Helping reach new heights

A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play

February 4th, 2011 admin No comments

As a kid I watched an awful lot of television (albeit less than the youngsters of today) and there were some marketing slogans which are etched in my mind decades later. And Mars actually had me believing through their adverts that Mars Bars were good for me. There’s probably a link between this and the fact that Mars Inc. offered me my first job as I rolled out of university. They certainly had the reputation of being a good company to work for.

How happy I was therefore to attend a presentation yesterday from a couple of young ladies working in the Mars Lean team. They did a fabulous job, and Lean Thinking really does seem to be anchored firmly at all levels of the organisation. Other presentations, for example from a large aircraft manufacturer, used the right words but you didn’t actually get the feeling that there was anything behind them. Where was the difference? Size, obviously. Private v ‘public’ ownership also. However, reading through the Corporate Philosophy originated by Forrest Mars gives a deep insight into why Mars is probably a very Lean company indeed.

The 5 principles are

Quality – The consumer is our boss, quality is our work, and value for money is our goal

Responsibility – As individuals we demand total responsibility from ourselves, and we support the responsibility of others

Mutuality – A mutual benefit is a shared benefit, a shared benefit will endure

Efficiency – We use resources to the full, waste nothing, and do only what we can do best

Freedom – We need freedom to shape our future. We need profit to remain free.

And the introduction to the presentation?

“We are going to talk to you about someone who is very important : the customer”.

Now I know why Mars have been part of my life since I was very very small.

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The Ergonomics of Lean

January 6th, 2011 admin No comments

I suppose that falling terribly behind with writing blog posts is pretty much of a good sign. It means that we’re working hard, not being able to give the necessary priority to what could maybe be considered as a ‘necessary’ waste i.e. it adds no value to the customer, but life is less fun without it.

In any case, apologies for the long break. I have been busy, both teaching and learning from others. I’ve also become terribly unlean (i.e. fat) during a period of all work, no exercise, and an end of year break entirely dedicated to enjoying myself. I agree what they say about a work/life balance, and it’s about time that I actually got to do some work.

I was prompted to put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard) by a conference I intended last night on the coexistence of Lean and Eronomics. Basically there were a couple of ergonomics consultants, a job I can understand rarely gets the limelight, who decided to bring together a handful of companies from a local area, a group of ergonomics students, and some poor isolated chap to basically give Lean a bashing and explain how totally incompatible it was with a safe working environment.

Needless to say, the latin blood got flowing and there were some fairly hefty exchanges, and just one individual who came out of it with any degree of sanity and self-respect. It was a local company manager, at the head of 50 people making mechanical parts for the aerospace industry, who’d come along to present his experience of Lean implementation. The stare he gave the Lean consultant, who’d given a fairly good overview on how Lean was everything but a toolbox, was worth being there for by itself. He’d only ever known the tools, and it was doing him a power of good.

The stare he gave the ergonomist was even better (”if anyone here is thinking about entering industry then you’d better get used to hard work”). He was also the only one who explained that, by giving authority and responsibility to his team to take whatever actions they considered necessary, there was no way that they were doing to implement working practices that needed corrective actions from ergonomists.

However, there were enough stories in the room to prove that not all managers are like him, and that all too often the ‘Lean’ implementation is a way of disguising a workplace organisation decided by the management and imposed on the workers. And there are enough of these around to keep ergonomics consultants busy for the foreseeable future.

As an eye-opener, it was a good refresher after too much time locked away being busy and stuffing my face. However, it is now 2011, and the blog is back!

Categories: Respect for People Tags:

Supply Chain Horror Story

November 2nd, 2010 admin No comments

In his excellent reference ‘The Lean Toolbox’ ( a must read for any aspiring Lean student or practioner wanting a comprehensive review of Lean basics), John Bicheno outlines a number of supplier management approaches, including obviously preferring quality over quantity, developing long-term collaborative relationships, encouraging joint improvement activities, vendor-managed inventory and collaborative planning forecasting and replenishment. All good basic supply chain best practice.

