Norman Bodek and Jeremy Green’s default image

By: Norman Bodek and Jeremy Green

Imagine an automobile owner who goes to the service desk at the dealership and reports a problem, describing the symptoms in detail to the customer service representative. If the service desk employee sees the same or similar symptoms in the dealer’s or manufacturer’s database, she knows what to tell the customer and what to do to get the problem solved. But if the symptoms were not in the database, she would take responsibility for the customer’s problem. The representative would be the key point person for this set of symptoms, and would be able to call on other technical, safety, and quality resources within the company to verify and solve the customer’s problem. She would not immediately defend the company but would be on the customer’s side and enter the symptoms and raise a red flag in the database. This process becomes the zenjidoka equivalent of pulling the red cord, when a service worker relies on a combination of procedure and self-reliance to find the best approach to solve the customer’s problem.

Jim Benson’s picture

By: Jim Benson

Making mochi naturally in Ecotopia.

Noticing waste serves no purpose. Understanding it does. Whether we seek to manage waste or attempt to eliminate it entirely, we need to know how much of it exists and what form it takes—what is its volume, its shape, its weight. So we monitor it. We watch it. We learn from how it grows, how it spreads, and what its effects are.

On an idyllic spring day on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, in the crisp fresh air I stood rapt as people heated rice over an open fire. With huge mallets they furiously pounded the grains in a mortar, turning the hot steaming mass into a glutinous paste that is life’s most perfect confection—what the Japanese call mochi. With apparently heat-resistant hands, they grabbed and worked the steaming paste, transforming it into the fluffiest mochi balls imaginable.

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By: Paul Scicchitano

There’s an important tool for quality professionals that you may have overlooked in your effort to retain customers in this difficult economy. And unlike Six Sigma, ISO 9001 or 9004, lean, and total quality management (TQM), this tool won’t cost you anything.

“Imagine you are a customer. You’re around some organizational representative who’s happy and finds his work meaningful,” explains New York Times bestselling author, Marshall Goldsmith. “Option B, you’re around an organizational representative who’s miserable and finds his work meaningless. Does that have any impact on you as a customer? I think that’s a definite yes. Do you really want to be around person b?”

Goldsmith is inviting us all to check our mojo. Not the mojo popularized by fictional super spy Austin Powers—or even the Marvel Comics’ super villain of the same name. There’s a very different kind of mojo that is an essential ingredient to keeping customers and to managing work and home life, according to Goldsmith.

The 61-year-old executive coach defines mojo in his latest book as the moment when we do something that’s purposeful, powerful, and positive—and the whole world recognizes it.

Kees van Deemter’s default image

By: Kees van Deemter

Consider the most fundamental of measurements: the measurement of physical distances, as when we use feet and yards, or meters. Once upon a time, a foot must have been thought of as the size of, well, a human foot, without worrying whose foot exactly. These days, we are no longer satisfied with this level of imprecision, of course, and concepts such as the foot and the meter have long been standardized—at least to an extent. Since meters are the international currency in most areas of science and engineering, let us briefly look at the history of the meter.

Jeff Liker’s picture

By: Jeff Liker

I  recently spoke to an executive from a Canadian manufacturing company that supplies Toyota and has several years of experience implementing the Toyota Production System (TPS). He said his biggest disappointment was that their corporate culture still doesn’t support surfacing problems. People are afraid they will be blamed, so they hide problems.

This seems to be a generic problem across manufacturing and service. When I interviewed Fujio Cho, the first head of human resources for Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant, who is Japanese, he said that what most startled him when he first came to the United States was that Americans didn’t like to say they had a problem. The very word “problem” suggested blame. Cho said his biggest problem was getting Americans to pull the andon chord. I asked what he did and he said he had to go to the shop floor every day (as president) and encourage them to please pull the chord even if it stopped the line. Eventually the employees felt comfortable about pulling it.

Leslie Parady’s default image

By: Leslie Parady

Despite double-digit unemployment, advanced manufacturing firms are still searching for highly skilled people to fill open positions. Critical skills are scarce and about to become much scarcer as the skills gap grows and the “Baby Boomers” retire.

