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Just-In-Time Cafe Podcast: How Lean Changes Lives -

This month we’ll visit with visit with Jerry Wright, the president and chair of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME).

We’ll tell you about an app that let’s you build shareable checklists. In the news we’ll hear about a prize-winning County in Washington State and how the Electric Power Sector got a shock – pun intended – when they looked at their safety record. We’ll discuss Quality Guru John Shook’s seminal book revealing Toyota’s secret to using the A3 to build leaders, and we’ll answer a question about which tools to use when dealing with Negative Nancys. We’re ordering 2 shots of espresso – one for us and one for you – 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: Tracy we are back!

Tracy: We are back in the cafe! I love these times together.

Elisabeth: I do too, but as usual it is way too noisy in here and we need our private dining room.

Tracy: I always get hungry on my way to the Just-In-Time Cafe, so I’m going to grab a menu.

Elisabeth: You grab a menu! I always get thirsty, so I’m getting our coffees and I will meet you.

Tracy: Great!

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy: So, what’s on the menu today Elisabeth? I’m really excited to hear.

Elisabeth: It’s a good day, this is a good line up. As an appetizer, we are going to review an application called, Sweet Process. We will find out what is so sweet about it?

Tracy: I hope there is candy involved?

Elisabeth: I hate to disappoint you Tracy, we are going to find out.

On the Bulletin Board, we have “How the electric power sector got a shock, when they found out their safety record was not only worth oil and gas, but closer to mining.”

Tracy: What?

Elisabeth: Yes. Then we are going to talk about, “How a government agency in Washington, not only overcame entrenched bureaucracy, but they won a prize.”

Tracy: Nice!

Elisabeth: Tips and Tools of the Trade. We will discuss a book by Lean Guru, John Shook, that takes what looks like a simple Lean communication method, but turns out to be a Leadership Tool.

We will have some Q&A’s, and will look at a method to deal with, Negative Nancy’s inside meeting disrupters.

Today’s Special, Tracy is going to tell us about talking to Jerry Wright, President and Chair of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.  

So this is an awesome line up Tracy.

Tracy: I know. I can’t wait.

Appetizer: Sweet Process

Tracy: The Appetizer for today Elisabeth. What is sweet, about Sweet Process?

Elisabeth: So this is an application, and it literally is a sweet process, you can find it at It’s about, creating and documenting procedures. I’d say it’s about creating checklists. It’s very cool. You can add photos, videos, share it with a team, edit it together as a team and update it. You can set it so that it repeats daily, weekly and monthly so that people get notices. I tried it and it’s really friendly, and very intuitive.

There are a lot of tours. For example, it will constantly give you little messages saying, “Do you want to check out this particular tool? Do you want to learn how to update? Do you want to learn how to create a new procedure?”

It’s really easy to share. You put the emails of the people you want to receive a copy of the procedure you just created, and they will get updates and reminders to this particular procedure.

I think it’s a great tool for standard work, and in our world that’s a big deal. I think the collaboration aspect is really nice in terms of standard work. So yes, it’s dynamic. You input it, improve it as you go, people can use it and then chime in and say, “You know what would work better?” and then have the ability to change it, which I think is kind of cool.

Tracy: I really like it too! I think one of the biggest challenges in creating a standard work across an organization, is the infrastructure. The system of standard work and this, really addresses creating a system to have organized standard work, and managing that standard work.

Unfortunately I had the experience seeing a lot of organizations struggle with this, because they don’t have a template, they don’t know where to store it and they have mixed formats (like videos as you mentioned). This seems to incorporate all of those pieces, which is really nice.

Elisabeth: I want to say thanks Tracy! You sent this one over to me, and I appreciate it, because we use this one personally. We go out on our boat, and I constantly forget something, like a headlamp. We would be on an overnight, and this could be a big drag. This application basically creates that checklist of what should go on the boat, so thank you Tracy.

Tracy: That is great! I should probably use it for my camping now that you say that, because I’m going camping very shortly, and I think I need Sweet Process.

Elisabeth: I think you do too. So, it’s free!

Up next Tracy is going to tell us about how good work is happening in an unlikely place. Government.

Bulletin Board

Tracy: Yes Elisabeth. I am really excited to talk about good work happening in government. The example I have today is about the organization Finance and Business Operations Division, also known as FBOD, that is located in King County, beautiful Washington, in particular Seattle.

