Helping reach new heights

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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A ninth waste identified by Air France

June 22nd, 2010 admin No comments

Depending on what you are reading or who you are talking to, part of Lean is about eliminating either the seven or the eight standard wastes, the eighth in question being insufficient use of human potential and competences. Well, I can announce a ninth one, according to a recent governement report looking into criminality in Paris airports.

The ninth waste in question is theft, and Air France, being the major carrier into and out of Paris, is suffering the most from the lack of process control of goods destined to make trips with Air France more comfortable.

For example, blankets, pillow cases and tablecloths used in the long haul flights mysteriously disappear…. most probably in the hands of the passengers themselves, at a cost of 1,9m euros per year. The loss of cutlery and porcelain plates and cups amounts almost to as much.

However, it is not just the passengers who have light fingers. It is estimated that one in ten bottles of champagne never actually makes it onto the plane in the first place. The toiletries are another favourite for those dealing with the transport, as well as the meals themselves. And almost half a million of euros worth of newspapers disappear without trace. What can they possibly do with a few hundred copies of today’s papers?

Duty-free items, despite stringent security, and first-aid kits come in for the same treatment. But probably the most strange items to disappear are the metal trolleys used to serve meals and drinks. 630 000 euros worth, taken probably for the value of the metal!

The fact that the word ‘theft’ is the same in French (’vol’) as the word flight, this report potentially adds a new slant to Air France’s marketing campaigns!

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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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How does 144 days work a year sound to you?

May 14th, 2010 admin No comments

We all know that leadership and training are at the heart of all successful continuous improvement initiatives. But wouldn’t it be easier if we managed to get it right during our schooling?

A 2006 report indicated that the efficiency of the education system in France was below the average of developed nations (OCDE). If you want good schooling, live in Finland or… Korea. Now, a national investigation has revealed that :

- one in five children suffers serious reading diffculties during his school curriculum (and it’s a lot worse in maths),

- one in six leaves the schooling system without any qualifications.

This is despite the fact that 3,9% of GNP (average for the OCDE countries) is dedicated to education, but the number of pupils is far less than in Finland or Japan, who also come out really well.

Conclusions of the government task force : “it is a problem with organisation and management“. Well, I wonder how much they got paid to come up with that one!! Some of the observations made are that :

- very little review of the education policies against actual pupil requirements (who said ‘customer value’?),

- redundancy of the different systems of extra hours in place to help students with difficulties (’overproduction’),

- a too high centralisation of recruitment decisions with the local heads having very little say (’misuse of workforce potential’).

The measurement system comes in for criticism. For example, France is ‘world champion’ in having students redo a year’s curriculum due to insufficient results (it happens to 40% of them before they reach 15), with no evidence that doing improves results in the long term. However, schools obtain resources based on the number of pupils per level – where is the incentive to whisk them through the system?

The school year is made up of 144 days work, one of the shortest in the world (and I know for the fact that my son spends many of those idling his time away in self-study periods). Nearly half of lessons attract small groups given the diversity of subjects that are on offer. And who comes out of this the worst off? Those from the lower social levels, of which only 18% obtain the ‘baccalaureat’ against 78% for the better off.

What is the most frustrating in all of this is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to make things any different!!

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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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Lean, Green and Risk-Free

April 27th, 2010 admin No comments

There’s an interesting article in this morning’s French economic newspaper “Les Echos”. Basically, the author is asking the question on whether last week’s air traffic standstill due to the Icelandic volcano eruption is a sign that the transport boom is over, in the same way as the property, internet and financial good time have all come to an end at some time in the recent past.

He points out that the increased accessibility and reduced cost of transport over the years, from both a business and leisure viewpoint, has increased our dependance so much that we now cannot live without it. Companies have gone overseas to find cheap alternative sources of supply, the benefits outweighing the increased cost of the supply chain. And the increased demand has generated economies of scale, which have made the services that more accessible, etc… One big vicious circle.

‘Lean Management’ gets a mention, rare for this paper, in the context that an obsession with reducing the non value-adding costs of these extended supply chain has resulted in decreased stock levels. In some cases, the only stocks can be those currently being shipped in the transport system. And when the transport system in question breaks down, there is potentially chaos.

So have we gone too far? I can’t say that I heard too many complaints from businesses faced with production lines shutting down due to the non-availability of parts. Most of the anguish came from individuals and holidaymakers. Maybe the downtime of five or six days was not sufficient to make an impact. However, would it be the same outcome if, as has happened in the past, the French lorry drivers block all roads for a couple of weeks, or a worldwide fuel crisis nails the planes to the ground?

Food for thought indeed, especially for those pushing for more insourcing and home-grown products. Being Lean is a great objective – being Lean, Green and Risk-Free, even we pay a little more, is maybe a better compromise.

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It had to be expected.