One he obviously missed out on however is highlighted in a French newspaper this morning. It seems that a number of suppliers of the electronics industry were recently told by a major manufacturer that, given that electronic invoicing was being imposed on them, they would be expected in exchange to pay 1200 euros given that their photocopying and printing costs were going to be reduced.

These companies form part of the 7400 French companies who are using an arbitration process put in place by the governement supposedly to help the smaller firms during the current economic period. I doubt if it was meant to face up to blatant stupidity however. What is interesting is that the 7400 companies currently concerned by this process is made up of 47 individual cases… and 14 collective cases. That’s an average of over 500 per group.

What is happening is that, requiring the cover of anonymity, the small boys are taking shelter behind the industry federations to ‘gang up’ on the bigger players. And the 14 collective cases could only be the tip of the iceberg – many conflictual situations are resolved only after the threat has been made, but before any action is taken.

Whether these figures say more about the state of customer-supplier relations or the more general specificities of the French culture is not easy to determine. And it is clear that, under the cover of anonymity, it is much easier to fight back, especially with an elected federation wishing to show its clout.

However, I shall not be proposing to John B that the 1200 euros is used as an example of the best practice of ’sharing cost savings’. This one belongs a lot more firmly in the Horror section.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Lessons from Chicago

October 12th, 2010 admin No comments

Sitting here in the BA lounge at Chicago airport on the way back to France, I’ve the time to reflect (a more polite way of saying that I’ve got nothing else to do) on these past four days spent in the land of Al Capone and McDonalds.

For example on the importance of first impressions. And what impressions do people get an hour into queuing at immigration control after an eight-hour flight? The ESTA pre-registration system seems to have done nothing else but make the queues longer. Despite all the warnings, it seems that it is still not obligatory (or maybe it is just that some people don’t actually comply). But rather than separating the guilty from us good people and putting us in different ‘lines’ (a new word I learnt this week, nobody understood a thing when I said ‘queue’), we’re all in the same one, and poor old Mr.Immigration has to manage the complexity. Badly it seems.

Then there’s the dangers of standardisation going just a little too far. Didn’t I just love it when, having just crossed the finishing line after 3h31m45s of physical and mental torture, a young blond girl smiled and uttered “Congratulations!”. Even better, when given a bottle of ice-cold water (in France once, the first thing I got after crossing the finishing line in blistering conditions was a copy of the local paper), another smile and “Congratulations!”. A few yards further, and a welcoming beer (they sure know how to treat you well here) – “Congratulations!”. A photo. “Congratulations!”.Picked up my clean clothes. “Congratulations!”. Picked my nose. “Congratulations!”. Never a “well done”, or a “how are you feeling?”. After a while, you’re tempted to flee all human contact, just in case there’s another inspirational “Congratulations!”.

But it’s all too easy to see the weaker points in an otherwise magnificently organised event. Consider the contribution of risk management . A colour-coded ‘Event Alert System’, which had seemed a little artificial to me, was actually used during the race to warn runners of the deteriorating conditions (although anyone out there probably realised just how hot it was getting), and teams of ambulances were sent out to deal with the falling dozens. And the greatest inspiration came from he who decided to manufacture probably millions of ice cubes handed out in plastic bags at the end of the race (with a firm “Congratulations!”.. What if it had been raining, what would they have done with them all?

However, if there is one lesson I’ve learnt this weekend, it’s the value of people. Most had completed the 13-16 weeks training, and were hungry for success on the starting line, but nothing could have prepared them for the burning sun that progressively rose during the morning. Yet only around 3% actually pulled out

A major contribution to this was the other people, the million plus who lined the roads cheering, chanting and screaming “Good job, Peter”, as if they were part of the same team committed to success. Two miles from the finishing line, the going was tough, the sun was hot, and reason was gradually overcoming ill-founded intention by convincing it that maybe it might be a good idea after all to stop and walk a bit.

A big lady spectator hounded down on me and screamed “Peter, I’ve been sent down to tell you – get a move on, you’re doing a great job”.

How could I let her down after that?

To all of you, runners, organisers, and absolutely brilliant spectators. “Congratulations!”.