King County, actually was recognized by the National Association of Counties NACo, for achieving an effective program that is enhancing services for residences. It’s really being efficient and implementing Lean initiatives, which is great.

Elisabeth: Everytime you talk about the work you’ve done, and the work that you are aware of with government, it gets me excited! If one government, or one county can do it, other counties can do it!

Tracy: Yes, I agree. I think this is absolutely scalable, and I think I actually have a special place in my heart for government workers. I’ve been working with this particular organization, and they are amazing people. I really enjoy working with them, and they are very smart. A lot of people think government workers aren’t very smart, and I don’t really understand that. I know people love to hate government, but they have done some amazing work! This is actually one example. Getting recognized by the National Association of Counties.

They have done three things in particular, as part of this award. One of them ironically enough, was they created some standard work, for 1,300 of their processes. They ran into a few challenges with that, setting up the infrastructure, and those kinds of things. Unfortunately they don’t use Sweet Process, but you know what? They have done a great job with something they call the FPIC (Finance Process Information Center) Initiative. Its creating a place for standard work to be, and they have done about 80% of their processes now.

Also, as part of the NACo Award, they incorporated a way for many agencies to buy goods and services more efficiently. They ended up saving 7.1 million dollars, just making this process easier, rather than filling out a form and having to do it manually. They created a way electronically to process it, and ended up saving a lot of money.  

Elisabeth: And saving their constituents a lot of time.

Tracy: Exactly. So basically getting rid of waste. Wow, they got a lot of savings there, that was really a big successful project!

The last thing they got recognized for (I really think this could be applicable in lots of other agencies), is customer survey feedback. I actually talked to the person that implemented this, who is one of the directors of the treasury group. He was really looking for some customer survey feedback, but the problem is that it requires a lot of time and money to process.

The director actually told me, he went into the airport and saw that in the restrooms, you actually hit a button on a kiosk to say your level of satisfaction. So he said, “Why don’t we use that?” He actually took that into his own organization, so when people wait in line to pay their taxes, they actually just hit the button “Are you satisfied with your service today?” That actually was a great way for them to get immediate feedback on their process.

Elisabeth: Nice! Make it easy once again. Great story, I appreciate that! I love hearing about government, and you’ve got some. There’s a great blog I think about this one too right?

Tracy: Yep! We’ve got a corresponding blog to go with it, if you’d like to read more about it, and we’ve actually put some links in with a video as well as some of the write ups on that from NACo.

Elisabeth: The other thing you have is that all of these stories (I’ve got another one for you momentarily) and other Six Sigma in the news are on, so you can read a collection of stories every week about Lean Six Sigma in the news.

So, Tracy I read a great one in something called EHS Today, which is an online periodical about environment health and safety. This was a piece on continuous improvement in the electric power sector, which was focused on reducing the frequencies of severity in injuries and fatalities (like most people in that sector). They saw a steady decline which was great! But when they benchmarked themselves outside of the electric power sector, they found that they were worse than oil and gas, which is totally counter intuitive. If you ask someone, “Do you feel safe at an electric plant, or a gas rig?” Everyone would say, “I’m safer in the electric power plant.” That’s just how they feel it’s not reality, the data shows them that they’re wrong.

Tracy: Oh no!

Elisabeth: Yes, which is bad. The good news is that, not only do they benchmark themselves, but they said, “That’s our target. We want to be as good as them.” which said, “Well what do they do that we could use?”

They looked at similar processes within the industry, granted they work in very different processes, but they found two that were similar. One, was construction in an intaskable environment, and the other was distributed workforces, which hinder supervision. What’s cool, is they found out that in supervision, just telling people, “Do this. Don’t do this. Be safe on a job when you’re traveling, or when our working with live wires.” Telling people that supervision doesn’t work as well as what they call interdependence, and I’d say the catchphrase there was “you are your brothers keeper.” That message worked a lot better than top down compliance. To me that’s so fascinating, because that’s so true in our world. That change management is about, “What is the message you are putting out to people?” Are we going change your process because we want to? Or we think this is better? Or we are trying to hit a goal? No, we are in it together, we’re focusing on how we can work together, make a good experience for both coworkers as well as customers. I think this is a really cool story and really relevant.

