In this podcast, I share the audio from a presentation I gave to the Portland Business Alliance (our local Chamber of Commerce). They have a Sustainability Roundtable each quarter, and I was asked to talk about my application of Lean to sustainability efforts.
You can watch the video below to see the slides that accompany the video.
- Recycling Advocates – Bring Your Own Cup Campaign
- TIM WOODS – 8 Forms of Waste
- How to Make a Papa John’s Pizza (not included in video)
- Lean Portland
Brion (B): I worked eighteen years in aerospace manufacturing. That’s where I got on all my background in process improvement. We were a supplier to Boeing. Boeing got a lot of training and education from a lot of the experts from Toyota Japanese consultants back probably 20-30 years ago and so that kind of all trickled down to suppliers of Boeing and other businesses. For the last couple decades, these methodologies around Lean and Six Sigma were gaining popularity, and especially in larger corporations. How many of you have some familiarity with the concepts, or have taken classes? A few of you? Okay. So I’ll go through just a little bit of background on those and show how I’ve seen that there is a strong connection between these techniques and sustainability efforts, and then just a couple of examples of some of the work I’ve done in the past and then, hopefully, open up for questions. I also have a little exercise you can go through and try to identify waste and inefficiencies in the process, so hopefully, it’ll somewhat much fun, not just be talking the whole time.
I’m also the president of Recycling Advocates, which is a nonprofit here in town. It’s been around about 30 years. They’ve been involved in a lot of efforts around the Bottle Bill and recycling infrastructure, the master recycler program, and things like that, so putting my foot into the non-profit world a little bit as well. Not only just supporting them with some of these efforts, but also trying to figure out how to run a non-profit. That’s been a very interesting challenge the last two years.
About my organization, like I said, I was in aerospace for a long time and I had an idea of wanting to go and do consulting on my own, especially as I started noticing that sustainability efforts can be improved with some of these techniques, maybe a little bit of tweaking and there, but it’s kind of a ripe opportunity. I look at sustainability from the triple bottom line approach of people, planet, and profit. There’s a group in town called Lean Portland that I also work with. It’s a volunteer group and we work with nonprofits to implement some of these techniques. And then also just trying to look for examples of doing these improvement techniques around the environment and trying to collect those up and organize them and share that information with people. I just try to build like a resource of websites that have all this information in one spot. But the bigger goal or way I’m looking at is have you heard of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that came out quite a few years ago but they rebranded them a little bit in the last couple of years? there are 17 goals that they had around sustainable development around the world and just trying to link a lot of the activities going on to those efforts. The city of Portland is doing a lot of work now with wasted food, you’ve heard of that. That fits into some of these issues with access to food and quality food and things like that and the environmental impact of food.
And then, locally, we have a climate action plan for Multnomah County, so trying to link up what am I working on? how does it pertain to global scale UN goals and how does it pertain locally here to the climate action plan? Just making sure people can see the connection there and make sure I’m not working on something that doesn’t fit in there somewhere because it’s hard to get some support for those efforts if it doesn’t link to something.
That’s kind of my bigger goal and so a lot of it is education outreach on what these concepts are for people who aren’t familiar with it.
This term, Lean, the people who developed it don’t think it’s the greatest word they could have used. The first connotation people think of it is you’re going to trim out the waste in the process and that means we’re going to get rid of people or you’re going to give me less resources and I’ve got to do my job harder and I’ve got less time to do it and more responsibilities. That’s the assumption people have going into it. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. It’s supposed to be to get rid of the non-value added or wasteful steps in the process that aren’t something the customer wants to pay for or finding value in so you can spend your time doing the stuff they actually do want from your organization, and then just making sure that all of the processes and departments in your organization are aligned to what the customer needs are. And so it’s not about making my process or my department run better; it’s about making the whole value stream or the whole system run efficiently. That might mean that my process is inefficient but that’s okay because the customer is getting what they want in a timely manner and that’s really a different mindset around thinking about efficiency.
It developed out of Toyota, called the Toyota Production System, and that was translated and put into a package called Lean. The US went over to Japan in the early 1980s to study why the automobile manufacturers and were surpassing the US manufacturers. So it kind of caught them off guard and then they went to study this and they realized a lot of the companies are taking teachings of Henry Ford, back in the early 1900s, and took it ran with it and enhanced it and built on that. And so some of the things we did in World War 2 to wrap up our World War 2 efforts, we kind of forgot about or got complacent with and they continued as their redevelopment after World War 2 and they just took it and ran and developed it. They kind of used some of the stuff from the US and took it to another level.
