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This month we’ll spend time with Carla O’Dell, the CEO of the American Productivity and Quality Center as she and one of their Education Consultants gives us the inside scoop on how Lean Six Sigma is helping to give our children a better education.

We’ll tell you about an app that helps you find out what your employees are really thinking. In the news we’ll hear how sharing a backhoe, among other things, helped Ventura County, CA save over $7M and why the “Golden Dump Truck” is like the Stanley Cup to a 5S team in Iowa. We’ll discuss a ground-breaking book that explains why the infamous “carrot & stick” no longer motivate us and we’ll answer a question from one of our learners about the difference between Lean Six Sigma and ISO 9001. It’s summer somewhere so grab an iced coffee and we’ll meet you at the Just-In-Time Cafe!

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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: Hey Tracy!

Tracy: How are you today?

Elisabeth: I’m great, except I’m incredibly hot.

Tracy: I know, we really need some iced coffee here at the cafe.

Elisabeth: I would also like to be in the private dining room where there is air conditioning.

Tracy: Yes, thank the Lord for that!

Elisabeth: Okay, I’m grabbing a menu. I will meet you.

Tracy: Okay.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Elisabeth: Okay!

Tracy: Okay, so on the menu let’s hear about our appetizer Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: Okay, on the menu we’ve got an Appetizer. We’ve got an application that helps you find out what your employees really think. Intriguing.

Tracy: Oh?

Elisabeth: Yup! In the news on our Bulletin Board we’ve got, “How sharing a backhoe, helped send Ventura County, California on the way to saving 7 million”, and then, “How the Golden Dump Truck, is the Stanley Cup for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa 5S team.”

Then we’re going to get into our Tools of the Trade. We’re gonna discuss a ground breaking book that shows how the carrot and the stick fail as ways to motivate us, and what do you do about it.

Then today’s question (Special Request): we’re going to explore the difference between ISO 9001 and Lean Six Sigma.

Today’s Special is an interview with the CEO and an education consultant with APQC, and they’re going to tell us how they managed to apply Lean Six Sigma to public education.

Tracy: That’s an exciting line up, can’t wait to hear about it!

Appetizer: Suggestion Ox

Tracy: Okay, so Elisabeth why don’t you tell us a little bit about the appetizer, or how do we figure out what employees really think?

Elisabeth: This is a great one. This is today’s appetizer and it is called, Suggestion Ox. It’s a way to create your own digital suggestion boxes, and it’s a way to get employee input. What’s great about this is that it’s 100% anonymous, no way to trace who has given the information. It’s also free (I don’t think there’s paid versions, but we always love free), you get automatic updates that will tell you if someone has a suggestion into your suggestion box. You can output it to excel if you want to do more analysis on the different themes that came in the suggestions, and I think in our world it’s a great way to create or extend a project pipeline.

We always say, “we want projects from top down, but you always want it from bottom up”. This is a way to get employees to tell you what bugs them, because they are on the front line. They know what’s wrong and they can give you great project ideas. So this is a great way, especially when people are afraid to showcase problems. I know we’ve run into that, where people don’t want to be the one to say, “hey we don’t do this as well as we could”. There’s a little stigma to that which there shouldn’t be, but this is a way to get pass that stigma.

Tracy: Yeah. You know what I really like about this too, is that it probably could be used when you’re piloting something to check in on a process right?

So a lot of times when we’re in the Improve Phase and we pilot a new solution, we’re usually pretty cognizant of the feedback early on to make sure we get it right to see an improvement.

Later there might be a couple of glitches we missed, so this sounds like it may be a great way to get feedback on the process change, and the people that are doing the process change. If it’s broader, you have to do a multi phase implementation, and involve a lot more other employees. This might be a great place to put that in there, too.  

Elisabeth: I think that’s great. I never thought of that one, but I love that because it’s tough to get feedback. In general people don’t really want to get bad news, and you really want to hone these things with the best improvement possible, so I think that’s great.

Tracy: Yeah.

Elisabeth: Suggestion Ox is free, there is a link so you can look on their website to find it.

Bulletin Board

Elisabeth: So next up, Tracy why don’t you tell us what’s on the Bulletin Board.

