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You don’t want to miss this episode! We’ll interview Bob Zimering who is the Senior Manager for what is essentially Amazon’s Lean Six Sigma effort.

We cover an app that does your Excel work for you. We’ll find out what happens when you apply Lean Six Sigma to the streets of San Antonio and we’ll answer a learner’s question about communicating the purpose of improvement efforts. If this is your first visit to the cafe, where have you been?!

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Podcast Transcript

“I’ll put that out there to anyone listening to this podcast because if you’re listening it means you care and it means you want to make things better within your own area. And chances are you’ve got an opportunity to act entrepreneurial and to reward that spirit in folks you work with or who work for you by giving those positive incentives even if it’s just a verbal recognition of somebody doing something different.”

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi everyone! I’m Tracy O’Rourke.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m Elisabeth Swan.

Tracy O’Rourke: And we are from GoLeanSixSigma.com and you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast where we bring you fabulous apps, polls, news, books, and people so you can build your problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan: The joint is jumping, Tracy.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. We’ll either be joining the party or escaping to our hideaway.

Elisabeth Swan: I’ll meet you in our private dining room. I am almost awake.

Tracy O’Rourke: Sounds like we need some time for our big coffee mugs.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

So Elisabeth, what’s on the menu this time?

Elisabeth Swan: OK, Tracy. Here we go. For an Appetizer, we’ll review an app we can never use. Our listeners are going to have to just trust us on this.

In the News, we’ll find out what happens when you apply Lean Six Sigma to the streets of San Antonio. Going to you for that one.

And then for Q&A, we’ll answer a learner’s question about the purpose of purpose. Think about that for a second.

Tracy O’Rourke: It requires a bit of reflection.

Elisabeth Swan: Yes, it does. Let’s get to the Appetizer.

Appetizer of the Day: Kutools

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, Elisabeth. Let’s tell them about this app that you and I will never use.

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, this month’s app is something called Kutools. It’s spelled out K-U-T-O-O-L-S, one word. And it sounds like cool tools, which I supposed maybe the point. But the hitch is it’s a PC-only tool and you and I have Mac.

So normally, we wouldn’t tell you about an app that we couldn’t even try but this one got such high marks from a Green Belt by the name of Lynne Emmons that we decided to showcase it. Lynne is a Quality Manager. She is the Director of Quality actually at a health care nonprofit called Valle Del Sol. They are based in Arizona.

And like many nonprofits, she was trying to fit 10 pounds of work in a 5-pound bag of staff. I’m kind of cleaning up an expression that you might be familiar with. So since they weren’t getting any new staff, she started a finding way to serving their customers with less. And she is wildly successful. We recorded her success story earlier this month. So you can look at that online. I encourage our listeners to download it.

And like many nonprofits, she was trying to fit 10 pounds of work in a 5-pound bag of staff.

But she told me about Kutools and that seemed to be one of her big time-savings for reducing how long it took them to do audits. It’s an Excel add-on. It has like 200 built-in macros. So she didn’t have to spend time cutting, pasting, formatting and other things that were just causing hours of work for her and her team.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Rave reviews because it lets you merge cells, combine sheets, count cells by color, create batch jobs. And the best part is it’s only 39 bucks but you can get volume discount licenses if you want to buy more. And we provide the link so you can check it all out and all of its functions.

Elisabeth Swan: Do it. It’s cool. I’m Elisabeth Swan and you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. We’d love your feedback. Leave us a review on iTunes or on our website and don’t forget to subscribe.

We’d love your feedback. Leave us a review on iTunes or on our website and don’t forget to subscribe.

Up next is Lean Six Sigma In the News.

In the News

Elisabeth Swan: I love all these cities using Lean Six Sigma. It’s all good news. So what did they do on the streets of San Antonio, Tracy?

Tracy O’Rourke: So the City of San Antonio did a resident survey and there was a question on there about potholes. And the folks that fill these or repair these potholes were feeling pretty confident about their survey results because they have a 24-hour response time that they had set for when they get a call from a resident who says they want a pothole repaired. They are meeting that requirement 98% of the time. So they thought, “We’re going to kill it on the survey.”