The goal is to maximize the customer’s value by minimizing the waste in the process and the waste would stuff that is not adding value to a customer. If they saw you doing that, they would say, “Why are you doing that? that’s not the service or the product that I was really asking for.” So if you’re filling out paperwork or having them fill up paperwork that isn’t actually going anywhere and nothing’s being done with that information, it doesn’t help make you a better decision, it doesn’t give them any more information, should we be doing in the first place? that’s a lot of the questioning. So you can actually free up people to then add more value, provide more products or services to your customer, not lay people off and save money temporarily, short term.
The goal is to shorten that time, so when your customer asks for something, how quickly can you get it back to them with what they want and only what they want – not a bunch of extra stuff you think they might want that they actually don’t care about. So that’s really the high-level goal, and so it started off as a manufacturing thing but now it has applicability to every type of business and nonprofit and office process as well.
I’ll have that link for there, but this is a group of Toyota consultants that their job is to go around and work with nonprofits and other organizations on this approach. The video is basically a summary of what they did with the New York Food Bank after Hurricane Sandy. Some of the struggles at the food bank was having, delivering meals to families, and it would take too long, it was really stressful and strenuous on the volunteers, and they were basically running out of food before all the families were served and they’d have to turn people away. They went in and looked at it said, “These concepts apply the same way as a manufacturing process,” and showed them a different way of doing it that was less complex, more simplified, streamlined, and they were able to turnaround faster and reach more people. It’s a really good video to check out. So can’t do the review on that necessarily.
There’s too many principles to keep in mind and there’s a lot of tactical tools that are deployed, but really, when companies start looking at me Lean as an approach, one thing they look at is what are the principles that I have to keep in mind? Because everything’s going to be unique and you’re never going to have a textbook example in your business of how this fits in, and so it’s got to always have a little bit of adjustment or modification to it. The idea is let’s keep these principles in mind as we’re making these types of decisions.
The first one is that we are looking for continuous improvement. This is not a one-time thing where we go in and we fix that problem or that process and make it a little bit better and then we say, “We’re done with that and let’s hope it doesn’t creep back up again,” but we actually are continually looking for ways to make the process better every day and involving lots of people in that process. So even though my job, in the past, has been as a process improvement person, it’s not my responsibility go and do all the improvements. That’s going to take a long time, and that’s not going to be very effective. It’s how do I get everybody in the organization to be involved in the processing improvement. Everybody, every day is a mantra that you want to think about.
And then the other one is called gemba, which just basically means we go to where the work’s being done and we look and observe and talk to the people doing the work; not sitting in a meeting room like this and talking about how we’re going to fix a process. We go to the process and we talk to the people and interact and say, “Here’s a problem that we’re having, what do you think? what’s going on? let’s look at what’s happening here.” So it’s about visually going to that area.
And then also making sure that we’re aligned on priorities. Because there’s usually an unending number of problems we could be working on, so what are the two or three that we’re going to focus our attention on? and then let’s knock those out so we can then work on another problem. If we have 20 problems we’re working on, everyone’s juggling too many things and that’s another concept is we can get into a point where we have too much going on.
That’s what we’ve done with some of the nonprofits is that you have too many projects; you need to cut down on the projects. You have to cut down the numbers so you can actually get more done by being focused on the few projects now. Get those completed and then we can move forward on more projects. But people want to solve all those problems this year and then it’s just throwing more into the mix. It’s like a bottleneck of driving in the traffic. If you have too many cars on the freeway, everything comes to a screeching halt. The same thing with projects. You’ve got too many projects, nothing gets done because you’re juggling way too many things and you’re not actually solving the specific ones.
The other thing is around respect for people or humanity, which sometimes gets lost in our business cultures and thinking. It’s about what can I do for the employees who are doing the work and make their jobs easier. Not to make them work faster or harder, but take away the frustration and the problems that they’re having so they can actually focus on the stuff that they’re good at. That involves coaching. It’s not telling somebody what to do but teaching them to solve their own problems and see what you’re seeing. That takes a little bit longer time to do that. but if you commit to that as a goal that I’m going to coach people to be able to make the decisions I want them to make it, it’s a better long term solution and they like working in an environment like that versus, ” I don’t know what to do. Someone come tell me what to do next,” versus teaching them how to decide what to do next.
