E071: Interview with Brad Miller from University of Houston34 min read
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In this podcast, I interview Brad Miller, who is Senior Professor of Practice in the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, and teaches courses in Supply Chain Management. He shares his success with teaching students how to apply lean and Six Sigma methods in their homes and at their part-time jobs, including two projects that were done with local nonprofits.
This interview was conducted for the IISE Sustainable Development Division, of which I’m the current president for 2020-2021. I invited another board member Anuj Mittal to join me, who is also passionate about helping nonprofits.
- Brad Miller Profile at UH
- Bradley Miller YouTube Channel
- Videos mentioned:
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- FREE online course called “Lean Six Sigma and the Environment”
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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.
Brion (B): We’ve got Brad Miller here. He’s a professor with the Bauer School at the University of Houston. What I had first learned about you was through your supply chain management course. I saw these videos that have been posted on YouTube from your students taking your class that were applying in their home life and projects on campus, these methods that you were teaching them, and then you were uploading a lot of your own personal videos. I was just really impressed with the program as a way to really get people to practice real-life applications of these tools and concepts. And then I had noticed a couple of the projects were related to the nonprofit, which is something that our division is really trying to promote is how do we get these concepts into organizations that are working on Sustainable Developing Goals and important issues.
Maybe you could start with a little bit of the background, how you got into… Your background, we just briefly touched on, but also then your teaching career. Maybe we’ll start there.
Brad (BM): Yeah, sure. I started my career in manufacturing and my undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering and so got a degree in manufacturing. I didn’t really know, being young, right out of school, didn’t really know what it was that I was destined to do. I got into manufacturing and making things. The first company I worked at, we were making shopping carts. I think the short story of how I got into process improvement was I was young, newly married, and we were headed into a busy season. The demand had just ramped up and so my boss told me, “Hey, you’ve been doing good managing this little part of the manufacturing process on first shift. I want you to manage the whole second shift. Just come in and you’ll manage the whole thing.” I’ll tell you what, I started that, I didn’t know what second shift was all about, but I started doing that and I hated it. I did not want to be there on second shift. Just the hours were terrible for being a newlywed and my wife was working too, so we never saw each other.
So I went into my boss and I said, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this anymore,” and he said, “Well, we’ve got to have the second shift on because we have to double our capacity and this is the only way to do it. Now, I don’t know, if you can figure out a way to get twice as much done with the same people in first shift, then we won’t have to do it.” So I didn’t know anything about process improvement. All I knew is, I guess, some of these systems thinking from mechanical engineering and looking at the process and seeing how the process was working and what it was we were trying to accomplish and what people were doing. I ended up working with him and we figured out a way to more than double the production just doing it on first shift.
When we did that, there were a lot of challenges and things, of course, going through it, but when I did, I looked back and I said this was fun. I enjoyed this. That’s where I learned that this is what I really enjoy doing and just realized that I’d really been doing this for a long time, thinking this way, and just really enjoyed it. So pursued learning more about it, got to practice in other companies, a company making silicon wafers for the semiconductor industry, and one making high-security door locks.
Progressively, Lean was becoming more popular in manufacturing and started to get to experience some of that, some of the concepts, and then pursued it on my own, learning and practicing on my own as well. I realized that the part of my job that I really enjoyed was coaching and teaching others how they can improve their own work and so investigated a variety of ways to do that. That’s when I got involved with academics. Got a PhD in industrial engineering, went up and taught process improvement and Lean Six Sigma concepts at the Ohio State University for a while and now down in Houston at the Bauer College of Business here in Houston and love it.
I love teaching the concepts, bringing some of my experience that I had in manufacturing to the classroom. I tell my students this – I’ll teach, for instance, this fall, I’ll teach about almost 150 students these concepts from Lean and Six Sigma – and I tell them all of them will learn the concepts and the definitions and how the things work together, but I always tell them, “There will be a few of you,” and it’s usually, I don’t know, somewhere between maybe 15, 20 out of the students, that I feel really get it and as I’m talking with them, their eyes brightened up and open up and you can really tell something has clicked in their mind, that this is a new way of thinking about how work gets done. That’s what I live for is those moments when people really understand it and they can begin to apply it for themselves.
B: That’s great. You also mentioned about the practical application of those concepts, that it wasn’t so much maybe getting wrapped up in the academia side of it.
