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Just-In-Time Cafe Podcast, Episode 4 - Jump Starting a Successful Lean Six Sigma Effort With a Single Project -

We’re joined this month by Black Belt, Jeff Owens. Jeff’s story is one that highlights the power of a single change to inspire others.

We’ll get some insights from Jeff and then we’ll share our discovery of how security badges helped cut down hospital infections. In the news, we’ll find out why the King County bus maintenance team was walking the distance from Seattle to Death Valley. We’ll see how elephants and drivers are central to the great change management book, Switch, and for our Special Request – we’ll answer a question about how to get buy-in for process improvement.

Whew! I’ll take an Iced Mocha, please!

Also Listen On:

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  • 2:00 Appetizer of the Day 
    • Badges that change colors… it’s a thing!
  • 4:50 Bulletin Board
    • Lean Six Sigma News
  • 10:00 Tools of the Trade
  • 15:55 Special Request
    • In your experience, what is the best technique you have used to get buy-in for continuous improvement from skeptical leaders and stakeholders in the business?
  • 20:25 Today’s Special
    • Interview with Jeff Owens, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Tools Referenced

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Just-In-Time Cafe,’s official podcast, where we help you build your problem solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500, to small and medium size business, to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Tracy: Hey, Elisabeth!

Elisabeth: Tracy, how are you?

Tracy: I am great. But I really need a cup of coffee today.

Elisabeth: Make mine iced and let’s go in the private dining room. It’s really noisy here.

Tracy: OK. Sounds great. I’ll meet you in there.

Elisabeth: OK. Tracy, do you want to hear what’s on today’s menu?

Tracy: Yes.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Elisabeth: Alright. We have some cool stuff coming up. So on the appetizer, we got how something as unrelated as a security badge cut down on hospital infections. Very intriguing.

Tracy: Whoa!

Elisabeth: Yeah. And on our bulletin board, we’re going to find out why King’s County Bus Maintenance was walking the distance from Seattle to Death Valley yearly.

Tracy: What?!

Elisabeth: I know. That’s intriguing.

Tracy: Those people must be really in shape.

Elisabeth: Or tired. And then you’ve got next stop, another piece of news. We’ve got Lean troubles in the hospital, healthcare. So we’ll take a look at what that was about.

All right. Under tools of the trade, this time we’re going to do a book review. We’ve got – we’re going to cover a ground-breaking business book and we’re going to find out what elephants have to do with change. How’s that for intriguing?

Tracy: That sounds really intriguing. I’m really excited about that topic.

Elisabeth: Okay. And today, we’ve got a special request. This is about tools to get buy-ins. So we’ll come back to that. And then today’s special, we’ve got an interview with a brand new Black Belt and how he made big changes happen with the tool or tools as simple as a camera.

Tracy: Very nice.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Appetizer: Color-Changing Badges

Tracy: OK. So thank you for sharing that. So I am very anxious to hear, Elisabeth, tell me what do badges have to do with hospital infections?

Elisabeth: I’m glad you asked. So this came about in an interesting twist, an experience I had with two different clients. So one, I was starting to work with a hospital improvement team and they were basically trying to decrease pediatric infections for a certain procedure. And after doing some root cause analysis, data analysis, they discovered that the root cause of infections going up was people not changing an insertion within 12 hours. So that was clear. The problem was, you had shift changes, you had nurses coming and going. So, there wasn’t a through line of healthcare representatives, and that made it hard.

Then just serendipitously, I was with another client. And when I was in the lobby and they gave me a visitor’s badge, it was photo-sensitive. So throughout the day, the badge turned from white to red and by the end of an 8-hour day, it basically said, “STOP” in big, red letters.

And it gave me the idea. If there’s that kind of technology, can’t we bring that back to the hospital? Can’t that be pasted right on the insertion such that after 12 hours, the badge would turn red and people would know it was time to change it.

And they did it. They actually turned the technology or were able to purchase the technology. And they went from 30% infections down to 2%. So …

Tracy: Wow!

Elisabeth: Yeah. And we’ve got some links to the different technologies that do that. But that’s wild, isn’t it?

