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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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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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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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WOW!! Thank you Lucky Marble

July 25th, 2010 admin No comments

As we get older, those ‘WOW!!’ moments, the few seconds during which time seems to stand still as you try to comprehend the messages your senses have just sent  to you, tend to get rarer and rarer.

As a child, ‘WOW!!’ moments are part and parcel of growing up, as a teenager they tend to be associated with girls and music. As an adult, as we become supposedly wiser and more experienced – seen it all, done it all – there’s always a danger that each WOW!! (which still often tend to involve girls, but from a long way off!!) could be the last.

Well, I have just had one, and it was so enjoyable that I think that I’ll now dedicate the rest of my life to seeking out further ones (a joke, by the way!).

Permanently looking for new ideas and approaches to develop my business, I decided that it was time to develop another web site to ‘reach out’ to a new audience. What I have done in the past is to develop sites from a standard template, and I took the time yesterday – Saturday – to review the offerings from the different service providers. I came across a recently excellent site from Lucky Marble Web Solutions on which not only are there hundreds of really excellent templates which can be personalised and reviewed before purchase, but also a very comprehensive set of education videos which, in my humble opinion, would enable even the most inexperienced of potential website developers to build the confidence and know-how necessary to do something by themselves. Reasonably priced compared with the ‘competition’, and on top of that a $10 ’summer sizzler’ discount. Why would I go anywhere else?

So there I was, beginning of Saturday afternoon, a proud owner of a spanking new Dreamweaver template, ready to take further steps towards world domination of Lean Supply Chain consultancy……

Unfortunately, things weren’t going to plan. Despite what I was seeing on the education videos, I just couldn’t get the same things to happen as I started developing my first pages. The videos did insist – very strongly – on the importance of getting Dreamweaver to set up the site correctly, and I thought that I followed the instructions correctly, even though there was slight difference on my PC…..

By the middle of the afternoon, having gone through around 5 reinstallations, I decided that it was time to get the Lucky Marble support people involved. After all, it is their template. I didn’t find the answer to my problem in the FAQs, forum and support videos, so I left a message on the technical support describing my issue. The site indicated that I’d get a rapid reply but within normal weekday working hours, so with the time difference between Canada and Europe, I reckoned it would Tuesday morning my time at best before I got anything.

Imagine my surprise getting up this morning and logging on as I saw that I had not one, but two replies: a first one from a gentleman called Brandon Devnich, who is systems administrator at Lucky Marble, and who told me that “Typically, we don’t even check the ticket centre on the weekend, but I had something else I was looking into and thought I’d just glance in to see if there was anything pressing — your issue was something I thought needed addressing right away.”

Brandon had passed on my ticket to Colin Fraser, who I’d almost got to know through listening to a few of his short ‘how-to’ videos during yesterday afternoon. And after Brandon’s message, there was one from Colin, had not only taken on my issue in less than one hour after receiving Brandon’s note, but went to the trouble of building a five-minute video to actually how to get around the issue I was facing. And this was not even a problem with the product – this was a particularity with how Dreamweaver is installed on certain PCs – watch the video to learn more.

That was my WOW!! moment – hearing Colin say “Hi Peter”. And do you know what? The simple solution outlined in the video works!! And it’s now Sunday morning, and I can get on with what I was planning to do, 48 hours ahead of what I estimated was going to be the best time I’d get a reply.

WOW!! Thanks Brandon, Colin, and Lucky Marble.

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Expert House Movers – a Lean ballet.

July 14th, 2010 admin No comments

I’ve probably read 50% of everything that has ever been written on Lean (of that, probably 98% is in English, you just don’t realise how lucky you are to be both Lean advocates and readers of the English language – is it a surprise that Lean thinking is slower to catch on elsewhere?).

Anyway, of the 98% of the 50%, the vast majority comes up with common themes. Womack and Jones’ five principles. The importance of ‘Respect for People’. The key role of management.The contribution of the people.  How Lean is a journey, not a destination. Etc etc.

One other common observation is that ‘Lean is not easy’. It doesn’t happen overnight. It needs courage, burns calories, loses sleep, and damages marraiges (OK, maybe not the latter, but I imagine that there must be odd occurrences).