And then the other thing is around teamwork is no one department should be dictating how the whole process works; it needs to be done collaboratively. Like I mentioned, you can do a lot of things that make your department efficient and it creates all kinds of havoc for other departments. Ultimately, the customer is the one that and ends up suffering with that. And so it’s about what’s best for the customer or the whole system and sometimes that doesn’t feel very efficient for individual processes or people, but that’s okay, and trying to give people over that mindset, it’s different. We usually see that a lot when we talk about batch processing. It’s sometimes very efficient for someone to knock out a bunch of documents all at once, but when that first document showed up five hours ago until the time they actually processed all of them, the customer was waiting for five hours while you were waiting to batch up your work. And so when you look at it from that perspective, it makes more sense to go in and process them as they come in even though that seems less efficient for you. But the customer is winning in that respect because they’re getting quick turn on their work. Those concepts are sometimes a little counterintuitive. Some the other concepts are very intuitive because it’s like, yeah, why are we doing that? that’s a waste of time, it’s frustrating, let’s stopped doing that.
A couple of things to think about in principles is investing in the people to increase engagement. Sometimes people say this is an efficiency program, but really, as you start learning more about this, who find that it’s really an employee engagement program. It’s about how do you get the employees to take ownership and have the skill set to be able to solve the new problems that are coming up and not rely on their manager or bosses to tell them what to do.
We define value in the customer’s eyes and everything else gets defaulted as this is something maybe we could quit doing or a waste or eliminate.
We look at the value stream, which is all the way from when the customer requests something, all the way to when they get what they wanted. That timeline, and when you start looking at how long it takes from their perspective, it’s pretty shocking sometimes, from their perspective, how long they’re waiting in the process. Because, individually, it looks like I only spent an hour on it and the next person only spent 30 minutes on it and next personally only spent 45 minutes. So they’re spending a couple of hours total, but it’s weeks before the customer gets it all the way through those processes and so we start by mapping out the whole picture and that’s really eye-opening for people. It’s the hand-off between the processes and departments where things to get lost.
Once we start working on something, the goal is to finish it all the way through. Don’t partially work on it and set it aside. Get it completed and moved on to the next step. That’s where we see sometimes things hung up. That’s the idea was flow is once I decide I’m going to work on this, I’m going to keep working on it until I’m completed all the way through. If I stop partway through, then I’ve invested labor into it but my customer hasn’t received the value out of it yet. And if I got paid for it, but the company never got the value of that money yet so it’s all work in process that hasn’t been realized into dollars yet.
So we focused on one thing at a time, minimal batches, ideally, down to doing one at a time and moving it on, which is one of those counterintuitive things for people. We like to out a concept called pull, so we wait until the customer actually needs it. Not just complete it to get it off our to-do list, but say when do you actually need it and I’ll provide it at the last minute but not too late so I know it’s updated, it’s the latest information, it’s exactly what you need. I give the example of like a presentation, let’s say I created this slide deck three weeks ago and then, for some reason, had a bad weather storm and we had to delay this us or cancel it or push it out. Well, all that time I invested in it, maybe it never gets rescheduled and so I spent hours on it and it never actually turned into something. So I wait to as late as possible to do the presentation, knowing that this is going to actually happen. There’s a lot of things we do in anticipation trying to get ahead of it, but then we end up saying, now it’s outdated or I have to redo it or update the slides or update the graph and the information is no longer valid and I have to do rework, which takes us extra time to do that.
Problems are good. That’s a concept some organizations struggle with is how are problems dealt with. The whole system around lean is forcing problems to come up to the surface. If your company or organization isn’t very good about talking through problems, this won’t work very well because the systems will start to fail. They are always going to be problems and the goal with Lean is to make them visible and obvious so we can get our hands on it and say of all the problems, which ones should work on. But if some of them are hidden, then we’re working on the ones we know about and we’re not working on the ones that we probably should be working on that are hidden. So we set up processes to expose the issues then we can make the right decision about what to focus our attention on.
We want to be blaming the process, not the people. We assume that people are there to do a good job and are trying to do the best they can and they’re not trying to sabotage or make mistakes on purpose. So it’s usually the process is broken or confusing or could be done a little bit more efficiently.
