Volume 9 Number 5 - May 10, 2011

If you know a company — customer, supplier, friend, or your own — that could benefit
from improved operations, let us know.
Your best interest is our best interest.

The Finish Strong® monthly e-newsletter is for business leaders who recognize Operations as a strategic function that creates competitive advantage, profitability and brand loyalty to the marketplace.


As the third of four children with two older brothers, I developed a thick skin early on in life. That has served me well in the business of helping manufacturers make changes to become more viable, financially and in the marketplace.

One machine operator at a client told me in the middle of a discussion of 5S (a lean methodology) that his company would be better off taking what they were paying me and buying a pole barn! As he saw the world, they had no extra inventory, materials, equipment or tools; they had a shortage of storage space. Until he could see all the walking around and time spent searching as a waste of his talents, he couldn't possibly see 5S thinking (or me!) as valuable.

A manager for another client implored that making only the quantity the customer ordered would be a disaster, as they might lose pieces and short the customer; besides the customer would likely order more sometime and they'd at least have some on hand. That same manager insisted that reducing Work-in-Process inventory (WIP) would be an even bigger disaster, as some equipment might be under utilized. Until that individual saw "losing pieces" related to excessive WIP and under utilization as meaningful only if customer orders were not being met, I was still going to be "nuts" in his eyes.

One of the challenging aspects of consulting, and of any leader trying to take an organization to a higher level of performance, is remembering to always start where the client (or your employee) is, not where you think they ought to be.

Start with listening to current thinking, appreciating the history and experience that provides the foundation. Then help clients (employees) see the value that they could bring, if only so much time and energy were not wasted on non-value-added activities below their talent level.

Walking around looking for things is not a talent; it's a waste of talent. Making things the customer doesn't want NOW is a waste of talent, material, and cash. But until we are working on solving a problem we both see the same way, we're unlikely to solve it.

The first client never bought the pole barn; instead they reduced inventory, cleaned out work areas, and provided much better information in simpler ways. The second client freed over $1MM in cash and reduced lead times to customers, without disaster interfering.

But that couldn't have happened without thick skin and agreeing to work on the same problems together.


It's easy to get wrapped up in the struggles and successes of your own business, and find yourself in a home-work-home-work pattern. It is important to fight that rut, and include another stop along the way with some regularity.

Take tours, visit the companies your neighbors work for, or start a conversation with the person next to you on the plane. It's easy to find someone who knows something you don't, who has succeeded where you continue to struggle, or who has an idea worth considering.

But to get the most out of benchmarking requires a clean view of the strengths and weaknesses of your own operations. One way to perform a self-assessment is to complete an application for an award relevant to your industry. You don't have to submit it; just answer the questions honestly.

Here's the AME Manufacturing Excellence Award application for 2011. It's too late to apply, but it's not to late to take a look at yourself so you can learn from others.



The Starting Pistol
Julius Caesar:
“What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also.”

The Tape
Rebecca Morgan:
"..which is why facts are much more valuable than opinions, and speaking for oneself rather than purportedly for others so rare."


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