Tracy: It is really wild. And what I love about this is it’s visual management. You’re just at a glance able to know when something needs attention, and that’s the whole point of visual management. That is perfection.

What I love about this is it’s visual management. You’re just at a glance able to know when something needs attention, and that’s the whole point of visual management. That is perfection.

Elisabeth: Isn’t it?

Tracy: It is.

Elisabeth: It’s also kind of a kanban, isn’t it? It’s saying time for the next step in this procedure.

Tracy: Yeah, it could be. I know that it’s not specifically related but I was in a hospital recently and they actually have colored booties for all of their patients based on their pain level. So you know right away if a patient is in a lot – a great deal of pain, which I thought was really interesting, in one glance. So you don’t have to tell 17 people that you’re in pain.

Elisabeth: That’s so simple and so basic. You have to have something on your feet. Why not make it give some information to the healthcare people?

Tracy: Absolutely. And so, if there’s more – at a glance, less mistakes will happen.

Elisabeth: Yeah. And in hospitals, that can mean the difference between life or death or just healing faster or not.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: It has very human repercussions. So I think that’s a great place to see it.

Tracy: Yes. Well, thank you for sharing.

Elisabeth: Absolutely.

Bulletin Board

Elisabeth: So Tracy, up next, we’ve got our bulletin board. And you’ve got some information on back to healthcare, some troubles with bringing Lean or continue with the Lean program. Can you say more about it?

Tracy: Yes. So this is about a hospital who unfortunately has a new CEO coming in. So this hospital, it’s called Presence Health Rethinks Its Lean Initiative. This was in the news recently. And they have a new CEO coming in. They’ve been practicing Lean since 2002.

And unfortunately now, the new positioned, the new leader, isn’t well, “not a fan of Lean.” So what’s happening is, now they’re scrambling to find out how they can show that there is value to Lean to the top leader. So, staffers were able to dropped turnover time from an average of more than 30 minutes to less than 25 but it also has increased revenue by $600,000 over the course of a year.

And it’s really unfortunate because healthcare is one of those places that we’ve seen a lot of significant improvements just in even small incremental changes. And it just makes me sad to hear about a CEO coming in questioning the validity or how Lean works and it makes my heart sink.

Elisabeth: Yeah. And I think doubly so, but we’ll talk about this later that you would think the rational information, that data would prove the point. But obviously, there’s something else happening for that leader. But you and I both know, much depends on leadership, so without it, you’re sunk.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: So that’s a difficult one. Well, I’m going to tell you a little of a lightening one.

Tracy: Right, yes. And is this related to your walking the distance from Seattle to Death Valley by some King County people?

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: Oh, good.

Elisabeth: Yeah. These guys discovered, this is again in the news, in the Lean Six Sigma roundup that’s always on the website. You can go to the homepage and under blogs, these come out weekly which I find these always fascinating.

So these guys were walking a thousand extra miles a year. And this was based on a layout change. But they basically said, “Hey, let’s try Lean.” And Seattle has been great at applying Lean to government processes. So this was bus maintenance. And they basically came back to, “Hey, Lean means creating more value for customer with fewer resources.” I love it when people tie things up succinctly like that.

And they basically came back to, “Hey, Lean means creating more value for customer with fewer resources.” I love it when people tie things up succinctly like that.

So operating on that premise, they said, “Why can’t we apply it to maintenance?” The typical application is understood to be manufacturing. But you and I both know it’s all over the service industry transactional processes. So of course, they could apply it to maintenance.

And then they did some digging and they found out they had excess inventory, lots of extra parts and tools. They were waiting around for jobs to do. The waste of waiting. They often do the same job twice because they didn’t have good maintenance records. So again, you got defects, rework. And they said, “All that waste amounts to money.”

So this article details all the tools they used, the time and motion studies, really fascinating in terms of what they went after to basically eliminate that thousand mile hike to the Death Valley, which is a nice end of the road result, which is great.

Tracy: Yes. Wow! What I really like about that is it’s one thing to share the numbers, which is a thousand miles. But it’s another to say, “That’s like walking from Seattle to Death Valley.” And that to me is actually an example of something we’re going to be talking about in our next segment which is about this book, Switch, because it does talk about how you can share numbers with lots of people but you got to motivate the elephant too. And so I think that’s actually an example of that, which is kind of funny.