Manufacturing is one of four industries preparing for a mass exodus of retiring, skilled employees. At the same time, the Department of Education estimates that 60 percent of all 21st century jobs require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the work force. The result—fewer and lower quality workers, especially in areas that require a high skill level. 

Advanced manufacturing firms will be forced to reevaluate their work force and hiring strategies and take it upon themselves to close the skills gap. As we pull out of the current economic recession, companies can no longer just hire for today’s needs, they must hire for tomorrow’s needs.

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By: Arizona MEP

Vantage Mobility International (VMI) is well on its way to achieving its goal: to become the No. 1 provider of personal mobility transportation solutions by the end of 2010.

“We’re transforming our business from soup to nuts,” says Doug Eaton, president and CEO of VMI. “Our company is growing and we are looking for ways to perform on a new plane. We had been looking for someone to get down to the roots of our organization and make some sustainable changes. A quick online search brought up the Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Arizona MEP) and we knew they’d be the perfect fit for us.”

“VMI is a great company. They convert top-of-the line vans into vehicles designed for individuals in wheelchairs so they can enjoy the freedom to travel as comfortable as possible. That means they take everything off the vehicle, and rewire and reassemble with new parts such as a new ramp and mechanisms to move that ramp,” says Jim Godfrey, Arizona MEP project manager. “The Honda Odyssey is their flagship product and a very popular one among customers, so we began by leaning out that production line of minivans.”

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By: Jon Miller

A recent problem-solving team activity made me aware of the importance of knowing when to shift the conversation from “why?” to “how?” To be honest, it’s sometimes hard to know where to draw the line in the “5 Whys” analysis, especially when the root cause approaches the murky territory of human behavior and motivation. When we know the “who,” it’s tempting to skip the “why?” and just introduce the “where?” as in the place those people can go to be less of a nuisance to the team. However, that’s human behavior but in a different context, the ego. 


That’s how most of us respond to first hearing about a problem. We ask the “what” questions to understand the situation well enough so that we can either start taking care of the problem or getting out of its way. In fact, the initial steps of grappling with big, vague problems are key to chances of success in problem solving. These first steps are clarifying the problem, breaking down the problem to its specific subproblems, and describing the situation in terms of a gap between target and actual. Once we are clear on what is and what should be, the problem statement becomes clearer. When we have a well-crafted problem statement we can begin root cause analysis by asking “why?”

Robert Hildebrand’s default image

By: Robert Hildebrand

Lean Six Sigma methodologies have been around since Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line in the early 1900s. Yet, companies that turn to lean Six Sigma often find themselves defending against the stigma that it stifles creativity, turns people into robots, or is just another way to get more work out of employees. These are all misconceptions, and Xerox has discovered how the process-focused methodology helps promote creativity that drives innovation.

Pairing lean Six Sigma initiatives and innovation teams together has helped Xerox drive product development and become a leader in digital printing. According to research by InfoTrends, Xerox’s installed base of digital production color devices accounts for more than 50 percent of the worldwide total page volume printed by high-speed, cut-sheet digital production color printers with duty cycles exceeding 300,000 letter impressions per month.

Greg Hutchins’s picture

By: Greg Hutchins

Toyota is in the news daily for its safety-related recalls. It’s sad… no, tragic. How could a company’s quality reputation be diluted so quickly? The pundits are saying that it will take many years to regain its lost quality reputation.

For Toyota, its reputation was its most important asset—not its property, plants, and equipment; not its Toyota Production System (lean management); not its quality tools nor its just-in-time processes. Toyota’s most important asset was its goodwill or brand equity. This is now history.

What happened? 

Toyota invented the Toyota Production System (TPS), which incubated the lean industry, including just-in-time, quality processes, and countless improvement tools such as kanban. Toyota epitomized quality, not only in the auto industry, but globally. But something tragic happened.

According to news sources, Toyota wanted to overtake General Motors Co. to be the No. 1 auto manufacturer in the world. The New York Times reported:

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