Simplicity is always key. We simplify it down to make it better, with better visuals, and again, trying to be smarter about the work we’re doing; not harder.
Some concepts people struggle with is maybe it’s better to do nothing than to work on stuff ahead of time and create more work for the next person and overload the next person. That is hard for people to wrap their head around that I don’t want people to be actually working right now because they can create more cost to the organization that just their time. The manufacturing example I give is have somebody who’s making, let’s say, 30 bucks an hour and they’re working on a product that’s worth thousands of dollars. If they decided I’m going to stay busy and build up inventory of thousands of dollars of material that we have to store and package, is that really the best use of our overall money? those types of questions get brought up a lot is let’s wait until we actually have an order before we start processing.
And we do experimentation to learn. We all great ideas but put it to the test and see does it actually work. It might be a textbook example, but this might not work for your industry, so we experiment a lot on a small scale and see if it’ll actually work and it’s a continuous thing that never ends. We’re trying to strive for perfection knowing that we’ll never get there.
Any questions about some of those concepts?
Those are some of the principles and things I like to think about when I’m looking at a process or an area and try to educate people on. Because everything’s going to be some variant of these concepts, and so starting off just having those things in mind, that’s the approach we’re going to. Then we can talk through how best to resolve or address these particular issues.
One of the things we first teach is something called the 8 Wastes. It’s also seen as a couple of different acronyms. This one I use is called TIM WOODS, just as a way for people to try to remember the different types of waste. When you see transportation of things moving around, that usually doesn’t really add value to the customer. It’s time that we’re carrying something or processing or sending something around, but it’s not actually getting closer to the customer at all. Even if it’s going to the customer, the product or service isn’t increasing in value during that time; it’s just a distance thing. And so we look for transportation – people walking around trying to get something, looking for things, physically moving things around back and forth. That’s an opportunity that’s taking up time that I could be working on the actual product or service.
Inventory is money that you’ve wrapped up in your processes, so it’s really a cash flow thing. When we can cut it down, first of all, we can see the problems easier when we’re not looking at a big pile of stuff. If it’s very few items, we can actually manage that a lot easier. And it doesn’t take up space and I don’t need an extra warehouse which I to heat and cool in light and spend money on. So it keeps us from hiding the problems and it’s good for our bottom line.
Then there’s things like motion, just reaching for things constantly all day long. Can I move that closer to me? Some things like can we get the team together? A lot of times, I see groups broken up by departments, but that’s not how the customer flow works; the flow works between the departments. A lot of times, we’ll take one person from each department and put them all together into a cell or a work area so we can all communicate around the type of product or service that we’re dealing with, then we can actually stay focused on the type of customers that we’re serving. That seems to make the processes run more smoothly because now we’re communicating between marketing and sales and customer service and project management. They’re all in the same area talking about that same customer.
Any type of waiting for information, waiting for decisions, waiting for approval, that’s holding up the process.
Doing things over and above what is needed by the customer. If they say, “I need you to create this report for us,” and then you add in three extra pages and 10 extra graphs to it, thinking they’ll really like these, and they just look to the first half and say, “Thanks, that’s all I needed,” and all that time you spent making the other fancy stuff, they don’t care about or use. So is that a really good use of your time? so you have to have discussions with your customers. Some of the great examples I heard were finance would have reports they were putting out and some of the question they say is, “Don’t put out the report this week and then let’s see what happens if anyone calls or asks for the report.” More times than not, nobody called, nobody asked for the report. So they said, “I spend four hours a week on this report and nobody’s reading it?” So they go talk to them and they said, “Well, yeah, the information we used to get on that report, I can get it now. I have access to the system. I just go in there and pull it when I need it, so I just delete your emails,” or files it away. It’s really heartbreaking for them at first and then they realize, well, that frees me up to do something that is valuable. So just talking to your customers and finding out how much of this do you actually use?
Overproduction would be, I’m anticipating that they’re going to order something or buy something or that these orders are going to come through, and I’m going to start working on them now even though they haven’t actually come through. And so what it’s doing is it’s taking away time that I could be doing on stuff that actually is needed and I’m working on stuff that might be needed in future and then that creates a bunch of other waste in the process.
And then if we haven’t mistakes and defects, that’s going to slow up the process as well. Those are errors and mistakes that now I’ve got to go back and fix those errors and that takes time out of the process and that’s very inefficient.