Elisabeth: Yeah. Before we go there, because I love that book and you and I both love that book, I want to give you one more personal example of looking at waste just in a personal – your own processes. This was a great example.

If you think about people who are constantly short of cash like where are we wasting money? And this is a colleague of mine who said he looked at what he was spending on Starbucks every month. Just added it up and said, “Hey, I keep going out and getting coffee so let me just add this up.” And he said when he looked at the total every month, he could have leased a car. And he said, and not just any car, he could have leased a nice car for that amount.

Again, these are great examples like the walk to Death Valley, being able to lease a car. Anyway, those things I think speak to people. So it’s great if you can come up with an example like that, and that’s probably – that’s some of what they used in the book.

So next stop, let’s dive into the book, Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath and find out what do elephants have to do with change, Tracy? Tell us.

Tools of the Trade: Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Tracy: Wow! I mean that is a big thing. There a lot of analogies with elephants, the elephant in the room, those kinds of things. But this is actually one of my favorite books. And it’s basically, the book is called Switch. And the premise of it is how to make change easy when chance is hard. And usually, change is hard when you don’t have any authority. So you have to use your influence if you will to make change easy.

So the Heath brothers did all of this research. They researched all different kinds of success stories in terms of significant and successful changes and they didn’t research just top leaders. They researched peers. They researched people that had no authority. And what they found was that there are three things that are present in every successful change, and they call these three things, “directing the writer, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path.”

There are three things that are present in every successful change, and they call these three things, “directing the writer, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path.”

So I think the mistake people make when they read this book is they say, “Oh, I just got to do one of these things.” No, you got to do all three of these things.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So that’s really important. So let’s talk a little bit about what each of these are just briefly so people understand and then we can talk about what we really like about it. Would that be okay?

Elisabeth: I like it.

Tracy: Okay. So direct the writer is our analytical brain. It really talks – that’s where we talk numbers. We talk numbers. It’s what is common sense if you will from my analytical rational perspective. And we tend to talk about that piece all the time in business. We know the numbers. It shows this. We got to do it. But the issue is we never motivate the elephant or we sometimes miss motivating the elephant and the elephant is the emotional side of making decisions.

And my favorite example of this is we all know we’re supposed to eat right. We all know we should be eating the vegetables and the lean steak but our emotional side wants the chocolate sundae. So we have to motivate the elephant. We have to motivate the emotional side. And people forget to do that in change. They think the numbers are going to just support and make change happen in itself. But it doesn’t.

So I really, really like motivate the elephant in particular because I think that’s the step that gets missed most often when people try to make change happen.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: And finally, shape the path. And shaping the path is really to show them the way. And there are lots of techniques in there around shaping the path and I’ll share a few of them that I like. But you have to do all three.

So that’s just a brief summary. Do you have anything to add to that, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: No. I think that you’re right about number two, in motivate the elephant, that the emotional side is what gets dropped business things. It’s all about the rational information, just giving people directions, just giving them the data and we’re done.

In your Lean healthcare example showed clearly that’s not always going to work.

Tracy: Yes. And I think what’s funny is someone had said, “Yeah, it’s kind of like when you’re girlfriend tells you, ‘I don’t think I love this guy.’ Are you going to convince her by talking about the benefits of tax returns when you file together?” No!

Elisabeth: But he has got good hair.

Elisabeth: Like that’s not doing it for me, right?

Tracy: Right. It’s not that – that’s great. Sure. It makes rational sense. But emotionally, it’s not. We got to speak to that.

Elisabeth: Yeah. There was a great example that he gave and this was an intern, a student intern saw that this company was ordering 424 different kinds of gloves. And he saw that a lot of them were very close, if not identical. But they range from like $0.95 to $400. So there was a huge difference.

And what he did was since he couldn’t get any traction just saying, “Hey, why are we doing this? There’s so much. It costs so much. Logical. Logical.” He finally just bought all 424 different pairs. He put them on a table and he invited the executive vice-presidents in to see this humongous mound of gloves and they were like, “Oh my God! What an incredible waste. These are identical gloves.”

