Improving the Invisible and Other Magic Tricks

I’m a wizard. How cool is that? I actually heard of a guy in a large pharmaceutical company whose job title was “Innovation Wizard”. I’m extremely envious. I asked my boss a few weeks ago if I could change my job title to “Quality Mage” she said she would consider it and walked off, I think she will go for it. I am digressing a little.

So we all know there is no such thing as magic, right? Only a magician can see the invisible and therefore as magic doesn’t exist neither do magicians and therefore no one on earth can see the invisible. The best they can do is take a guess as to what is there. They might be right on the very odd occasion, meaning they are pretty much always wrong.

With the above premise in mind lets turn our attention to improvement activities in your organisation. How, might it be best to discover the invisible (problems) in order that they can be attacked the organisation can improve? That’s right, visualisation.

Visualisation is important on many levels, to go into it in the detail it really requires would require a book and I am already busy writing my first one so that will have to wait. So let us check some of the initial points to consider:

  • Your visualisation should start in your 5S implementation. I get a massive hard-on for 5S, it is just that sexy. The second “S” SET is where you form the basis of your visual factory or office. The Japanese word for SET is literally translated to english as orderliness. This step is much more than mere orderliness however. We should ignore the literal translations and take into account what the meaning behind it is. The premise of the visual factory is that it should be obviously by simply observing the process being executed where deviations and waste are. A simple example; if I have a shadow board for my tools (a weak 5S solution by the way) I can instantly see if something is missing and exactly what that thing that is missing is. Compare that to going through a tool box with a checklist of the items that should be in it. Yep you got it, much better! I could go further into this but I don’t want you to fall asleep.
  • Visual mapping of anything will show you where to focus your improvements. A high level value stream map, process map, 5S map, spaghetti diagram, Q-Map. Create one of these and you will instantly find the areas where you need to focus first to drive improvements. It is that simple. Don’t kid yourself that it is more complicated. Your organisation is not at that level where it is not obvious at this level. If it was, you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading this blog because you already know everything I am saying. Yes of course you will need to dig a little deeper to understand cause so you make the correct improvements but the opportunities are obvious. Example; if I do a value stream map and I cannot define my levels of stock at a point, that is a problem that needs a solution. It is a clear demonstration of my process not being in control.
  • Visualisation is essential for collaboration, team work, participation and transparency. All those things are good, aren’t they. I want them all to be as seamless as possible, second nature even, in my organisation. Throw out the powerpoints! Get out your white boards, paper rolls, post-its, marker pens, A3 reports. Never write a word when a picture will do better. Practice everyday and your organisation will be communicating in a way you would have never thought possible. If I do a value stream map in excel it is buried in a hard drive somewhere and I have to make a conscious decision to share it with others. If it is in the corridor of the office or on the factory floor with all its different coloured post-it notes on, people are going to look at it. I don’t need to do anything. Effortless communication. If you wanted to advertise your business, you wouldn’t spend a fortune creating the advert and then leave it on your desktop as a video file would you!

I hope these points have given you some view of why I think visualisation is so essential to any organisation. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to email me I am happy to help where I can.



The King is Dead. Long live the King

You are never all powerful. Your life is only finite. Apologies if these things come to a surprise to you but they shouldn’t. Everyone is easily replaced in an organization and the grave yards are there to prove it. But I am not writing this to give you some sort of idea of grandeur or to knock those down. Rather to try to enlighten you towards the mindset of a quality professional. Humility is one of the greatest assets you need in life let alone quality. Admit when you are wrong. More importantly though, admit when you don’t know something and take the opportunity to learn! This also includes being willing to question your own knowledge when faced with alternative views.

This was a lesson I learnt today. It links to the post I wrote yesterday. I am on a training course at the moment and we covered 5W+2H but in a more continuous improvement context than a problem solving context. The trainer who I consider to be a mentor of mine showed very clearly why all 7 areas are important, particularly when you have to manage stakeholders and business cases.

Therefore please only apply my previous advice to straight forward restore standard problem solving.

Yours in humility


5, 4 or 3W and 0, 1 or 3 H’s – Understanding a Problem

I love people commenting on my blog so I am especially happy to write a future post early if it is asked for.

