Six Sigma Blog Post

Starting Lean Six Sigma, Pt. 1

Chuck Hardy – Lean Six Sigma (Part 1)


Chuck Hardy, Quality Control Dir. at NMEDA, shares his story of being a Six Sigma Black Belt. Chuck also tells about current position as Quality Control Director at non-profit NMEDA (The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association). He compare it to previous positions in manufacturing at Eastman Kodak and Lockheed Martin.

In this part 1 of two podcasts, Mr. Hardy offers great tips on beginning a lean or Six Sigma program. Scroll down in the transcript to see the links.

Listen to Part 2 »

Interview Transcript

Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Introduction Music
Hello, I am Brandon Nys, and with me today, via Skype, is Kyle Holland. Today’s topic is one that many have heard of, and are currently implementing, but still have plenty of questions about. And that is lean and Six Sigma.
Kyle Holland: You’re right, Brandon. It’s one of the most impactful trends to sweep through the manufacturing industry in the last 20 years. But, unfortunately, it still has a lot of mystery behind it, and even a little doubt attached to it.
Brandon: And, you know, that’s really what’s so intriguing about lean and Six Sigma is that even though we have numbers to show certain organizations like Toyota and Boeing literally changing their industries, others are still really quick to question the methods and ideologies behind lean and Six Sigma.
Kyle: Well, I think for some it’s really a completely different way of doing things, and it’s maybe not… That their culture’s just not ready for it, and/or they’re just not ready for the challenge that they think it presents.
Brandon: So, do you think it may have something to do with them not fully knowing what lean and Six Sigma are all about?
Kyle: I do. I think a lot of it has to do with someone’s desire to appreciate and understand the power a lean culture can have on an organization, which is a big reason why I’m excited to listen in to today’s podcast with your guest, Chuck Hardy.
Brandon: You know, I’m really excited as well. Chuck Hardy is a Six Sigma Black Belt and has basically lived and breathed lean and Six Sigma practices for over a decade now. And he’s been associated with some really notable companies—Eastman Kodak, Lockheed Martin—and, most recently, he’s now with NMEDA, the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.
He really has a vast knowledge of the ideologies behind lean and Six Sigma and he has some really good personal insights, as well as some really interesting stories that may open up those who have been turned off to the practices in the past. Let’s bring in the Six Sigma Black Belt himself Chuck Hardy. Chuck, how are you doing today?
Chuck Hardy: Beautiful Brandon, glad to have you.
Brandon: Alright, Chuck. So, you’ve worked at Eastman Kodak and Lockheed Martin, but recently you’ve moved out of the manufacturing world, as senior test technician or senior quality assurance engineer, to join NMEDA. How does lean / Six Sigma integrate into the nonprofit world, and especially with regard to NMEDA?
Chuck: Well, if I can, let me, I’ll tell you a little bit about NMEDA for folks that are not familiar with them. It’s a fantastic organization. NMEDA stands for National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. And it’s a trade organization, a non-profit, that represents over 600 mobility equipment dealers, manufacturers and rehabilitation specialists across US and Canada.
The mission is dedicated to expanding mobility opportunities for people with disabilities. Working over 30 years, in primarily manufacturing environment, seeing this opportunity, at this nonprofit, service-based industry it was an interesting change for me, I have to tell you Brandon. I was extremely excited to join NMEDA.
One of the first things that I like to do if I come into an organization, or even if I’m visiting a customer, is just have that personal interaction and ask “how can we improve, what do you see?” When I started talking about lean and bringing lean concept, lean culture into the fray with our members—there are members that are already embracing lean and doing it, and that’s fantastic to see, but a lot of them, the dealers are not there yet.
Some of the responses I’ll hear are things to the nature of “Well, that doesn’t work, we’re not manufacturing, lean is a manufacturing thing…” and my initial thought’s like “Wow! I really got some work cut out for me.” The buy-in is very important to have. And I know that some success stories will get us there, so…
The dealer is correct, in that they’re not a pure manufacturer in that sense, but the way I like to pose it to them is “You still are servicing a customer.” When a customer comes into your facility, what are they looking for? They want to be taken care of quickly, for as little cost as possible, and they want everything to be right the first time.