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From the Albi Ekiden to Chicago

October 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

As a Lean Practitioner, it is important to have other centres of interest, or life can become really frustrating (at other times, it can be exhilirating, of course). One of mine is running, which I took up around eight years ago, mainly to keep myself of mischief.

Last night I participated in my very first ‘Ekiden’, in the beautiful cathedral city of Albi, in the south-west France. The format is a marathon (42,195km) relay, with a team of six, running respectively 5, 10, 5, 10, 5 and 7,195 km). And all this starting at eight in the evening, by which time it was obviously dark, and some of the less-serious teams had already been downing the ‘aperitifs’ for a couple of hours.

The interesting fact is that I’ve only just learned this evening that ‘Ekiden’ is in fact a Japanese term. According to Wikipedia,

“The first ekiden race was sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1917, and was run over three days between the old Japanese capital of Kyoto and the modern capital of Tokyo, a distance of 508 km, to celebrate the anniversary of the moving of the capital to Tokyo….As written in Japanese, Ekiden combines the characters for “station” (駅) and “transmit” (伝).”

That I consider this ‘interesting’ is due to the fact that, whilst observing people’s behaviours around me last night (there were over 260 teams of six runners), my perception was that the whole thing had a decidedly ‘Lean’ flavour to it. It some ways it reminded me of the school outing in Goldratt’s ‘The Goal’, where the group only progressed as fast as its slowest walker. Last night there were some really fit looking athletes desperately looking for their team members who were obviously a lot slower, restrained by their inferior speed (in this part of France, running is generally an excuse for having a good time, and for some runners it’s the only time they put on their training shoes all year).

But there was no frustration, no hard feelings. A lot of work had gone into defining the exact order of runners so as not to leave anyone too far behind. Mutual encouragement was rife, to the extent that individuals in difficulty were often accompanied by team members over the more testing parts of the course. Advance warning was given of the imminent arrival of your team member through a large screen hooked up to a camera 100 meters down the road. And everything was measured and instantaneously posted on electronic scoreboards each time a runner crossed the finishing line. Everybody knew where the team stood, and what needed to be done.

And it was the Japanese that invented this.

It probably suffices to say that my team didn’t win, but we weren’t last, and in any case was one of those that had already started on the red wine before the race.

However, this time next week, it’s going to be a totally different story. I’m coming over to Chicago for the 10-10-10 Marathon, just as I did last year, and enjoyed it so much I just had to get back as soon as possible. No red wine allowed next Sunday, and there’ll be five less members in the team.

Wish me luck.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Why, why, why, why, why?

September 5th, 2010 admin No comments

In 2009 in France, 43% of new car sales were of  models manufactured in France, that is a 14% drop on ten years earlier. And of the cars manufactured in France, 64% of components were sourced in France (compared with 67% in 1999).

Just one extract from an interesting study that came out this week from the Ministry of Industry. Globally, the percentage of French components in French products has dropped by 75% to 69%. Only a 6%  drop, you may be saying, but when multiplied by trillions of components sourced over the period, it’s pretty easy to understand why French industry is seen to be in decline.

Some industries come out better than others. 86% of components in high tech products are French, as are 80% of luxury goods. However, trains (including the TGV include only 62%, and the airlines just over half).

All of a sudden it is easy to understand why Airbus, for example, has faced consecutive delays to some of its major programmes. There most be a million or so components (if not more) on an A380. It would be a major job getting them delivered, tested and passed even with suppliers housed next door. If almost half of the parts have to be passed through customs and any questions raised during testing fed through a translator, it could become a little more difficult. Unless there are masses of stock both at final assembly and on the high seas or in distribution centres around the world.

It does make you want to ask ‘why’ at least five times!

In any case, the French government has decided to react and is thinking about introducing a ‘made in France’ label. How they are going to define ‘made in France’ based on some of the figures above is another story entirely.

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Money to invest, anyone?

September 4th, 2010 admin No comments

4 septembre 2000 : the CAC40, the French equivalent of the Dow Jones or FTSE index, reached 6922 points.

4 septembre 2010: it closes at around 3672, barely over half of the level of 10 years earlier.