Guess what? They get the survey back and only 38% of residents are satisfied with potholes.

Elisabeth Swan: Wow!

Tracy O’Rourke: It was really deflating for the folks that actually do this work. And so, they were trying to figure out what to do. They could have easily just discarded the information and said, “Whatever. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” But really, they wanted to improve customer satisfaction and resident satisfaction.

But really, they wanted to improve customer satisfaction and resident satisfaction.

So they did some research and guess what? They determined that one of the root causes for a poor rating was that the city wasn’t being proactive enough. Residents don’t want to have to call to report a pothole. They want the city to recognize those potholes and fix them without even having to call, which if I was a resident, I probably want that too.

So they actually deployed current resources into new ways to proactively identify potholes that need to be repaired. And guess what? They went from 13,000 repairs per year to 75,000 potholes repaired within a year.

They went from 13,000 repairs per year to 75,000 potholes repaired within a year.

Bottom line, 480% increase in the number of potholes repaired within one year. Way to go San Antonio!

Elisabeth Swan: Woohoo! Actually, that’s a great example of going into a project and thinking, “We got this. We know what the data is going to say. I don’t even know why we’re doing this. But hey, this will feel great so let’s just go ahead and do it.” And then finding out, “Whoa! Customers not seeing what we’re seeing. We’re counting how many got done. They’re looking at how come things aren’t getting done proactively?” So a very different customer requirement they discovered by doing it, which I love.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, I love that too. And they really thought about it from the customer perspective. I mean how many times does somebody going to see a pothole before they actually call the city? A year? And then they go, “I’m going to finally call because they’re not doing anything about it.” So I think they were very insightful and really, really trying to understand the issue and doing an improvement.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And they kicked it 13,000 to 75,000! We’re going to hear more about these guys.

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m Tracy O’Rourke and you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. In a short while, we’ll get to hear Elisabeth’s interview with Bob Zimering, the Senior Manager for the Lean Six Sigma Program at Amazon. But first, it’s this month’s coupon code.

Q&A

Tracy O’Rourke: So Elisabeth, here is a question for you from one of our subscribers. Who is responsible for creating and communicating the purpose of a project?

Elisabeth Swan: So Tracy, this question came from our most recent webinar, How to Get Support for Your Project by Clarifying Your Purpose. And for those of you that didn’t see the webinar, which I highly encourage you to go look at, the purpose of a project is why you’re doing it in the first place.

People often focus on or jump right to the goal, right? We’re going to reduce cycle time by 50%. We’re going to reduce defects by 50%.

People often focus on or jump right to the goal, right?

But people need to understand why a project is happening in the first place. And the example I love to use these days is a recent Green Belt I worked with at a local nonprofit and she was trying to change the process for purchasing supplies. And colleagues and leaders did not like the changes and they started working around her because they wanted the soap they liked or they wanted to use paper plates if they feel like it.

Until she told them that the money they saved would enable them to open an entirely new daycare center. It would enable them to afford a whole another mortgage. And once she said that, everybody got on board. Then they understood the why or the purpose of the whole project.

Until she told them that the money they saved would enable them to open an entirely new daycare center.

So back to this user’s question, the responsibility is with the team to develop the purpose and work that with the sponsor or the champion. Leadership can often add a little more perspective or help you tie it right to the organization’s vision and mission. But that purpose is really key. That alignment is key.

Once that’s set, they should remind people of the purpose during meetings, any meetings with stakeholders. The sponsor should communicate it to management. It’s a game changer to get stakeholders engaged.

So if you haven’t downloaded that webinar, make it a point to do so.

Tracy O’Rourke: And I really like this idea of talking about purpose. It’s crazy. We don’t do it more often. And there’s a gentleman, Simon Sinek, that wrote a book called “Start With Why”, which we both like a great deal. And he is – it’s important to talk about it with project’s as well as organization’s purpose.

So, it can really make a big difference as you just stated with the daycare center. Thank you for that.