And then we also have skill issues where we don’t have the right people in the right jobs or we’re not utilizing their knowledge and their experience as well as we could be. So are we pulling that knowledge out of them or are we just saying go to work and stay busy and keep your head down? Are we saying, “What ideas do you have? How can we make this better? What improvement suggestions do you have? how can we help you implement those solutions?” That’s a better use of their skill set. Or how do we get you into a position that you really want to be in even though you joined us in a different position just to get your foot in the door? How do we help you transition there? They’re more likely going to stick around and stay with the company if that’s the case.
So those are different wastes. All these wastes also have an environmental impact and so whether companies are doing this intentionally to try to reduce environmental impacts, sometimes just by focusing on process efficiency, they’re going to accidently get some environmental benefits. So it’s kind of two approaches you could do it. A lot of the organizations that are key corporations and sustainability of work certification companies, they might be focused on actually reducing environmental impacts, but even if there are other companies that aren’t really focused on that right now, they might accidentally get some of those benefits. That’s kind of a nice thing about it is the side benefit or indirect improvements that you might generate.
We’re going to watch a video of how to make a pizza and then I want you to look for waste and inefficiencies in the process, based on the TIM WOODS analogy. I didn’t give you a real deep discussion on each one, but you got a hand-out on there. Those are the different wastes, and a quick description of them, and then, as we go through the video, if you can just jot down what you see.
What did you notice, the balls of the dough?
Female Speaker (FS): Yeah. Well, there was a spot [inaudible]. Because those dough balls have to rise, so that takes time.
FS: I mean, kind of, obviously, like that’s self-explanatory.
B: Yeah, so they’re anticipating a bunch of orders, but they’re not coming through yet. He, obviously, has time to work on a video, so not overloaded.
FS: He picked up every tool and kinds like messed with it. It looks like a lot of waste.
B: Yeah, that tray of ingredients there just kind of falling through.
FS: Every tray, the whole assembly line is taking up space.
B: All of it. I mean, if you just run some quick numbers, that’s a lot of money in there I would imagine. It just gets a little sloppy. I’ve seen some other ones where they have like a little ring around it to try to keep the ingredients from flying over. So it might be faster do it that way, but what’s the full impact to that? I save a second here, but I threw away $.50 or a dollar of stuff. Is that a good trade-off?
FS: Usually, portion control is huge in the food industry, so it’s surprising they don’t have measuring cups.
B: Well, they do. He’s not necessarily using, so why isn’t he using them? What’s the problem with it? Is it difficult to handle? Is there not reinforcement on the tools? Has he not been trained on how to use them? There’s a lot of things we don’t want to blame him at first, but there’s probably process things that are broken that could be reason that he doesn’t want to use it or he was told not to or someone said, “You don’t have to do that, don’t worry.” So, yeah, some of it just goes back to the process reinforcement there. Other times, it’s lack of the training. Threw him in there, he learned from somebody else who is there, nothing formally trained there, things like that.
But, yeah, here’s the overproduction example, just all these waiting to go, and then these are going to have to be fixed and cleaned up because they’re starting to rise and spread out and fall, and maybe they break off and they have to be put back together and redone. And someone spent time doing that when they could have maybe been helping out on some other orders or helping out the cashier, cleanup. Yeah, something – cross-training, something. But how many of those trays of dough balls are necessary for that day? Is it the right amount or not? inventory isn’t necessarily always bad; it’s just we want the right amount of it that can keep us going for the time period we need it for, and that too much, and not too little.
So those are some of the things to look for. A lot of these have environmental impacts that go along with it. That tray of ingredients, if it just gets thrown in the trash, it goes to the landfill and then that creates methane emissions and there’s cost dollars that’s going out the door with that. So those are the types of things to start to look for, and as you start practicing looking for waste, you start to get better at that.
Just a couple of other examples. Worked in manufacturing, do you see all these different carts? That was a problem. It was cluttering up the area, it allowed people to work on lots of different projects at once because, hey, I found a cart, I’ll just start a new project because this one’s having problems. And again, it hides the problems. It allows you to work around the problems instead of stopping and fixing the problems.
