Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lean Enterprise Case Study: Four Stones Machine Shop

By Dominador "Sensei Domi" Tomate

MY FIRST VISIT


            “How in the heck did you make money?  Look at this place?”
            Daryl replied, “What’s wrong with it?”
            “It’s a freaking mess?  You didn’t start this business, did you?”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Easy question.”
            Long pause.  I stared him in the eye and Daryl relented. “I had a partner.  We ran the business together, and he kind of.”
            “Yeah?  What happened?”
            “…died six months ago.”
            “Jesus.  How long did you work together?”
            “About 20 years.”
            Didn’t take long for me to process this.  I knew Daryl in college and from what I remembered, he wasn’t good with details.  He had tremendous talents, a very smart man with creative ideas and, at the time, a pretty good martial artists; but, that was many years ago, and he had problems that I wasn’t sure I had the moxie to handle.  He asked for my help, and I could, like they say, give it my best.

       “Alright, let’s go to your office.  Let’s find out what’s going on.”
            Daryl Adam’s machine shop, Four Stones Machining, was located off Pierce Road, hidden within an industrial complex that supported the oil field industry.  What Daryl machined required a lot of metal cutting:  Brass, stainless steel, cast iron, carbon pipe.
            It was strategically located in an industrial area, sandwiched between an auto window and transmission repair shops.  His facility faced east and west, east being the front entrance, fenced in and protected by an alarm system.  The building sat on a two and a half acre lot, space large enough for 1,500 sq. ft. building and raw materials that consisting of brass, iron blanks, pipe, tubing and shafts; on one corner, an eyesore, a stack scrap metal.  There was room enough for driver delivery trucks to maneuver in and out of a single shipping and receiving area.  When I got there, I walked into the front office, it was pleasant enough with a front desk, desk top computer, file cabinets, and chairs for visitors to sit.  Large pictures representing nature hung on the walls.  The desk faced a large window.  Behind the desk was a door with a name plate “Daryl Adams.”  I walked through the door and knocked.  A lone desk sat dead center.  On its right and left were floor to ceiling racks that held scores of drawings.  Behind him was a large bookcase supporting books, binders and bound manuscript on engineering, vendor catalogs and business related subjects.  I smiled when I saw the all too familiar yellow book among them, Lean Six Sigma for Dummies.
            When I told Daryl I’d stop by to help, I really didn’t know what to expect.  What I did know through a casual conversation was that he’d been in business for some time and, to some degree, was successful. Something happened, and I’m here to find out what.
            “So do you need all those?”
            “Those?” He said pointing to the stack of rolled drawings.  “Don’t know.  I guess.”
            “Guess?”  I asked.  “Are they categorized in any special way?”
            “Kind of.”
            “You’re serious aren’t you?  What if you needed any of those drawings?”
            “When I need them, I’ll cross that bridge.  What do you think?”
            “How about you giving me the nickel tour?”
            “My pleasure.”
            Daryl led me to the back.  We passed by what looked like a tool room full of calibration standards, more drawing, cabinets with cutting inserts, spare machine parts, boxes full of file folders, and measuring equipment.  To me, it looked like a mess and, judging by the dust and disarray, the place had not been cleaned, if cleaned at all.  The shop had some room.  Several of the machines ran parts, the automatic servo’s sent signals to hydraulic feeds while spindles spun in different direction; tools cut, thread, beveled, the whir and swish of fast speed rpm and chatter.  Lights were bright and more than adequate for the type of work they were doing and what I remembered in his past days as a machinist.  From what I saw, there were three employees, one older gentleman and two fairly young moving about.  They appeared to be adequate next to equipment that consisted of one engine lathe, drill press, Bridgeport milling machine, to slant bed CNCs and one CNC milling machine and looked appeared to be in relatively good shape.  It smelled of cutting oil and metal shavings.  The rolling back door was wide open, revealing open space for trucks to ship and deliver.  A desk with a computer and boxer filled with packing slips sat next to the rolling door, the vibrating hum the machines turned on echoed within the shop’s walls.  Work in progress parts were stacked next to each machine, metal chips piled in catch bins, and the floor a mess with oil and absorbent spread throughout.  I observed quietly, eyes catching as much as I could, collecting, analyzing, and thinking.