Tracy: Okay so something that we discovered on the roundup that we do at, is we gather all the news about any Lean Six Sigma news. One that came up was about Ventura County, Public Works Agency, and how they have been able to implement Lean Six Sigma.

Those savings have generated, or those efforts have generated 2 million dollars in cost avoidance for this fiscal year, and 7 million dollars in cost avoidance in the past 6 years. They attributed all of that to applying the techniques of Lean and Six Sigma.

Some of the improvement opportunities they have had included things like as you have mentioned, an expensive backhoe. They decided to share with another agency, so that they didn’t have to buy two. Things like that, that’s not hard it’s simple stuff, but it can really make an impact on the bottom line.

They have conducted about 175 events since they started the Lean Six Sigma initiative, and those efforts have helped reduce defects, mistakes and waste out of the process. Hey! Doesn’t it make you feel good there’s a lot of cost savings? They are being better, more efficient and more effective about saving, and spending taxpayer dollars.

Elisabeth: Yes.

Tracy: So I think the most compelling thing to me is the results, they are always really compelling. One of the pieces that I really liked about this subject, is the director of the Public Works Agency, Jeff Pratt, basically said, “His people are empowered through trust, communication and safety. So the department is fiscally responsible, customer focused and accountable.” What I love about that is, that’s typically not what people might consider a government culture. Safety, trust, and feeling empowered. Unfortunately, there are a lot of agencies in government that really struggle with a culture that will allow for process improvement to flourish. It sounds to me they have found the secret code, or cracked the code for their organization. So kudos to Ventura County, on their savings and success with Lean Six Sigma! Whoo Hoo!

Elisabeth: Yeah, you know I back you on that. Every time I hear a county, a municipality, a state, or a city using Lean Six Sigma to reduce cost to better serve their citizens, I am just filled with my little Lean Six Sigma joy, because it means it’s possible for others. Right? We see it spreading, but it’s just incredibly hopeful. I love to see it!

Tracy: Yes. I would agree and I would say too, that government workers get a bad rap. Most people think that it’s impossible to apply process improvement techniques in government, and it’s just untrue. I mean, there is a lot of good workers out there, and you know as Americans we should acknowledge that government workers are trying.

Elisabeth: They are, and clearly these guys are trying so well that they are saving unbelievably large amounts of money. They’re doing things that hospitals do, hospitals will share very expensive big testing equipment, because why do they need two right? They can send patients to use the same machine and share it, so similar to their sharing of the backhoe. I love that!

Elisabeth: Well, Tracy for mine I looked into the private side. I saw a great article on Henderson Products, these guys are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is a truck equipment distributor, but they clearly have a Vice President of Operations that lives and breaths Lean Six Sigma, and they are incredibly lucky for it.

We talked about what people had thought what Lean meant. That it was about removing waste, efficiency and cost reduction. I love that he brought it back to, “Lean is about problem solving”, and that’s exactly what it is.

So it’s about problem solving, and he lets his people do the problem solvings. It’s a great approach to 5S, and I loved that he pointed out “5S doesn’t mean sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep” (I haven’t heard that before), but that’s great! Right? It’s not that!

He told his people, “Walk through the shop as if you were a customer.” Would you want your products if you saw this kind of disorganization? This kind of clutter? So, that was the first start. When they did their first phase of 5S, they did the Sort. They threw out seven dumpsters of stuff from the previous one. I mean we do it in our own homes, “I might need that, I’ll put it in the closet”, “I might need that, I’ll put it in the attic”, and you never look at it again. So these guys looked at the stuff and said, “We don’t need any of that, we’re not using it and out it goes.”

What’s nice what he did was, he had 11 people on the shop floor team (11 people from the shop floor), on his 5S team and they’re the ones that came up with the idea of having a Golden Dump Truck, which is kind of like their Stanley Cup. Whoever scored the highest on their 5S, (they do a continual audit for each area), got to hold on to the Dump Truck. They were just showcasing that Dump Truck with each other, because it meant so much. So, huge success reducing lead time, totally owned by the workers. Their mantra is “solve one problem everyday.” I love that. That’s a nice mantra.