Tracy: You know, I think what’s really interesting too about what you said “you are your brothers keeper”, idea. They’re also getting people to do the same thing in healthcare, and I’ll just share really quickly because it’s very similar. They were having problems with some of the people working in healthcare washing their hands after every patient. They tried putting up signs that said “You should wash your hands to prevent you from getting sick” and those signs were not as effective as signs that said, “Wash your hands so patients won’t get sick.”

Elisabeth: I’ve read that study, that’s so cool! That’s exactly what you’re dealing with, so yes the messaging makes a big difference.

Tracy: Yes. and I think the promotion and motivation is a little different. It’s something that we can all think about, and maybe we can apply that kind of thinking into helping others embrace process improvement.

Elisabeth: Here, here!

Tracy: Here, here!

Tools of the Trade: Managing to Learn by John Shook

Tracy: Alright, up next Tools of the Trade. Elisabeth is going to talk about John Shook’s book, Managing To Learn, and how a simple Lean communication method turns into a leadership tool.

Elisabeth: Exactly. This one is really cool, and John Shook alone is a really cool guy, so it doesn’t surprise me he would come up with this. This was his sort of gift to the world after working with Toyota for so many years. Finding that the A3, communication tool is not only to let people know what’s happening on a project (What’s the problem? What’s the root cause analysis?), and that it’s a living document (you’ve heard that before). But it’s actually a way to help people become better leaders, and I love that!

The focus is on responsibility, as opposed to once again authority, top down. That’s exactly what they found made the difference in the electric sector. So once again this same message of working together, and that leaders shouldn’t just delegate, but they should get in there figure out what’s going on in the process. Become leaders through solving problems, not just communicate and not just problem solving technique. It is a way for an organization to learn about itself, and he calls the A3, “organizational currency.” I love that term. That’s what he found in that environment, and not everybody did it, and it really worked.

Tracy: That’s really great. You know what I really like about this whole idea of having it become a leadership tool? It’s empowering employees with the balance of staying involved to the level that your treating people with respect, because you’re interested in what they are doing. So it’s interesting to see that, and that’s how leadership is involved. Don’t solve the problem for your people, let them solve the problem. Pay respect by having an interest in their process and understanding their process, but not to fix it.

Elisabeth: Not to fix it! Yes, he is really clear about that. Never tell your staff exactly what to do, (and that’s often hard right? Especially if it’s staring you in the face saying “That’s the problem, and that’s what they should be doing”) you have to zip it, and work with them so that they get there too. So don’t tell them what to do, make sure they know it’s their responsibility.

Tracy: Yes. I know leaders who are trying to become problem solving mentors, and this is one of the hardest things, “How do I stop telling my people what to do?”, “What to fix?” and “How do I encourage them to fix it themselves?” I think the hardest part leaders struggle with is, knowing the answer, not telling them the answer and wanting to save time.

Elisabeth: Yes. Once you answer it, you basically set the tone then people realize that, “when I ask what to do, my boss will tell me.” Now you have created a loop, and people are going to keep following that, so you really do have to resist it.

I also liked his message, “to get away from the debate, who owns what?”, as opposed to “What’s the right thing to do, and what should we be doing together?” and again, I think it goes back to, “you are your brother’s keeper”. What is the right thing collectively for us to do? I like that a lot.

Tracy: Yes, I really like that a lot too.

Elisabeth: The other quote that I appreciate, (I think this comes from him, but I know I’ve seen it before) “no problem, is a problem”.

Tracy: Yes! No problem, is a problem, and what does that mean? It’s people pretending that there is no problems. Shoving them under the rug, which could indicate that there are bigger cultural issues, that the organization has not addressed, because people don’t want to identify, or at least announce the problems.

Elisabeth: So the book is Managing To Learn, by John Shook. It is a ground breaker, a good read, tool, and a good thing to check out!

Tracy: Absolutely agree. Especially for first time learners trying to learn the A3 method, it’s a good book.

Alright, coming up next a Special Request, from one of our subscribers.

Special Request

Tracy: Okay, a question came in from Q&A on our website, from a subscriber. Elisabeth why don’t you go ahead and share the question and your incredible insights on the answer.

Elisabeth: Thank you for your blind faith Tracy (laughing). So this question was from a subscriber after we ran a webinar on facilitation, and the alignment model. so there’s a good webinar if you want more information.