NO BUSINESS PLAN


            When he told me he didn’t have a business plan, I was not surprised, though I continued to be amazed at the businesses fully functional without one.  I was almost expecting him to pint a finger to his temple and say “It’s all in here.”
            Instead he said, “Why would you want to write a business plan anyway?”
            It’s a perfect response from an engineer with no business training.  He barely survived engineering hated to study much less pick up a book to expand his horizons.  He was one of those guys who asked to have things explained to him, better yet, done for him.  He wasn’t a lazy guy.  I’ve seen him work, a hard working individual, not afraid to sweat and put long hours in to get things done; however, anything that required reading or learning was a chore.  So I told him, we, emphasizing the word, WE, were going to put one together.  He asked if it would take long and I told him a whole life time.  He about soiled his pants when he heard this.
            “Dude, I’ve written about 20 of these things, so relax, it isn’t that hard, but it’s got to be done.”
            “You’re a writer for God sakes,” he replied.  “I have a hard time responding to emails and text messages.”
            “I told you I will help.”
            “Alright, can we start when I get back from vacation?”
            “No.”
            “Damn,” he said waiting a second before finishing his sentence, “okay, when do we start.”
            “Sit down, rest a spell.  We start now.”
            I told him the concept of writing a business plan is quite simple but the soul of the business.  I told him I’ve known people in the past penning plans using pictures and diagrams, flow charts and maps.  It didn’t need to be written in perfect grammar.  What it needed was someone to sit down and put it on paper.  There are four basic sections that needed to be addressed:  Management, operations, marketing and sales, and finance.  Each category depending upon the business is subdivided into many other moveable pieces, some companies with fewer pieces, large companies with an endless number of pieces.  Since Four Stones Machining is relatively small, the business plan didn’t need to be complicated, but I told him that he needed to be as complete as he could with the pieces. 
            “Do we have to do this sober?” he asked.
            I told him if we were in the dojo, I’d kick his butt right on the spot.  “What’s wrong with you?  This is serious?”
            “I know.  I know. I’m not good with this kind of stuff.  I’m a fish out of water and it’s not comfortable floundering.”
            “Not to worry, bud.  I’m here.”
            So after a lengthy question and answer session, I was able to come up with the following information.

            Once his partner died, Daryl was relegated to running the business in its entirety.  For a staff, he has a senior machinist, Zen Lopez and two supporting employees, Lavone Jones and Poly Youngblood.  His son, Rocky, graduated college and plans to help out with the books. Prior to this, finance was a mess because Daryl made it a mess.  With Rocky helping out, Daryl could restart the marketing and sales program that was static for the past six months or so.  Operations wasn’t bad and when I met Daryl’s son, I was pleasantly surprised to see his willingness to cover the accounting and free his father to bring in new business into the company.

