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Maset News
October 21, 2009

Collaboration Skills & Mind Shifts

By John Canfield, Maset LLC associate

"The exact contrary of what is generally believed is often the truth"
Jean de la Brugere


Oxymoron's are fun. Not the people, but the word plays.

So for example "jumbo shrimp", "military intelligence"..ha, ha, you know plenty of them.

Now think back about 10-20 years. One phrase many companies used in their financial reviews was "acceptable scrap". It was not an oxymoron then. It was an accounting entry. Thousands maybe millions of dollars written off because that's what people expected to do.

For the meaning of the phrase to shift from acceptable to prevent at reasonable costs, a mind shift is necessary. Some mind shifts: From "safety inventory" to "inventory turns", from "acceptable quality levels (AQL) of 99%" to "3.4 defects per million (6 Sigma)", from "command and control" to "self empowered teams" follow the last few decades of process improvement.

I would like to think that Lean and Six Sigma would have turned "acceptable scrap" into another oxymoron for the vast majority of companies nation-wide.

Road Show

In the past twelve months, I have given a number of keynote speeches in Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, California, and Michigan. Hundreds of new faces learning about Better Meetings, Planning Strategies, Leading Change, Collaboration Skills, and Creative Thinking Skills.

I get a chance in these presentations to ask questions and get a quick audience response. So while their reactions are not hard scientific data, I do notice some trends worthy of mention.

One question I've been asking: "How many of you work in organizations that can deliberately solve a problem, i.e. deliberately improve a process," i.e. they have improvement teams that use a structured improvement process (PDCA, 8 D's, Kepner Trego, etc) to guide their thinking past the emotional and personality-based opinions to solid data-supported options. They can identify possible root cause, conduct experiments to confirm the offending process steps, and successfully implement the improved process where applicable.

I should add my audiences are primarily operational leaders from service and manufacturing companies, large and small, usually 50-90 attending: project managers, operation managers, HR leaders - people who have direct responsibility for leading the processes that determine a company's success.

To the question about a company-wide, or even group-local, improvement capability being in place and used, only about 10% of the audience raise their hands.

Back at the Ranch

So considering the numbers, if we estimate that an organization not deliberately improving their processes is likely spending 10-30% of their revenues generating waste. Wow, that's a lot of waste.

Let's translate this into work hours. With eight hours in the work day, 52 weeks in the year, so 2080 hours a year per employee, with even 10% waste, each employee may be spending about 200 hours a year not adding value; just going about their business, responding to requests, you know, day-to-day stuff. Divided by 40 hours a week, that's five weeks. Sort of like an extra very long paid vacation.

Leader's Charge

In an unfortunate breakfast kitchen, the leader upon learning about burned toast complaints, yells loudly in the kitchen "Darn it, you all better start making better toast, or else…" In a fortunate breakfast kitchen, the leader upon learning about burned toast works with the kitchen staff to learn about the variables that contribute to customer dissatisfaction and helps the employees build a better toast-making process.

To repeat from previous articles: "Brilliant process management is our strategy. We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes. We observe that our competitors often get average (or worse) results from brilliant people managing broken processes." Mr. Cho - Chairman of Toyota

Lean expert David Meier, author of The Toyota Way and Toyota Talent with Jeffrey Likert, writes "Our primary concern is the relatively low success rate of other companies that are on the lean journey. Our surveys indicate only 1 in 5 managers work on lean are satisfied with the results."

Having worked with hundreds of improvement teams over the past 30 years, you won't be surprised to hear me suggest this is so because the team members are not trained to collaborate. They are taught how to follow an improvement method but not how to work productively with each other. In a hockey analogy, they're put on the ice but not trained to pass, shoot, or check. Improvement team meetings are all too often "very nice".

Considering my audiences' responses, assuming they are at least in some way representative of companies across the nation, there is still lot's of work to be done. A lot of waste is being tolerated. Acceptable scrap is very much alive and well.

That many/most of America's companies are deliberate and successful about their improvement is common knowledge….ah, one more oxymoron.

"Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on." Winston Churchill

Maset LLC is available to help you reduce waste by training your organization to use Collaboration Skills

Please see for an example of a successful intervention.

If you missed the radio interview with Charles Loew on KBZNZ - Radio Business Journal and you want to listen to it you will find it on our web site at -

Maset has the ability, the resources, and a history of successes, making us confident in our ability to deliver superior results for your organization.

Contact Charles Loew today to begin the journey.

Charles Loew
Maset, LLC

phone: 520-568-6355    cell: 602-721-3680    fax: 520-568-6355

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