A tool that can be commonly used during a problem solving activity to help us sort and organise information is called 5W+2H. It is a great tool in many ways but it is often a struggle to align around the exact definitions of each area. It can also be hard to understand why all parts are important. Let us break it down and take a look:

What is the problem? This one is fairly straight forward. What are the physical “bits”, devices, technologies that are experiencing the problem. We add to this a detailed description of what is wrong with these “bits” and we are done with this part.

Who Observed the Problem? Here we want the name of the person who first saw the problem itself. Why? Theory goes that this person should be a very good source of information. How much does this help us solve the problem is questionable.

Where was the Problem Observed? What we need here is geographical information firstly so where physically on the planet did the problem happen. We also want to know if the problem happened at a particular location on our “bit”. For example: my iPad screen was fuzzy in the top left hand corner. This is useful stuff

When was the Problem Observed? We want to know when it happened for the first time if we can. Subsequent occurences of the problem we will handle later. We can also include information about “when in the process” the problem happened. An example would be if you had a problem with your car, did it happen when before you started it? While it was warming up? When driving at high speed? You get the idea.

Why was the Problem Observed? Hmmmmm…. What the fuck does this mean? This is one of the areas where I see many different interpretations and to be honest, I haven’t seen a single one that adds value to the problem solving process at this stage anyway. What  I teach is a slightly alternative question “Why is it a problem?” but that still is not a great deal of help.

How was the Problem Observed? How did we know there was a problem, what did we see or hear for example. Again interesting but of limited value in most cases.

How Many Times was the Problem Observed? Since the first time the problem was observed. What is the number, period and frequency of occurrence. What trend are we seeing or patterns. Useful.

So if this is the standard tool people use, why question it? Well as you can probably gather my opinion is that some of the information is of limited value particularly at this stage. Would it not make our lives a little easier to concentrate on what helps us?

Kepner – Tregoe are a clever bunch and they do not collect so much information, they focus on what is important.

So let us do away with the less than useful information and the ambiguity.

Please I therefore beg you…. talk about 3W+1H instead. What, Where, When, How Many. You don’t need anything more. At this stage. 

Let me know what you think. Soon I will come with some help on what is a good understanding of the problem and what a normal one is!

Cheers, Lean.

Problem solving is Bullshit and Other Bullshit




People can say the most hurtful things. No one has said to me that structured problem solving is bullshit but I can tell exactly when people are thinking it. It is not bullshit people, you attitude is. Just because it is not what you feel comfortable with or know doesn’t mean it is crap. The way you have been working for the last x years proves you can’t solve problems so why not entertain a new notion?

You want to be better at solving problems? Are you willing to push your comfort zone and try something new to get a result? If you focus on just the two things I list below you will instantly become better. I promise.

Be specific. Don’t use phrases like “machine stopped” or “out of specification” or what ever other mindless junk you have used before. It will not help you solve the problem. It will help you continue to be a lazy person. If that is what you want fine. Do that. Use phrases such as “bolt sheared”, “cylinder rod corroded” specify which bolt and which cylinder. This automatically brings you into the right area of where the problem is and will instantly put you on track.

Only work with facts. If someone says to you “I think the machine stopped yesterday…” yes that might be true, but it is not a fact. If the machine stopped yesterday, when yesterday? Who was there when that happened and why am I not talking to that person instead? Only work with verified factual information that you can see yourself. Don’t trust anything else as personal agendas, laziness and lack of care will cloud all other information. This will distract you from solving the problem.


If you focus on just these two things, forgetting about tools and method etc, I guarantee you will instantly become a better problems solver!


Stop Strategizing and Start Leading!

Managers love to talk strategy. We all know this. It makes them feel really important and elite. That is obviously rubbish as all of them like it. They are just sheep. I hate managers, not for this reason alone but for many and I would much prefer that they were all more clever and more humble instantly. Lets think about this….

A manager, should be a leader, right? Yes of course. If I am responsible to manage something I should be leading it as well, that’s logic people. 99% of people who are managers are not leaders though. They believe that by managing well they are leading well. Wrong. If you are focusing on managing you are pretty much doing the opposite of leading. I’m a trained experienced professional… If I need you to write a weekly task list for me I probably need you to fit a diaper to me as well. You get it? Focus on goals, direction and behaviors not on task lists.