The Story


            Daryl graduated in June 1977 with a degree in Industrial Engineering; didn’t earn any honors.  Matter of fact, he graduated with a “C” or 2.17 grade point average, happy with the results remembering well those that barely survived the designed to fail and/or commit suicide classes with names like “Thermal” “Dynamics” “English 101.”  To him, they were beyond ridiculous and soon choose having wisdom teeth pulled without anesthesia than have to take classes ever again.  He spent about a month to look for work before joining the air force.  After failing the aptitude test, Daryl was assigned to a small machine shop where he learned the fine art of tool making.  He played tinker toy Air Force boy for about four years before honorably discharged.  Not thinking about re-enlisting, he attempted a three month vacation before being called to work for a large manufacturing firm as a result of his former C.O. recommending him for a job.  Daryl was sent to a huge manufacturing plant where he operated a turret lathe and participated in minor engineering.  To pass time, he frequented bars, found Myrna Lopez, a young Filipina beauty and nursing student.  One thing led to another, and within a year, they got married, several months before their daughter, Leena, was born.  After their daughter was old enough to be left with relatives, Myrna graduated and passed her State Board.  She was immediately hired to work at a nearby hospital.  Financially, they earned enough to buy a home in a quaint and safe neighborhood in Las Vegas.  After about 10 years of an ideal life, the bottom fell out from underneath him.  Without warning, she left him with Leena and ran off to Saudi Arabia where her new boyfriend doctor was assigned.  Add insult to injury, the company he worked for suddenly picked up and left California, leaving him and 900 unemployed.  Not one to hold onto things, Daryl cut expenses by selling his house, cars and furniture and moved away to Bakersfield to stay with his sister.  For about six months, he cared for her two sons, five and six years old, well behaved young men that loved to hear him read.  Daryl was a smart guy, at least that’s what he thought.  At best Daryl was above average and dangerous if he didn’t suffer from a form of dyslexia.  He could read, no problem.  His comprehension skills were slow and embarrassing.  When he read for his two nephews, Daryl read slowly and over enunciated the words, animating his facial features, acting the role in front of them.  Indeed, the boys appreciated his efforts.
            While shopping, a burly Hispanic, goatee and shoulder length hair, lifted him up as if he was a child and hugged him.  It was a former employee from his last company, also part of the layoff.  Daryl hadn’t seen him since, but, Fernando Garcia felt indebted to Daryl who, more than many times, helped him through tough times with his wife and children.  Despite his own problems, Daryl provided financial and emotional support during times of crisis.  Story is that Fernando won a nice nest egg in a scratch lottery, not a million but some money.  Instead of squandering it (like many that included Daryl) an entrepreneurial spirit had him buying a machine shop in Bakersfield.  Fernando grew up in Delano, had contacts and enough to solicit business and retain the present business that came with the company.  The previous owner died after his wife shot him dead after finding him with another woman, her sister, who wasn’t shot because sisters didn’t kill each other.  Long story short, Fernando knew the gal, who was motivated in dumping the business for a song.  She owned a string of boutiques that earned her more than enough money to live comfortably.  The extra cash she got from the machine shop was used to buy a good attorney who got her out on an argument that she was an abused wife who killed in self-defense.  I’m not familiar with the case, but I’m sure the gal had dirty hands in the ordeal, used what she could to walk free and live a new life.  Good for her.  Good for Fernando, who, as a good machinist, but not that good of a businessman. He needed a partner that could operate a machine and pay the company bills.  Bear in mind, Daryl, though studied business and accounting, remembered enough to fill a thimble.  This was 100 times more than what Fernando knew that was more than good enough for him.  For about 20 years, the company did okay financially always in the red, nice incomes for both partners.  They paid their three employees well, Zen Lopez, a 20 year veteran with the company and Lavon Jones, Daryl’s nephew and Poly Youngblood, one of Lavon’s high school buddies who just got out of prison for assault and battery.
            The company, Four Stones Machining, machines mostly small screw type products that fit in computers, cameras and miscellaneous electronic equipment.  They also manufacture parts for the oil fields and agriculture.  Daryl spent a great deal of his time negotiating bids and taking clients out to lunch.  He had Leena, his daughter, do the books though she was taking classes at Cal State Bakersfield for a degree in teaching.  Myrna, Daryl’s wife, divorced Daryl, married the doctor and divorced him, and moved back in with Daryl who didn’t mind because he was stupidly in love with her even after what she did to him.  Surprisingly, Daryl and Myrna were an old couple that no one would know the better, her calling him “Papa” and him calling her “Mama” when they needed each other.
            Life was good, again new house, cars, and vacation home in Pismo.  Fernando married late but had a good family of his own, boy in college, playing baseball, doing well and might get a contract with a triple A team.  Wife was a teacher at an elementary school and several months away from retiring when Fernando during a Sunday Night Football game grabbed his chest and fell dead before hitting the ground.  Fernando was always a big man, 6’3 over 300 pounds when Daryl first met him.  When he died, Fernando could’ve been about 450 pounds, maybe more.  He was a big’un and did nothing to stop his poor eating habits or health. 
            Daryl accidentally purchased both a personal life insurance policy for Fernando’s wife and a buy-and-sell policy for each other.  So Fernando’s wife got $2M for her husband’s death and Daryl a business to tend to with lots of money in the bank.  In the years he had his business, he loved what he did, the customers, the whole shooting match.  After Myrna came back, she was still old enough to pop out another baby, this time a boy, Rocky Adams who is in high school, learning about life, and with God behind his thinking, some interest in Four Stones Machining.
            Didi made hamburgers and potatoes for dinner, one of my favorites.  I didn’t eat a lot, at least not like I used to, a bottom-less pit that couldn’t push the scales past 125 lbs.  I kept a decent 185 lbs. but his appetite curtailed by less of a desire for foods that triggered gout that attacked every joint in his body.
            I shared the story with his wife who listened and ate without speaking, wasn’t sure if she was interested or not, but I kept on talking to verify what I heard that morning to make sure I got the story right.
            “There’s more to this story, isn’t there?” she finally asked.
            “Oh yeah,” I said.  “The important part.”
            “I knew it.”
            “So after our discussion, I asked to look at his books, his filing, the critical path on how Daryl Adams ran his business, so I can provide some advice.”
            “You found a mess.”
            “Unfortunately, yes.  And to tell you the truth, I’m surprised they’re doing as well as they are.  The way I look at it, it could end up bad with a series of simple and well-timed events.  I told him this and he asked me to find a cure.”
            What I found out was…