So we all agree, Lean is not easy. Don’t we?

Well, have you ever tried to move a mansion house?

I have just watched an amazing programme on Expert House Movers. These are people who plan for months and work for weeks (no, I didn’t get that the wrong way around) to move large buildings, and in this case a typical townhouse from 1906, a few hundred yards to make place for other construction (in this case, a hospital extension). Respect, respect. OK, there may be other engineering feats far more impressive and strenuous, but they haven’t passed on French TV yet, and this one simply took my breath away.

Basically, they drill holes into the foundations, insert massive metal beams, lift the whole building upwards, insert wheels… and then roll it along. Fascinating. Check out the videos on the Expert House Movers site.

The one thing that got me on this programme was that everybody concerned was serein and calm, knew exactly what they needed to do, immediately stopped everything should there be the slightest problem or risk… and they all seemed to be smiling.

And this stuff is probably five thousand times more difficult than implementing Kanbans and performing Ishakawa analyses. So the next time you are a little down in the dumps because the Lean projects are not progressing as planned, slip on a Expert House Movers video.

These people have Lean culture fine-tuned down to an art.

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How to choose suppliers in South Africa

June 5th, 2010 admin No comments

A new definition of supplier collaboration was introduced during an investigation-type programme on TV last night on life in South Africa, ahead of the FIFA World Cup which is starting next week.

All around the world, there are examples of suppliers being asked to obtain certifications as a condition to being considered as a potential partner. We also have examples of them being asked to develop Lean programmes, or even set up production units close to the customer’s facilities.

However, I would suggest that it is only in South Africa that a condition has been introduced based on the percentage of black employees in the suppler’s workforce. The programme didn’t go onto to investigate whether ISO 9000 and Lean were also criteria taken into consideration, but it was definitely the case that no blacks, no business.

Of course, in a country where 90% of the population is black, probably 99% of managerial roles are held by whites. The programme did manage to find the token black director who, in a similar fashion to South African rugby in the 90’s where the first black players were introduced as an appeasement to public opinion, seemed to have been ‘promoted’ specifically to be interviewed by foreign television crews. He seemed quite cool about it and openly described how his board colleagues giggled whenever he had something to say. Maybe there’s one less black board member this morning?

Of course, there was a political slant to the programme which had nothing to do with good logistics practice. Blacks were seen either as corrupt, pilandering murderers or living in hovels with excrements piling up by t he front door. Whites are either exploiting the black workers or setting back barricades on their farms to avoid having their throats ripped out by the aforementionsed pilandering murderers.

However, I do suppose that there are some fairly normal people in South Africa who are developing supplier relationships based on comparatively normal criteria, as well as some fairly normal public servants who will take time out from the charging the black demonstrators to charge English and Italian football hooligans over the next five weeks.

Hopefully South Africa will benefit from the visibility it will getting to one day finish off the work Mandela started 15 years ago now.

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What a fine mess….

May 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

Just mind games or is there an element of truth. We keep on hearing and reading that the worst of the recession is behind us, and that from now on it can only get better. However, this morning’s newspapers don’t entirely support this particular point of view.

There has been a trend over the past few months for workers to hold company directors hostage in the hope of gaining improved severance conditions. It was quite surprising however to read that the fashion has extended to a French hospital, where three members of the management team were held for around ten hours on Friday in protest against working conditions.

There are then the latest unemployment figures from Spain, where 4,6 million, or more than 20% of the workforce, are now out of work. Two years ago, the figures were 2,2m and just over 9% respectively, so have more than doubled over that period (despite the government insisting at the beginning of 2009 that the figure wouldn’t reach 4m). What seems alarming is that resignation seems to have come out stronger than the spirit of resistance, and the traditional May 1st social demonstrations didn’t raise more than a whimper.

Back to France, where according to a recent study, only 36% of young people who completed their higher education syllabus in 2009 have found work (and only half of these actually have the type of job they were looking for, and less than a quarter are on permanent rather than temporary contracts). And pretty soon, the 2010 promotions will be on the market, looking for the same opportunities.

