Food for Thought "If you have the right people, with good, basic values and good work ethic, you can have a tremendous journey."

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Food for Thought 2 "The follow-up in my Food for Thought series, with more focus on my experiences with Six Sigma and Kaizen."

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June 3, 2015

Personal Assessments & Personal Development

Filed under: Personal Philosophy,Professional Development,Services — Alec @ 7:29 pm

McPherson Lean Partners has completed over 720 personal assessments during the last 7 years. If you want quick and lasting results that help each individual employee, this is one of the best tools. They really help people introspectively progress as well as work better in a team. We have used them and seen improvement for conflict management, team building, and in our one-on-one coaching.

There are several types of assessments. You probably know them as DISC or Myers Briggs. Assessments usually fall into one of 4 areas:

  1. How you act 
  2. How you think
  3. Why you think and act that way
  4. Emotional stability

Some people use them to hire and fire, but I prefer to use assessment tools for development. 

Call us, we would love to give you and your significant other a free assessment. You may be surprised how much you can learn about them from a personal assessment test!



Getting Done the To Do’s

What would you do if you had 1 hour more a day? Where would you spend it?

We all talk about time management, but few of us do anything about it. I recently was a guest at talk by my good friend Arnie Rintzler and these are my notes:

The formula for well being — mentally and physically — is time management. Life is not a spectator sport, so learning to manage your time so you can do what you really want to do, is extremely valuable.  

The people we admire and trust the most are usually those who keep their word and promises on time. You must give your word, and recognize that trust is the highest praise. Many of us are so poor at time management that we don’t trust ourselves to give our word i.e. we get done what we focus on in our time calendar.  

There are 168 hours in a week. We sleep maybe 56 hours, work 55 hours, eat 14 hours, travel 14 hours, and that leaves 30 + hours to get other things done. If we prioritize and focus we can accomplish great things!

MLP can help you accomplish your life goals. Here are a couple ways to get you started:

  1. Hint: Don’t put C items on your Daily Things to Do list or on your calendar.  
  2. Hint: If I gave you $86,400 dollars every day and you had to spend it — no carry over — how would you spend it? You have 86,400 seconds every day, spend it equally wisely!

The Business Benefits of a Small Group

Filed under: Professional Development,Services — Alec @ 7:03 pm

Why use a small group in business? Small groups create space and opportunity to share ideas, to talk and listen, to question and practice. They provide an avenue to build teamwork. Small groups can make a huge difference in the success of a business or organization.

Putting 6 to 10 people with a common focus or goal together can encourage and motivate the participants to a higher level. When we see others on our team who are achieving new levels of success, it inspires us and makes us feel rewarded for our small role in that success.

Small groups help us be accountable because our team members are acting both as a safety net and as coaches/mentors.

Many of McPherson Lean Partners classes are small group sessions. We solve more that your problem, we help you build a team culture for ongoing growth and happy employees.

December 17, 2014

Success : What does it look like? And how will you achieve it?

What does Success look like? For you personally and in your business?

The end of the year is a great time to reflect, and to think about the plan for next year. In our Kaizen events we always suggest that we spend 40% of the time defining the problem. Thus, this time of year we certainly must finish strong, but also make time for planning the next year. Good planning starts with the question “What do you want for next year?”

Suggested step number 1 is “What do you want the end of year next year to look like?” Take into consideration how many new customers, how many existing customers, how many fired customers, total volume, profit, cash flow, employees, equipment, productivity, and the list goes on! Don’t forget to also envision what you want your personal life to look like: health, mental, family, financial, spiritual, social, etc..

Karen and I have been working on our own Plans for 2015. For our business, we have enough statistics to project how many events, how many sales meetings, and even how many sales calls we need to achieve specific desired revenue. We set up a simple metric chart to track key indicators that help us predict and plan for the future.

I suggest that after you have identified what success will look like, you identify key actions required by you and your employees to make these goals happen. You should also establish how you would measure and track these actions.

We know that success businesses center around People, Planning and Processes. Try to include these three areas in your success and key actions model.

A Test To Help Weigh The Risks

Filed under: Leadership Skills,Motivation,Professional Development — Alec @ 3:42 pm

Every day — in life and business — is a test. And if you like tests as much as I do, you are in luck!

The tests come in many forms, usually: Think, Produce, Value

We have to Produce, but we also must Think and plan some depending on the complexity, value and risk associated with the work to be accomplished.

I am a very big risk taker, but I always want to take into account and estimate the cost or severity of failure. I always want to evaluate the ability to reverse my actions. In other words, it is an easy and inexpensive risk to test a new flavor of tea, but very expensive and hard to reverse risk to buy a new convertible on a whim.

