What can managers learn from Duke and Wisconsin’s basketball teams? Duke and Wisconsin are in the college basketball championship game tonight. They reached this stage through a great deal of hard work, skill, training and coaching.
Raw talent matters to mangers and even more to college basketball coaches. But raw talent alone won’t succeed (for college basketball teams a great system starved of raw talent would also fail).
The lesson many people miss is that college teams are mostly about developing a team that wins. Developing individual players is a part of that, but it is subordinate to developing a team. I think college coaches understand this reality much more than most managers do. But a management system that develops a team that succeeds is also critical to the success of business.
Managers can learn from successful college basketball programs the importance of creating a successful team. Part of doing that is developing individual skills of players. A huge part of it is developing an understanding of the system within which those players must operate.
Recruiting is an important part of developing an elite college basketball team. And it is critical to developing a world class business organization (though recruiting is less important to business, in my opinion). Recruiting is important in business, but it is easier to be very successful with good people, the skills needed in business are not often so rare as those needed in high level basketball.
Canadian communities angered by perceived American chauvinism have started a Buy Canadian campaign to exclude U.S. bidders from municipal contracts. “If that sticks, well, there goes 25% of my business,” said Mr. Pokorsky. “To me, Ontario may as well be Indiana.”
Halton Hills, a town of 50,000 people about 25 miles west of Toronto, is one of about a dozen Canadian communities forging ahead with plans to amend their procurement policies to freeze out American companies. “We won’t be taking any products from any country that is discriminating against us,” said Mayor Rick Bonnette.
Aquarius gets a lot of its parts from abroad, particularly from Canada. Such integration became even tighter after the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 joined the U.S., Canada and Mexico in a free flow of goods and services.
Trojan Technologies Inc. of Ontario, North America’s dominant maker of ultraviolet disinfection equipment for treating sewage, is a key supplier to Aquarius and other companies. Because of the Buy American provisions, Trojan has had to shift production to a plant in Valencia, Calif., a move that has resulted in delays and additional costs being passed on to customers, said Trojan executive Christian Williamson.
The challenges of trying to legislate market choices such as what products to buy are difficult. It is understandable to want to direct stimulus funds to improving the economy today in the USA. Creating legislation that can cope with interactions and unintended consequences inherent in such attempts is not easy.
I predict American Motors will stop making cars in Wisconsin in the near future, whether or not the state’s money is used for a temporary propping-up operation.
These competitors are beginning to understand how essential it is to take a long-term view of their businesses. Toyota, for example, took its top 40 managers on a two-day retreat to ponder what their corporation will look like in the 21st century. They are studying totally new methods of management [20 years later large portions of these “new” methods are still ignored by many – John]. These methods take continuous quality improvement as a central, guiding principle.
Investing in American Motors now, in any form, is a mistake. If Wisconsin is to become a trend-setter in economic development, we need some long-term thinking in forming wise, creative policies.
It is difficult, I know, for legislators and other elected officials to take a long-term view when the tangible reward is re-election and elections come around quite frequently.
Our founding fathers are remembered for their long-term vision. We need to change the way our democracy works so that long-term visions is an integral part of all important discussions on economic development on the local, state and national level.
In 1985 I assumed the role of plant manager of one of the world’s foremost automotive tool manufacturers in a small northern Iowa town. It was then that I was introduced to W. Edwards Deming. At the time, the company had a greater market share than any of its individual domestic or foreign competitors, but ominous and encroaching signs from abroad began to threaten its pre-eminence in the automotive aftermarket. So steps had to be taken to arrest this incursion that could mean the end of its reign.
It was then, as I began my tenure at the company, that we began with Deming’s concept of Statistical Process Control, later changed to Quality Control, and the practice of Toyota’s kanban cell manufacturing techniques that would enhance the already high-quality standards that had defined the company for decades.
If we had listened, if we had followed him, if we had incorporated his thinking not only in the automobile industry but in government, in the ubiquitous economy collapsing around us and in our private lives, we would now be far better for it.
Companies seem to think technology is an excuse to provide bad service. Or maybe they don’t need any excuse at all to do so, based on how often they provide bad service. My latest experience with lame pointy haired boss technology came while looking to watch a football game online. Years ago you could listen to any Wisconsin Badger game over the internet – very simple, no special software (just the simple free Real Audio plugin). In subsequent years (just to play a simple audio stream that had worked in previous years they kept requiring upgrades and their ever more complex required software would fail very often). Then the option of listen to online radio broadcasts disappeared altogether (for schools that chose to prevent this anyway).
Now sites that provide video seem incapable of making it a simple process. They chose not to use standard open software solutions. Instead they require you follow their desires to use this or that and then the whole operation fails quite often. Google, no surprise, is an exception (yes it worked prior to Google, they were just smart enough to buy it and not break it). YouTube just works. Can others copy this, idea? Some can, but many phbs decide that really everyone that uses their web sites should be happy to try and download special software and make configuration changes… to get their site working on their personal computers.