IT WAS A MESS


            With pad and pencil in hand, I took notes when Daryl explained the critical path of his company.  In Lean Manufacturing this process, I, explained to Daryl was Value Stream Mapping.

            There was a saying: if a house built was on sand, it would crumble no matter how solidly built it was: It was the law of physics. Martial arts and business were no different: Train on a weak foundation, and it would crumble. “Karate a way of life” was a phrase coined by devotes, focused, disciplined and experts in basics. When I took karate, I was in an age of development. The world was in turmoil with distractions that changed my thinking. Overseas war, civil disobedience, corporate distrust, drugs and discontent emitted negativity. Developing minds craved to understand but I trusted less. Learning required trust with no way to determine the truth. The media pushed opinions that made him a skeptic. I was fortunate to grow, and deal with life’s challenges and treasures, provided fundamentals and a base, a sense of security, self-worth and reliance. It was this reference that made houses safe and comfortable. In martial arts, the concept is the same; I believed it was here where business had similarities. If my stances were week, I’d get swept off my feet. On the other hand, if my foundation was weak, I might not have enough leverage to fully extend my techniques. I needed to keep feet planted, hips centered and legs firm, and balance focused, if I wanted any success in training. As my skills improved, I experienced a sense of enlightenment, courage and strength that I didn’t have before. This is what I mean by building a house on cement and not on sand, and imagined how far Daryl was to this standard.
            The Japanese term Kaizen which meant “change” “see” or witness change was a term used in a scientific management technique from the Toyota Production Services that promoted continuous improvement through waste reduction, process and method development. Other management techniques used in conjunction included Theory of Constraints, eMyth, Management By Objectives, and Six Sigma, each taking different angles and positions of creating efficient and profitable workplaces. Kaizen was a term that not only supported continual improvement but it represented a culture of thought that each of us can use personally.
            I spent many years in a dojo; considered a strong fighter, excellent technician and philosophically in tune with the spirit of the art. Several months ago, a friend and sensei I met in college now in my sixties emailed with an invitation to train with fellow martial artists that were well in their sixties and seventies.  As I aged, I realized that physically, I could not perform as I did in my younger years being less stretched, limber and powerful; but able to practice, pushing forward, aiming for perfection not ready to say this was all there was to contribute. As a culture and way of life, I had an ability to strive for improvement, continuous improvement.
            People say, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” a well-known phrase that encouraged complacency. As a kaizen practitioner, the term should be, “If it isn’t broken, what can be done to make it better?”
            With challenges and variations, a personal journey never ending provided more reason for kaizen and continuous improvement. By going forward, life and nature required the pursuit of greatness: externally, internally, introspectively, in a workplace, communities, home, within each of our hearts.
            My task was daunting.  My friend required help that might be outside the realm of my abilities.  As a longtime member of the business community, I have years of experience to draw from.  My friend was in dire straits and I was never one to say no to a friend.  I need to prepare myself for full blown battle to help my good friend from losing his business; and it would take a great deal of effort to pull out the truth and come up with a strategy to save his business..