Coming up next is Today’s Special. Elisabeth gave us a little preview of her interview with Bob Zimering.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. Bob came from a 15-year career applying Lean Six Sigma in industries like aerospace. And you and I met him years ago at a quality conference in Arizona. But he reached out to us again and he had since become the Senior Manager of ACES. That stands for Amazon Customer Excellent System and that’s Amazon’s version of Lean Six Sigma.

So, it’s fascinating to look at how Lean Six Sigma works in the largest online retail company in the world, and he definitely brings a little of his defense background into it. So it’s a very interesting, very informative interview. Stay with us.

Today’s Special

Elisabeth Swan: Hi and welcome to Today’s Special. I’m speaking with Bob Zimering of Amazon. Welcome, Bob.

Bob Zimering: Hi, Elisabeth. How are you?

Elisabeth Swan: I’m good. Bob Zimering is Senior Manager of Worldwide ACES, which stands for Amazon Customer Excellent System at Amazon, leading transformational projects to deliver cost, quality, safety, and environmental impact reduction improvements across the Amazon global fulfillment processes.

I actually met Bob at a process improvement conference years ago when he had been a Lean Six Sigma Deployment Leader and Master Black Belt in the aerospace sector. Bob had been leading global teams for 15 plus years at Raytheon, Textron, Honeywell, and BFGoodrich. So it was a fascinating surprise to reconnect because since then he has brought his considerable talents over to Amazon.

So Bob, thinking back, how did you get your start in process improvement? What got you going down the Lean Six Sigma road?

Bob Zimering: Yeah. That’s a great question. My background is in engineering and physics and people are often surprised like, “How did you get into operations and process stuff?” Our company, I was at Allied Signal at the time which is one of the first like big adaptors of Six Sigma and they had a mandatory Green Belt program and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. Resisted it, fought it, skipped the classes, all that stuff.

And then I had a friend who was going through the Black Belt program and he got me involved in some, at the time, they didn’t have design for Six Sigma but we were engineers so we were like, “How do we apply the principles to the design process?” And started a team that we were using some new tools to pull analysis from different parts of aircraft engine design to work together instead of each team designing their little piece of the engine independently and kind of trying to stick them together.

I was a system’s engineer so my job was to optimize performance of the overall jet aircraft engine and we handle these teams that did the turbine, they did the airfoil design, they did the burner, all the stuff independently and kind of put it together.

And we formed the team that looked at optimizing the whole system at the same time using some cool software tools. And really, really made a big difference and it was fun. It was fun and the result was huge.

We improved efficiency by several percentage points which is just unheard of in aerospace industry. Usually, you need to get like special materials, new really expensive design options, stuff like that. And we were able to make big, big changes by just getting the team to work together and optimize and we started to do fun stuff like design of experiments for the whole system. We started to integrate cost model with the engineer design. We started to look at the entire customer profile.

We improved efficiency by several percentage points which is just unheard of in aerospace industry.

Then I became a Black Belt and I led a team that was a Green Belt team and they continued this work and they were able to through optimization put together some designs and saved literally billions of dollars over the lifecycle of the product because of course aircraft engines are very long lead and they’re used in aircraft for decades, literally for decades. Thousands of aircrafts flying millions of flights a year and a little bit of efficiency savings goes a long way in terms of saving fuel, fuel cost so they’re burning less gas to get people from A to B. And that heads up to millions of millions for the airlines and eventually billions over the lifecycle of the product.

Thousands of aircrafts flying millions of flights a year and a little bit of efficiency savings goes a long way in terms of saving fuel, fuel cost

So, huge impact. A lot of fun. I got to learn about different engineering disciplines. I got to work with a great team. And that propelled me, pun intended, into kind of the Black Belt program where I just started to work in operations and work with finance and marketing and all these other groups to where it just really opened the aperture beyond the technical space to me.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a great description of you really had an arc there going from just, “I hate this. It’s required.” The Green Belt classes were just not inspiring you at all. And what really got you, what comes through is how much fun you had. Like you solve the problems, you got to meet other people, you got to work on teams but you really had fun making that difference and having that huge impact which as you say, the jet engines and lead time was huge so the impact is huge. That’s a great story.

