Training Program

Have you ever considered to be a mentor?

Some years ago, the company I was working by that time establish a mentoring program.  They realize that their staff was getting older, most of them very close to retirement age and they did not have trained people ready to replace them.

The plant implemented the program and the operations manager adopted me.  Back in those days, I was an industrial engineer full of theoretical information but very little experience.  It helped me a lot to have a successful manager with years of experience in coaching, counseling and sharing her perspective and very good information about best practices and why’s of them.  At the time, she was not my supervisor which may be helped to open even more the communication to discuss items like how to meet the challenges of being a young woman in charge of people with more years of experience than my years of live and some men that did not appreciate the idea of taking orders from a woman.  I became a successful supervisor and grew up relatively fast in the company in part for this

I once inherited this department with no supervisor.  The previous manager had this talented guy with no previous supervisory experience lined up for the position.  I was struggling between hiring an outsider or giving the chance to this person.  I chose the latter, knowing that he was not prepared for the position.

Without training or a role model to follow, soon he was having problems to delegate, distribute the work within the team, discipline people or even to understand what he can decide by himself and what consulted with his supervisor.  I remember my experience as a mentee and decided to mentor him.

Our journey together deserves a post by itself but for now, I will say that has been very rewarding for both of us.  Now he surprises me all the time with his ideas, leadership, and commitment to lean manufacturing. He surprises himself and uses his experience to motivate and convince his own team.

I did not know how to mentor, I was just following the steps that my mentor walked with me, the following quote from Simon Sinek summarize that relationship:  “A mentor is not someone who walks ahead of us to show us how they did it. A mentor walks among us to show us what we can do”.

Continuous Improvement, Waste

Lean is Fun!

Last week I was watching a video from Paul Akers, Lean Maniac, founder and president of FastCap LLC and author of 2 Second Lean. On that video, he passionately described lean as simple and fun.  That description makes me smile.

During my personal lean journey, I worked with different consultants and lean practitioners.  They all have one thing in common, regardless of their experience and knowledge, in my opinion, they complicated things too much.  I was thinking all the time that we should keep things simple.  People have different preferred ways to learn but most of us like to receive information in a simple way.  The simple the better to understand and learn.  When you understand things, you will see how useful they are and as you try and see that they work, you definitely have fun.

People don’t need to know the history behind lean, not thousands of examples of situations that are not familiar to them, not formulas or complicated programs.  All they need to know is the basics. The basics of lean are simple:  respect for people and continuous improvement.  By doing those two things we will eliminate waste, improve quality and by default improve customer satisfaction and reduce operational costs.

We show respect when we genuinely ask how we can help to make our employees’ tasks easier and work with them to eliminate the burden from their processes.  When they actively participate in the improvement process, having the chance to bring their point of view and implement their ideas, they go home feeling that they accomplish something,. By giving them the tools to apply continuous improvement on their areas we also give them the tools to have fun while they work, being creative, have some control of the process and learn things that may be used on their personal lives.

The Beginning

Authority or knowledge?

Some people are very passionate about lean manufacturing, so passionate that people recognize them for that.  The lean journey is so tough that even for that people is close to impossible to be successful on their lean journey if they are the only driven factor.

For a successful journey, we need more than one person with lean knowledge.  I found a couple of plant managers that believe that having one person with the words lean manufacturing on his/her title is the first step for the lean transformation.  This person would be dedicated to the lean manufacturing implementation, through training and kaizen events facilitation.  It is also expected that this person will do everything on its own and that is the first mistake.  Change attitudes and thinking ways is not easy, there are so many things that need to take care of, so much coaching, follow-up, training, facilitation, learning, and preparation. Without the resources or the authority to make it happen, the lean transformation is not feasible.

Every lean transformation effort needs a strong leader with the authority to make things happen, someone who can take bold decisions, somebody that the people will follow and respect.  This person does not need to be a lean expert, just someone who believes in lean and has the power to change things.  Of course, he or she will need resources that will introduce lean concepts to the whole organization beginning with the managers.  Authority without knowledge or knowledge without authority, either one of them will not work.

I have seen people in the position where he or she is the person with the knowledge but no authority to make or force changes.  That is an awful position, never hire or pointed someone to implement lean if you do not intend to give he or she the authority to make decisions and change things or you if do not plan to be there 100% of the time supporting the transformation, taking those decisions and changing things yourself.  People will think the change is optional when is not and even when this person is very passionate, know a lot about lean and has the skills to coach and facilitate changes; pretty soon the plant will go back to its old ways.  Without support, it is impossible to make this journey.


The Beginning

How the Journey Begun

Back in the days when I was working in Ecuador, I had a lot of time on my hands during weekends.  With no family and very little friends around, I spend those days between two of my favorite hobbies: photography and reading.  I do not remember exactly how it was, but the book Gemba Kaizen from Masaaki Imai was on my hands and I start reading it.  I was wondering if such a thing as lean manufacturing exists or if it was just another pitfall to take money from companies already in trouble.

I was not looking for a job but when I received a call from my hometown in Puerto Rico to work as Process Engineer just fifteen minutes away from my house, I could not believe how lucky I was.  After a phone interview, I was invited to the company for an interview in person and it was right there when all my enthusiasm for coming back home was smashed with a simple question:  What is Lean Manufacturing?

I was trying to squeeze my brain to remember the exact words from the book I was reading two weeks ago to be able to give a firm answer that would make my interviewer believe that I knew something about it.  I am not a good liar so I decided to tell the truth, that I start reading about it but I never work with it and I have no idea how to implement it.  Being an industrial engineer and quality practitioner, I had strong ideas and skills about continuous improvement so I talked about how all those skills, my taste for challenges and being autodidact would help me to learn and implement Lean.  I got the job, I guess that the mix between my passion for learn new things and make a difference along with my honesty impressed my former boss enough to give me the chance.

That happened a little more than ten years ago, the minute I signed my acceptance letter, my lean manufacturing journey begun.  Still, I have no clue how each new training or event would be if I will be successful in changing people’s way of thinking and act; but I keep doing it with more or less success.  I do not pretend to be a teacher to nobody, through this posts I just want to share my experiences hoping that I will help somebody;  and also my questions and doubts hoping that somebody out there helps me.