The idea that playing video online is solved problem and just making it more and more complex is not a good idea for users no matter if they want to add some bullet points to their boss on why they should get a larger raise this year because they got the engineers to add on some additional new feature that no-one actually wants. Granted This solved problem is a bit lame now, so I am all for improving it. But this should be a process that goes for simpler solutions, not more complex ones. And certainly any timed to the operating system of the end user is too idiotic to consider. Continue reading →
See more photos from my visit to Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area in Wisconsin, about an hour outside of Madison. It really was amazingly beautiful – the pictures do not do it justice. The Parfrey’s Glen trail is under a mile but well worth visiting. If you want to hike more try the Ice Age National Scenic Trail or nearby Devil’s Lake State Park. The top photo is of me (John Hunter) at nearby Durwood’s Glen. The yellow flower is from Parfrey’s Glen.
Parfrey’s Glen is Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area, is a spectacular gorge deeply incised into the sandstone conglomerate of the south flank of the Baraboo Hills. The exposed Cambrian strata provide excellent opportunities for geological interpretation. The walls of the glen – a Scottish word for a narrow, rocky ravine – are sandstone with embedded pebbles and boulders of quartzite.
They are the invisible heroes in business, the men and women who make innovation possible. They are people like Mary Ann Wright at Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, the former chief engineer for the Ford Escape hybrid who is leading a team bent on establishing world leadership in hybrid battery systems.
Or Werner Zobel, a Modine Manufacturing engineer working in Germany who hatched the idea for a new cooling system that the Racine-based company believes could be revolutionary. The system uses ultra-thin layers of aluminum to dissipate heat, a breakthrough that has potential for car and truck radiators and air conditioning condensers.
Intellectual candlepower will fire the regional economy, the Milwaukee 7 regional economic development group believes. Its strategic plan relies on innovation-driven manufacturers that are heavy with engineers. But across the region, those companies say they can’t recruit enough engineers, and they worry that shortages will worsen as baby boomers retire. Complicating the picture is a shortage of visas for foreign-born engineers and increased competition from rapidly developing economies in China and India for those students even when they complete their studies in the United States.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering are racing to fill the pipeline. Marquette and UWM are promising expansive new buildings and increased enrollment of both undergraduate and graduate students.
In the final semester of his UW–Madison master’s degree, Bob Aloisi didn’t just earn a letter grade in his quality engineering class: He saved his company $50,000. It wasn’t the typical classroom outcome — but it wasn’t a typical classroom. As a student in “Quality Engineering and Quality Management,” Aloisi accomplished a major class project in quality improvement at his own workplace.
The project is the capstone experience in the College of Engineering’s award-winning distance-education program, the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP). Designed for mid-career engineers who live and work all over the country, MEPP’s Internet-based curriculum strives to provide knowledge students can apply immediately at their companies.
“Our project was a very good example of the Kaizen approach,” says Aloisi. “It wasn’t one specific thing, a home run type of thing, that we changed to make our improvements.” Instead, his team met its targets through many small steps, including adjustments to equipment settings and better training for machine operators.
The growing number of Wisconsin manufacturers, and the few service companies, taking the lean journey are learning that it is not a sprint.
The immediate paybacks come in the form of saved space, less distance traveled, fewer handoffs, faster throughput, lower inventories and man-hours saved.
I would state the authors next point differently. The early paybacks provide resources to invest in making large more fundamental changes to the organization. Those successes also help convince people these lean ideas have merit. Dilbert does a good job of illustrating how many workers feel about the latest words spoken by their management. Without visible success expecting employees to believe the new management practices is unwise. Continue reading →
The idea of lean manufacturing is pretty close to a religion at Ariens these days. The tenets: Be quick on the draw. Improve continuously. Be open to change. Get everyone – shop floor to board room – involved. The company’s output has nearly tripled in six years with a work force that has remained steady at about 1,000. Productivity is up, on average, about 17% a year, Ariens says.
Manufacturing and related industries are still a huge piece of Wisconsin’s economy – nearly half by some estimates.
The state should boost funding for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which preaches the gospel of lean manufacturing. Statewide, companies helped by the partnership reported $233 million in improvements during fiscal 2006. The non-profit group offers low-cost consulting to small- to mid-sized companies and receives both state and federal funding.
It’s a sign that Wisconsin manufacturers can play a major role in the state for years to come. And lean manufacturing is a key to that.
In 2005, ThedaCare was able to save $10 million thanks to its lean programs and officials hope to save another $12 million this year, Toussaint said.
ThedaCare’s march toward lean began when Toussaint started looking for a way to improve quality and service while cutting costs. He found what he was looking for in an unlikely place – a factory that produces lawnmowers and snow blowers.
The model Ariens used was adapted from a system put in place by Toyota, the Japanese automotive manufacturer. As part of the system, teams are formed to look at processes and find ways to improve them – whether it’s cutting out an unnecessary step or finding a better way to serve the customer.
Madison’s quality improvement efforts began after then-Mayor James F. Sensenbrenner and his staff were exposed to the teaching of W. Edwards Deming in 1983. A pilot project at the motor equipment division made substantial improvements in prioritizing repairs, improving communications with customers, reducing steps in the inventory purchasing process and, ultimately, reducing vehicle down time, all of which saved money and improved service at the same time. Based on the success of the pilot, it was decided to expand the philosophy throughout city government. A range of quality improvement projects, with active involvement by union members, saved the city between $1.1 million to $1.4 million over a four-year period, agency heads estimated.
My father, Bill Hunter, was very involved (responsible for it, if you want my version of events) with the effort so I am interested in the results. He wrote up the experience for Deming’s Out of the Crisis (pages 245-247). Continue reading →