BM: A few moments ago when you and I were getting to know each other a little better, I was just saying I like teaching in the business college because I get to teach those industrial engineering Lean Six Sigma concepts. And we definitely use the math, the students are required to understand some of the math behind it, but the bigger piece of process improvement is how the math, how that translates into changing the way people work. That doesn’t happen in a command, it doesn’t happen well, in my opinion, in a command-and-control environment, “I’m the boss. I’m telling you this is the way we’re going to do things. Do it the way I’m saying.” That tends to backfire and I know that from experience.
That was my first job role, trying to change people’s – got lots of story about that- but trying to change people’s way of doing work and, wow, it was like pushing a rope. It was just not fun at all. That it works so much better when your management practices, you actually change the culture in the organization so that the people in the organization come up with these ideas, come up with ways of improving on their own. Many times, they’re actually able to change things or make the improvements better than you would, so I love doing that.
B: And then I’ve noticed that supply chain management seems to teach this quite a bit, probably in the industrial engineering in terms of people who are coming out of school with some of this knowledge already, which I think is great that we’re seeing more and more students getting introduced to this in the school level, but I was just kind of surprised. I never expected the supply chain management to be a driver of that as well, but I guess it makes sense to me as I think about what they do. Is that something that’s changed over the years or has always been kind of been there or has this been a part of the supply chain management growth and that field?
BM: I think the terminology, the concept of a field of study called supply chain management is relatively new. Packaging that together, the way that I explain this to students is, I don’t know when many of your viewers were in school, but I know when I was in school, we took a class called operations management, which was this is how we manage our operation and how we do things inside of this little box and of course, we have to interact with suppliers and we have to interact with customers. That’s part of it, but most of the meat of what really happens is inside of this little box.
People started to realize every company, along what we now refer to as the supply chain, when every company does that, tries to optimize their own little black box, they end up sub-optimizing the entire supply chain where everybody’s looking out for themselves. It’s just like in a manufacturing process where you have multiple processes. I can do something in my step of the process that makes things very good for me but makes it worse for the next person down the line. Companies were realizing we can really offer our products and services higher quality, cheaper, faster if we collaborate together and figure out ways to optimize the entire chain or to move toward higher efficiencies in the entire chain as opposed to sub-optimizing the individual parts.
But a lot of the concepts, there’s a lot of overlap between supply chain management and industrial engineering. Everything from inventory management, warehouse optimization, the way that material management moves around a business, the way inventory moves around a business, or the way that you manage your inventory levels. Of course, with Lean and Six Sigma, the operations piece, how the actual work gets done, as well as figuring out logistics algorithms for where to put warehouses or how to move trucks around and move material around the country. All of those things are born in industrial engineering and the math concepts are heavy into the industrial engineering side, but again, in supply chain management, in every one of our classes, we focus on the management components of if you are a manager managing these things, how do you coordinate the work of the people that are working for you to actually make that happen? How do you build those relationships? How do you build that culture?
B: Cool. So you have the students who are going through one of the particular classes, I think, where you’re teaching Lean. I noticed that they have a very simple, like a quick kaizen or two-second Lean type of an improvement, and then it escalates up to a little bit bigger improvement, and then maybe a full kaizen at the end. Is that how I’m understanding just looking at the videos?
BM: Yeah. In my class, the way it’s structured, there are different assignments. I feel like, and I’m sure you and many of your viewers can sense this, it’s different to learn about Lean or to learn about Lean concepts, tools, techniques, and Six Sigma as well, it’s different when you actually practice them. Now, some of the practice, we can do in the classroom. In the class, I can do a sim (simulation) where I can get students in smaller groups and we can do a root cause analysis and I can walk them through each of the groups going through that and seeing how that personal interaction works with that or an interrelationship diagram or a prioritization matrix and those are things that they can then experience in the classroom. But one thing that is going to be more meaningful to students is if they actually make improvements in their own life.
I’ve found that if students were able to improve their own processes, things that are meaningful to them, it’ll tend to stick more. And again, like I mentioned before, not with everybody, but I get a better hit rate if I can do that. So I force, I guess, all of my students to do one small improvement. That idea comes from Paul Akers, who’s a real proponent of the two-second Lean, just the fix what bugs you. Something’s not right, let’s just make the change and fix it, and it’s something really, really simple.