The question is, how do you deal with strong personalities in a meeting, where there’s disagreement on processes? I think there’s a lot of tools to help with things like this and whenever possible, go to a technique. People often get blocked in at battle before they realize, “You know what? This could be just a simple procedure issue if we had a method to get us through this, then we wouldn’t have to lock horns.”

One, is a real simple visual called “Fist to Five”, which is kind of fun and it really is visual. So you’re trying to agree on something, and everyone has said their peace, “I want it this way, you want it that way”. Then there’s a bunch of the silent majority, that have been left out of the battle. You take a vote and raise your hand. A fist, if you absolutely do not agree with what’s on the table. One finger you, understand, not completely blocking it, but not excited. And it keeps going all the way up to five fingers saying, “I not only think this is great, I wanna help be involved and maybe lead it.” So Fist to Five, is a good visual. Everybody will say, “one, two and three!” and everyone puts up a hand in some form of so many fingers up, based on their interest or their backing for the idea.

Tracy: Nice!

Elisabeth: Yes.  Then there is one, in my world that involves sticky dots. I’m sure you use it too, but it’s Multi-Voting. This means you have a long list of stuff you could do, and there’s no agreement, the list is too long and you want to narrow it (we have too much to choose from, so let’s just narrow this list and that will help with getting in agreement). If we can narrow it, then we can focus on a few things that we can at least agree to that degree on. You take as many options you have on a list, say there’s 21, and you divide it by three. You get 7 votes, everybody if I do it, gets 7 little sticky dots. You go up and put a dot next to the 7 things on that list that you want. If you decide to go Chicago, style then you can put more than 1 dot on the one you’re particularly excited about. That’s Multi-Voting. You’re a big fan of that one too I know.

Tracy: I do really like that yes. It really stops the back and forth. People are arguing and the one with the most power usually ends up convincing everyone else. It completely takes this out of the picture which is great!

Elisabeth: That’s cool. The next one up in that level in terms of sophistication is the Weighted Criteria Matrix, which is a lot more complex. This says you have criteria and you should be paying attention to, “How fast is this going to take? How long will this take? How much money will it cost? How much leadership buyin do we have, a limited of two maybe three or four different distinct options?” You have to choose between them. Also involves a good team discussion, because you have to figure out the Weighted Criteria Matrix, what’s more important? Cost? Implementation time? Then score your options based on your criteria.

So if you want to use a Weighted Criteria Matrix, look that up on you can get free templates and instructions on that and then Multi-Voting also there is a description of that in the glossary in case you want to go look for more on that. They are just simple tools to help you with disagreements, help with get the meeting moving along.

Tracy: Wonderful! Thank you for your amazing insight on those techniques Elisabeth!

Elisabeth: Of course Tracy!

Tracy: Okay, coming up next we are going to be talking about our interview with Jerry Wright.

Today’s Special: Interview with Jerry Wright from AME

Tracy: I am very excited to talk to Jerry Wright, he has a long list of awards and publications and has a lot of experience in applying Lean and Process Improvement, to real life application. He worked at DJO Global for a number of years, but he’s personally led hundreds of Lean transformations for internal business processes over the last 20 years.  He’s done over 800 formal Kaizen Events. Isn’t that crazy? Thats a lot! I’m really looking forward to talking with him. His most recent position and responsibility is, Chairman of the Board for AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence). They have a conference coming up next month in October, and I’m really excited to hear his thoughts about the conference, and if you’re thinking about going it’s probably something you should listen to.

Tracy: So Jerry, welcome to the Just-In-Time Cafe, how are you today?

Jerry: I’m wonderful Tracy! Good to see you.

Tracy: It’s good to see you too, thanks for coming I really appreciate it.

Jerry: I’m excited to be here.

Tracy: Great! So for our listeners, I want to let them know that Jerry is Chairman of the Board for AME, and he has a lot of other titles, so I’m going to go ahead and let him explain what he does in his life.

