Paul Critchley, president of New England Lean Consulting, explains what Lean and Continuous Improvement is truly all about, how to leverage it, and how to incorporate it into your culture to realize increased growth and success. He will be speaking at the Quality Show South coming up this May in Nashville. His session is called Wicked Good Leadership, Leveraging Lean to Engage People and Grow Your Business.

Quality: Can you tell us how did you come up with this session concept or what do you think you'll be talking about a little more?

Paul: I'm a degreed mechanical engineer. I spent my whole career, so 25ish, plus or minus, years in industry. I opened New England Lean Consulting in 2012 and, honestly, my whole career, one of the things I've really noticed that organizations struggle with is lean, or you got continuous improvement, operational excellence, you know, you can pick your favorite. It's really, people get the tools part of it, but it's really the employee engagement part that seems like people struggle with. Especially engineering-wise--and I'll speak in broad brush, I don't mean this to sound like everybody does it this way because I don't wanna generalize--but I see the pattern emerge where, especially in manufacturing, when we're very technically oriented folks, we sometimes focus on the technical pieces of the job and in continuous improvement, that's certainly the tools pieces. That's how you do a Kaizen event or what do the five S's mean? It's things like that, that people usually get pretty good at pretty quickly, but it's the interaction with everybody and getting everybody sort of invested in change that people really struggle with. So as I started doing this, and I've been at it now, our firm's over 10 years old, I saw that same pattern even with our clients. So I thought, you know, I really ought to have something that I put together that I talk a little bit about, not only why it's important, because I think everybody pretty much gets that part and agrees, but really like, so how do I do it? Because quite frankly, that piece of it just really isn't taught very much. You know, we talk a lot about tools and even in graduate level programs, they don't necessarily talk about how do you engage with people. A friend of mine, Mark C. Crowley, talks about leading from the heart. That's the name of his podcast and the book that I listened to, I like a lot. But he talks about those things, but really we get to talk about it more. So this was just sort of my way of bringing it into our community.

Quality: Yeah, that's so important. I feel like people's skills are getting more and more attention these days, you know, emotional intelligence and other things like that. You know, if you don't have that, it's hard to move forward and just kind of have a business succeed in general. So that makes sense. Can you think of an example you've seen in your career where someone did this successfully and it kind of went well?

Paul: Honestly, you know, we still do a fair number of process mapping events or value stream mapping events. And in both of those cases, and I can say this with 100% certainty, every single time we do one of those with a client, you know, somewhere along the line, somebody says one of two things, and they're both very closely related. One is, say I'm process one and you're process two, and I'm explaining what I do. So I'll say, well, I do this, that, and the other thing, and then I hand it over to Michelle. And then you would say, Yeah, you're right. You've always done it that way, but you know, if you did it this other way or you change just one little thing or two little things, it would really help me out quite a bit. And then I will say something like, I never knew you needed that. Or the other, the flip side of that coin. I didn't know that you didn't need that. I'll give you a quick example now that I thought of it. We were doing some lean training at a client here in Connecticut several years ago. It was really lean foundations 101 kind of stuff. I talk a lot about this in that presentation, because we're talking about the seven wastes and all this kind of fun stuff. He's a quality engineer. As I'm speaking, he gets this weird look on his face. I can see that I've said something that's got him thinking. So I said, you know, hey, you know, what do you think? Did something pop in your head? He's like, you know, yeah. He goes, ever since I've worked here, which is around this time was like three years, give or take. He said every, the first day of every month, I spend literally all day going around the shop floor, collecting these little strips of paper. And that's how they would keep track of defects and scrap.