So they said, “Take it on the road.” And he took this traveling glove show on the road to the different divisions in this manufacturing company and they completely altered it and dropped it down to 5 different pairs. So, humongous change with that emotional shock of the mound of gloves.

Tracy: Right. Yes. I think that’s a great example of yeah, you can show them the numbers and people just might think about it and scratch their chin and go, “Yeah, okay. That’s interesting.” But when you motivate the elephant and you’ve got that big pile of gloves, that is really sending a message and creates that emotional connection.

And I think that’s exactly what you were talking about with King County. When you said, “Oh, we saved over a thousand miles a year,” and then you actually say, “Well, that means we could walk from Seattle to Death Valley.” I mean that is motivating the elephant. Like wow, that’s a visual like, “Oh yeah, I get it now.”

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So great examples of that.

Elisabeth: Yeah. And then when I read that, I thought I was once again working with a healthcare group and one of the people on the team was trying to look at what does it cost to throw away all of the items in hospital rooms every time they turn a room over for a new patient? And nobody knew what it cost because there are no prices on those things. So he put them all in a big bag with the labels of prices on them to show them what they were throwing away each time. And it caused them to rethink the numbers, the levels, and how many things they kept in the room. But it was just once again, put it into a visual and make it real.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: So up next, we’ve got a special request, Tracy. And for this one, there was a question coming in from one of our readers.

Special Request

Elisabeth: So in your experience, what is the best technique you have to get buy-in for continuous improvement from skeptical leaders and stakeholders in the business? Man, that is timely and very tied in with our earlier conversation.

Tracy: It really is. And actually, that’s one of the reasons why I picked it because it’s very true. And I will say this. Jack Welch who used to be the top person at GE where I worked, he actually attended a conference and he actually got this very question from someone in the audience and do you know what his answer was?

Elisabeth: What?

Tracy: Go find someplace else to work.

Elisabeth: Huh?

Tracy: Yeah. He actually said, “Look, if your leaders aren’t bought in then move. Go to an organization where they are because that’s going to be a lot easier.” And so that was kind of shocking and okay, thank you.

He actually said, “Look, if your leaders aren’t bought in then move. Go to an organization where they are because that’s going to be a lot easier.” And so that was kind of shocking and okay, thank you.

Elisabeth: Wow!

Tracy: But let’s talk about maybe some other opportunities because I think it kind of speaks to look, leadership is really critical as we have seen in this news roundup that we just talked about. And if your leaders aren’t on board, it really makes it difficult.

And so, there are a couple of things that you could do. One of them is that you take them on a tour of a Lean organization, hopefully one that they admire. They see the tools and action then they have a vision or a sense of what could be in the organization. I think this is the most effective, easiest way to help leaders see why they should do something like that because usually these tours, they meet the owners, they get to see how they’re reacting to their employees, they actually get to visualize how Lean is working in this organization. And that is the most powerful thing that you can do. And there are lots of places that do Lean tours. You just have to find them.

As an example, Taylor Guitars here in San Diego does tours every day at 1:00 o’clock except on Fridays. And there are a lot of organizations in Washington. I’ve been doing a lot of work up there in Washington lately and there are many people at Genie, Kaas, FastCap. They all do Lean tours. So, that would probably be my biggest recommendation, is to find a tour and take your top leadership there.

Elisabeth: And literally, give them a vision of what could be.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: Not talk about it, show them.

Tracy: Show them, exactly. And the beauty of that is now they can create their own vision for their own organization, which leaders love to do typically. They say, “This is how I see it working for us.” And they get to make changes in a way that they want. So they’re designing the vision and then they’re inspiring others to see that vision.

And then the other piece that you could do is that you could have them listen to some of their peers, leaders peers in forums or share some success stories in terms of organizations. And sometimes, this could actually be good because let’s not forget that sometimes people think that Lean is a cost-cutting initiative which is terrible that people that where it’s a head count reduction. It’s not.

And so sometimes, they just don’t understand it. They just – I know it’s hard to believe because this is our world, you and me, Elisabeth, for like how many or how many decades. And so, it’s shocking to sometimes see that people in very high leadership positions still don’t understand what Lean can do for an organization. But they’re out there.