Well, if you think about it, that’s what lean and lean / Six Sigma are all about—understanding your customers’ needs. You could be building a purple pancake flipper and it’s not what your customers want. You might be doing a great job of it. You might have fantastic product line, flippers are moving through and you’re making great yield and there’s no waste. But what good is it if it’s not what your customer wants?
So you always have to ask the question when you start a lean program: “What does the customer want?” If the customer doesn’t want a purple pancake flipper, they want a pink one, you’re building the wrong product, even though you might be doing it well. So that’s what I bring to the dealer, is “What does your customer want?” And then we can develop the program around there, and the side benefits to all that benefit the dealer, so it’s really a fantastic program and a cultural shift.
Brandon: You know, that’s one thing that I’ve always really liked about the lean processes: that you can make it really customer centric. So, to start us off, why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about how you became a lean / Six Sigma Black Belt and how that journey started out.
Chuck: Alright. I received my first exposure to lean / Six Sigma back in 2001. I was working at the time as a quality engineer at Harris Corporation in Rochester, New York.
And, while the company wasn’t doing any training, per se, of lean or Six Sigma at the time, there was an employee there that I became friends with, and is my mentor still today, named Dr. Anwar El-Homsi. Anwar is a lean / Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He was one of the first people certified as a Black Belt in the US when he was working for Eastman Kodak company.
What would happen is me and Anwar would sneak off into a conference room during lunch and break times and he would just get on the whiteboard and start teaching me things. Being a master statistician, his primary expertise was in Six Sigma methods and I spent a lot of time with him learning. We went through DOE and it was something I just was real excited about. I was hooked at that point.
As time moved on, I left Harris and was working as a quality manager at a printed circuit board manufacturer and one of our customers was Lockheed Martin. Now, Lockheed was inviting their suppliers to a lean / Six Sigma Green Belt training. I took them up on the offer, went up to Chelmsford, Massachusetts and took their course. It was a great course and really fortunate to have excellent trainers and a lot of on-hand simulation.
Something that I would you recommend if you’re doing lean / Six Sigma training is to fortify the knowledge. Having the hands-on simulation is really powerful. After that Green Belt training, I took that back to the PC board manufacturer that I was working, and I began immediately implementing training, working projects, and Kaizen.
And, incredibly, within one year’s time, we were able to improve our on-time delivery from what was a dismal 81% all the way up to 98%. And, really, quite an achievement and caught the attention of a lot of folks. It was just infectious, which is, really, one of the great things about lean.
Its more than a set of principles; It’s a cultural thing. It’s actually human in a way, and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that later, but from there I was hooked, and that takes me through to what I do today here at NMEDA.
Brandon: So, through all of the training and learning about the principles of lean and Six Sigma, you’ve collected a lot of personal insights on this. Do you see any industries where lean or Six Sigma just doesn’t apply?
Chuck: Absolutely not. All industries that I’m aware of are satisfying a customer, whether that be an internal customer, or external customer, it all has to do with customer focus. For example, in the manufacturing sector, you’re satisfying your internal customer, which is your stockholders. You’re satisfying your customers that are receiving the product. You’re satisfying your internal customers that are your employees and/or the management.
Brandon: So, if lean and Six Sigma are principles that can be universally applied to any company in any industry, why is it that we have so many companies that aren’t implementing lean and Six Sigma? There must be some roadblocks that are in the way. What are some of those roadblocks, and what are things that companies can do to overcome those roadblocks?
Chuck: Yeah, excellent question, Brandon. In lean / Six Sigma, there’s a lot of jargon, there’s acronyms, as there is within any company or any program. Some people kind of turn off the lights when they hear some of this, it’s like “Oh boy, I don’t understand… I’m not sure if I’m really putting the pieces together. You know, I see what your doing, but it’s just not making sense to me!”