VALUE STREAM MAP


            “In business, companies review and evaluate their value stream.  It’s something that tracts their daily events.  The TO DO list that kept doors open.  It might be known as a process map, critical path and flow chart.”
            “Okay,” said Daryl, “Where do you want to start?”
            He smiled, “From the beginning.”

BASIC SOP


1.   Daryl contacted customers and solicits RFP (Request for Proposal).
2.   Customer sent drawing and notes regarding proposed project.
3.   Daryl reviewed drawing and project.
3.1. Checked for complexity and feasibility.
3.2. Checked raw material requirements.
3.3. Called supplier and requested price and availability for raw material that matched specifications.
3.4. Consulted with machine operator and determine steps for production if new project.   Most of the jobs were recurring.
3.5. Checked for tooling and measuring equipment for quality control.
3.6. Determined machine time and motion and estimated takt time (demand units divided by demand time).
3.7. Drafted bid and entered into company software program.
3.8. Entered bid into Master Log.  Master Log assigned a number to the bid that would be used as the unique identifier for the job.
3.9. Sent bid that included cost per product plus shipping and estimated availability date.
4.   Bid awards
4.1. Were received as an official purchase order.
4.2. Were called back verifying project name, specifications, cost, availability and delivery time.
4.3. Organized in a folder:
4.3.1.   PO;
4.3.2.   Company bid;
4.3.3.   Pictures;
4.3.4.   Drawings;
4.3.5.   Project notes.
4.3.6.   Job number would be the Bid number with alpha “A” at the end of string.  Example Master Log number was 1234.  Job number would be 1234A.
4.4. Entered into the system software program.
4.5. Scheduled job.  This process was done manually.  Job folder was placed in a waiting bin, most recent work order at the back of the cabinet.
5.   Daryl prepared batch record with bill of materials list (BOM).  He checked inventory rack to determine if material was available without having to place order.  If material was available, it was pulled to the side and tagged with the job name and number.  It was segregated away from general inventory. 
5.1. If raw material was not available, Daryl called vendors and placed order.  Most of the time material would be delivered that day as calls during bidding process indicated availability as they did not normally require special ordering.
5.2. If raw material required special processing, for example pre-machined by another subcontractor or cast material from a foundry, availability would be adjusted based upon confirmed date from supplier.
6.   Daryl would check tooling, equipment, measurement tools.
7.   Daryl would have pre-checked prior to sending out bid.  Tools and raw materials available during bidding process might not be available later.  During this period, he’d check tooling, tag and segregate away from general population. Tools included:
7.1. Spindles;
7.2. Chucks;
7.3. Bars;
7.4. Cutting Tools;
7.5. Inserts;
7.6. Micrometers;
7.7. Scales;
7.8. Standards.
8.   Operators were provided with tools boxes, stocked and complete.
9.   Operators were also provided with standards, references and regulations.
10. Goal:  Ensure all details were prepared prior to setting up machine for productions.
11. Pulled CNC program and reviewed numeric control commands to determine if process was appropriate for run.  Modifed and amended as appropriate.
12. Production run.
12.1.          Reviewed drawing, program and send to selected CNC station.
12.2.          Cleaned out machine prior to set up.
12.3.          Maintained as per TPM routine.
12.4.          Physically had drawing and notes to CNC station.
12.5.          Prepared quality control batch record and have at CNC station.
12.6.          Removed spindle chucks and tooling from turret.
12.7.          Installed proper chucks and tooling.
12.8.          Executed dry run with raw material.
12.9.          Chucked raw material and executed first run.
12.10.        Measured results against drawing specifications and adjusted as necessary.
12.11.        Ran and checked parts as per quality control section on Batch Record.
12.12.        Segregated bad out-of-specs “scrapped” parts and sent to recycle bin.
12.13.        Stamped identification to finished products (if applicable).
13. Finished products:
13.1.          Packaged for shipment.
13.2.          Sent to shipping dock.
13.3.          Included:
13.3.1. Certificate of Conformity (CoC).
13.3.2. Packing slip;
13.3.3. Bill of Lading / Shipping ticket.
13.4.          File documents would be included in job file.
14. Shipment consisted of:
14.1.          Daryl contacting shipping company for scheduled pickup;
14.2.          Daryl contacting customer regarding production completion.
14.3.          Daryl sending via email and hard copy invoice.