Tracy: That is nice. It seems achievable, manageable and meaningful.

Elisabeth: Yes, all that.

Tools of the Trade: Drive by Daniel Pink

Elisabeth: So next up, Tracy is going to talk about Tools of the Trade. Tracy, what’s on the docket today for our latest book?

Tracy: So the book we are going to be talking about today is Drive by Daniel Pink. This book is about the surprising truth about what motivates us. I really think it has (it’s been out for a while and it has been one of my favorite books to read) the misnomer out there, or the myth is “what drives people is money.”

He basically has a very comprehensive, and robust case about how that is not true. That dangling a carrot, or dollars in front of an employee is not going to drive them, or motivate them. I think that’s a really important concept. So he really spends sometime talking about that.

I know that you’ve got some ideas on driving people. What are you thoughts on that Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: Well, the carrot and the stick aspect hits home to me. It feels like if anyone out there has a kano analysis, and you separate customer requirements, delighters, satisfiers, and dissatisfiers I think about getting a bonus. If you get paid, because you came up with a great idea, did good work then you basically are now expecting to get bonuses. Think about when you get on a plane and you get just a random upgrade to first. It’s your lucky day, or you had a complaint and they decided to solve your complaint by giving you an upgrade. The next time you take a flight, and you don’t get upgraded to first you are disappointed. So what starts as an incentive, and something that feels like a reward quickly becomes a dissatisfier. You just need more. More money, more of whatever it is that you’re getting as a reward, and it doesn’t really work after a while. I totally get that piece of it.

Tracy: Yes, and as a matter of fact it says in the book that, “money can sometimes demotivate people”. It can actually suck the enjoyment out of something, because now you’re saying, “okay here’s some money”. It takes away from other things like, feeling that sense of accomplishment, you accomplished and did something that nobody had done before, or that you were super creative about it. So sometimes money can be a demotivator. Daniel Pink talks a lot about that as well, that it’s not always about money.

There are some things that motivate employees, that don’t cost anything. Organizations are not leveraging these things, or identifying these things well enough so that they can actually motivate their employees more. So there are 3 elements that Daniel Pink really focuses on, about what motivates us humans. These 3 things are: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. We’re going to spend some time talking about each one.

Autonomy, I can really relate to autonomy. Autonomy to me is freedom. Freedom to choose how much effort you spend on something, how you do something, the way you do something and when you do something. An example, sometimes my creative juices are most in play at 3 in the morning! So if I have to work from 8 to 5 only, I might just go back to sleep. I know I have to get up and work 8 to 5 anyway, so why don’t I just go back to sleep and then actually put the thinking in at 8. So sometimes not allowing people to have that autonomy, or having them do things a certain way without any freedom, or collaboration can really demotivate somebody. That is one of the primary drivers of motivation, is autonomy.

Elisabeth: Yeah, I hear that one! I think it’s a question you should ask yourself if you’re in a position of management. Do I need to micromanage? Do I need to take charge of this particular activity? Can I refer authority to somebody else? If they took this and run with it, how much energy would they have in enjoyment if it was theirs?

Tracy: Yes, absolutely! So the second thing that Daniel Pink talks about is purpose. People do things when they are motivated, because there’s a strong purpose behind it. Just think about all the people in government. Do they actually work there because it pays a boat load of money?  No! Many of them do it, because they are driven towards a higher purpose of giving back, and making a contribution. That is a huge driver of motivation for humans is to give back, contribute, volunteer and feel like you’re apart of something bigger than yourself. Something that you believe in. That’s really what all the purpose piece is. If there’s a strong purpose behind an organization, how do we leverage that more to help motivate employees, and really help them be the best that they can be?

Elisabeth: That one resonates with me. I saw a fabulous speaker at a Lean conference in Seattle, and this is someone within government, where they have a very impressive Lean effort and she used the question, “For the sake of what?”

