Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: April 7th, 2023


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Insights about improvement, innovation, and leadership

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

Up in the air

Southwest Airlines has responded with a 5-page action plan on how it will prevent another operational nightmare as it had in Christmas of 2022. The plan describes how they have “taken many weeks of work to sort through the complexity of contributing factors” and the “root causes and lessons learned are guiding our efforts to make Southwest (LUV) better prepared to handle truly extreme winter weather events as we move forward.” Not surprisingly – the key root causes identified had nothing to do with senior leadership or organizational culture, instead focusing on the weather, the technology, and the ever-popular “breakdown in communication.” 

According to testimony from the pilot's union:

“Since 2011, SWA has averaged one major operational failure every 18 months,” the testimony says. “Warning signs were ignored. Poor performance was condoned. Excuses were made. Processes atrophied. Core values were forgotten.”

It appears Southwest had the option to continually attend to operational risk prior to the crisis that cost them $800 million. But yeah, it was probably a communication failure. 

Fools rush in

We often act quickly when faced with a complex problem and rush the initial stage of framing the problem. Decision-makers often face time-based pressure, but for complex problems, rushing in may provide tangible output but not valuable output. Encourage your decision-makers to slow down, target their efforts, and approach problems mindfully.

Soblem Prolved

Does Miscommunication make for better problem-solving? Yes, according to a new paper co-written by a University at Buffalo researcher. Diversity in groups leads to greater opportunities to miscommunicate, but how we organize groups matters a lot to get the benefits of diversity.

Hospitals cause harm… still

I still remember the audible gasps from the room of hospital leaders when our CEO and CMO declared that our hospital causes harm to some patients. Their challenge was to acknowledge this fact and rally around a commitment to tackle this challenge. This was in 2007. What's the state of the quality of inpatient care now?  It appears there's still a long way to go.

A study of inpatients from 11 hospitals in 2018 showed that almost a quarter of all inpatients experienced at least one adverse event, and almost a quarter of these events were preventable (including one preventable death). Inpatient care reliability remains at an unacceptable level. 

Culture Corner

Creating a Culture of Improvement

Wake up, go see, smell the coffee

New Starbucks CEO says he intends to work in stores at least once a month. Getting a firsthand view of the work is a great habit, provided it's done the right way. 

What's the best way to do this? Lean disciples (myself included) have long adhered to the ‘gemba walk' or establishing a habit of going to see, asking questions, and showing respect. Undercover Boss popularized the idea of going to see while in disguise, so as to get the ‘authentic' experience. While Undercover Boss makes for good TV, it also raises the challenge that wearing a disguise only sheds light on the lack of any real relationship between leaders and employees.

There are definitely better and worse ways of pulling off a gemba walk. Here are the top 10 worst things you can do on a gemba walk

In 2019, a hospital CEO in Canada did an overnight ‘shadow shift' and then took the opportunity to blog about it, with some disastrous backlash. Mark Graban and I discussed this story in 2020 on Episode 12 of Lean Whiskey Podcast

Be more intentional in how your teams work together.

Several months ago, Shopify announced policies to cut back on recurring meetings and emails in an attempt to create focus and ‘maker' time.

How's it going today? It's likely too early to declare victory, but this article suggests positive feedback from employees, particularly on the commitment to being intentional with how teams spend their time.

Most organizations may not need to create sweeping policies that declare war on recurring meetings, but many could use a reminder to continually evaluate their ways of working relative to a clear intent.

Strategy is a team sport

In the “participation age”, narrow views of strategy where a small group of executives develop, decide, and deploy company strategy is producing increasingly broken models. Leaders need to get more comfortable collaborating on strategy

Coaching – Developing Self & Others

Email Etiquette

Emails. Easy to send and easy to create an obligation to those receiving them. If you do this, your emails might be rude.

Frogs, toads and productivity

If you are dreading a task, get it out of the way first. Or as Mark Twain wrote “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”


Shane Parrish's new book Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results doesn't come out until the Fall.  I've already pre-ordered it!

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Ryan McCormack
Ryan is an operational excellence professional with over 18 years experience practicing continuous improvement in healthcare, insurance, food manufacturing, and aerospace. He is an avid student of the application of Lean principles in work and life to create measurably better value.


  1. “Not surprisingly – the key root causes identified had nothing to do with senior leadership or organizational culture, instead focusing on the weather, the technology, and the ever-popular “breakdown in communication.”

    Who, exactly, doe senior leadership think is responsible for the technology and the communication???


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