            On paper, the process appeared to be sound.  After all, the company was successful, and without looking into its financials, I believed the company was solvent.  What he didn’t like was the initial feel and appearance of the shop.  As a former machinist and longtime production manager, he was well versed on how large successful company designed their workflow.  I knew that through cellular design cycle time could be reduced tremendously.  Without it, huge sums of money were lost and never to be recovered.  Without watching the workflow, he could not provide the proper assessment.
            “So?” Daryl asked, “What do you think?”
            “The process in writing is sound, no different than others, something I’d put together.”
            “It’s good them?”
            “Let’s go take a look shall we?”

            I spent the next three days, observing; took notes, checked the time on my watch and cell phone.  He talked to the guys and told them he was no threat, expected them to do their jobs at a steady pace, as they’ve done in the past: the good, bad and indifferent.  He told them the more natural they were with what they were doing, the better report and assessment he could draft and suggest improvement ideas.  He told them a little about Lean Six Sigma, some process management techniques without getting into boring details.  He told them about how the Japanese after World War II recruited the services of Ed Deming, author of the management process theory, Total Quality Management to build up their car industry as well as technology, that in the next week or so, they’ll be using some of those concepts and words they’ve never heard but will be utilizing in their daily operations; changes he would implement that would make their jobs more efficient, fulfilling and rewarding.
            Zen Lopez, real name Rogelio Lopez, was in his mid-50’s, was 5’6” tall, 200 lbs, solidly built and covered his thinning hair with a ball cap.  He wore bifocal glasses and sported gang affiliated tattoos on his arms that I say him consciously cover with long sleeved shirts.  He was married to his high school sweet heart, Maria, who worked for the County in one off the administrative divisions; had a son, TC, that worked as a computer technician; and Connie, a kindergarten teacher.  He was a former gang member and drug user, reasons why he ended up in prison three times.  With that past him, he went to church every Sunday with his wife, worked on his garden every chance he got, bowled Tuesday night with the Mexican American League, and took night classes o finally earn his G.E.D.  He drove a low rider pickup classic, listened to groups like Tower of Power, War and Santana, spoke in a Hispanic accent though he had a command of the English language.  He was born in Mexico but emigrated at an early age, living for the most part in Delano, California where he constantly got in trouble as a teen.
            Zen was the head machinist that I learned worked at Whitten Pumps, one of the companies he listed on his resume and the first that taught him the basics and fine art of transforming metals into useable engineered parts.  Zen worked for other companies mostly in the oil and gas industry pre-empted by his times in jail.  What changed it all was fatherhood.  His gang bang buddies either in jail or turning new leafs supported his decision to leave the caustic brotherhood.
            Zen knew Fernando from the past, not close but met through others in parties, drug transactions, and low rider club competition.  After three months of unemployment, his wife Maria, who worked at the county heard from a co-worker that a machinist position was available.  When Zen and Fernando met, Fernando was professional in the interview.  He asked pertinent questions but Zen unsure of himself was for the most part quiet.  Fernando noticed the tattoos on Zen’s arms and was clear about his rules.  Zen was miffed because he was not one to follow rules and Fernando read, through body language, might have a problem with the laws of the shop.  He was a half an inch away from telling Zen to take a hike, but he needed a machinist.  The past week was unkind.  He had two strong candidates that didn’t accept the offers at the last minute.  Zen on the other hand was willing to work at any wage.  He needed to work.  Though he loved working in his back yard garden, which went as far as it could before he became restless.  He needed a job and didn’t care what it paid or what it was.  A man wasn’t a man unless he worked.  Fernando told him that he was going to give him a chance and that the first sign of screwing up, he was going to send him packing, no questioned asked, case closed, end of story.
            Zen was not only a good machinist; he was exceptional, knowing set p and operations with little to no scrapping of parts.  He was also a master on the engine lathe and Bridgeport mill.  He said at an early state, he picked up running machines saying it was the most attentive he’d ever been, wished he had the same type of energy and desire when he was in high school.  He would’ve had five years of his life relived and made something of him.
            With Fernando gone, Daryl had to be the head programmer.  He needed someone to stop up to the plate.
            Zen despite his lack of G.E.D was not weak in the learning.  In fact in his first two years in high school, not only did he make honor roll, in several semesters, he earned a 4.0 grade point average.  Had it not been for the shooting in the neighborhood that took the life of his best friend, he would’ve stayed in school and not join the Dover Street Boys.  It went downhill from there.  Had it not been for Fernando, he probably would’ve ended up dead or back in prison.