We are teaching our prison inmates skills and our goal is to teach them more skills, “For the sake of what?” The more skills they have, the possibility they have of getting hired on the outside once they’re released. Great! “For the sake of what?” Well, the more they’re able to get a job the less recidivism we have. The more less people are reentered into prison, the less recidivism there is, right? “For the sake of what?” Well, the safer the citizens are. So really the purpose was safety of our people, and that people can get involved and get energized. So knowing the purpose Tracy, I think that’s huge.

Tracy: Purpose can be a huge driver. Probably the most I think people can relate to, they go “yeah, I get that.” I think maybe Autonomy and Mastery aren’t as a quick jump, or shorter jump, but definitely important.

So let’s now talk about the final piece, which is Mastery. The idea behind this, is that people want to be really good at something. They want to master something. A great example of this, is anyone that plays an instrument. Most people that want to play an instrument, learn how to play an instrument. They don’t do it, because they want to be a millionaire, they don’t necessarily do it because they’re going to get paid more. They do it in their spare time because they enjoy it, they love it, they want to get better at playing the instrument, just simply because they want to master it. So a driver of motivation is Mastery.

To your point, how do we as managers or leaders leverage that? A lot of that is providing the ability to learn, and get better at skills. Providing additional training opportunities and coaching sessions, letting people feel like they’re growing. I think a big motivator for me is growth. I mean, am I growing? Am I learning? Am I Mastering something? I tried to master ice skating a little while ago, that didn’t really work out well, but it was fun!

Elisabeth: Tracy, I don’t know about you, but this book changed my attitude completely about motivation, and changed my focus when I’m working with other people.

Tracy: That’s great! Yes, I really like it too, and definitely people “get it.” When we think about rewards and recognition in a Lean Six Sigma program, how do we incorporate these three elements into rewards and recognition, more so than gift cards or dollars? So I think that’s something to really think through, because I think that you can leverage many pieces of motivation, not just one dimension.

Elisabeth: Great point!

Tracy: So, coming up next we have a Special Request from our website, Elisabeth is going to answer.

Special Request

Elisabeth: The question please, Tracy.

Tracy: The question is, “How would you compare Lean Six Sigma and ISO 9001, in quality systems? Any advice to learners who already have ISO 9001 knowledge?”

Elisabeth: This is a great question, and it brings up something that I remember bumping up against years ago, when I kept hearing about this thing called ISO. When you’re in the Lean Six Sigma world, you’re in that world, that’s the method you’re looking at, that’s your bible.

What was this ISO? When I first started studying ISO it looked like the core was, that for many industries you had to be certified in some level of ISO. So if it’s applied to that particular industry, it meant that you followed a process, and you had to document what that process was.

Then, if they did an inspection they would have the documentation and they would check, “Were you following the process that you said you did?” Basically, do what you say you’re doing, it was pretty simplistic.

I looked at that, and I thought our world is about looking at how you do something, getting an “as is” process, figuring out how you can do it better, fixing it, and coming up with a new process map. I think somewhere in there, ISO clued in and said “Oh, well they were in the middle of mapping and they saw things should change too.” So that started to change and I think that there’s a place for Lean Six Sigma inside ISO.

You can use Lean Six Sigma to basically meet your customer requirements, and bring your process to a level that will satisfy customer requirements profitably. Then document that, and that will be when ISO comes in and checks you against.  

Is that your experience?  

Tracy: Same thing, the popular term in Lean Six Sigma that really made me think of ISO 9001 is standard work. So do you have standard work? If you so, do you follow standard work? I hate to say that ISO 9001 is all about that, but those are the two questions if I had to simplify ISO 9001 and compare it to Lean. That’s what I would say, “Do you have a standard work? Are people following standard work? Then when you actually improve it, are you updating the standard work?” So I think that’s where there is a significant overlap between Lean and ISO.

Elisabeth: Yes, and a good overlap.

Tracy: Alright! So coming up next is Today’s Special.

Elisabeth: So Today’s Special, is an interview with Carla O’Dell, she’s the CEO of APQC, that stands for American Productivity and Quality Counsel, along with a colleague of hers, Dewey Dorsett, who works in the education field. So what’s interesting is that APQC is known for knowledge management and benchmarking, but they took on bringing process improvement into public schools. Their efforts have resulted in improved attendance, improved test scores, and freeing up cash to spend on teachers. Education is different, clearly different from the public sector, so we’re gonna find out exactly how in this fascinating interview with two leaders in their field.