I don’t want to bore all your people, but this is just one of mine from just recently is on my phone case, I’ve got these little port – you probably can’t see it on the camera – but I’ve what these little port covers because they get filled with lint. When I use it when I am in the car, because I’ve got an older car, I plug-in instead of using a Bluetooth, and so I’ve got this one port where the headphones go in, the headphone jack or the audio jack. It was hard for me to pull that out with the phone case and those sorts of things, so what I did I just tied a thread around it, a real short thread, so that it’s really easy. I don’t know if you can see that, but it’s just on a thread and it’s easy for me to pull out, easy for me to find, easy for me to put back in. That cost me nothing. It was a little piece of thread, I just tied it around there, and it’s a small improvement. But it’s those sorts of things that I want students to experience to say you don’t have to struggle with this thing and just say that’s just the way life is. You also don’t have to go on Amazon and look for the expensive technology solution. I just need a new phone that’s able to do something different. Pretty easy, it didn’t take me much time, it didn’t take any money at all, and you can make that change, and so I want students to experience that.
I force every one of them to do one of those. I give them opportunities to do others for extra credit. But then some of the project videos that you see online is a full semester project and I lead them through the entire process of improving a real process, something that’s meaningful to them in their lives or something that one of the students can experience. Some of them don’t have access to work locations, so they’ll reorganize someone’s kitchen and work it around the meal cooking processes in the kitchen, but a lot of the students, you mentioned nonprofits, some of them are volunteering different places and so they’ll do it at the places where they volunteer. A lot of them have internships and co-ops, and so they’ll do these projects at their co-ops or their internships, the places where they’re working.
They’ll find a process, a real business process, where they can see that there’s problems and then they work, over the semester, at how to improve it. We start with me teach them how to identify waste and that’s how we scope out the projects is I say you just have to be able to see the waste. You don’t have to know how to fix it; you just have to be able to see that there’s waste. If you see that there’s waste, we can find ways to improve it.
They’re teams of, typically four, five, six students each and they go in, they start looking at waste, they map out the processes, we do some analytics on the processes. They work with the employees that are actually doing the work in those businesses to figure out ways that to improve. I really push the students that you are not telling the company or telling the workers how to improve their work. You are leading them through the improvement process that I’m leading you through in class. You become the teacher and you get to teach these same concepts to the people that are in those processes and you’re going to be collaborative and figure this out.
We can talk about the nonprofits, I know that’s what you guys are really interested in is those, but those that you brought up were really interesting. But one of my favorites was one of my students came to me and she said, “My dad owns a mechanics shop. He’s a car mechanic. He owns this little shop and he does transmission rebuilds and replaces transmissions.” She says, “When I walk into the shop, I can see that it looks like some of the things you showed us in class that there’s some waste there. The problem is I’ve never helped him do anything in the shop. I don’t know anything about cars or anything about building transmissions, so I don’t know how we’re going to do this.” I said, “You tell me what waste do you see?” and she told me some of the things that she could see waste-wise and I said, “Then we can fix it, but you aren’t the one that is going to do the project; it’s your dad who’s going to. This is the first time that you’ve got your teacher telling you you can let your parents do your homework this time because your dad’s going to do this project and you or your team will be there to facilitate, be there to be a resource for him to do a lot of the heavy lifting, the physical work, but you’re going to train/teach him to be able to see waste and then he will figure out ways of improving this.”
I remember her telling me she said, “I told my dad about this, but he said, ‘You’re welcome to come and let your group work in my shop and help me out with this, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve already figured out the best way to build a transmission. But I want to help you, so if you say it’s helpful to you and your professor lets you do it, then great. Come on in and we’ll show you around.'” He ended up – and that video is up on YouTube – I forget what it was, it was something like he reduced the time it takes to rebuild a transmission by 60% or something like that and it cost him like less than $50 in material stuff to organize things to make it happen. Anyway, those are fun to see.
B: I think that those concepts are really applicable in business too. I think people think, “I’m working for a company and they’ve got money, so we’re going to go straight to some kind of high-tech solution or fancy solution because I want to make it look nice and make it look like I came up with this awesome, cool solution.” But I think it’s actually when you get in there, it is really practical solutions like that that are most effective and you can actually get somewhere without we’ve got to get a quote and then we’ve got to wait three weeks and compare. And then you put it in place and it doesn’t work and now you’re even in a worse situation. So these low-cost solutions are really the right way to go.