This is one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because this was your background when I met you. You were all about that engineering background and the jet engines and defense. And then you’re coming into Amazon. So I’m so curious, your process improvement background, what it is, and it seems light years from Amazon which is – and you were coming from very structured organizations.

Was the process improvement easier in your old job?

Bob Zimering: Well, OK. So this is super interesting. Another question people ask me and I do want to put in a disclaimer that I’m not speaking on behalf of Amazon. I’m sure the listeners know that but I need to say that.

So the big difference between the aerospace and defense industry and online retail that I’ve seen so far is its culture. The old, entrenched kind of government contract or long-tail contract companies lack the spirit of entrepreneurship. They lack the spirit of employee empowerment.

The old, entrenched kind of government contract or long-tail contract companies lack the spirit of entrepreneurship. They lack the spirit of employee empowerment.

And what that translates to in terms of process improvement is people are afraid to take risks. People afraid to take risks means nobody wants to invest time in a project they may know may not do anything. Nobody wants to approve a change whether it’s a design change or it’s a process change or supplier specification or any of those things, nobody wants to do those things because they’re taking a risk.

And the culture is one that punishes risk-takers and rewards playing it safe. And that I believe is one hundred percent in the control of middle management. The folks like myself at the senior manager, director level, even frontline managers that set the tone in terms of when can I take a risk, what happens when I do something different, what happens when I try something and then I go to the meeting and review it and it’s not perfect, what happens to me? How am I rewarded positively or negatively incentivize to either never do that again because I got yelled at because my design wasn’t perfect or because it’s too expensive or we don’t have the budget or whatever, how am I incentivized?

And the positive incentive of course is, “Hey, you tried something new. You came up with three new ideas. We can’t use them right now but we’re going to put them into the planning or we’re going to figure out how to use some different version of those ideas or maybe that will open up ideas somewhere else.”

All of these positive outcomes that can be very easily turned into positive incentives, we’ve got that culture. We’ve got that culture at Amazon. We’ve got a culture of very much scrappy problem-solving. To some degree, that’s born by necessity. We’re moving super, super fast, growing super, super fast and people have extremely high expectations as we want to deliver to our customers of course.

We’re moving super, super fast, growing super, super fast and people have extremely high expectations as we want to deliver to our customers of course.

And what that does is drive people to just simply figure out how to get things done. And I’ll segue in a bit to the mindset of bureaucracy in aerospace but just leave it at a cultural one where we have a workforce that embraces risk-taking at a small level, controlled level, being able to evaluate the outcomes of that risk and get positive reinforcement from management even if it doesn’t pan out for having tried something.

And we have middle management that will be very quick to react when an idea comes up and says, “Hey, let’s try it. Let’s go to the hardware store and buy some stuff that we can just put this, couple this thing together just see if it even makes sense or we’ll get some programmers to write some macros over the weekend just real quick because they love to do it. We’ll try it on Monday. And oh look, it simplified the whole process that we can roll out to the network which is huge. It can have huge impacts of course.”

And oh look, it simplified the whole process that we can roll out to the network which is huge.

So I think the big difference is mindset. I think that the entrenched companies whether they’re aerospace or automotive or what have you will face that challenge and competitive pressure and it’s a change that I think every leader can make and I think that everyone can take that entrepreneurial mindset on to themselves within their own area.

And so, I’ll put that out there to anyone listening to this podcast because if you’re listening it means you care and it means you want to make things better within your own area. And chances are you’ve got an opportunity to act entrepreneurial and to reward that spirit in folks you work with or who work for you by giving those positive incentives even if it’s just a verbal recognition of somebody doing something different.

And so, I’ll put that out there to anyone listening to this podcast because if you’re listening it means you care and it means you want to make things better within your own area. And chances are you’ve got an opportunity to act entrepreneurial and to reward that spirit in folks you work with or who work for you by giving those positive incentives even if it’s just a verbal recognition of somebody doing something different.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a nice invitation to the listeners. And I hope people can hear that. And I love the relationship of what you’re saying to thinking like an entrepreneur. And what came through again, you talked about people going home over the weekend and maybe coming up with a macro and having fun, right? So fun comes back to it. And that – I just hear it again and again how much fun it is to fix this stuff.