            Lavon Jose graduate high school in 195, an athlete bound for greatness.  He grew up in Tulare, his father a mailman, mother an assembly line worker at Kraft Foods.  He had three sisters, all talented, beautiful and smart.  They knew how to read, write and conduct business logically.  He was strong, fast and simple; very simple.  He could not read, suffered from the worst form of dyslexia.  Numbers weren’t as hard, but he had troubles with math.  What he could do was mimic and repeat well.  He also had a good memory, almost photographic.  Unfortunately asking him to reason with what he remembered was a tremendous struggle..  After graduating from high school, he had to take a basic test to enroll into college and continue his football career:  He failed miserably.
            Lavon was a handsome African-American, 6’2”, 185 of strong lean muscle.  He was dexterous and natural and a good worker.
            Married with two children, Donna and Terrence, he was deeply spiritual attending services on Wednesday and Sunday.  His wife, Naomi, was friends since childhood and both were lucky to find each other at such a young age.  She lived with Lavon’s disability all of his life as it was she who helped him through growing up and school.  She was not the best looking person on campus, not a Barbie doll, far from it.  She was short, squatty and wore thick glasses that she did not want to replace with contact lens.  To some, she was ugly.  To Lavon, she was his heart and soul, could not look at any other, no matter how sultry or beautiful.  Fortunately, Lavon’s innocence did not look beyond needing anyone more than his wife.  After she got her degree in nursing and passed her State Board, she worked at the hospitals when he was home to care for the kids, Donna and Terrance, who helped their dad with reading and writing.  They were like their mother, kind, intelligent and compassionate.  Lavon’s parent’s visited regularly and kept him at ease when he’d get anxious about his responsibilities as a husband and father.  He wanted so much to be like others, but realized to pretend was fruitless.  It was best for him to perform within his limit and not exceed it unless constantly supervised, like what coaches did in football.  Fernando in the shop was his coach.  When he passed away, Zen had no problem picking up the slack as he liked Lavon for his honesty and work ethic.

