicate that and to be able to share that because it’s a personal victory for them as well as professional.
I don’t know if you’d asked earlier about working in a nonprofit, but I think when you’re looking at implementing Lean Six Sigma there, one of the biggest differences that I see is people’s work is really aligned to their value system and their personal value. I think one thing that I need to improve on or have taken with me in terms of working with a nonprofit is that when you look at some of these challenges, it’s not something that the person just sees as this is something frustrating at work. This is something we need to get through at work. It touches their personal values and they can become quite disheartened and frustrated and depressed not just within the confines of the office, but taking that home because it’s such an integral part of who they are.
I think that just speaks to how we have to really be conscious of working with people and their culture, making sure that things are there, that psychological safety is there. Making sure that we can show them what that path is to that better place that we’re building, that there is a path there, that the future is better than the past, that we are going somewhere positive and they’re a part of that, that going through the five stages of grief is something that’s normal for anyone going through this type of change, so they’re not alone and it’s something that we can talk about. I think, for me, that was one of the biggest changes was just seeing how personal people took these things because it was so core to their values versus looking at some of these problems and just seeing that as something we can work on while we’re at work.
B: That’s a good point. Because I think in the traditional for-profit, people are passionate about their work, but I don’t think they’re taking the mission of the organization home with them where they’re feeling that burden there. They’re able to separate that a little bit and just say work is over, I’m going home, to not think about it. That’s true, you can’t just shut that off when you’re working on something that you care about and is important and you feel like you’re not making a difference and you can’t figure out why. It’s almost more frustrating than not working on it at all. You feel I can make a difference, but I’m somehow not able to for some reason. That can be really frustrating.
A: It’s important to balance that training as well. One piece is just completing projects and hitting numbers, but the other side is the training. Getting people to learn these structured problem-solving techniques so that they can apply those to their work, whether it’s in small ways or large ways, but that they have confidence that things are going to get better, that they’re going to change. Having that management commitment to see those little things like getting a headset. Okay, they are committed. We are going to be different this time. It’s not the same as it’s been before. That’s why I’m excited to start to work with teams again and to be able to see some of those changes, offering the training. I know, through Lean Portland, I have training this month. I’ll probably put some on the calendar for next month or July as well to do some free Lean Six Sigma…
B: Do you want to talk about those a little bit? what are the topics you’re going to cover?
A: Sure. May 20, tomorrow, is the first one. I’ll probably offer it in June or July, once I get some feedback from tomorrow’s event. That one is just a simple exercise where we look for low hanging fruit in our processes by using downtime, identifying waste in our processes, and getting a nice list together of improvements that we can possibly go after right after the event. That one is tomorrow, it’s an hour and a half. On the 21st, I’m going to do a training. All of these are through Lean Portland on Eventbrite. On the 21st, it’s going to be looking at that champion interview, so what are some of the questions that you want to talk to management about to really understand whether this project is going to be viable and sustainable if you do move it forward.
Then next week, the 27th, I’m going through the input process to output diagram, doing a workshop just on how to complete that activity. Really good activity for anybody that’s going to take on a continuous improvement project. It’s going to help you break down what the process is and understand what that value is, what are the measures that you might want to see change, where you can go after some of that data, get you started on identifying what those root causes are or where you can look for information on those root causes, as well as a steppingstone if you want to do something more advanced, like the SIPOC or a Turtle diagram. That’s a fun activity we’re going to do next week. And like I said, I expect to have some on the calendar for June and July as well.
B: Anything else? this has been great.
A: It’s been great getting to chat with you and talk about some of these challenges. Like I said, I just started kicking off Beautiful Opportunities, a continuous improvement consulting firm. We’re looking to offer Lean Six Sigma training and consulting, project mentoring, and execution. You can connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more information. I think, in July, we’ll probably have our first workbook that’s going to be released, which will be looking at 12 exercises, so like a quarter of exercises that you can do, one per week, 30 minutes to an hour that you could spend with your team identifying ways to improve or start to get some of that vernacular into your organization.
I’m hoping that’s something that managers or new Yellow Belts or Green Belts would be able to use with their teams to just get used to utilizing some of these tools and starting to kick start these conversations about improvement, especially to organizations that maybe don’t have as much access to large consulting firms or some of the bigger capital-intensive ways of gaining continuous improvement insights.
B: I’ll add an email address too. How about LinkedIn? Do you use that much?
A: Yeah. On LinkedIn, I am Amanda ZimmermanLSS is my handle on there. I also have Instagram @beopportunity, and I’ll have the website up in June at beopportunity.com.
B: Instagram and LinkedIn as well, so no excuses for anyone not to do it. You’ve got plenty of ways to connect.
A: Perfect. Thank you so much for your time today, Brion. It’s been great chatting.
B: Thank you. We’ll continue to chat, I’m sure, many, many times. Thanks for your time.
A: Thank you. Have a great day.
Are you interested in learning more about Lean and Six Sigma or are you looking to expand your existing skills to apply them to environmental impacts at your work or in the local community? Check out our free online course, called Lean Six Sigma and the Environment, on thinkific.com. We’ll teach you about the Lean forms of waste and WASTE walks, which stands for Water, Air Emissions, Solid Waste, Toxins, and Energy. We’ll go over examples of reducing electricity and solid waste, teach you how to involve your Facilities, and Environment, Safety, and Health personnel. We’ll provide guidance on how to green your 5S and Lean kaizen events and many other tools specific to finding environmental opportunities. Learn more at leansixsigmaenvironment.org.