Elisabeth: Yeah, they are. And the other thing I like is a proof of concept project where you can say, “Hey, here is proof. Do a quick one. Do a one small contained. But let people viscerally feel and see it for themselves.”

Tracy: Yes. So up next, why don’t we talk about today’s special? So Elisabeth, you interviewed a brand new Black Belt who didn’t have the authority to make some significant changes, which is related to our book, Switch. So tell us a little bit about your interview.

Elisabeth: This is Jeff Owens and he is from a manufacturer. And he basically saw he wasn’t going to make things happen right away or all by himself. He needed the teams. And just by taking photographs of what was happening on the floor, he made a huge difference. So this is a great – his descriptions were great. He actually did a great project. We’ll have that up on our website as well. His photos really tell the story of what happened. And those photos made the difference I think with his team as well. So that will be fun to hear.

Tracy: Great. Wonderful. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Today’s Special: Interview with Jeff Owens, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Elisabeth: Hello everybody and welcome to our daily special. Today’s guest is Jeff Owens. He’s a quality engineer at Oldcastle Building Envelope out in Terrell, Texas. Jeff, thanks for joining us here at the café. And why don’t you tell us a little bit – share a little bit about yourself with our guests, with our audience?

Jeff: Yeah, Elisabeth. It’s good to be here. I’m really going to enjoy me a nice beverage. A little bit of my background, joined – right out of school, jumped into telecom field, spent a little time on regulatory department at AT&T. I was there maybe a little over 10 years or so. Jumped into manufacturing sector right around 2008 with then a company that built industrial hand tools in an area just East of Dallas, Texas. That’s where I first I would say learned the Lean methodologies and stuff that would kind of trigger my desire to do a little deeper dive into the Lean Six Sigma world.

Back in 2012 is when I joined OB as a quality engineer. Just to give you a little background what we do here. We’re a Lean supplier of products specified to close the building envelope, and what that means is, things including custom-engineered curtain walls, window walls, architectural windows, storefronts, systems doors, skylights, even architectural glass.

I worked in the metal processing facility here in the Terrell, Texas department that produces the aluminum that’s used to make these systems. My role is in quality continuous improvement spectrum and we’re kind of charged with finding ways to eliminate waste, implement cost-savings projects, and help streamline processes with our sister plants throughout the United States.

Elisabeth: That’s great. Thank you for the outline. I had a basic idea but you gave me a nice visual there with architectural windows. So just for everyone’s education, the reason we reached out to Jeff is because he is a new Black Belt going Six Sigma Black Belt and he recently completed a really fascinating project on reduction of scrap and waste within one of the processes he just mentioned.

And Jeff, you described that you were able to reduce scrap and waste fairly significantly. I think as I recall, your baseline level of scrap was around 50%. It didn’t mean you couldn’t rework stuff but it was – that’s pretty high as far as scrap goes and waste. So would you mind giving an overview of that project to our listeners?

Jeff: Yeah. We had a terrible as you mentioned, a 50% yield. Our first past yield was just awful. First of all, to give you a little bit of a background on how the process has worked here. A metal processing plant, we have essentially three departments. You have extrusion department where we take metal logs and extrude them into shapes, sizes of the bar we’re doing. Then they flow into an anodizing department where we put a little chemical coating on to it. And then from there, it will go to paint department. That’s the last line of the process before we ship it out.

So what we were having was the scrap were bent, scratched, damaged is how we got our material, how we gauge our success with the material going to the plant. And that was the biggest issues we were having.

So the project was geared toward reducing that scrap with bent, scratched, damaged material within our Material Handling Department. Now, the Material Handling Department will only touch the material after its distributed so they really don’t have a whole lot to do with the first process but they are the bloodline into the transfer of material from thereon at.

In 2015, our scrap was projected to jump about 300%. It was sitting, for that one department only, Material Handling, or one group, it was sitting at about a little over $5,800 a month in comparison to a little over $2,100 a month of the same period in 2014.

The project goal was reduce it by 50% down to a little 29, 25 I guess would be the 50% number there over a month. But eventually, over the next three to four months, we were able to drop it down all the way to a little over $1,300 a month, the lowest amount at that time that we had seen in the previous year and a half.