And the other thing you said that resonated was that idea of – we call it the frozen metal. It really does depend on middle management and it’s the signals people are getting and giving across the board. Aside from places like defense and aerospace, we see this all over government. But we also see it’s possible to break those molds. And it’s happening in governments all over the country, state, city. It’s making – that’s happening.

So, I think for those listening, I would say listen to Bob and that this is something that can happen regardless of the industry that you’re in. There’s a chance.

So I want to come back to what Amazon uses which is they’re calling it ACES, the Amazon Customer Excellent System. So ACES is the acronym. And it’s their version of Lean Six Sigma. And I want to know, Bob, how would you characterize Amazon’s take on process improvement? What makes it different?

Bob Zimering: Yeah. It’s actually a lot more of the same of what I was just talking about in terms of a scrappy solution. We have the least centralized process improvement program I’ve ever seen or ever heard of. We don’t have standardized Black Belt programs across Amazon. Each group has their own program, their own initiative that they’ve developed to fit their needs. And some groups have certification programs. Some have them at the Green Belt level. Some have them at the Black levels. Many do not.

Our organization, the organization I’m in, Worldwide Operations, we do not. We don’t have a certification program at all. People are expected to have the skills whether they come to the company with that from their prior experience or whether they developed them on the job. We allow people to get certification from other groups within Amazon or certainly from the various training organizations like yourself, GoLeanSixSigma.com or the academies or what have you. Anyone can do that.

The expectation is that people learn how to problem-solve. And people use data to make decisions and use process insight to define the leverage points. But the big difference is we don’t have that centralized system. We don’t have any kind of mandate across the board. We don’t have any kind of expectation. We don’t even have a single system. We’re in a process.

The expectation is that people learn how to problem-solve.

There’s a team that I’ve kicked off this year actually developed a set of common guidelines which will be a reference that teams can choose to use and it represents multiple Amazon organizations at the same time but it will never be a mandate. It will never be a requirement. It will simply be a way to get a head start on doing process improvement for groups who don’t already have that or who want to take their program to the next level.

It will simply be a tool they can use, a reference that they can use and it will help incentivize folks to standardize because everyone will start using those same guidelines. But it will always be up to the individual organization, the individual leader to decide how much they want to use, how they want to use it.

If it’s value-added, they will use it. If we make it value-added and easy to use, it will go viral across Amazon and people will use it. And if we don’t, it will just become an interesting footnote on some share points somewhere.

Elisabeth Swan: We’ll have to talk to you again to find out what happen to it. It’s fascinating to hear that because my background even if you take it into the world of improv is structure sets you free, right? So you need those binding structures. You need the steps, the guidelines. And I think that’s where you’re headed is let’s get some guidelines here so that you can move at a clip because the point you’re making is they are moving so fast that setting up a lot of these gates and structures and certifications would slow things down. They just want people to problem-solve.

So given that, can you sense that the culture is a problem-solving culture? I mean has that method been successful or do you see, I’m guessing by your guidelines, that it could be better?

Bob Zimering: Yeah. I mean it could always be better. And to talk about structure, we have structure in terms of the tools we have available and the processes. We have a budgeting process. We have process for getting funding, for aligning with other programs, et cetera. So there is structure. It’s just not a mandatory structure for process improvement activities.

And I embrace that because we had so much bureaucracy in the aerospace and defense sector around process improvement. I had multiple organizations I worked with where I learned that people were spending almost as much time to document their projects, to go through the tollgates. They were spending as much time as to actually do problem-solving, to do root cause analysis or statistical analysis or even experimentation or any of those things was just getting swamped by the paperwork. And that’s absolute poison to continuous improvement. It stops the flow of improvement.

So, you do need the structure. You need the guidelines. You need the guardrails to keep you from falling off the cliff. But as soon as those become an impediment to progress then you’ve got a problem. And that’s where I think we take it – we take it just to the right level at Amazon.