And so we went through and did some cleanup work and made parking spots and said, we only need this many, based on our process, and this is where it goes. And if it’s not there, that identified the problem, it’s visual. We also realized we had 24 extra carts that we really don’t need and they were going to go through and actually re-order new ones because if they didn’t have the right requirements on there for electrostatic discharge. And so they would have to order new more, and they had a purchase order for 54 carts. We went in and said it’s still a lot of carts, but now and only need 30. And so there was $10,000 in cost savings right there. And if you look at the environmental impact of the material, all that processing didn’t have to take place for those carts and a lot of that is inefficient. They said it’s 20 times more material at the beginning before it ends up in the product. So when you start out here with material, and only 5% of it actually ends up in a product or service. It gets lost around the process, so when you go back to the original source, that’s a lot of material that you’re saving.
B: How are we doing on time?
FS: We’ve got a few minutes.
B: Okay. This is another one where we actually did start to look at reducing down the amount of stuff going to the landfill. I went over to the transfer station and I took some pictures of stuff that was thrown away, and it was a lot of packaging from suppliers. We have complex electronics, so that was understandable to a point, but also, it takes time, it takes up space, and someone has to deal with it and there’s extra costs for that material, and there’s really no good source for recycling of it. So that was something we were looking at, can we do some more stuff with reusable packaging, so we started off kind of looking at it from a sustainability standpoint. The last example was more about from a Lean perspective and I accidentally found some environmental benefits. There’s one would be we were focusing on environmental or sustainability efforts and what ended up happening is we started to look for opportunities to duplicate what we already had in place for some areas, a reusable packaging material, which is just a box that we can break down and send back to the supplier after we build a certain number of them.
And that sounds good, and it’s a little bit extra costs to send back the product, but we don’t have as much packaging and it’s actually easier unpackage the material when it comes in because you don’t have to have as much of the things wrapped up and taped up and bubble wrapped and we end up spending a minute or two cutting off that tape and taking it out of there. But from the Lean perspective, we actually got a benefit because that empty box became a communication back to the supplier of how much we’re actually consuming. Not what are we forecasted or what we scheduled, but the actual usage. What if we run into a problem and we don’t use that product for three weeks? It told the supplier don’t make anymore. Hold off, go do something else, work with another customer in the meantime. We don’t need any more material. Even though we forecasted, even though we told you we were going to need it, we’re running into our own problems. The box became the trigger system and a communication back to them. Those types of systems help you connect different departments together through visual cues or carts or boxes, however you want to make those. It says don’t do any more until I give you some signal or indicator that I need more. And if you don’t get it from me, go work on something else. Those are called the kanban system and that’s one of the tools of Lean.
I also did a focus on electricity reduction project in the building. We pulled data, looked at all our facilities. This one is our headquarters. You can see that was a big opportunity for energy usage. The Blue is electricity, the red is gas. That was a no-brainer and we didn’t really need to pull data. It was the biggest facility we had. But trying to make a pie chart of where that energy came from was very difficult. We did not have any detail below the surface, and so we went around and went to the work and we walked around the building and found all the sub-meters and we took measurements in the morning, in the afternoon, on the weekends, over the holidays and we tried to piece together, very manually, what that looked like. It took a lot of time but it was some of the valuable information that at least pointed us in the right direction and said here’s where we should focus in this huge facility.
We also do some modeling. My background is in statistics and that’s what a lot of the Six Sigma terminology goes, it focuses a lot on data and data analysis. And so I did some modeling of our monthly bills and I said what drives the bill and the fluctuation month-to-month? I did some analysis and, obvious, that the temperature outside has a lot to do with it, but that’s not the only indicator. It also mattered how many employees we had working in the building. What should’ve mattered but didn’t matter was how many working days in the month. You would think that December would be a lower month than a different December because of the number working days, but we did a couple of years, I think it was a two-year period, and it didn’t matter if he worked 17 days that month or 22 days, which is kind of concerning because you would think that would be a pretty big indicator of energy usage, which highlighted to us we’ve got a lot of energy being used when no one’s here and that focused us on what’s running on the off-hours. Well, it’s heating and cooling systems, some lights, maybe computer monitors, security systems, all those things. We started to brainstorm through there and we uncovered that the air handlers, and the system was set up to run 24-7 in case somebody came in because that’s easier and it’s just simpler and less to manage.
We did some studies and looked at each area and tried to figure out what their actual employee work hours looked like. We did surveys and we also do the badge swipes to match that data to see they said they worked till 9 PM, but everybody’s gone, it looks like, by 7. I don’t see any more badge swipes. They say they come in the weekend a lot, but there’s one or two the last couple of months. It’s really not as prevalent as we want… So we tried to get some actual data with our user employment.