Jerry: There are a lot of titles. Chairman of the Board for AME, is a very precious one to me, because I’m such a fan of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. I’m also the CEO and President of of my own company, which is LEANwRIGHT, Incorporated, and I do Lean, Six Sigma and other continuous improvement consulting. I’m also the Chair of the Southern California Lean Network, and that is a voluntary role where I provide pro bono connections for people. I tie them back to AME, Tech San Diego, or whatever it is we are trying to connect people, to have a nice networked community within San Diego, Southern California, even Northern Mexico. That’s a pretty cool thing. I’m also a full time father (that’s the most important role), and husband, so these are the two most important titles!

Tracy: I don’t think you have enough to do though Jerry!

Jerry: I know, I thought I’d need a few more things, so I thought I’d do some podcasts with you for!

Tracy: Great! So what is your role at AME, as Chairman of the Board? Tell us a little bit about that.

Jerry: So at AME as Chairman of the Board, I am responsible to coordinate board meetings and provide strategic direction for AME (What do we need to be doing five to ten years down the road?).

We typically have four board meetings face to face each year. One of them is usually at the conference for that year, (we’ll talk about that later) and this year it’s in Dallas Texas, October 24 through 28. We’ll be in Boston, in 2017 (I don’t have the exact dates). The cool thing is that in 2018, we will be here where you and I live in San Diego, for the International AME Conference.

Tracy: Nice!

Jerry: Right down on the waterfront close to the gaslamp, next to the big center down there where they hold Comicon and all those kinds of stuff. We will be in that area having the International AME Conference!  

Tracy: Oh, and that has not been announced yet?

Jerry: It’s been announced, but it’s two years away, and people are not getting too excited about it yet. We typically have to plan, because of the size of the venue (about 2,000 people). We have to plan about five years in advance. We are going to be in Toronto in 2020, we will be in Dallas in 2021, but yes we have to plan that far out, because it’s a big event.

Tracy: I bet.

Jerry: It’s the biggest Lean focused only Lean enterprise excellence conference in the world! Here in San Diego! I’m so excited, we don’t have to fly anywhere!

Tracy: I know, I am too!

Jerry: Yes, and everybody will say, “Oh it’s in San Diego, sign me up, I’m coming”, and they can’t sign up yet, but they’re so excited, because it’s a nice place to come anytime of the year.

Tracy: So who are some of the speakers this year for the AME convention?

Jerry: This year, a lot of people recognized Emmitt Smith and he is the closing keynote. He is going to talk about leadership, things that are meaningful to the audience. Things that are inspirational and  perspective.

One of the interesting folks we both know as a speaker is Karen Martin. She will be a speaker at the conference on Lean and Leadership in the office. I think there are seven or eight other keynote speakers, there will be one every lunch period and every morning and every afternoon. So all week long there are a bunch of folks.

Tracy: I saw also Jeffrey Liker.

Jerry: Yes! Jeff Liker will be there, that is right.

Tracy: That will be fun, and really good too.

Jerry: Yes. I typically like the keynote speakers, because they have been doing Lean for so long. My favorite things to attend are the keynote sessions and special interest sessions, which are focused on usually an advanced topic around Lean and Leadership.

There’s a company that recently won some type of award, or some type of recognition They actually had operators, accountants or other people who normally wouldn’t be in charge of Lean stuff, talk about how Lean has been implemented in their area. This is particularly amazing to see! I saw one, for a small company in South Dakota, where they had the operators who are actually building circuit boards, talk about how Lean affective them in their daily work, and they were kind of shy, but they got up there. They was really excited and passionate about their topic, and while they were lowly attended (I don’t think people knew the brand name), this little company in South Dakota verses a Ford motor company presentation, it was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is so real, very honest and very connected!”

Tracy: Yes. You know I think that’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. Those stories you just mentioned about people’s lives changing, and how their jobs are made easier. The “Ah Ha!” that they have when they apply Lean. Then you hear how impactful it’s been, and how much they love it. I live for that stuff!

Jerry: I have another experience. I have a guy that I worked with for years at a company called DJO Global. He was in the surgical division in Austin, and he would call me in the week and say, “Hey! I figured out a way to do Lean grocery shopping”, and I would say, “Oh! That’s so cool.” Then he would say, “I figured out how to do Lean laundry, my wife is so impressed!”, and I would say “That’s awesome!” It had changed his life, he was thinking Kanban, a continuous improvement in visual controls. He was transforming his business, but it actually spilled over into his personal life.

Tracy: Yes!

Jerry: It was really neat!