But because of our growth, we are needing more and more of that to minimize duplication of effort or minimize folks working, developing non-compatible tools, et cetera. We’re growing so fast and in so many different directions that there is more need for that. There is more interest in that.

And like I said, it’s always a very simple A/B test. If we develop a tool and people would use it then it’s value-added and it will grow. And if we develop a tool and people don’t use it then it doesn’t go anywhere. And that’s – I think that’s a great mindset if you can do it at a small level to test these ideas and see if they’re really going to work.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. That’s great. I like that. Make sure that it’s fun. That’s what keeps coming through. And the description you gave of the just the backbreaking work of documentation and tollgating that was taking as much time as the improvements, that didn’t sound fun back to that sort of what’s behind this when it’s great.

Bob Zimering: Yeah. We had a – I’ll share an anecdote. One of the teams I led as a Black Belt early on in my career. And this is me being vocally self-critical. But we had the team all ready to go for their final tollgate and they were ready. We’re going to present. We’re done. Project is done. It was a great team, multinational, which was unusual in aerospace. So folks from all over the world did a presentation. And I was the Black Belt. I was their mentor. And I was like, “OK. This is …” At the end of the presentation, I was like, “This is great. We really solved the problem. Now, here are the 30 things you need to do to actually close out the project.”

And they were just heartbroken. People’s faces were ashen. It just literally took the wind out of their wings. And they didn’t want to do it. And it took almost as long to close those 30 actions as they had taken to do the project up to that point, which is ridiculous. It disincentivized them to ever try a process improvement. It delayed the implementation, et cetera, et cetera.

So my lesson learn was figure it out so it’s not bureaucratic. Take that out of the system and it’s really got to work that way for a program to be successful.

So my lesson learn was figure it out so it’s not bureaucratic. Take that out of the system and it’s really got to work that way for a program to be successful.

Elisabeth Swan: You can really feel it. I know what you’re talking about as a leader, as a coach when you’ve doused somebody’s spirit and you’ve got to – and you’ve made some good reflections and obviously walked into a very different environment so you can make use freely of what you learned, which is nice.

Bob, give me an example of an improvement effort you’ve done at Amazon.

Bob Zimering: Sure. So one project we had actually started in 2016, late 2016, where we had some of our fulfillment centers, some of our warehouses switching over their process in the very last step of applying mailing labels. And we found that the switch actually resolved a bottleneck that was happening due to the automated label machine.

The machine was actually slower than the groups of people that are packaging the envelopes that are going out. And because it was slower, it was a bottleneck. It was jamming up. And we had to resolve that.

And we started the project in 2016, tried some different things. The groups that tried it liked it but we weren’t really sure if it was going to go anywhere. And then our team continued to do a little bit of analysis. We did some – supported some tests and actually found that it worked really well. And then surprisingly the next year, it just became a mandate. We had to do it because of the growth. We just couldn’t constrain – we couldn’t allow that constraint to continue.

And so, our team actually developed a permanent solution out of the scrappy solution that had been tried in 2016 and rolled that out across the whole network. And it ended up increasing throughput by I think like 9% or something and saving I think $10 million across the global scope of fulfillment.

So, it was really a neat project. Bringing in a simple solution, trying it out, initially being told, “Hey, forget about it, we’re not going to do it,” doing it anyway and then the next year being told we have to do this and we were ahead of the curve fortunately and seeing the results.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a great example. I love the scrappy start and the, “it’s not going to happen” and now, “OK, it better happen,” which there’s structure, there’s disagreement and then commitment. That’s great.

Bob Zimering: Yeah, absolutely.

Elisabeth Swan: Thanks for that example. What advice would you give to aspiring Lean Six Sigma leaders?

Bob Zimering: I’m glad you asked. So I embrace the concept of Gorilla Six Sigma or gorilla process improvement, which is like sneak attack kind of activities. Because so many organizations have this entrenched system or this entrenched bureaucracy, the spirit of continuous improvement is small changes quickly and constantly. Change check – plan, do, check, act over and over and over again.

Because so many organizations have this entrenched system or this entrenched bureaucracy, the spirit of continuous improvement is small changes quickly and constantly.