The key thing with that was not only doing the study and getting some concerns addressed early on that says if we’re going to do this program, what are your pushbacks or concerns? But we also gave them an override button that would allow them to have two hours of normal room temperature if they come in and they are not comfortable in warmer temperature in the summer or the cooler temperature in the winter. That helped with the change management part of this, which is a big part of improvements – how does it stick?
And then the local group here is called Lean Portland and we’ve been working with some nonprofits, like Free Geek and Rebuilding Center and OEN and Social Venture Partners, and just trying to help them understand their processes, map their processes out, apply some of these concepts. This is Free Geek and this what they were doing. On the left is how they were processing mobile devices, all the iPhones and smartphones, and iPads. It was surprising what stuff still comes through there – iPhone 2s, stuff like that. They kind of have their own system, but there’s no way I could figure out what they were doing from that, and it was disorganized and where did I put that tool and who took that and where’s that cable, where’s that charger, where’s that adaptor. It wasn’t really organized. And two things we helped them with is just clearing out the clutter a little bit and coming up a little bit more organization. The other thing was just figuring out what do they have. It was in boxes that they would come up from the donation area and drop off. But they didn’t know how many iPhone 4Ss they had, how many iPhone 6s thy had, how many iPhone 2s were there. The sales guy would say, “Hey, we’re getting demand for these items. Can you process them?” And they said, “Well, if we find them or run across, we will.” Now they could at least say, “We’ve got two of them, we’ll process them right now.” So again, connecting the actual customers with the process. And so that was kind of a first step. We have a lot more work to do there, but it just starts to get the process a little more structured and under control. A lot of it is maybe simple organization stuff, which isn’t complicated, but we’re just trying to give him time, set aside time to focus on it. They know it need to happen, they know it’s disorganized but they just need some guidance and that’s what we provide in a lot of cases.
So working with nonprofits, a lot of this discussion has been around how do I best utilize the volunteers to make those process simpler and require less staff time to train people but not create an environment where they feeling like they’re work in a factory. They want to help the mission and they know they have to do some of the work to help the mission along, but there’s also they’re there to volunteer. If they don’t like the experience, they’re not going to come back and that doesn’t help the nonprofit at all. So we have to create a work environment that is flexible but also has minimum amount of work that does have to get done so that they do come back.
And then our Lean Portland team, it’s been nice to have backups because, with a volunteer group, things happen, people change jobs, they get big projects, they can’t overload, they have family issues. And so if I was just to go off and work with that group, it’s very risky because if something happens, I just disappear. Whereas if we have a team now, we can at least say someone is going to come in and fill in for me and try to keep the ball rolling and moving forward, so that’s been really nice.
And then a lot of the work that we’ve been doing is around reuse of materials. In an additional company, you decide what you’re going to order, and the donation world, you just get what you get, it just shows up and so you can’t really control that, but you have to be flexible and adjust to whatever you receive in. You might get a lot of stuff, you might get nothing, and so you have to be even more flexible to ebb and flow with that. That’s been a real fun challenge to try to figure out how do these concepts work when you don’t even actually get to order, decide what you’re ordering, it just shows up.
So as part of my company, and through the Lean Portland group, we’ve put on free workshops, and so Lean Primer, Six Sigma Primer, Behavior Change, Culture of Collaboration. Those are workshops we have every month and we have it over at Hatch Labs where I have an office, if you’re familiar with Hatch. Those are free to sign up. I try to post some of them on the BBA site, but not all the time do I get those posted.
And then here’s just a couple of links. So the Lean Portland group, and then these other links are, first is my business, but the other two are a compilation of these examples and case studies and videos that I’ve found that are related to topics around the environment or around social good or social responsibility. And then I just finished up a little book, so if you know other people who have a Lean and Six Sigma background, I wrote a little book to just kind of motivate people to try to get more involved in some volunteer work or some of the environmental work at their own company or help their company get more engaged with certain nonprofits and not just donate money or go and carry things around, but actually use their skill set to help the nonprofit, so that they can actually be more efficient with their limited resources and time. So those are free if anyone knows someone or wants to check it out. Any other questions?
FS: You are with the [inaudible] recycle, right? you are the president of the…
B: The president of the Recycling Advocates.