Source : Les Echos, 3/9/10

Source : Les Echos, 3/9/10

Now, Lean Thinkers generally agree that the Lean journey is far more difficult in those companies permanently fighting off shareholders pressures. Don’t you think that, with hindsight, shareholders 10 years ago may have been pushing longer-term Lean improvements rather than demanding short-term financial gain?

For the decline in value of French shares is far more acute than that of either the U.S. or Germany, as indicated by the diagram on the right. The U.S. and Germany are two countries where Lean Thinking has caught on far more than in France (I also read this week that unemployment has dropped in Germany for the 13th successive month).

OK, there have been three waves of crisis in the last years – the Internet bubble bursting, the subprime phase, and more recently international debt. However, contrary to the Dow Jones and Dax 30, the peak in 2000 has never again been reached since.And what is also worrying is that, back in 2000 (as is the case today), technology and innovation were seen as the way forward. 10 years later, technology stock accounts for only 6% of the CAC 40, against 40% at the time.

There have been successes, notably in industry : Air Liquide has increased by 87% and Michelin by 78%. However in the 10 leading stocks in terms of value at this moment, (Total, BNP Paribas, Sanofi-Aventis, EDF, GDF Suez, L’Oréal, LVMH, France Telecom, AccelorMittal, Société Générale), there is only one we could consider as belonging to industry.

Anyone with money to invest? I can only suggest putting it where Lean Thinking is rife, and sitting back with confidence that this is the best investment you can make for the next ten years.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Don’t we just love excellent customer service

August 31st, 2010 admin No comments

Regular readers of this blog (I have to say that the readers are far more regular than the writer over the past few weeks) will recollect that I do have a tendancy to comment on my customer service experiences, whether they be good, bad, or terrible. It took a really good experience this week to shake me out of my blog-writing lethargy, which is quite a feat.

Back in October of last year, about the time this blog got its first post and resulting spam comments, I hopped over to Chicago (as you do) to run in the very excellent marathon they have over there. The race was on the Sunday, I arrived on the Thursday, so that left Friday and Saturday to see the city. Well, Friday was sufficient for what I wanted to see, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend my time doing anything else too strenuous. Therefore a leisurely stroll around the centre saw me browsing through Borders, the bookshop, and coming out with what I thought was a fair-priced copy of the most recent novel of one of my favourite bedtime authors, Jonathan Kellerman (he shouldn’t be too proud, the sole objective of bedtime reading is to get me to sleep).

August 2010, and I finally got around to wiping the dust off the book with the intention of having a few early nights.All went well until page 187. The reasons are outlined in the note I sent to Random House, the publishers, on 22/08 i.e. 9 days ago.

“Dear Sir or Madam,  Back in October 2009, I travelled over from France to Chicago to run in the city’s excellent marathon. During my stay there, I purchased a copy of Jonathan Kellerman’s True Detectives, published by yourselves, ISBN 978-0-345-49518-1, at Borders in the city centre.   I finally got around to reading it this summer. Imagine my disappointment when, having read 186 pages, I was to find that the following page was 251. You probably have received a number of complaints by now indicating that page 187 to 218 were replaced by duplicate pages 251 in 282 during one of your production runs.   Ideally you could send me a correct version of the book. Failing this, and seeing as I will be travelling back to Chicago this October to run the marathon again, I will return the copy to Borders and ask for an exchange. I would however obviously prefer the first option.   Thank you in advance for your reply.”

Fairly direct, but it worked. The very next day, I got a reply.

Thank you for contacting Random House, we appreciate your feedback and continued interest in our publications.

I have ordered a complimentary replacement copy under order #10462555 to be delivered to the address below.  Orders generally leave our warehouse within 3 business days and are delivered internationally to western Europe within 11-14 business days.

It is not necessary for you to return your misprinted copy to us.  You may be able to submit it as scrap to your local recycling center or regional arts group.

We appreciate your patience and hope you will continue to enjoy Random House publications in the future

And lo and behold, today, 31 August, 9 days after my initial message, DHL turned up with the book. I can’t say that I have anything to complain about.