My advice is get out there and do it. Get out there and look for how you can make those changes and don’t take no for an answer. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done little projects, little acceptable tools that took on a life of their own because they solve the problem that everyone had just accepted as, “This is the way we do business. This is the way we’ve always done business. We don’t have the resources to develop some fancy stuff or tool to automate this.”

Get out there and look for how you can make those changes and don’t take no for an answer.

Someone would come in just few hours put together a macro or put together a spreadsheet that was well-formatted in a web form kind of thing or something and that would spark a whole snowball effect of people developing a bigger solution to a broader problem. People just got out there and do it.

At Amazon, we used the term of “disagree and commit”. It means don’t agree to disagree. Figure out where the difference is, speak about it openly, bring data to the table instead of opinions, and then have those critical conversations as a leader and say, “OK, we disagree. Here’s my point. Here’s my data. Here’s what I think we should do.” Counterpoint. Go through the other arguments. And then come to an actual decision and move forward.

At Amazon, we used the term of “disagree and commit”. It means don’t agree to disagree. Figure out where the difference is, speak about it openly, bring data to the table instead of opinions, and then have those critical conversations as a leader and say, “OK, we disagree. Here’s my point. Here’s my data. Here’s what I think we should do.” Counterpoint. Go through the other arguments. And then come to an actual decision and move forward.

And that’s what Gorilla Six Sigma allows you to do. You get out there. You try things. You show data, “Hey, this worked. Nobody thought it would work. We tried it. It actually did work. And look, we can save money doing this.”

Bring it back and you’re going to get the support because again, nobody wants to take that initial risk. No one wants to take that first step. But once a concept is proven, everybody loves it. I forgot the exact expression but it’s something like, “Success has many parents. Failure is an orphan.”

Elisabeth Swan: That’s really good. That’s really great. And it’s contagious. I know that when people – when something really works and yeah, now you got lots of parents.

But the other thing I was going to ask you, which you answered by telling that story is that what you took from the defense industry, what you took from Raytheon and brought into Amazon, and what you brought was these sneak attacks, these gorilla improvements and using that kind of battle idea to do this. But you often are doing battle. You’re battling problems, which is great. That’s a lovely story and thank you for that.

Bob, is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know?

Bob Zimering: Yeah. Just if they’re in the Northwest area of Seattle and Portland, we are – we will be hosting the quarterly meeting of the Northwest Quality Forum. It’s a group of Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement leaders from groups like Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom. We get together on a regional basis and work out some of those standards across different companies. It’s a really great opportunity to learn what other teams are doing.

Elisabeth Swan: That sounds great. I’d like to go. Too bad I’m on Cape Cod. Thank you. Thanks for that info, Bob. So Bob, how could somebody find you or communicate with you if they wanted to check in?

Bob Zimering: Yeah. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s a good way to get a hold of me. I’m super open to consulting on questions or just helping people kind of decide if they’re headed down the right path or if they’re thinking about things the right way. That’s probably going to be the best way to get hold of me or I could leave you my personal email.

Elisabeth Swan: OK. Well, thank you, Bob. And I appreciate your great arc of experience, where you came from, where you are now, and how it has informed kind of how you approach process improvement with some great stories. And I really appreciate it.

You’ve been listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. My guest today has been Bob Zimering of Amazon. Thank you so much for spending time with me today, Bob.

Bob Zimering: Thanks, Elisabeth. Really appreciate it. It has been fun.

Elisabeth Swan: Take care.

Tracy O’Rourke: Check out our new Wonder Women of Quality series as well and join us this month for a featured webinar, How to Flip the Conventional Classroom and Get Better Results. A flipped classroom means the lecture is the homework and the homework is done in class. And so, how does that actually get better results from Lean Six Sigma projects? We’ll talk about that in the webinar.

Elisabeth Swan: Thanks for another great visit to the Just-In-Time Café. Join us for our next episode when we interview the Chief Operating Officer for Spokane County in Washington State, John Dickson.

Tracy O’Rourke: See you in two weeks.


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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. 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.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. 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.