BM: Yeah, it’s creativity first. I tell my students I say, look, in these projects, it’s low cost or no cost. That’s what you’re doing. Some students will say the company said that they wanted to buy some piece of technology to help improve the process and they’ve already committed to doing it, and I told them that’s fine. If that’s what the company wanted to do and they’re going to put that in, then great, but for the project, you won’t get credit. That won’t contribute toward your grade at all because I want you to use the no cost, low-cost creative solutions where all you’re doing is really removing waste. You know the thing that we say in Lean, if you just take automation or some piece of technology and try to replicate a process, many times, what you end up doing is you end up replicating the waste, you end up automating waste. And then when the process changes, which it will, and when the customer needs change, all of a sudden, your technology is out of date, obsolete, and you’ve got to buy something new.
B: Yeah or you’re stuck with that solution.
BM: Yeah, exactly. It limits you then, right? so let’s be creative and have fun.
B: How was the connection made with the students? they already had a connection with the nonprofits, like Heeling Soles and Project C.U.R.E.? did they go seek that out? Because I think that’s something we’re trying to figure out with our division is how can we connect up the students with an organization, preferably a nonprofit in their area, and how can that connection- I guess what has worked with those organizations or other organizations like that in terms of making that initial connection? is that established relationship really important? is that a key thing?
BM: I’ve done it both ways. I have, for projects in the past, had a company that has pushed me and said, “We’d like you to do an event at our location with students and use that as a project,” and I’ve done that if a company is willing to provide that support. I will tell you that the projects that I do now, large, large, large majority is the students going out and finding that themselves. The reason that I think that that works best is that they have established relationships in those companies, so they’ve been working as an intern, they know the people that are in those job roles, they’ve been working with the managers, they have those established relationships. So much about Lean and the way that you improve processes is building and sustaining those relationships that the projects become easier if there’s an established relationship there already where people are actually doing the work.
A lot of times, it’s what the students do. In an internship, they have a job role and, in their job role, they see a lot of that waste and they say I just want to make an improvement to my own job. That’s the best way to do a student project. In the two cases that you brought up with the nonprofit, Project C.U.R.E. and then the Heeling Soles organization, there was a student in each of those groups that that’s just what they did, they volunteered there. They wanted to give back to the community and that’s what they had a passion around. They, of course, asked their supervisors at those companies, “Can I bring in some more students and improve these parts of the process?” But it was they were already doing the work, they were already involved with it, they were frustrated with the way the processes were going, and they wanted it to be better but they didn’t know how. So they explored it using a project and those two really turned out well.
B: I think it does sound like that’s an important element is to have that connection or work with an organization that you already have a foot in the door or have already reached out to them. I’m wondering probably if it comes off better as students’ approach versus if you were out there trying to make the connections, would they embrace it more or maybe it is better that the students are the ones making the contact.
BM: I think your organization, you could probably find ways to do it in different ways. For the context of my class, it works out best if the students are the ones that are initiating that relationship because they’re able to keep that ball rolling. A lot of times, in an organization, I’ve found that the management in an organization, things pop up. My projects are a whole semester-long, so during that semester, the managers get distracted by other things that are happening in the business, understandably so, and so then this little student group that wants to come in takes a backseat to whatever else is happening in their business that’s commanding their attention.
I think my students have a different perspective if they are handed a project and they say, “Group, you can do your project in this company,” then there’s that sense that this company should be helping to facilitate how that project goes, which I think that the company should but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Whereas if it’s the students that have taken the initiative, they have the drive, they have that internal motivation to say, “No, this is what I want to improve. I’m going to make this happen.” They initiated it, they are the ones that built that relationship to make that happen to get in there, and so they’re the ones that end up seeing it through. I’ll often see projects where there’s difficulties or challenges midway through with just accessibility in the organization and then the students that have chased after those opportunities themselves, they have the energy to go and push forward to make that project happen.
B: Are you the coach, basically, for their projects so they’re coming back with, “Here’s what we learned. Here’s what we did,” and you’re asking those questions and leading them through that project?
BM: Yes. The way I manage my projects is that I have milestones, baby milestones all the way through. For instance, one of the first steps is find a project and tell me what it is and why you think this might be a good project. I want them to tell me about the waste that’s in there. Then another milestone is show me a video of the process happening. That way, it’s not a real gemba for me, but at least I can see their gemba a little bit from a third-person perspective and it helps me to weed out there’s sometimes when- I just want them to be successful and I want their first experience in doing process improvement to be successful. There’s some that I can see are going to be more challenging just by watching what’s going on, so I help guide students away from that.