One way we got there was designing more efficient racks for them to use around the plant. We improved employee cross-training. We were able to establish control charts, monitoring plants, to help sustain these improvements.

We also had to improve our standard work instructions. We had a lot of turnover in some of the lower areas so we had found a way to reach out to everybody that we could and get that skill set across the plant.

We were able to create a better storage area and eliminated a big issue we had on waste in motion and transportation due to bottleneck there with poor lab.

Other issues addressed were simply by implementing or pulling the trigger on improvements that should have already been in place, things like lighting, space recovers. As you can imagine, we have stacks and stacks of material on each alley. So this slide is where the coverage can go a long way.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Jeff: Rack covers, shavings on the material after it is extruded and just properly tie down material because we have somewhat of a campus here. We reached from across another street, across the parking lot. We have quite a bit of square footage cover.

Elisabeth: Yeah. You did a nice job of documenting what was going on there with your camera. I mean you gave us visuals on exactly what scratch meant, what the filings look like, things like that. So it was a pleasure to look at that and it really helped bring to life the work that you did.

So I’m curious, you had obviously, success. Have you been able to maintain those gains?

Jeff: Yes, we have. And we’ve even been able to say, “Let’s take it to the next level.” While the project was mainly focused on material handling and the scrap numbers form 2015, one thing we identified from 2015 was that 91% of all of our scrap or the bent, scratched, damaged was occurring the extrusion process. So it was totally in the hands of our Material Handling Department and everything thereafter.

And of that 91%, 50% was not being caught until the Paint Department. As I mentioned earlier, that is our last line of defense.

And I’ll get into the value add things here in a minute but I mean when we’re not catching things to the very last line, we’re just – we’re wasting that value add, wasting the time that we put into it. Since they don’t take it over until after that extrusion process, it just showed how inefficient we were from flowing in and it ended up in Paint Department.

But since the completion of the project, things have changed drastically. We were able to roll out the new racks, the training, the work instruction, the storage alone dropped down a little over 1,500 square foot from travel with some material on.

So far in 2016, only 44% of all our scrap is occurring after the extrusion process. And that number has dropped down to a measly 5% that is being found in our Paint Department. They’ve made the biggest strides but it shows you that we’re catching these things early in the process.

Elisabeth: Yeah. That’s great. It’s actually interesting. This is kind of one of those things that came up, I don’t know if you ever read The Goal by Eli Goldratt. But one of the things he pointed out was if you caught things early in the process then you weren’t wasting time because you’re saying if things got fixed early on or tossed out early on then you weren’t wasting time adding value to it and basically lowering your throughput because it had to get tossed out further down the line. So I think that was really interesting.

If you caught things early in the process then you weren’t wasting time because you’re saying if things got fixed early on or tossed out early on then you weren’t wasting time adding value to it and basically lowering your throughput because it had to get tossed out further down the line.

Jeff: Yup.

Elisabeth: One thing you mentioned was it was hard to focus on fixing the process because everybody just wanted to get the product out and even though the scrap was at 50%. So that’s a tough thing. We often find that with process improvement people say, “Well, I can’t take the time out to fix it because I’m busy doing it.” And we’re thinking, “Well, you got – you don’t have time to do it right but you got time to do it twice.” So, you were in that same position. So how did you get people on board to address the scrap issue?

Jeff: Yeah. I think that’s a common problem that just about anyone would come across in production or manufacturing facility. The best way we were able to get the attention there was quite simply the data. We were able to highlight a problem that was well on its way to a 300% increase. You throw a number like that, you’re going to get some attention, some eyeballs put on it.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Jeff: But what really helped is we were able to sell this project as an opportunity to create best practices at our other facilities. And that really helped us get the stakeholder buy-in that we needed.

Elisabeth: Okay. So then once you started the project, you mentioned that a number of the DMAIC tools made a big difference. Can you talk about how the process walk in particular helped on this one?

Jeff: That was great. The biggest reason that we benefited the most from it was we were just at the time, we started as a project. We were just not really big on such a Lean culture. So grabbing a bunch of people and trying to go walk and identify ways was really a concept that never really been down.