Tracy: It’s funny, because I actually say that when I’m teaching. I always tell people, “Once you start to open those eyes to Process Improvement, and start to see Waste, you can’t shut it off.” I’d be in a Chipotle, or a Subway and analyzing their process for how to get food thinking, “Why am I waiting? Please don’t get your sandwich toasted so I don’t have to wait.” So you’re constantly analyzing processes, even in your personal life.

Jerry: When you fly and go through TSA security, it’s a disappointment although they are trying to get better. Even the government is trying to apply Lean in certain areas, and that has good prospects, because virtually everything the government does outside of a few necessary services is largely wasteful. The more they can reduce waste the better we all are.

Tracy: Surprisingly, I’ve been spending a lot of time in government and it’s really amazing! Some of the stuff that they do there has a lot of processes, waste, bureaucracy and steps that are not needed. Sometimes the system doesn’t allow people to actually improve the processes. To see those improvements, and hear government workers talk about how that’s affecting their lives, I almost want to cry when I hear that!

Jerry: Yes, you want to cry for happy tears, as opposed to crying for frustration on the things that have not been enlightened with Lean.

Tracy: Yes, that’s true. A lot of times we are trying to show people how to see the waste.

So I’d love the hear about AME. How long have you been a part of AME conferences?

Jerry: I got involved with AME, through a person I still work with today named Luke Faulstick. He said, “Hey, we are going to start doing things related to continuous improvement and we are going to do some hosting and benchmarking”. I was like, “Benchmarking? That’s knowing where we are at, and what’s good?”, and Luke said, “Yes! So you are going to be in charge of hosting the next benchmark session.”, and I said, “What? We aren’t ready!”, and he said, “We are going to get ready, and announce that it will be six months from now.”

So there was a lot of motivation around being ready to go. We actually did the first hosting of the event, and that was in Temecula Creek Inn, with Abbott Cardiovascular. We did a joint session with their system, and it showed how they did Kanban with 20,000 materials, and how lines were flowing and oriented, because have been working it for quite some time.

Then came our little tiny company, it was maybe 100 million dollars, where Abbott’s was 7 billion. We talked about how we were doing Kanban, and it was a neat to be able to share and have people ask questions. Our operators were super proud! They were saying, “Hey, I did Kanban, and this works now my job is easier.” They became the sales people for the next step of people who have not done anything yet.

We primarily did manufacturing, and initially supply chain in the beginning of our Lean journey. Then pretty soon we were doing it in accounting, sales, IT and human resources. When you get to the entire enterprise, it’s extremely powerful.

Tracy: There’s this myth out there that Lean only applies to manufacturing. What would you say to that?

Jerry: Yes. It is totally a myth. It’s interesting, we did studies at DJL Global, and over the course of 15 years we matrix all our Kaizen Events. If it was a manufacturing Kaizen Event, our average improvement whether it was lead time steps, or reduced distance travel it was about 55%. That was the average over 15 years. When we looked to material related things in the supply chain for, purchasing and receiving, our average improvement was 66%. Then we got into a critical mass in office (I’ll call them administrative Kaizen) accounting, finance, legal, insurance all these things you name it, the average improvement was 78%.

Tracy: Wow!

Jerry: We had our own data, and we can without any doubt whatsoever say, “The biggest advantage for any organization, is to work on your administration processes. They have the most waste, because it’s hidden in people’s heads and computers.” You use to be able to see the inbox and stuff piled up, but you can’t anymore. An email inbox is an electronic file, it’s a que on an MRP or ERP system. You can’t see it, and yet it’s there. That’s where the big advantages given to the administrative processes and to start mapping them and figuring out how to eliminate waste.  

Tracy: Yes. It’s funny some people don’t see the value of process mapping on administrative. A lot of it, you can’t see the process. It’s invisible. Administrative processes for the most part, are invisible. All you see is a sea of cubicles and no process! So when things go wrong, where does that focus? The people, and not the process!