Tracy: Exciting! Yes, that’s definitely one industry that again has a lot of opportunity for improvement in terms of processes, so that’s gonna be great to hear about.

Today’s Special: Interview with Carla O’Dell and Dewey Dorsett from APQC

Elisabeth: Hey there, we have Today’s Special! For Today’s Special, I have here today with me in the cafe Carla O’Dell, CEO and Dewey Dorsett, Senior Advisor at the American Productivity and Quality Counsel center, otherwise known as the APQC. Welcome to the cafe Carla and Dewey!

Carla: Thank you, glad to be here.

Dewey: It’s good to be here.

Elisabeth: Carla, could you share a little bit about yourself and your role with APQC for our listeners?

Carla: Sure. We are member based non profit research institute, we’ve been around about 40 years. I wear a couple of hats. One, is that I am the CEO, which is all the work and joy that comes with that while representing APQC to the outside world. Also, I have helped virtually every job here.

I have a lot of experience in benchmarking, best practices and how organizations can better share knowledge on what they know. They can build on what they know, “best practices” which is certainly an educator’s topic.

Elisabeth: All of that! Great! Many hats! Thank you. Dewey how about you?

Dewey: I am a senior advisor with APQC, and I have been with APQC for my second year. Prior to that I worked for the Summer of Excellence for Continuous Improvement with Air Products, for 2 years, 2013 and 2014. I have quite a bit of history in consulting in process and performance management, which is of course the services that I provide with APQC. A long time ago when the internet was just a network of research labs and colleges, I got my first paycheck from a company called Springs Industries, that’s way back even before we had cell phones.  

Tracy: Wow, that’s back! Thank you.

Dewey: Yes.

Elisabeth: That’s nice! Thanks Dewey. Thanks Carla.

So just a big starting question for you guys. APQC is largely known for it’s incredible depth and breadth in the world of project management, and best practices. Process improvements is largely associated with things like, lean manufacturing. How did APQC come to focus on improving processes of public education?

Carla: What a great question. Can I take you on a very brief trip down memory lane?

Elisabeth: Take us down there.

Carla: I have been here for decades, so here’s what happened. We first started APQC in the late 70’s, early 80’s. People were clueless about what improvement looked like, all these things that you have just mentioned: Lean, Six Sigma, Process Improvement and Knowledge Management were not even a gleam in anybody’s eye. One of the first things that we did was, we began to look around the world for people who seemed to know something about it. We brought to the United States, Six Sigma (one of the first people to bring it here). In the 80’s, we brought all the concepts of Lean, (we helped bring that here). We started the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which a lot of educational groups, school districts and others have won. That whole era was the beginning of process improvement in business and government industries and education back then. Until 15 years ago, most of our focus was helping organizations improve their processes.

We have the world’s biggest databases of metrics around cost quality, cycle time and so on for all kinds of processes. About 15 years ago we said, “You know what? There are about (and here’s a real count) 322 process improvement techniques, or concepts that businesses spent the last 30 years perfecting for government and healthcare. Don’t educator’s deserve to have those at their fingertips? Why can’t those be adapted for education?” So that’s what Dewey and others at APQC in our education division have been doing the last 15 years. Saying, “Process matters, and the kids matter.” The best way for education to take advantage of all these years of experimentation in business is to leapfrog, take the best and run with it right now in education.

Elisabeth:  Thanks for reminding me about the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, I had completely forgotten that is something instigated by APQC. You are right, an incredibly rich history, and incredibly rich process improvement history and really lovely pivot to say “How about education? Why not education?”

So what’s so different about education when it comes to process improvement?

Carla: Oh, Dewey! Do you want to tell them?

Dewey: Well, I think actually the short answer is, education is just like everyone else. I think the challenge is making the connection to the processes within education, from the classroom, to transportation, to food services, to maintaining the physical assets. Really dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. Looking at, if we’re talking about education, if we’re talking about a school district having the superintendent and the superintendent’s cabinet as well as the other leaders in the district, even the board’s. Understanding that the districts infact are a system unto themselves, and that all the parts have a key relationship with each other.