It is essential to understand the impact on the company, boss, employees and goals when considering high value and high severity actions. Corrections are easy on a wrong flavored cup of tea, but not so easy on a $250,000 machine that proves wrong.

And finally, the real score keeper is the customer. How will they accept and evaluate the risks you take and their inevitable success or failure?

In your Plan for 2015 you have already thought about what next year should look like. Now you need to analyze the details and Think:

1. What do you really want to or need to accomplish?
2. What risks are you willing to take? What is the Value of these risks?

Sometimes it takes a little nudge to stop, wake up, and think about your 5-year plan and make sure your 1-year plan fits with the bigger picture.

So, do a little mental reboot, nudge your risk-taking dream machine, and don’t be afraid to think about what you REALLY want.

Need help with your reboot? Call us! We love dreaming about what your company could be. We will help you pass your next big test.

November 25, 2014

Food For Thought 2: Kaizen and 6 Sigma – now available for purchase

MLP_FoodForThoughtBookTwo_FINALepubCoverMy second book is available for purchase!

The follow-up in my Food for Thought series, with more focus on my experiences with Six Sigma and Kaizen. But don’t worry, it’s not just a book about the technical side of Lean Manufacturing Engineering, there are still plenty of anecdotes, tips and observations about People, Leadership, and Motivation from my personal and professional life. I will touch on Sales, Listening and Time Management tips that I not only preach but also practice.Finding your passion is only part of the journey, the rest is how you get there!

Buy it in paperback here  or if you prefer an electronic version, get it on e-book here!

September 15, 2014

Some Projects Require More Data Than Others

Filed under: Food for thought for friends,Professional Development — Alec @ 12:58 pm

Some projects just require a lot more data collection. One project that we completed in 2007 was that kind of commitment. We took a look at the manufacturing process for an orthopedic cutter. The process had been around for 10 years and had been subjected to numerous process improvement events. Strangely, all of the prior attempts at cost reduction and quality improvement had been focused on the 32 operations as singular processes rather than looking at the whole system of operations.

The original process included 32 operations to complete a high volume, high precision family of cutters. The total manufacturing cost was about $20. But, in order to keep the business from moving to Asia, a major cost reduction was necessary.

Our first step was to do a detailed Value Stream Map (VSM). However, with 32 operations we really needed to go look at each operation individually and collect lots of data. We analyzed more than the normal minutes per piece at each operation. We also explored:

• variable and fixed burden rates

• probable activity based burden rate

• set-up times for each machine

• quality

• rework

• the queue ahead of each operation

• man time

• steps between operations

When I speak about man time I am referring to the part of the total cycle time that requires a person to be present. For example, a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) mill only has a small amount of time to load, unload and gauge a part, but an Assembly Machine may take the total cycle time.

We observed how much waste handling there might be within an operation because it was not a cell. In other words, if we could eliminate the need to pick up in order to start the process and to pack in order to end each operation, we could save a little time. So, we looked at Takt time (the cycle time required to meet the customer demand). We compared the Takt time to the actual cycle times and identified all the operations that had a cycle time less than the Takt time. When the operation was significantly less than the Takt time, we examined the opportunity to do another operation within that machine (a second load – A & B position fixture).

Quality, rework and high set-up time operations were the most important target for 5S (the fundamental building blocks of an organization- sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain) and Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), even before we could tackle Cellular. The quality side required we do a Design of Experiments (DOE) to determine the real process capability. Most processes have 10 to 20 factors that when varied have an impact on the results. Usually there are only a few that have significant impact over a small range. Often we know and can easily control which factors have an impact. However, there are times that a few significant factors that are not known may even be an interaction. By collecting data and doing a few DOE we can identify the significant factors that must be tightly controlled. With our DOE, a few significant factors were identified and the process was suddenly statistically capable. Some fixture standardization and magnetic chucks with the 5S reduced set-up times.

We posted a 3-foot by 4-foot spreadsheet on the wall so we could compare what operations might be combined due to Takt time capacity or Open Man capacity. Then, one by one, we put together our dream process and modified our spread sheet to see what impact these combined operations had on capacity, man cycle time, variable costs, walk distance, and set-up time.

Some of the most obvious things were how many redundant operations occurred such as wash. There were 4 wash operations in the original process when in reality a single rinse in a small pail of water was satisfactory for all but the final wash.

The original process had:

• 4 washers

• 32 operations

• 25 racks for WIP (Work in Progress)

• walk time more than the standard hours per part (or over 1000 steps)

• 18 of the operations took less than 60 seconds


The final streamlined process identified included:

• 2 small manufacturing cells with Heat Treat in between

• 2 washers

• 14 operations

• 6 racks including in and out for Heat Treat (40 steps per part)

This resulted in a 60% reduction in variable cost. Conclusion: Sometimes it takes a lot of data and multiple perspectives from lots of people to see the opportunity.