Being able to walk the process, we walked it forwards and backwards. And what I did is I handed out a sheet, one of the templates, the wonderful templates you guys offer there on, the 8 ways to track the acronym of downtime. And we were able to identify seven solid problems in the process. Well, 8 ways that we thought we could at least attempt to recover on.

The biggest of all as I mentioned earlier, the over 1,5000 square feet of a one storage room we were supplying material until we can get it over into our anodizing line. But that wasted motion and transportation due to the bottleneck. You start seeing things like that and it really helped us gained momentum for changing the processes that we needed to improve.

You start seeing things like that and it really helped us gained momentum for changing the processes that we needed to improve.

Elisabeth: You did something interested that listeners might think it’s just a figure of speech, but you said you walked the process forward and backward. But I think you really mean that you walked it backward too because you looked at it a different way. Is that fair?

Jeff: Yes, very fair. Most people only think about what’s important to them before they get the material. But whenever you see how it suffers downstream, you really get a different idea of how important it is to get things right the first time.

Elisabeth: Yeah. You sort of get the viewpoint from the people further down the process. You can somehow get lulled into thinking that it’s just a natural flow and that’s the way things are if you start from the beginning. But if you look from the end, it’s more striking, as you say, how much scrap was making it so far.

And then you said one of your solutions was to completely redesign the racks. Again, you had some really fun visuals on that showing the old, rotten wood racks and that people – that would degrade I think really quickly over a few years. And you replaced those with new metal ones.

So, how did you get agreement on – it looked like those would be more costly. So I was wondering how did you get agreement on people to spend money on those and how did you approach this newly designed rack?

Jeff: Yeah. Well, in my Black Belt project, I would say the main hypothesis, that idea that I was able to really tie in on how big a problem it was, was the one proportion test I did. And I was able to show how large the increase in defects where it’s where, from one year to the next. And ideally, whenever we sat down in our team to go over our fishpond diagram, it was the most mentioned area of opportunity.

So the racks were on everybody’s mind. They were just a terrible, wooden, nails would fly out from a – frankly, you couldn’t move material 20 feet without scratching it because the condition of these were totally were out and sometimes within two years. But after three years, they were almost like a toothpick. They were in a terrible condition.

But what we were able to do is as you can imagine in a metal processing plant from an average standpoint and just original material that’s going to get scratched throughout any process is we were able to take this originally scratched material with the help of our brake metal and welding shop that we have right here on set and create these racks.

So from a monetary standpoint, being able to do that outside in comparison to in the past, they would purchase the wood and build from within. It was a total push on the return on investment. We were able to use things in-house that typically, we would have just taken maybe down to a scrap shop and throw it away.

Elisabeth: So you had some recycling going on.

Jeff: Yes, we did. And a lot of factors went into that. That’s where we had to kind of jump into another thing there in DMAICthe likes, concerns, suggestions route is another great tool. And when we realized the impact of not only the metal process scenarios of our plant that are affected by these racks, we got everyone on board. We went this cross-functional as we could. Went about it every forklift driver meeting. We got our fabrication team involved like I said earlier with our brake mental and welding guys, and we needed ideas on one standard rack that would work for all.

So along with those guys, the fabrication team was able to add a ton of information. But what we got – we went through I’d say two or three different prototypes but we eventually changed the preset lifting length to where all forks would handle and not have to  adjust or customize their lifts.

And on our campus, we are dealing with big time materials so we had to have something that had enough strength and stability. For the longest material, we have material up to 28-foot in length. But we also – maybe that has something that would maintain features that are mandated by our safety department. We couldn’t go over certain weights. So our Safety Department was part of our stakeholders there as well. We’re redesigning that.

Now, what we did from there is we were able to throw it into a little pilot situation. So we started out with 15. We put 5 each, in each department, extrusion, anodizing, and paint. Of course, we assess the risk of any type of process changes and how that would affect him but we use them really heavy in circulation over the next two weeks. And that’s how we were able to get some of the initial feedback from it. But eventually, the feedback was unanimous.

So at the time of that project, Elisabeth, I’d say we had 800 to 900 wooden racks in circulation. Not only have we spit on all of their mouth but up today, right now we have over 1,500 of these new metal racks in place. And it has made quite a difference.