They can’t be managed by themselves, but they need to be managed holistically. What I’ve just seen in the two years that I’ve been here, is that when we can work with superintendents, cabinets at the district level, state departments and making that tie, helping educators see themselves as the whole system. Then understanding as Carla said, that process matters. When you need to achieve objectives and you have resource constraints (education is severely constrained on resources), we have to be very efficient, consistent and very good at what we do. Thats process and performance management.

Elisabeth: That’s really ringing true. The educators I speak with just tell me every year the cut to the budget and how do they manage to teach and run a school holistically or not holistically on less money.

What were you going to say Carla?

Carla: Well, just saying that it all comes back to what is different. Their, quote unquote “product” is the education of our children for the future, for the quality of their own lives. I mean, there could not be a more important outcome they’re trying to achieve and their doing it with less. So how do you do more with less? Their being asked to do a lot more, because of their international competitive situation, which APQC is right in the middle of. We serve companies in governments and schools all over the world, including school systems in Australia. The competition is enormous and the quality of life.

It’s not a theoretical problem. These children are not going to have good lives for the first generation. We may have a generation of kids who live less well than their parents did, and an education is the only way out of that. For us, it’s a mission. Can we give? Can we give whatever we can to improve the processes around the teaching process, so that those teachers can do the jobs that they want to do?

Dewey: Education is really the true knowledge management industry so to speak, or enterprise process if you will. If you look at what our education system has to do, it’s not just about knowledge management and subject matter expertise. Schools are also being tasked with the emotional intelligence. The students are being developed emotionally as well as physically so you’ve got really mind, body and soul. An example around process, we have to feed our students, and we have some schools where a students only meal was just what they get in school. So you tie processes that link together. Getting students to the school on time, having them go to the cafeteria and eat a meal (it should be a meal they want to eat, but hopefully they get to the cafeteria and they eat a meal), then they go class. Now, they are awake, nourished and ready to learn.

Those transportation, food services and now you have a child who’s ready to learn and behaves in the classroom. Now it’s easier for the teacher to meet their learning objectives.

So all these things are very mind, body, and soul. It is very important how it all ties together in the education system particularly K through 12th.

Elisabeth: That’s such an incredibly lovely way to put it, because I think about comparisons to lean manufacturing and you’re building a better student. The humongous difference is you’re dealing with mind, body and soul.

Dewey: Yes.

Elisabeth: Kind of an incredible mission, and just pivotal to all of our lives. As you say Carla, this is world wide, this is the first year where this is going to be an issue, or it’s starting. This generation is going to take a hit if things like this don’t come through.

Carla: That’s right. To make it real, we work with a North Star Project. Aiming for that north star, that achievement to our kids is to the north star. We have about 124 school districts that have used process improvement, and have these phenomenal results. It’s everything that Dewey has talked about: transportation and food service. They get great results on everything curriculum development, to how to optimize the the copy center for making copies for teachers. They don’t have to spend all their time doing it, freeing up teacher time, to how do we schedule the classes during the day for optimum use. They benchmark inside their district, they do process improvement. We also help them look outside the district for best practices. More and more school districts are open to spending the time it takes to find out what are best practices, and how could they adapt them.

Elisabeth: So really you’re running the gamut. Dewey was using the word holistic, you’re looking holistically from making paper copies to improving grades. I remember hearing Dewey’s point, one of the issues about getting the student in on time, getting them in a place where they can get a good meal and into the class on time. I heard one district was working on just the stack up of busses. The fact that they were laid end to end, meant the last busses were late and students were late getting into the classrooms. So just moving and changing that process made a huge difference in terms of that goal of getting students in there.

Dewey: That’s right. I was going to say, that one of the things I’ll point out also in education is that educators are highly dedicated to student achievement, the students in the classrooms and passionate about what they’re doing. What I have seen from just the past couple of years, they’re very task driven. They look at things as a task, and I think they tend to simply because of how they have been trained, raised and it’s in our pedigree. They look at things from a task and project perspective, and what is missing is that a lot of these are tied to processes that are repeatable, measurable and need to be managed.