Jerry: Usually the people are doing the best they can with the broken processes. I’ll give you an example I thought was particularly poignant. We did a Kaizen Event, with Luke Faulstick in 2002. We went to our sister facility in Tijuana, Mexico, where they did sewing, and assembly operations for our medical device company that was based in Vista, California. We were looking at the month end close process, and we had people from the Vista office accounting, and people from the Tijuana office accounting. We said, “Let’s just lay out all the different spreadsheets, and documents we have (so back in 2002, there was a lot of worksheets and things like that)”. We covered almost an entire table, there was 30 documents. We said, “Which ones do we have to do, and how are we going to work this out?” Well in the process of mapping it, we found out: Vista, would type up an excel worksheet, fax it to Tijuana, Tijuana would take it out of the fax machine, enter it back into excel, perform their calculations, print it and fax it back to Vista.

Now, there are two people on a common shared drive, that could have had a common worksheet which they just saved, and notify “updated and done”. But they were doing this whole faxing! So they agreed going forward they would fill out a sheet, and say, “it’s ready, go ahead and update it.” They would update it, and it would take about three or four minutes. Where in the past, it was taking three or four hours, because it was a pretty big spreadsheet that they were having to retype. In the process of doing this, it went from 30 documents to seven. They went from two days to close to seven hours.

I just show people that example, because we had nice pictures that showed a guy throwing all the non value added documents in the trash can, and we just had fun with it! But it really illustrated the fact that we do things of best intentions. People are trying to do their best, and their broken. You have to analyze the process, and figure out a way to get rid of the waste.

Tracy: Yes, and it’s very difficult for people to sometimes focus on the process, and not the people. It happens in government too! You see it a lot. It’s like, “what’s wrong with those government workers?”. It is very much the process. How do we focus on the process? If people feel like they are going to get blamed. What have you found?

Jerry: They hide things, won’t talk about them and won’t reveal issues that they have. The culture of blame, is not the culture you want to have. You want to have a culture of finding problems. Making them ugly and then figuring out a way to fix them. Are you familiar with Mike Joses?

Tracy: Yes.

Jerry: So he talked about the first time he was working in the factory of Toyota, and he was in Kentucky, if I remember right? He got into this situation where did something wrong, and he didn’t want to tell anyone, because that’s what he was use to as a culture of blame. The funny thing is, that he said, “I think it’s okay? I’ll just let it go”. The next line catches it immediately and pats him on the back, and they say, “Hey, congratulations you made a mistake!”, and they celebrate, and said, “They love to find mistakes, because once you know what your mistake is, you probably won’t do it again.” That was a completely different culture! They were celebrating that failure, because it was giving them an opportunity to free him of that guilt, or the blame culture that they wanted him to not feel anymore. He said it was so uplifting, and so amazing that it changed the way he thought about almost everything.

I thought that was a neat way for him to share how we have cultural differences between a Toyota type culture of continuous improvement, identifying problems and trying to make them ugly so we can fix them. As opposed to “Oh I made a mistake, let me sweep it under the rug or hide it, or put it in the scrap and maybe no one will notice.” That’s not what you want.

Tracy:  Sometimes I don’t think they realize that their culture is that way. We have been working a lot with visual management, creating visual management boards and of course you’re suppose to make problems visible on those boards. What’s interesting is, when I wait to see what happens. Are people actually putting the problems up? When the problems are up there, how is the leader reacting? So that really is great insight for what needs to change culturally, but I love that little story! I don’t think people think about celebrating failure. Failure is just as important as success, because it’s something that they tried, and maybe they failed. I know that there are some organizations that will say, “No we can’t let anybody fail!”. How do we celebrate failure? What are some other examples of that you’ve seen leaders help create a safe environment, what are some things you’ve seen?

Jerry: I’ve been to a lot of different facilities, and had the privilege of working with some very Lean facilities. The one that I worked at just a couple years ago was a company called Power Partners, based in Athens, Georgia. The leadership there was taught to work with the teams (they had leader standard work), and the goal was every day you met with one or two operators and talk to them, “How is it going? Tell me the issue you’re having and let me know if there is a problem, and maybe we can figure out a way to solve it.” Frequently, they would meet with the operators and everything was fine, there was no issues.

Every so often there would be a particular problem. One of the operators said, “This particular thing was really heavy, and I’m having a hard time lifting it. This is a real problem for me, it weighs 70 pounds and I need to get help to lift it. Sometimes people are not available, and sometimes I think about trying to do it myself and that’s not safe.” And leadership said, “We will figure out a way around this, maybe we could find a way to get a lifting mechanism or something else.” The employee was happy to share on an ongoing basis some issues that she had, because someone listened to her and said, “Hey, let’s see if we can solve this”, as opposed to “Ah, just live with it.”.

