Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Black Belt in Both Karate and Six Sigma

After nearly 20 years of my life working in purchasing and being really good at it, I took a new position doing something that I really feel can sink my teeth into, working as a Lean Six Sigma technician, in above all industries, oil and gas. Previously, my only experience in oil was working as a purchasing manager for a relatively small company in Santa Maria. My job extended past normal purchasing into finance and some project management. During this time, I recruited the help of reading up on management theories, those being Management by Objectives, Theory of Constraints, eMyth and something I heard so much of called Six Sigma. Prior to this I picked up book called Toyota Production Systems and skimmed through the pages and got enough information to learn words like kaisen, kanban, muda and heijunko. I also picked up some terms like Plan, Do, Check, Act, “see for yourself” and non-value-added. Each of these theories had their own neat method of madness, the one I could not quite grasp due to its usage of forensic and statistical analysis was Six Sigma. After a couple of days, all I managed to retain was the term DMAIC and that this process somehow was able to resolve product defects.

After this stint, I took a job for an ISO 13485 medical device manufacturer that relied solely on Lean concepts. Working in a sterile FDA regulated GMP environment, Standard Operating Procedures or SOP mandated almost every single activity. Though it didn’t go so far as to instruct the number of times you had to wash your hands after taking care of business in the restroom, it was pretty clear that steps were necessary to maintain order to keep close tabs on product control.

Several reasons had me looking to Bakersfield to change course in my life. First, my mother lived about three hours away and she’s elderly. Oftentimes, I’d see myself making long distance drives to see how she was doing. My son lives in Bakersfield and about 30 minutes away from his grandmother. My daughter lives in Fresno about an hour and a half away from Bakersfield but nearly four hours away from Santa Maria. Without outlining a spaghetti diagram, logic pointed towards me looking for work in Bakersfield. So I sent resumes and spoke to about three headhunters. It didn’t take long before I was invited to interviews, all except one was in the oil and gas industry and for purchasing or supply chain management positions. Knowing about purchasing, it wasn’t hard to sell my abilities. What lacked were my years in oil and gas; so, I faced some challenges.

Then out of the blue, I get this call asking for a phone interview. Like the others, I complied and had a nice discussion about what I bring to the table. One many occasions, the topic of Lean and Six Sigma was discussed. I told the truth about what I knew, how I came to my background, and that I was not “belted.” Not really concerned, I knew that having Lean and Six Sigma knowledge would help my position as a buyer. Well, the time came when I was asked to pay a formal visit to be interviewed. I asked how much the purchasing position paid, the human resource person said that it was filled and that I was being considered for the Lean Six Sigma Technician position.

Okay? What happened here?

She said that they had been looking for someone who had both oil and gas and Lean/Six Sigma experience. On both cases, she was right; I had the qualifications, not my strongest, but there, nevertheless.

I had a couple of days before the meeting, and I knew that I needed to brush up on what I knew about defects management and continuous improvement techniques. One thing I can tell you, if you don’t keep up with these concepts, going over details of scientific management theories and forensic and statistical analysis will numb your mind; it did mine and thanks to some abilities for recall, I was prepared.

Several more meetings and a doctor physical later, I got the job.

It was then to end my procrastination, take the green and black belt tests, and add legitimacy to my new role.

Let me share with you one thing. Lean Six Sigma training is not easy. Knowing concepts and passing tests are two different animals. I skimmed through the Green Belt manual and took the test.  With years of practical experience, I felt I had the information locked, but after taking the test, I barely passed. What got me was that the questions were misleading and the answers that matched were worse. A month later, I prepared for the Black Belt and Lean Management tests much differently and passed with ease though I didn’t learn a darn thing.  This time I studied to pass, not learn. I figured that it was like the time I got my karate black belt in 1982: Right after wrapping that belt around my waist for the very first time, I realized then that it was a new beginning and not an end. 

Moral:  I’ve got some real life Lean and Six Sigma practices to implement and it’s going to be a neat ride.

Haiyaaaaa!

Sensei Domi
Shotokan Karate Blackbelt
Six Sigma Blackbelt

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