An example, we’re talking about efficiency’s at the beginning of the school year. A school district making first aid packets for all the students to take home, sign forms, making sure they have everything in order, get accounts setup and content books signed for. That one district putting that together and and they looked at it as project and tasked it year in year out. The time it took teachers to make the copies for all the classrooms, and get all that put together before the first day of class. Over time buildings had to be open, and security had to be called.

This is a process that goes on, and on and on every year. We are doing the same thing, and stepping back and saying from the process perspective, “How can we do it differently? How can we leverage the resources we have?”

A lot of that manual work was put into digital content, and digital format. We actually ended up giving hours and hours back to the teachers, because they don’t have to copy, and put things together. They look at it as, a process that somebody has to own it every year.

In July we have to start getting ready, but now it’s digital we’re leveraging the resources that we have from the digital content delivery perspective. Now teachers can spend more time planning their classrooms, rather than doing manual copy work and that’s the kind of efficiencies and improvements that when districts get them, they go “oh this is great!”. So like you mentioned, those are the types of exciting successes that we have.

Elisabeth: The analogy to healthcare strikes me. One of the focuses in healthcare is, how do we relieve nurses of tasks that are repetitive manually, so that we can somehow make it faster, and take less time, so they can spend much more time with patients?

You have the same attitude I can hear, about teachers. How can we take these tasks, this time consuming process and give them time? The goal is to get with students spending time on planning for the classroom, or spending time actually with the students, it’s a similar effort.

Dewey: Yes, absolutely. That is one of the things we need to be mindful of is our organization from federal level, down to state level and down to the classroom. Things that are asked for, has been a big issue in the schools, it’s not something necessarily that APQC deals with, but we see schools affected. It ties into their reporting processes, when state agencies or federal agencies ask for a piece of information, the amount of paperwork that it causes at the local level is tremendous! We have to step back and say, “What’s the right balance of consistency in reporting? Do we want the teachers more in the classroom, or more on the filling out paper and forms?” The fact is they have to do both, and what’s cut short is their ability to plan after the class and before the class. They have to spend a lot of time filling out paperwork.

Elisabeth: Carla?

Carla: I’m so excited that Dewey had brought that up, I had thought about it before. I mentioned before that there were over 300 techniques, and concepts that educators can use to improve their processes and methods.

There is a merging of this whole area of automating the reporting process. Basically having a little smart machine or piece of software look at a set of scores, database of time spent, or what ever reports the state agencies require. It will turn that into a text based report, infact if you’d like it too it will speak to you in a nice voice and deliver it. Most people don’t know, but the weather report they read every morning, that forecast was not written by a metrologist, it was written by a machine. The ESPN sports scores, or the “so and so knocked it out of the park last week, surprising everyone who thought he was a jerk!” That was written by a machine, so that’s called narrative science. I’m just saying right now that may be a little out of the ball park on the continued metaphor for the cost in education, but the cost of that is coming down very rapidly. So when I say there’s stuff that can be adapted, it’s not just adapted, it’s not just the classic process improvement techniques. It’s the ability to automate the honorest time consuming no value added parts of knowledge workers time, and work is perfect for educators. Was there ever somebody who was more of a knowledge worker, than a teacher? No.

Elisabeth: Alright! What an incredible way to put it, and you are forgiven for the baseball metaphor, it is baseball season we’ll let that go.

Carla: Thank you!

Elisabeth: I think what strikes me, if I think about the process world and the 8 Wastes and the 8th one is, the waste of an electrical capitol. That’s really what you are talking about with teachers. Can we use their skills that they were hired for, to really produce that educated student? Find ways whether it’s these incredible advances and narratives, or other arenas that will give them a leg up and a way to knock down some of those tasks and take it on another day.

So what are some of the resisting forces, or what are some of the reasons we can’t move faster with process improvement in schools? It feels like “oh my god it’s holistic, teachers get to teach their students.” What could possibly be against this? Why aren’t we moving any faster?

Carla: Oh, who gets to go first Dewey, you or me?