One of the things that I like to do is I’ll get to a class and we’re starting to talk about the history of lean, where we’re going, the direction of the company, and then I’ll say “I bet you everyone doesn’t know it, I would be willing to bet that everyone in this room is a lean practitioner already.” And people will look at me like, “What? How can that be?” It’s actually quite simple.
Lean, in a lot of ways, is just doing things in a commonsense method. One of the things—I can give you an example—when I moved from upstate New York down down to Florida where I’m at now, is I came into a new environment. I was starting a new job. I really didn’t know the roads, the path from my home to my workplace, and so I started driving to work.
I would be willing to think that most people at the company also have to drive to work. And when you drive to work, are you looking for the slowest way to go? Are you trying to find ways to slow you down? Usually not! Usually, you want to find an efficient way to get to work that has the least congestion, that is able to get you to work on time, maybe give you a little grace period.
And so, when I moved down here, well, I took a route the first day using a map. This is what it looks like, where I should go. Well, it took me 40 minutes to get to work.
Well, day two, I drove to work using a slightly different path. It took me 45 minutes. So it was like, well, I’m going back to number one because it took me five minutes less. I went back to the first path, which took me 40 minutes. I noticed some things. I said “Well, that looks like a little shortcut there…”
That’s what’s happening finding the best path to work. You’re practicing lean going to work. You’re practicing lean by finding the best route, by taking the waste out. Continuous improvement—Kaizen. Gas costs a lot of money, nowadays especially, and you don’t want to be burning it up just sitting there waiting.
Waiting happens to be one of eight forms of waste, and it applies in everyday life. Being able to knock it down from, you know, all the jargon and all the technical to a human level, is a great way to get the message across.
If you go to a restaurant, you know, you’re going for a nice night out, ok. I would be willing to bet that you’re pleasantly surprised when you see that the table is there and it’s nice and set neatly.
If you notice I use the word “set”. Set is one of the 5S’s, and it happens in most all restaurants were the table is set, and why is the table set? Well, it’s set for a lot of reasons. It’s set because it provides a pleasing environment to the customer—the customer walks in and says “Wow, this is really nice, you know? Everything is right here.” If you notice, your fork is to your right and your knife is to your left. Or it maybe if you are right or left handed, it might depend there (chuckle).
But, other than that, everything is just right there in reach. Table setting is a lean practice if you think about it. You’re setting, you’re sorting so you have things quickly at your disposal. As the customer, you’re your eliminating waste. Everything is right there.
So, I like to do that and I think it really helps to bring it down to an every day kinda human level. A lot of people you’ll see the light turn on when you start to go through different examples. It’s like “I get it now! I get it!”
Brandon: So, I guess really what you’re saying is the first real big obstacle that you have to overcome isn’t necessarily a company obstacle, but it’s more of a psychological obstacle when it comes to the people you’re trying to spread these principles to.
Chuck: That’s a great question, Brandon. Uh, let’s take a look at the human brain. The left side of the brain is analytical, and this is where there’s processing, logic, methods, reasoning… And on the right side of the brain we have more expressive artistic abilities, emotions, color, intuition, music, creativity.
Now, let’s step back for a minute. There is a strong argument that human creativity, through innovation, is part of lean thinking, so I don’t want to say that nobody in lean doesn’t embrace some of those concepts.
But most of the decision-making methods are structured. For example PDCA which is an acronym for “Plan, Do, Check, Act” and DOE “Design Of Experiments.” DMIAC, which is the Six Sigma “Define, Measure, Improve, Analyze, Control”. These are all structured tools and methodologies that are used.
Primarily these are logical, therefore they’re left brain concepts. So where I see the next breakthrough is bringing the right side of the brain into the equation – that’s the creative part of it. The creating continuous improvement models that embrace intuition and creative imagination.
Interestingly, there’s already work taking place in this arena and some of that work is being done, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Daniel Pink, he’s author of “A Whole New Mind”, which is a fantastic book, and he says why right brain thinkers will rule the future, and I, for one, think he might be on to something.