The next milestone is I want you to list all of the steps that happen in the process that you see the video, so let’s just watch the video and write down what happens, and I want you to mark the ones that are value-added where some transformation is actually happening. And so I have those little assignments and then I grade those as I’m going through and it gives me an opportunity to then coach students to say, “Let’s reevaluate this,” or, “You’re not seeing what I’m seeing with this.” Sometimes, I’ll request that student groups come in and chat with me in person where we can talk about things or help develop “solutions” together or talk about what an approach might be for the project and so then, on a case-by-case basis, I will do individual coaching then with each team. But I try to get each team individualized advice all the way through to help them to be successful, but it’s up to them to actually do that implementation, it’s up to them to actually make those changes happen.
B: So they’re probably getting a lot of good change management practical skills working with the organizations.
BM: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll tell you a little bit, just because you had asked about it because we didn’t talk about it much, if you’d like to hear. I loved the Project C.U.R.E. That was a really fun project to do, especially since a lot of the classic stuff that happens in a process improvement happened during that project where they wanted to go to smaller batch size, smaller batches, more toward a one-piece flow. Not technically a one-piece flow like take one part off of a truck and classify it, but at least smaller batches to help things flow through. The manager at the business was saying, “This is the way we’ve always done things. You’re welcome to make things neater and put some labels on stuff, but don’t mess with the way that the whole work is being done because I like it that way.” That was sort of the-
B: “We’ve already figured it out.”
BM: Yeah, right. And so I coached them to say, and as I said, this happens a lot, so, “Why don’t we try this tack?” I want you to go and say, “Instead of redesigning the whole process of the way you do things, can we take this one small category and just create a pilot area over to the side where this little pilot area, we would classify or organize the stuff for this one category of supplies that come into Project C.U.R.E. in this one little area and it will be a model of the way things could be, and then that way, we could just see. If it doesn’t work, if we do it and it’s slower and less reliable and the quality is less and it’s more frustrating, then it won’t be a big change. It’s just moving a couple of tables around and that’s pretty easy, we can move it back. Nothing’s changed really. But if it works, at least you’ll be able to see that it works and it will give you some ideas about maybe the way that you could roll this out to the rest of the business.” So we got to do that. That was some negotiation that they had to do to create this little pilot line and that ended up it was a huge, huge improvement and was really received well.
I loved the one, the Heeling Soles project, was one where this was – if you’ve seen the video, and maybe you could put the link in your video notes or something, put a link to that one – that was really fun. The team came to me and said we’ve got this charity where we go and pick up these shoes and then we take them downtown to where there’s a lot of homeless folks and we set up shop down there and they come in and they’ll trade out their old shoes with holes and everything in them, and then we give them a new or a less used pair of shoes. We have to find the right size, we have to find the style that they want, those sorts of things. You’ll see in the video how it was originally organized.
And so I remember, for that team, they were telling me a little about their gemba but I wasn’t really understanding it much and I said, “I would love to come out with you and I’ll help you do it.” They did it on a Saturday or whatever and I said, “Let me come out with you one Saturday and do the process with you, and that way, I can experience that gemba as well.” It was so much fun because, as you and your viewers know, one of the most important things about Lean is that you have to have your customer in mind. You have to know who’s my customer, what is it that my customer wants. You can do all kinds of things to improve your internal processes that may make your company’s profit better or whatever internal metrics you have that makes those numbers look better or makes you look good, but it doesn’t make a difference in the customer’s mind. To the customer, you haven’t really done anything. It has to have an impact on the customer. The really neat thing about that project is the customer is right there and so we’re able to identify.
And so we had a discussion, what is it that you can see that the customer struggles with? There was like it was disorganization and they were fighting to get in front of one another. Then when they saw a shoe that they wanted or whatever, that they were frustrated that you couldn’t find the right size or you didn’t know who was next. It was like this big mob and you didn’t know who was next in line and how that all worked, and then it was taking forever. We timed out how long it took to interact with one of the customers there. I forget what the timing was, but it was just a long time and I said what does the customer want? The customer wants to find exactly the shoe that they want in the size that they want it and they want it to take as little time as possible.