If this had happened in France, I’m not sure what the reaction would have been. Or maybe it wouldn’t have happened, as I’ve never known such a gross printing problem occur. I can’t imagine what kind of QC procedures the Random House printers use. And no, they don’t outsource to China, at least according to the information on the front cover of the book.

So tonight, I’ll finally get around to reading pages 187 to 218, which should be interesting, as I’ve already finished 219 to 462!

And so, yes, in five and a half weeks, I’ll be back thrilling the crowds (well, they were clapping and cheering last time) over the 26 miles in Chicago. And paying a little more attention to the number of pages in any books I buy.

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The road back from China

August 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Back in the first quarter, I reported on the government plans to reboost industry, one measurable objective being to increase industrial output by 25% by 2015.

One of the measures announced was to provide ’support’ to entice French companies having offshored production to bring it back into the country. 20% of the billion or so euros available have been set aside between now and 2013 to provide financial incitations to bring back the work.

Last week, the first company to benefit from these measures was announced. A foundary, Loiselet, in the north of France had transferred production to China some years ago as environmental restrictions had limited its potential for expansion. The return on investment however was offset by the transports costs (one would have thought that this may have been calculatable beforehand?) and the government offer of a reimbursable loan was sufficient for them to decide to transfer back, and invest 12m euros in the French site.

The qualifying criteria? You need to be a company of less than 5000 employees, have a project of more than 5 million euros, and commit to creating and keeping at least 25 jobs for the next three years. The aim is to create 2000 jobs over the next few years – which needs to be put in the context of the 2m industrial jobs which have disappeared over the past 30 years, but it is hoped that the success of the measures will provide a springboard for others to follow suit under their own steam.

There are, as is the norm in France, those who dispute the real value of the measure, and claim that companies are starting to come back anyway. A furniture manufacturer, Majencia, transferred production to China in 2000. Theoretically,  there was a 20% cost advantage in doing so, but this was soon reduced to 10% due to the extra logistics costs (another lack of foresight?). In 2006, the work was transferred back after an agreement with the works councils that the remaining 10% difference could be cancelled out by productivity improvements. Atol, a network of optical centres, had to transfer production to China in 2003 as there were no French companies prepared to take on the small batch sizes of spectacles to be manufactured. It’s now all coming back (what a difference a financial crisis makes) and the opportunity taken to work with local manufacturers on providing innovative products, which was not possible when the suppliers were oceans away.

A form of protectionism it may be, but the French government is showing the way, and hopefully more companies will be jumping on the return-trip bandwagon over the next few months.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Why does Productivity make us uneasy?

August 5th, 2010 admin No comments

Maybe I’ve already mentioned it, but when giving an ‘introduction to Lean’ presentation a few weeks ago, my mention of a ‘time-based approach’ led to one of the participants commenting that “you should be careful about mentioning that, it could scare people”.

Scared by taking less time to get something done. Well, it got me thinking, and concluding that there is a probably a link between this type of point of view and the difficulties we have in France is driving ‘Lean’ thinking. It’s all to do with the culture!!

A post a few months ago made a reference to the government’s plan for industry, in which ’subsidies’ was the buzzword, ‘productivity’ hardly mentioned (apart from wondering why the Germans are so much better at it) and ‘Lean’ not at all.

In the past 30 years, the price of petrol has been divided by 2, steak by 3, oranges by 4 and electric light bulbs by 5. All thanks to skilled industrial engineers making the changes required to drive ‘productivity’. Consumers have therefore benefitted greatly from the progress made, but have as a result interpreted productivity in only one of two possible ways – producing as much using less resources… and in most people’s minds, the resources in question are the people themselves.

Very few people see productivity as an opportunity to make more with the same resources. Therefore, productivity has become linked to social recession. In the same way, using time as the unit of measure induces concern and maybe even stress, rather than joy and excitement as the potential of being able to make and sell so much more.

France is and always has been a very creative and innovative country. Information systems is the current thing to be in. I saw an article this morning in which it is reported that over the first half of this year, national results for the big IT companies are far better than the international averages. The French love creating things.

However, growth cannot feed on creativity and innovation alone. Production and productivity make our daily bread. Innovation and productivity feed off each other. And it is time for us all to stop worrying whenever we hear the P word.

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