Finally, in the US, where 15 million people (9,7%) are out of work, there is reported to be a crisis in the middle classes, where there is a strong representation of the Small to Medium Entreprises, who are taking longer to see any signs of a recovery than the larger groups who have easier access to the necessary credits.

There is one interesting piece of more positive news however, concerning the French government organisation (APEC) that is most prominant in bringing together jobs and suitable candidates for management-level positions. They are testing an approach where the CV and cover letter are replaced by a 45-minute on-line questionnaire which tests the candidate out on various practical aspects of the job he is interested in. Differentiation on responses to real-life situations rather than the school you attended. If this approach could be generalised, in a generation’s time we may have people in authority who are actually capable of sorting out the current mess we’ve all got ourselves into.

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John Lewis – doing something right

March 12th, 2010 admin No comments

I was intrigued today by a headline on one of the English news sites on John Lewis, which had such a good year in 2009 that all employees will be receiving a bonus of eight weeks pay.

Now, this is not a common news story these days so, looking a little further, I started to understand the John Lewis ‘partnership model’. Admittedly on their own web site, they stated just last month findings from a report (ok again, admittedly one they commissioned themselves) on the benefits of this model.

Resilience – the ability of firms to sustain employment and growth during difficult economic conditions – has been neglected as a crucial aspect of company performance over the past two decades. Instead, business strategy and public policy have been dominated by an unremitting focus on maximising share value. In the current economic conditions, business leaders and policy makers should be looking again at the resilience associated with the employee ownership model – and how it could benefit the economy as a whole.

Now, if I’d seen this piece in isolation, I’d have possibly agreed, but laughed it off as another corporate gimmick – well, they would say that, wouldn’t they.

However, when a month later the company’s results are published, and the headline focuses on how the company’s staff will be benefiting massively from the improved performance, I must admit that I sit up and take notice.

Proof that the road to success is not easy, but trying to take it without ensuring that the personnel – all of them – are on board is sheer lunacy.

Don’t I just love success stories!

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The German model

February 19th, 2010 admin No comments

There’s been a fair deal of questions in France over the past few months – basically a request for root cause analyses of why Germany seems to be handling the economic crisis a little better (the least that can  be said) than in this country.

I have a one word answer to that one : ‘teamwork’. Whereas all over France industrial actions seems to be breaking out at the moment, the trade unions defending the interests of the German automotive and metal workers agreed yesterday to an agreement which will, in reality, hold salaries steady over the next year in return for guarantees on the level of employment over the next two.

Call it what you want – ‘win-win’ or ‘give-give’ – but the truth is that, in the current climate, such compromises are inevitable.

And while in France and other European countries, factories are closing down and hypermarkets are on strike, Germany is holding on to its skilled workers.

Just guess who my money is on for being the first out of the recession?

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Insourcing 1 Outsourcing 0

January 12th, 2010 admin No comments

Interesting article in this morning’s paper which could have a big effect on the Swiss watch-making industry, dominated by the Swatch Group. The group makes not only Swatch watches, but also Omega, Longines and a whole set of other labels, to such an extent that it has a fairly monopolistic position in the market. In its infinite wisdom, some year ago the Swiss equivalent of the Monopolies Commission forced the Swatch Group to provide components to other companies for assembly. Now, we can all probably guess that this was not implemented with the greatest of enthusiasm, and it seems that there have over the years been a number of law suits and court cases against the Swatch Group for not complying with the orders.

I mentioned the ‘infinite’ wisdom of the Monopolies Commission, but maybe their wisdom is not that unconstrained. For the order they made was imposable through to the end of this year only. And surprise, surprise, the Swatch Group is threatening to stop supplying its competitors. As outlined by its president, Nicolas Hayek,

we have invested almost 2 billion Swiss francs into our production capability while others invest in marketing while using us as a supermarket…. Who, apart from ourselves, takes on the risks, makes the investments, absorbs the costs and trains the personnel?”.

A lesson maybe for those companies that have developed foreign sources of low-cost components rather than using local sources or even insourcing. What guarantee do they have that those sources will always want to carry on supplying? In the same paper, confirmation that the Chinese automotive market is now the world’s biggest. For how long will some of the more ‘exotic’ Asian low-cost sources want or even have the capacity to export their products?

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