It was manual at the time. And this wasn't that long ago. So it gives you a little idea sometimes what people are still using for systems. But he says, I collect all these little scraps of paper. I go back to my desk. And I literally take and I go through every piece and I type in the numbers into an Excel sheet. And then I make all these charts and graphs. And once I'm done, which takes me all day, I email it out to the management team. And it was like, seven people. It's the two owners and the engineering manager, the quality manager, all these other people. He said, but you know, I never ever hear anything from anybody about it. Nobody ever asks a question. I never see them printed out, posted on a bulletin board or anywhere in the shop or anywhere. I send it out and that's the end of it. He said, so I want to take, I'm going to, I want to look at this and I'm like, great. Well, I'm here every week, because we're going through groups of training. And I said, well, when I'm back next week, I'll come find you. So the next week comes, I go and I find him. And I said, what did you find out? He's like, I don't have to do it anymore. I said, really? Why? Well, come to find out, three years ago, when he got hired, his then boss, this was sort of a pet project of his. And he used to do it. So then when he hired a quality engineer, delegated it and had him doing it. Now, since that time, the boss quit and left and then a new quality manager was hired and came in. And now the interesting thing about how all this played out, and this is again, one of the reasons I came up with this presentation is even though this wasn't a big place, it was about 150 employees, it's a single location, it's not a million square feet under a roof or anything crazy. Like all these people see each other every single day. And in three years, they never had this conversation. So as it turned, like I said, as it turned out, it was the old manager's kind of pet project. Well, when he quit and the new manager came in, the new manager just assumed that was how work was done at that organization. So they never questioned it. The engineer never questioned it because again, when he was hired, that's how it was when he got there. And he just kept going. It wasn't until we were doing the training and I said what I said that it clicked a little bit for him. So really quickly, he just, and they have a, the management team has a staff meeting every single week. So he asked to go. So he just said, are you, you are all familiar with this, the charts and everything I send out. And they all said, oh yeah, I see it all the time. And he said, does anybody here use that for anything? And they all looked at each other and said, I don't do you know, do you? Nope. I don't even open it. I just delete it. Everybody just assumed that somebody else needed it and nobody ever brought it up and questioned it. So, and like I said, an entire day, so 12 days a year were lost doing. The almost textbook definition of non-value added work. And it was a simple, less than two minute discussion and it could have saved all that time. And there's innumerable examples like that out there in the world, I'm sure of it. I can't say, well, so-and-so should have thought of that. Well, everybody's busy. I mean, we're all feeling it. I mean, now it's post-COVID, and I won't say things are back to normal because normal changes all the time. But I don't think we have a client, and I don't know of a business that doesn't have a help wanted sign out front. And it's hard for folks to find employees. So everybody that I know is pretty well busy all day. And a lot of times they just don't have the perspective or the time quite frankly, to think about these types of things. They just do what they do. And in his mind, it was, well, I gotta get this done as soon as I can because I have all this other work I gotta do. So they really focused on just getting through it versus stepping back for a minute and saying, I could do this faster, but why am I doing this at all? So that's kind of part of the presentation. I just talk about those types of things. Wow. That's such a great example. And I, I hope the first of the next month after he talks to you, he just had a great day, like, wow, I'm saving so much time. Yeah. Right. I hope so too. I mean, cause there's what roughly what 20 day, 20 work days and every month. So yeah, is that 5% I guess he got back. Yeah, just being so much more productive and how nice to finally figure out like, well, okay, we could have done this forever basically. Pretty much. Pretty much. But you know, that's, and you know what, honestly, I tell that story fairly often, but I honestly can't blame them at the same time. It's like, at least they were trying something different along the way. Even say, three years ago, you know, if the previous manager had come up with this idea, he's at least trying to look at data in a different way. You know, and he was gone by the time we got there. So I never was able to talk to him about what was his intention or anything like that. So I have to assume that it was he had good intentions and he was trying to affect change and and do something different. So that part is actually good. You know, like maybe the data is actually valuable. In this case, it wasn't, but it could have been. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, either way, it's a good story. If someone was using it, like, OK, now you know, and what is helpful from it, I'll just do that, or only send it to you if the other people don't even want to see it. So yeah, that's really good.

Quality: Are there any other things with Lean that you think are really important for quality professionals, or things that are sort of overlooked with it? That's, wow.

Paul: That's a big one. Certainly, yes. Lean, as we know it, has been around now for what? Golly, 35 years, I guess. Since 88, I'm trying to do the math and it always messes me up because of the new millennium. But the word Lean came out, like I said, as we know it was 1988 in John Kraft 6 MIT paper. And then obviously, The Machine That Changed the World was the very first book and then it all kinds of exploded from there, at least in my world, it exploded in a good way. I think there's still a lot of misconceptions. Sometimes people will say, well, Six Sigma is about quality, Lean is about cost reduction. And that's not really true at all, at all. And that's why I enjoy, like, you know, I mean, you and I have known each other for a few years now and I've written a few articles for Quality Magazine because it's not two separate things. You know, there's not, sometimes we think that way and I still see it. Like for instance, we have a lot of clients that'll say, oh, well the quality manager does not report to the plant manager because that's a conflict of interest because quality is a separate thing, air quotes thing, and operations is like over here on the other side of the wall. So operations is always gonna try to cut corners and do things quickly and have lower quality because they're just trying to get it out the back door. And quality is kind of the gatekeeper to make sure that that doesn't happen. And it's really not the way it should be. We're on the same team. We're all trying to accomplish the same things.

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Paul will be speaking at The Quality Show South May 2 at 12:30 p.m. For more information, view the agenda here.