And then we also identified, in that project, that one of the outcomes that we wanted is that most of the people that were involved – and you’ll see this in the video – most of the people that were involved with that process had their head in a box looking around for the right shoe, and that is not face-to-face interaction with the customer. One of the things we wanted to do was reconfigure the process so that the volunteers actually had more meaningful eye-to-eye contact, respectful contact, with their customers. That was important and that’s a side effect of this is showing some human respect for folks in this situation. And so that’s really how we redesigned the project process is to not only provide faster, higher quality service, but we did it in a way that respected the humanity of the customers, the people that were coming and getting these shoes. I that that was just a really, really cool, very unique project.
B: I think that’s a great message too, is this isn’t about just making you work faster, it’s actually free you up so you can do the more valuable thing. And especially like in some nonprofits, it’s that interaction that is really critical with their volunteers to make sure that they’re feeling part of the organization and the mission. And with the people they’re serving, to make sure that they’re having a good experience and not just to send them through the soup kitchen line, but to actually have the time to talk to them and that’s value-added for this process. I think that’s a really important piece.
BM: Yeah, especially in a lot of face-to-face nonprofit organizations, that’s an important outcome. And if you can remove the waste – this is what we discussed in this project – if you can remove the waste from the physical stuff that has to happen in that process, if you can remove the waste from that, it frees you up to have more time to have face-to-face interaction with another human being, which is a good thing.
B: Yeah, absolutely. Anuj, did you have any questions?
Anuj (A): Yeah, one of the projects that we did at nonprofit at Dunwoody is like you mentioned that it’s very important to have the students make the connection. For our project, it was kind of a reverse thing that we gave the faculty the connection with the nonprofit, which is called Second Harvest Heartland. We secured a project from them by having multiple meetings over the last summer and we understood what exactly they need. Then we gave a couple of students to them, with them. I really get your point that it’s very important that it comes from the students and I think that’s the best. I would completely agree to that, that because they identify the nonprofit and the project for themselves, so they are more enthusiastic.
But one thing, definitely, we also observed, the students, when they initially started working on the project with Second Harvest Heartland, which is a food bank in Minneapolis, initially, there was some… They was some fear because it was like they were not exactly knowing the nonprofit, what exactly they’re doing, what is their process. It’s more of a lot of data-oriented project, so it was a little bit overwhelming, but once they started to get some results and they could see where the nonprofit can use the results for betterment of the community, they got more and more engaged and they got more and more enthusiastic, actually. I think the nonprofit drive, like how their work will impact the community, was the strongest motivation for the students to be involved in the project.
BM: I think it can work that way. In my classroom context, the way it is right now, it works well for students to pick their own. I think it can absolutely work where you have organizations that approach you or where you approach organizations and talk with them. I will tell you, I think that your folks will need to be facilitators of that relationship to help maintain that relationship. There has to be initiative on both sides, both your students or your volunteers that are going, as well as the management of that organization. If either of them drop the ball, the thing won’t happen. At least that’s been my experience. And so you and your members then are the facilitators of that and you have to stay on top of how are things going? Are they able to meet? are they able to go in? and have appointments to go in and actually see the process happen and see how that works.
But I completely agree with you. I’ll tell you, I learned a lot about – and I don’t know what generation we’re in right now – the millennial generation. But a lot of the young people that are coming out of high school, coming out of college are very philanthropic. They have a real desire to make a difference in people’s lives, people that are underrepresented or people that are having struggles or issues in life, and really wanting to make a difference and help those folks. It’s a great way to get younger people involved is providing these opportunities, so I’m really glad you guys are doing that.
B: You also mentioned the videos as a way for you to see the gemba. I think, these days, it’s almost essential to have that ability to videotape now and that is our gemba walks, so to speak, because we can’t go into some of these areas or we shouldn’t be going into these areas physically. Do you feel like that works fairly well in terms of you being able to tell what’s going on with the videotape? it’s not perfect, but a video recording of it?
BM: It does for me as a coach because, from a coaching role, I can see what’s happening in there. This is my perspective on process improvement. I’m a firm believer that you cannot improve a process at a fundamental level remotely. It’s something that you really need to be in the gemba with and I tell my students there’s different levels being in gemba. You need to at least be next to where the process is happening watching it, but I tell them even better is when you can go to the people that are working in that process and say, “Show me. Teach me. Teach me how,” and then you actually try it because you physically get to experience what it is that they’re experiencing, what they have to do daily, every day, all the time. You get to sense or feel those frustrations, which you don’t get to experience on video.