February 6, 2014

Conflict Management : Keeping the Conversation Going

A lot of team building is getting all the team members to play nicely in the sand box together. We do a lot of Personal Development classes that end up being Conflict Management sessions. I am surprised how often I have to say, “name calling is NOT allowed”.

There is a great book written called The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton. The main idea of this book is that bullying behavior at work actually worsens both morale and productivity. And in order to lessen the effects of toxic people in the workplace, some companies have instituted the no asshole rule. Basically some people are just that and the word jerk or bully doesn’t have the same power. Get rid of them; they are like rotten apples and one bad apple will ruin the whole bushel.

I have a poor memory for bad situations, but I never remember calling someone an ass at work. I might have called them an ass behind their back or in my head. I also don’t ever recall saying to someone’s face, “It is none of your business!” Although it is possible I did at some point. When emotions are high, conflict arises and people say things they don’t mean. If you find this happening you might also want to read Crucial Conversations : Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. This book speaks to how communication stops when emotions rise. It discusses effectively talking about anything safely and how to transform anger and hurt feelings into an open dialogue.

With these two books you will be have the tools at your disposal to handle most workplace conflict and keep your emotions under control at the office.



December 4, 2013

Judging A Book By It’s Cover

How often is judging someone by an appearance or by your first impression accurate?

I suppose it is probably different for everyone. I know for myself, I am not very good at accurately judging someone else based on a 5-minute encounter or even in a one hour meeting. I try very hard not to judge people’s qualifications on looks or what someone might say during an initial conversation. But it does happen.

We often judge businesses the same way. The first time we enter a business we make a subconscious opinion or snap decision about that business. I have not personally recorded any statistics, but my guess is that we are often wrong. I remember going to Hahn’s Hardware store in Lowell with my dad when I was growing up. It was an old fashion hardware store with hardwood floors and narrow aisles. It seemed cluttered and appeared very disorganized with a damp and dark basement. But in reality, they had at least one of everything and could repair almost anything. My first impression wasn’t the right impression. What I perceived as a little scary turned out to be a great resource for the community. It didn’t take long before I grew to love that store and Mr. Hahn.

People are like that store. We must get to know them to understand who they are. We all have natural and adaptive thoughts and actions. We can pretend and adapt for a while, but under pressure we tend to revert to our natural self. That natural self is who we really are. Think of a sponge saturated with water – we can’t easily tell it is saturated until we touch it and then the water appears.

Businesses are like that also. They have a culture. They also have a natural and adaptive personality. When under pressure or during stressful we see the real culture of the company. This is when we see the true colors of how a business acts, reacts and deals with thing internally and externally. If there are negative components of a business culture, it is not easy to change. A slow cultural change can takes a lot of time and energy, often from the top!

Don’t form your impressions of people and businesses too quickly, you may miss out on the best.



November 14, 2013

Six Sigma : Successful Cellular Projects

Filed under: Professional Development,Six Sigma — Alec @ 10:18 pm

I love the cellular projects because if you focus on the right product, or family of products, the cost savings is tremendous. In this instance, the problem statement was that the customer was unhappy with lead times and price. The customer said if lead times and price could be lowered, they would give them incremental business. The goal of the project was to reduce full formula, fully burdened cost by 20% and reduce lead times by 50%.

A team of four was formed to tackle the project and write the charter. The first steps include a detailed Value Stream Map of all machines and all processes within each machine. The Map also include each operator’s special quality requirements and surface finish specifications. Several iterations of the planned cell were simulated and the results were estimated to include cycle time, capacity and costs. The final proposal was developed after totally reprocessing the parts using new fixtures, different cutting tools, different finishing process, etc.

A two-piece flow was selected due to the CNC cycle time and the two-piece process in the tumble finisher. The goal was to run the cell with one employee, who would be responsible for the two CNC’s, the finisher, polish stand, and inspection bench. Many process maps during the evolution identified little pockets of waste in the process and within the machine. In order to balance all the machines cycle times and the operator load, unload, walk and inspect for all the machines, it was necessary to have a three position fixture. Special chuck jaws were designed and built to eliminate a dove tail operation.

A skilled CNC operator was used to run the cell and trained to run the polisher, washer and inspection operations.  A great deal of time was spent developing process sheets with pictures for each operator to use as a visual aid.

The newly established procedures were able to reduce direct process time from 70+ minutes to less than 35 minutes, which in turn reduced the full cost far beyond the original goal of a 20% reduction. Lead times were reduced from 30+ days for delivery to less than 5 days – including the out-vend for anodize. There was even a 55% reduction in walk time for the operator, meaning the operator worked less with the new process!

The key to cellular manufacturing is picking the right product or family of products. The reward is great – but there are often many small obstacles, including attitudes, that must be overcome.

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