I always look at it as, we need to eliminate the mind over matter culture that exists in a lot of companies. We don’t mind, and you don’t matter. That’s mind over matter, and unfortunately it’s very common and we need to get away from that and say, “How can we make sure people really matter?”  and “We mind that something’s not going well.” I’d say thats maybe matter over mind, and really understand that, and I see that too often. I’m sure you have seen it in your experience. If we can break that down, the better we are going to be.

Tracy: Yes. I think we have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of work out there.

Jerry: Yes. It’s is a target rich environment. That’s the way we like to say, that there is a lot of things to work on.

Tracy: So you are very busy Jerry! What are some of your latest interests? You have a lot of roles, and that’s wonderful. What are you very interested in, or focused on right now?

Jerry: One of the things I like to do is, wherever I go, (I was in the meeting this morning with a local association) I always like to inject and say, “What are your problems? What are the values being provided? How can we better achieve that?” Maybe it’s an altruistic purpose? Wherever I go, I try to leave, having it a little bit better, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m the guy in the restroom picking up everyone’s paper towels, and putting it in the trash, because my mom actually told me that. My mom said, “Always leave something better than when you found it.” I’m not changing the world, but I can make an impact on the world as I go. I feel with the capability and knowledge that I have developed over the past 30 years in Lean, value adding manufacturing and continuous improvement, I want to try to help other people see what I get to see, and have the opportunity to make that difference.

If I connect with a Plant Manager, who then has the opportunity to start thinking differently about how they manage, then their team manages the rest of the plant. It will be going in the right direction, being very people centric. One of the focuses of AME, is Lean enterprise combined with people centric leadership, and it is the real secret sauce to making a difference.

You can apply a lot of Lean and eliminate headcounts, but that doesn’t work. As soon as someone says, “Hey Lean means Less Employees Are Needed”, we have a problem. I have always told people that no one is going to lose their job as a result of Lean effort. In my area of responsibility, we will find other things for them to do. Keep in mind you don’t have the same job, you might have a different job and you’re not not going to lose your job. This is particularly important, because when I was in DJL Global, we were growing very rapidly. We grew from a 100 million in the year 2000, and to a billion by 2010. In 10 years, we grew 10 times. So as we were eliminating non value added work, like pushing bins of material around, batching and things like that, it didn’t matter because we had another cell coming, and we had another business. We were adding so we were constantly growing, and we really didn’t have to worry about that.

There are companies where they are pretty much set, and have very few temporary employees. Now you have to think. How can I provide capacity in the organization to grow without actually losing anybody? If people are retiring, and leaving the job I just don’t replace them. I think that’s the key thing that management has to commit to and let everyone know. When you find better ways to do things, you’re not risking your job, you’re actually giving yourself an opportunity for promotion. People who can work themselves out of the job, are the ones that we want to continue to promote and embrace. If you go the other way, everyone hides everything, and now have a culture of the mind over matter again, and that’s not going to work.

So to answer your question in a very roundabout wrong way, I’m trying to make sure I’m continuing to provide insight to others so they can hopefully be enlighten, and work towards the same goals that I have to make the world a better place.

Tracy: Wonderful! Well I really enjoyed talking with you today Jerry. Thank you for coming to join us with the Just-In-Time Cafe. Where can people find you online?

Jerry: Well, if you go to, you will find AME and everything about AME. But on a more local basis the, and you will find what’s going on locally connected to AME and all the different groups out there. I even put stuff on there for Did you know that?

Tracy: Yes I did, thank you so much!

Jerry: So if you want to see what’s going on, and you want to be involved you can go there. Our membership is free! Just give your email, and you will be put on the email distribution and have access to the website, then there you go!

Tracy: Wonderful! I also want to thank all of our listeners for joining us today on Just-In-Time Cafe, for listening to Jerry Wright’s insightful commentary. So thank you for joining and we’ll see you next time!

Jerry: Takecare.

Tracy: Bye bye!


Elisabeth: Thanks everybody for tuning in to the Just-In-Time Cafe, we’ve enjoyed having you with us, and Tracy we’ll meet you here again next month!

Tracy: Sounds great, I’ll be hungry and thirsty!

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.