But video, to me, the video component does a couple of things. One, as a coach, it allows me to see what’s happening and as they make progress through, I can see the changes. And video is, a lot of times, better than just having pictures or a description because I can see the relationship between a lot of the things that are happening in that process.
The other thing that I think is really great about video, I don’t know what Paul Akers was the one that thought up this idea of having people do videos and posting them, but I think it really helps with the engagement when people that are involved in process improvement see that the work that they are doing is now visible and it’s helping other people in Lean be able to learn from their experience and see what it is that they’re doing. It’s like I’m sharing this information with the world. This is what we’re doing and then you can learn from that.
Just like in your coaching or in your instruction, you use videos, you probably pull up, for instance, the Heeling Soles video or the Project C.U.R.E. video and you say, “Take a look at these.” When you then video your students’ projects or your volunteers’ projects and post them for the world to see, it gives them a sense of importance that what I’m doing, it’s influencing more than just this process that I’m working on. It’s really influencing the way work gets done potentially for years to come because people will see this and will take that and learn from it, learn from my experience and be able to spur on their own creativity. So I think it’s good for developing that sense of importance that what you’re doing here is important and actually really making a difference larger than just what you see in front of you.
B: One of the clients is doing that and they’re seeing that as the way that the culture is changing is the sharing of ideas across different facilities that have similar process and they’re saying, “I like that!” That never probably would’ve been communicated in the same way, but they see the video of someone talking about it and sharing it, and they’re like I know that person almost through the video and I feel like I can reach out to them and ask them more questions or details. So yeah, I think it works outside of the organization and inside as well and that’s where we need that culture change around improvement. Anuj?
A: Brad, are the students taking video throughout the project or is it like they make the video in chunks or they make the video at the end of the project, like summarizing everything?
BM: They make the video in chunks. For instance, I say, “Video the process happening just as you see it when you walk in,” and so they do that as a video. That’s usually a really long video. And then, later in the project, as they’re beginning to make improvements, I have them give me a video tour of the process where they walk through and say, “This is the way things were and here’s how we’re changing it,” and then show me, a midway through, how that process looks. And then, finally, at the end, they video the final process actually happening. And then those videos that you see on YouTube are not the entire, all of the video content there. What they’ve done is they’ve taken snippets, sort of representative pieces of the before, the middle, and the after, and a tour of the way through and tried to create a best composite of the entire project that can be digested. I tell them it could be digested within less than five minutes is what I’m looking for because none of us have the attention span to look more than that. And that’s really all you need to get the highlights of this is where the waste was, this is what the challenges were that we faced, here’s the work that we did, and here were the results. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to give that message.
B: Yeah, the time-savings, I think, is really powerful too. Even if it’s like saving five seconds a day, over a year, that’s amazing when you crunch the numbers on those.
BM: Yeah, and if you’re doing a mini improvement, if you do the process multiple, multiple times a day, you can surprise yourself by how much time you can save.
B: We’ve taken up a lot of your time already. Is there anything else that you wanted to share or talk about or things you’re working on that might be relative to this?
BM: I don’t know. I’m glad that you guys are looking into it. I’m you glad that you’re using my students as some inspiration, perhaps, for impacting some nonprofits and some of the organizations and I’m glad we’re in this thing together.
B: Do you know anyone else who’s doing the same kind of approach that you’re doing with the student projects in terms of at-home applications or small improvements that they’re documenting or sharing? have you talked to anybody?
BM: I’m sure that there are. I guess I’m just not aware.
B: I haven’t either found anybody else.
BM: I can’t be the only one.
B: Maybe not publicly like you’re sharing. That might be the big difference.
BM: Maybe not. It does work for me. Like I said, it brings… I think teaching Lean, especially in a college classroom, can come across very sterile. It’s just definitions of terms and tools and techniques and some math that I can prove that I can do on an exam and then that does not translate well to real life, and so giving students the opportunity to actually experience it, I think it’s an important component, at least for my class, to be able to experience that and bring the classroom material to life. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from students saying that it really made a difference that they were able to do that.
In fact, I’m not teaching over the summer, but it was just last week I had a student that sent me an email and had pictures of a process improvement that she had made. She just said, “I had this problem and I fixed it and I just wanted to let you know that I did this and it was because of your class that taught me how to do this.” It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but it made a difference to her. It’s those sorts of things that I’m looking for and that’s really good.
B: Great. Cool. I think that’s awesome. I appreciate your time.
BM: Happy to be here and happy to meet you guys.