By Andy Wagner:
This summer, I am supervising three interns. The first week one of them asked what “lean six sigma” was about. She had heard about it, and that our company was into it, but didn’t really know much about it. Would she get a chance to learn about it this summer?
What an opportunity! Young impressionable minds, ready to learn from a true believer. The challenge is to teach my love of real lean thinking without corrupting them with corporate cynicism and the negativism so pervasive where I work. A previous co-op had described our department as a “train wreck”. What impression will we make here? Two of the three engineers are mechanical engineers, and not likely to stay in manufacturing. How will this experience shape their careers and their thoughts on what it is that we do on the economic front line?
My company is well known for it’s Six Sigma program, but several years ago it changed the name to Lean Six Sigma because our Six Sigma projects weren’t satisfying our customer’s needs and they weren’t lasting when the black belt sponsors moved on to their next assignment. There is some serious lean work going on in parts of the business, but for the most part lean refers to inventory reduction . It’s so far from what I believe lean is that I have a trouble calling it lean, and most people are so negative about the word, that I have trouble calling what I try to do lean.
This week, I experienced the most L.A.M.E. day of my career. I won’t go into all the details, but after the interns spent a few hours making us seem leaner than we really are, one of them asked me if we shouldn’t be working to make the place look like that all the time.
The heavens opened, the clouds parted. A beam of light came down upon us. I think there were lean angels singing, but I don’t remember exactly. “Yes! Exactly!” said I.
We spoke about lean and what it was, that there were many tools and that I could teach them, but that most importantly, lean was a way of solving problems and eliminating waste. We spoke about how it applied to anything from home loans to hospitals.
“I had an idea for the project I’ve been working on, can I try it?” he asked.
“Yes, of course. You have a goal, you can do anything that you think will work, and if it doesn’t try something else.”
So here I go, turning another L.A.M.E. day into something special. Wish me luck!
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