Elisabeth: And what a nice approach that you did, bringing everybody in, really understanding who your stakeholders were. And I love that you use the LCS and I’m just going to give a brief synopsis for the listeners.

Likes, concerns, suggestions, one of the tools to help Black Belts get feedback from others is to actually ask people, first give your likes for an idea. Say what’s positive. Then you can say what your concerns are but you have to pay each concern with each suggestion so that ends up building on the ideas of others. So it’s a powerful, really simple but powerful technique. So, I appreciate that you were – you pulled that in.

And then another thing you mentioned which I thought was fascinating, you said, “You fostered a mindset where people were greedy in a good way.” And I want you to describe what you mean by that phrase.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, the Black Belt project although it was mainly focused on the defined group like material handling in this case. What made it such an intriguing department to tackle is that they are that one group of the entire plant that does affect all three departments. They touched extrusion and anodizing and pain that even though they may not get the material until it’s out of extrusion, it’s still a hand-off that you would identify on a swim lane map that they have to work with them on.

Now, I won’t lie, there’s a big selfish part of me there, I wanted to prove that a process improvement team here in the area of business that we have and usually a whole lot before that we can add value to the organization. But it’s something that’s not always on the radar here. So I knew we were going to have to win these people over almost twice as good. But now that all these departments have been able to see these gains, they kind of want to have all the fun.

But now that all these departments have been able to see these gains, they kind of want to have all the fun.

And really, we essentially had a line that’s formed in lab. So they see the benefits we made in one area and they want all the pieces of the pie.

Elisabeth: That’s great. I love that it’s considered. They want in on the fun. So clearly, we’ve seen an uptake in people signing up for Green Belt training, Black Belt training from OBE so obviously, you’ve had an impact on the Lean culture and that description you just gave is a really clear one. And I knew you’ve got plans to translate solutions to other plants because you’ve got a lot of places you can replicate your best practices.

And I wanted to know two things. What is your latest effort? We’ve got just a few moments left here at the Café. But I want to know what are you most proud of just as a sign-off to our folks? Tell us what are you most proud of?

Jeff: Sure. On the latest effort, I’ll run through that one really quickly. We were working on a project with raw paint cost from a one hour facility here in Terrell to another one out in Tennessee. It’s one of those where we have a significant gap but we’re trying to find areas of opportunities using an eco-friendly paints that a lot of – there are a lot of economical concerns over chrome, chrome three tabs of paints and we’re trying to make sure that we’re as green as we can be there. We’re doing everything we can to track those that are square foot to gallon ratios that were coming across are just not the same from plant to plant despite very similar labs.

So I would say that’s the next big project. I don’t have a lot of information there. It will be a large cost-savings one, probably much larger than the one we – that was on the Black Belt project.

But to answer your main question there, what am I most proud of? I would say it goes back to the kind of culture that I think we’re in the process of driving here. That project in the savings, in lessons learned that we had from it, we just had I would say, a near full conversion from these resistant, car-kicking members of people who operated really under the disclaimer of, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it.” You can almost put it on a shirt. That was the attitude we dealt with earlier on in the process. But I believe we’re building believers here. And you can tell that we’ve built some empowering employers and it’s really a pretty sweet deal I think. We got a big change going.

Elisabeth: It’s a nice description. Nothing sells like success, right?

Jeff: Yeah.

Elisabeth: That’s great. I appreciate you sharing that story, Jeff. It was obviously, a great project that had some just foundational and formational discovery. It’s so really nice to read about it and to hear that it has just lead to more good stuff.

So thanks again for joining us everybody. That was Jeff Owens, Quality Engineer at Oldcastle Building Envelope. Thanks everyone else, our listeners, for joining us today and listen to the Just-In-Time Café. And we’ll see you at the Café next month.


Tracy: Okay. So I believe that brings us to the end of our podcast this week. So we hope you enjoy this episode and you found it valuable, we’d love your feedback. So please, give us a review on iTunes or on our website. And don’t forget to subscribe. And I hope you can join us for some coffee the next time at the Just-In-Time Café.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: Oyster Hut, either one will work.

Elisabeth: Bye Tracy.

Tracy: Okay. Bye-bye Elisabeth.

Thanks for Listening!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.