These thoughts came to me as most do during a conversation at a bar. The conversation was on how to instill a mindset towards quality in an organization and how to get people to understand it. (Bet you can’t wait to go for a drink with me now!) The conclusion was that it must be the middle managers that demonstrate the quality leadership. Not the top managers. If my production manager, shift manager is always on the shop floor asking the right questions and demonstrating the correct mindset everyday that is more powerful than a video interview with a Vice President in a plush office.


Nine things I want to share about quality

I had some thoughts and discussions today with a colleague and I think some people might find these useful. All comments appreciated as always. Please forgive any spelling mistakes or strange formatting, I am writing this using the WordPress app for the first time. I will check it and fix any mistakes later. I will also add more links!

You rarely have too little information. Honestly. You probably have way to much, most of which is completely irrelevant. Be careful of this as people can use irrelevant but similar information to cloud rationality to meet their own agenda.

A good lessons learnt session is very hard. I don’t know anyone who can do them! I can’t. We can all sit round and have a coffee and a chat but if nothing changes where is the value?

No one loves your product more than you do. Stop loving your product and yourself and start loving your customer instead. As my ex girlfriend taught me (as she was breaking up with me), loving someone doesn’t just mean you go round telling them you love them. It means that you pay attention to the small things that add up to the big difference. That requires listening but mostly you have to care before you can listen properly. If you don’t care…. Don’t start. Want to know how to do it properly? Read Matt Watkinson’s book, you can buy it here

Do not rush.. Ever. I can guarantee you, you will fuck up. Yes that’s right. No one rushes and wins. This includes not skipping steps! In routes or methodologies we have the steps in an order for a reason, if we ignore these in our modern world we may as well go back to building axes from flint. I’m not recommending you sit around drinking coffee and eating cake all day instead of working, that will only give you a belly and a headache. Just be methodical in how you work and do not cut corners.

You work in quality, you are the example. Similar to the point above. Be the example, live the example. Follow the methodology correctly, do the root cause analysis properly, test things thoroughly before releasing and I could go on.

Quality costs, but not in the way you think. Everyone moans at me about how working in structured “quality ways” takes longer. I’m here to tell you all that it doesn’t. No more complicated than that. I see examples every week where I work that if those involved had used a correct method to address a quality issue they would have spent magnitudes less time and money just before fixing the issue let alone to solve it. Stop pretending it takes time. Learn how to do it without thinking and admit that the cost is more brain power. If you don’t have that, admit it and get help from colleagues.

How many is that? 6. Damn it’s nearly dinner time. Somewhere

Always promote the team. Maybe I am drifting into to generality here, or perhaps I did a long time ago. If you want to start solving problems good team work is essential. Problem solving teams are rarely high functioning as they are usually adhoc. You therefore need to be very conscious of applying good team work behavior from the start. If you don’t know about the life cycle of team dynamics and what I mean by high functioning teams get googling and do some reading. I’m too nice

Change management is common sense. Or is it? I thought so initially but then if we need people to tell us how to do it right, how can it be common sense? I like it personally and I think following models like that from Kotter do help a lot, if it is good enough for NASA….

And finally!

read my blog religiouslyI don’t believe in religion but if you do I am happy for you. Please don’t be insulted by my reference! It’s a plug, yes, and maybe I have short changed you a part of the list. We will both get over it though

What are your tips and thoughts?

Six Sigma killed my cat

Really it did. Tragic I know. I needed to cut costs due to some unforeseen expenses. I therefore did all the required analysis and implemented cuts in the areas where I was wasting money. One of the areas I identified was food for my cat. This doesn’t add value. So I stopped buying food for the cat. My money situation improved, the cat’s health, erm…. not so much. Eventually he died.

I studied the incident and I could only conclude that six sigma was to blame. The process of trying to improve killed my cat. My decisions in how I implemented the improvement methodology or my decisions on what improvement activities to execute had nothing to do with it. Honestly, it was solely the mistake of the process. 


(Please note, no cats were harmed during the writing of this post and the cat in question is purely fictional. In fact try replacing the word cat for innovation :))