April 15th, 2010 admin No comments

I’d say that this is the first of many. It seems that the suppliers of the telecoms operators are having difficulty keeping up with the demand of their customers at the moment. 2009 was spent reducing headcount and taking defensive actions against falling sales. But since the beginning of the year, with the explosion of the Iphone and other mobile devices requiring investments in new networks, France Telecom, SFR and Bouygues etc are placing increased demands on the Ciscos and Alcatel-Lucents of  this world.

A ’spokesman’ for the supplier claims that this situation is quite normal. It appears that lead-times are around six months, given the number of component suppliers in the supply chain, each with their own second-tier suppliers.

It looks pretty obvious that communication is not of the highest quality in this type of supply chain. If the operators and their suppliers had spent a little more time around a table agreeing on what would be and what would not be possible, and where strategic stocks should be held, and that this had been communicated through and agreed by the sales divisions, the current situation may be a little different. Instead it seems that the operators are ‘exercing pressure’ (we can probably guess in what sort of climate) on the suppliers to limit the damage.

In the case of Alcatel-Lucent, the consequences have been and could be even more dramatic. Worldwide sales figures have been reviewed downwards with a similar impact on the forecasted share price, and the Operations Director left the company on Friday possibly because he’d reduced stocks so much in the context of a cost-cutting initiative that it is going to take months to recover. You can be sure that he probably got a big bonus a few months ago for doing so, so we shouldn’t worry for him too much.

Interestingly enough, it seems that the Chinese operators are not facing the same issues. Either they have vertically integrated, have very flexible local suppliers… or didn’t notice the dip in the economic cycle.

I just wonder who is going to be next.

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A month is a long time in politics

April 11th, 2010 admin No comments

How politics can be fickle. A few months ago, in the midst of the spate of suicides at France Telecom, the government came up with a applaudable scheme where all major companies were obliged to negociate agreements with the workers representatives to guard against stress in the workplace. These agreements were to cover areas such as internal communication and the counselling of affected workers, for example , and basically could include just about anything, each company being relatively different.

This was the brainchild of a minister called Xavier Darcos who, as a result of the poor showing of the majority at the recent regional elections, became the sacrificial lamb, and got moved on (possibly to a job as the boss at the Chateau de Versailles, which seems to me to be a altogether more attractive proposition than Works Minister).

Poor old Xavier had created a fuss back in February by publishing ‘name and shame’ league tables of companies who had concluded negociations, those who were in the process… and the naughty boys who hadn’t yet done anything. Obviously those at the bottom of the class, many with a privileged route into the President’s ears, weren’t too happy, and one could suppose that this had at least a minor influence on the organisational change that ensued.

Bring in Eric Woerth, the previous Minister for the Budget, famous for proposing effiencies without once mentioning Lean.

That’s right you’ve guessed it. Since he arrived, the league tables in question have not been updated (despite a commitment to a weekly update). And ‘friends’ of the new minister told reporters that he doesn’t wish to carry on with the campaign (a way of testing opinion?) without anything yet being official.

I wonder how the minister is going to react to the news at the end of the week that an official judicial enquiry is to be opened into the eventuality of ‘moral harassment’ on the part of the France Telecom directors which may have led to some of the 35 suicides in the last two years. Initiated by the trade unions, there are claims of a deliberate campaign to destabilise workers so that they would leave the company. And that the suicides are the tip of the iceberg hiding ‘thousands’ of cases of depression in the workforce.

It seems pretty clear that the tension is going to last for some time in the future. Unless the new Works Minister has something up his sleeve.

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Management by social objectives

March 29th, 2010 admin No comments

In the past I’ve been following the goings-on at France Telecom, which has been at the centre of a lot of media attention – who sometimes and somehow manage to make a link with Lean – following a spate of suicides. Despite the coverage and an increased level of communication between management and representatives of the workforce, there have been another 11 incidences so far this year (none of them however in the workplace) following 25 or so last year.

One of the consequences of the drama has been a change of management at the highest level, and the new boss has wasted no time in addressing the problem head on.

Following 22000 job cuts during the reign of his predecessor, Stéphane Richard, the new General Director, has committed to stabilising the level of the workforce through 3500 recruitments. And there will be no further cases where employees are obliged to move regions just to keep their job (this was one of the root causes of the crisis) and any moves will be based on volunteers (who hoping will be influenced through positive rather than negative incitements).

However, one of the most interesting measures is that of the composition of the variable part of the remuneration of the senior management (1100 of them, there does seem to be an awful lot of layers in there – there are 10000 managers in total). The variable part of their salaries can be anything between 30 and 50%, and 30% of this will be based on their ‘social performance‘.

How on earth do you measure ’social performance’? It does look as though they don’t quite know, just yet. However, the measurable objectives will be determined in collaboration with the trade unions. And an independant third-party will be used to measure the ’softer’ side of the measures through surveys, etc.

Hopefully the results of the negociations will be published, so that we can all learn from an episode that nobody to date can take any pride from.

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