FS: Yeah, so what is that about?
B: They’re trying to engage citizens in any recycling, reuse, waste reduction activity. So in the past, we’ve been involved with… What’s that?
FS: What’s your venue been of that? I never see any events or big ads.
B: Right now, we’re doing a coffee cup reduction campaign, so we’re working with coffee shops to try to promote having people bringing their own cup because that’s a big… Portland loves coffee and a lot of people use it in disposable cups and they think it’s recyclable because it looks like paper, so it’s confusing. Or it’s just more convenient, initially, but we’re trying to educate people on the problem. So that’s been a lot of our focus is around coffee shops so that maybe you haven’t seen a lot of other activities going on. We do like an annual update each year. But part of my role has been to try to figure out where are we going in the future? Are we just doing one-off projects or do we have a long term plan here and how do we make the organization sustainable. We can tackle the people-planet part, it’s how do we make sure we have viable income and what is our income streams with the nonprofit, so kind of the opposite problem I’m doing with other companies.
FS: How many people so far are involved?
B: For our board? Yes. So it’s just a volunteer group of seven on the board and then we have different levels of memberships. A small membership group, maybe 20 people that donate a regular basis to us, and then I’m trying to figure out what is our long term plan and missions.
Any other question? yeah?
FS: So what was your hardest project and what was your easiest project? I’m just kind of getting the scope here.
B: Yeah. One big, huge project that got a lot of effort was a humongous problem we had early on and really kind of kick-started some of our Six Sigma activity because we got a lot of success for it. It involved some very complex stuff and some very simple stuff in there. Some of the things was like it was a manufacturing process and people were putting these microelectronics parts together and then they would like set their scissors on the parts. Or they would glue them together and they’d leave them stacked up and then the glue would stick to the parts and then they’d rip apart the parts and then it pretty much damaged the parts, but they didn’t really see that as a problem. So some of it was a simple cleanup of what would appear to us very simple stuff, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to see sometimes. The other part was heavy statistical analysis around that to figure out is the specifications that the designers and the customers require realistic or is that creating the problem? that they think the specifications should be this and it actually works better over here and we’re trying to give him the data to say, if we adjust this, our yield goes up, our process runs more smoothly, we can cut the cost down, save you money, and you get a better product. So there’s analysis that you can do and dig into some of those on those issues. Actually, that one project, I think I’ve had both of those cases, very complex and very simple stuff, so it was a combination of things.
FS: How do you convince future clients or co-workers that their common sense around this kind of stuff is maybe not enough and that they need someone who’s trained to think about those kinds of things versus “Oh, I know we should put this here and this here, right next to each other because they happen together. That’s just common sense.” because I feel like my co-workers would say that, “We don’t need a professional person to come in and tell us what to do because we know, we’re working every day.”
B: Usually, when I start off, I say how much time can we carve out for people to focus on this? usually, that’s one of the very big problems is people have ideas and they just don’t get the time to step away from their job to try to implement those or test out some of those ideas. So, usually, I say try and get fifteen minutes a day, an hour a week of just time when they’re not doing their job where they can think about making the job better and easier. Some of the stuff is fairly easy to get started and I would say, once you’ve cleaned up your own were area, then I think we might have someone come in and say, “Before you start affecting other people’s work by the stuff you’re doing, let’s make sure it’s the right thing for the whole system.” There’s always this kind of fine line of when you go too far in your own work that you start impacting other people’s work and that’s where, I think, it’s good to have somebody come and look at it and say, “That doesn’t make sense form a customer’s perspective,” or, “This concept of you do these in batches of 10. Actually, it causes problems to the process and here’s why it makes sense to do it in batches of two or three instead, even though it doesn’t feel very efficient that way.” So once you start getting into the concept of batching, that’s where people really struggle with the concept and that’s usually where I spend a lot of time explaining.
So initially getting started, some of these things can be just, if they get some time, they’re going to find a lot of easy, low-hanging fruit type of thing. But once you start talking process between departments, between groups, that’s where I think it’s good to have someone come and facilitate and try to break down those barriers. Or you say how do we experiment and try it out and see what happens? Because some people are going to be more opinionated or more confident than others, but if you put to the test and say, “Let’s run a test and find out of this will work or not, then let’s let the data tell us the answer.” Not the manager because they’re higher up in the company; that’s not the way to make decisions.