Here’s an example: We’ve all heard about Apollo 13, their amazing return to Earth safely. They were stuck out, all their systems down, pretty much. All of the systems that they were intending to rely on to bring them back to Earth were not there anymore. They basically lost their roadmap. But yet they were able to accomplish this incredible feat to bring themselves back to the earth safely. And how do they do that? They had to rely on quick thinking. They had to rely on intuition, imagination. Now what are these things? These are right brain characteristics.
So, it’s something that I see on the horizon. It’s bringing in that right brain thinking. There’s a few companies out there that are working on it. Daniel Pink’s done a lot of work, there’s some others out there that are putting models out for transformation. And one of the models that I’ve seen recently is called Creo. Creo is being developed by a company called Optimal Transformation Group, and its Latin. Creo is Latin for “to create or make.” This model, that uses a process called “symphonization.” That’s another new term that’s being put out. And I think it’s revolutionary.
The Creo model includes RECOGNIZE, IDEATE, VISUALIZE, CREATE and then IDEALIZE the problem. As you can see, it’s a departure from the DMIAC—define, measure, analyze, approve, control. While it still follows a model, it’s something that uses a different type of thinking. If you haven’t heard of it yet you’re not alone. Albert Einstein—I think you heard of this guy, he’s is a little bit smarter than me—he says “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” And that’s what I’m excited about because solving our problems in a different way is what’s on the horizon. It’s an exciting time actually to be in this environment.
Brandon: Now, there are some critics out there on the internet and in publications of lean and Six Sigma and, with Six Sigma most notably, some of them say that it’s a fad and that it’s fading. What are your opinions on that?
Chuck: Fading, I don’t know… Unpopular, unfortunately there has been some pushback and I’ve seen people in different communication environments that are pushing back a little bit and questioning lean / Six Sigma, if its time is over.
But if you look at lean / Six Sigma, maybe it is reaching a point of where it needs to evolve again, but I don’t see that any different than continuous improvement, what the foundation of lean / Six Sigma is all about. So I think it’s a good thing.
One thing to remember is that the programs and the practice does not need to be rigid. Lean is meant to be flexible and it’s not a one-size-fits-all, So, I’m not buying in that it’s faded. I think maybe it needs to evolve but, we can talk about that too.
Brandon: So, when companies do experience push back in their lean and Six Sigma efforts, where does that push back come from?
Chuck: What I’ve seen as far as a push back standpoint, is some people saying well is lean / Six Sigma done? Is this the end? It is more coming from some failures that have occurred in the industry. People looking at lean and saying “Well, it’s not working.” But that’s not true and my opinion, if lean is practiced in the way that it’s intended, it really cannot fail.
Brandon: It’s evident that there are some companies that are implementing lean and Six Sigma, and the program does fail. So, when it does fail, do you think that’s just because these companies have lost focus on the goal?
Chuck: Well, one of the things, actually, one of the biggest areas where I’ve seen failures occur—and they do occur—is there’s not a top-to-bottom embracing of the philosophy.
I would say one of the most difficult things for a manager, especially a middle manager in, say, a larger organizations that’s going on a lean journey, is they need to give up a lot of their responsibilities to the workforce. Because, in a lean environment, in a lean / Six Sigma environment, the workers are the ones that are really managing the process. They’re the ones that are identifying continuous improvement opportunities. They’re the ones responsible for implementation.
So, it takes a lot of the responsibilities that those managers once had, and shifts it to the workforce. So, I’ve seen companies that there’s a lot of anxiety in the middle management area that, well, they have this power and now they’re losing that power. And it’s hard for them to do. So typically that’s the cause of it, is just not being supported throughout the organization.
Brandon: Alright, everyone. This podcast is running a little bit long, so we are going to split it up into two sections. I’m Brandon Nys. Be sure to come back and listen to part two of our lean / Six Sigma discussion with Chuck Hardy from NMEDA.
(Outro Music with Voiceover)
Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to podcast@creativesafetysupply.com.
For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.

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