Dewey: Well all I can is what we’ve seen and that is part of it is competing forces, communities wants and desires, and understanding what the districts are trying to do with a process and performance framework.

I think actually the educators themselves seek the unknown. What does this mean? How is it going to change things? What are my roles and responsibilities? What am I accountable for? How do those things change?

There’s really the typical change management issues that you would see within any organization, but the fact is it’s not fear. It’s understanding that if something goes wrong then the community is immediately calling parents, key stakeholders are immediately calling the superintendent and cabinets are in the principal’s office.

So I think that there needs to be a solid base, a solid case for change, a business case for change if you will, to help everyone understand what the benefits are. Also it takes time, it’s not done in a day, it’s not done in a meeting, it takes a couple years for a district to really get fully organized and put a process framework in place.  

Elisabeth: Yes, and you guys have done amazing work. You got into so many districts, and made so much of a difference. It’s exciting! Is there anything I didn’t ask, that you’d like to tell our listeners before we rap?

Carla: I have something Elisabeth, and it’s just to pick up on what Dewey said. What we’ve learned over the years is that the techniques and tools were never the problem, or the solution in any organization. It’s all about having the right strategy for getting started. Involving the right people, communicating to the right people, addressing the right concerns and that’s what, quote unquote “intervention” that works looks like.

How do you get started? You find the leadership team that’s interested in finding out a little bit more about whether this process stuff is worthy of distraction and willing to spend 2 ½ to 4 hours giving an intro into this. What has worked? What has not worked? Find out what’s of interest to them? Who needs to be involved? You know it’s all about empowerment, engagement, change management, communication and the tools are what you get to use once you figure out the wheel change.

Elisabeth: Yes, and that’s true in the process world, and the business world as well, everything you guys are pointing out, the change management and the need for a strategy. I think what’s most compelling with what you guys are describing is just the mission that you’re on to transform U.S. education, and Australia. That’s exciting and moving! I can’t see not wanting to get onboard with that.

So if people are interested, where can they find you online?

Dewey: They can find us at, or specifically our education site. I can be contacted [email protected]g, thats my email so I’m happy to take emails and respond. On Twitter we’re at @apqceducaiton.

Carla: We have tons of free stuff on both of those sites, the education specific site and the larger sites, so go in and mess around and give us a call.

Dewey: If I can say one thing that we worked on that’s been quite exciting, is the transformation of the classroom. We worked with the Gates Foundation, and the group called The Center for Educational Leadership and Technologies (CELT), on personalized learning. You wanna talk about change from (that’s another thing on terms of adapting processes) traditional classroom teaching where you basically have a batch of 25 students going from grade 3 to grade 6. To personalize learning where you have to have individual students, with their own individual plan, it’s basically going from batch teaching to single piece flow.

The transformation in the classroom is going to be huge and it’s going to be very challenging, because it’s talking about digital resources, and the skills of the campus and the teachers manage individual lesson plans from the student. It’s a challenge also for the student resources, with what they have at home and in their community. That’s sort of the cutting edge of what’s coming down and it’s kind of a frontier.

Elisabeth: That’s exciting.

Dewey: It will be enabled by process. You have to have process in order to make that work.

Elisabeth: You do, and that’s exciting and it’s right in line with anything that I’ve heard from educators, where teachers will say, “You can’t just sort of move on, every single kid has to pass”. Being personalized about their learning is key.

Thank you so much, both of you for joining today. For sharing what’s happening with APQC, in their efforts to transform public education in the states. I really appreciate it.

Our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Just-In-Time Cafe, we would love your feedback. Please give us a review on iTunes, or on our website and don’t forget to subscribe.

It’s still warm, so you can all enjoy iced coffee courtesy of the Just-In-Time Cafe.

Bye everybody!


Tracy: Okay, so we hope you enjoyed this episode and found it valuable. We’d love your feedback on our podcast, so please leave us a review on iTunes, on our website and don’t forget to subscribe! And we hope you enjoyed your iced coffee today, because it’s a hot one!

Elisabeth: It’s a hot one people, so drink up!

Thanks for Listening!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt 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 Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.
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