            Apolonar “Poly” Youngblood was Fernando’s nephew and Rocky’s best friend.  Poly and Rocky grew up together as kids and when Rocky went of to college Poly stayed at the machine shop, no real ambition except to go to work every day.  Poly suffered from a mental disability that therapist said was controlled by working and living a routine.  When Rocky headed for college, Poly knew he could not venture beyond his comfort zone that included going home after work, having dinner and watching reruns of old classic movies.  Don’t know what the exact psychiatric term was but it was described as a mild form of social anxiety disorder.  He would suffer cold chills, hyperventilate and chest pains if he got caught in a crowd.  However, the shop, corner grocery store and a handful of other places were “safe zones.”  He attended functions and cross boundaries if he went with his dad or child hood buddy, Rocky.  With both gone, he kept to himself, a quiet and lonely soul, who avoided eye contact and lengthy conversations, a neutral expression permanently painted on his face.  At work, he neither worked fast of slow.  He was steady and did everything asked of him, wearing his ear buds, listening mostly to the drone of a person reading off an audio book.  One thing he did and constantly was read.  No one knew how much he retained if anything; his family, co-worker’s and few friends know that he read, day-in, day-out, non-stop.
            Rocky and he were close friends and shared great conversations about every subject imaginable.  Rocky was first to admit that Poly was smarter than he, but refused to allow any of it shared due to a fear of having to leave his bubble.
            He loved his family.  When his father died several years ago from an un-expected illness, he mourned seven days straight, staying in his room, leaving only to eat, use the bathroom and clean up.  When his mother asked what he did during this period, he said he read the bible and prayed for his father’s soul.  After the seventh day, he resumed his mundane routine.  There was one thing he did at lunch, like clockwork.  He read for Lavon, anything he wanted:  Bills, doctor statements, kid’s report cards, and newspaper and magazine articles.  This he died gladly.  Though he knew Lavon for as long as he worked for Four Stones, he was still minimal with his interaction, providing enough information, but not much more beyond that.
            Without his father, Poly’s been real good about supporting his mother during the mourning period, setting aside his fears and anxiety to make sure she’s okay.  His dad, Paul Morning Star Youngblood, was a Political Science college professor at Cal State Bakersfield.  His mother was Fernando’s sister and also a college professor but in English.  That probably explained his propensity to reading.  He had every reason to follow his parent’s footsteps.  He could and would had it not been for his social anxiety disorder.
            All three employees worked well as a team, strengths complementing each other, making Daryl’s job easy had they not been who there were.  They were a motley crew, each special in his own way.  As they showed up to put in an honest day’s work, not one of them complained.  Daryl and Fernando when he was alive, kept an open door, speaking when needed, resolving issues the instant an problem came up.  Poly was more open at work.  If asked a question and opinion, he’d speak up freely, least amount of words of course, usually logical not thought up ideas that benefit the task at hand or cause.

            When I provided the first group of suggestions, I bought lunch and everyone met at Daryl’s office.  The smell of cutting oil mixed in with the rich aroma of a spicy Italian pizza.  The machinists ate heartily each competing for the choice pieces.  There was way too much food, and it didn’t take long before the guys slouched back satisfied with happy tummies.
            “Wow,” Daryl said, “you guys look like you’re ready for a nap.”
            “Food never puts me to sleep.  My wife talking does,” Zen joked.
            “I hope you don’t fall asleep with the stuff I’m gonna pass on to you.  It’s pretty important,” Daryl verified, “One goal is to make good with our current orders and create opportunities for more business.”
            “We’re going to need two maybe three more machinist.  I mean, we all can agree, Fernando was a freak.  He out performed everyone here.  Him gone it’s gonna take  three people to replace his production.”
            “Maybe, maybe not,” said Daryl.  “I thinks he has an answer for us.”
            I proceeded to talk about basic theories of process management when “Rules of Thumb” was replaced with a scientific approach to manufacturing, how the Industrial Revolution forced companies to think of ways to be faster, better, and efficient.  I mentioned scientific business management greates names like Winslow Taylor, Joseph Juran, Peter Drucker, Ed Deming, Michael Gerber, Walter Shewhart, Eli Goldratt, Shigero Shingo, Bill Smith, James Womac and John Krafcik; process theories like Scientific Management, Management by Objective, Total Quality Management, eMyth, Theory of Constraints, Toyota Production Systems, Six Sigma and Lean; terms like 5 S, TIMWOOD, Cycle Time, Kanban, Kaizen, DMAC, Lean, Value Added, and Non-Value Added.  After an hour, “Now that you’re thoroughly confused and think I’m sort of wise ass, “I said, “I don’t want you to remember anything I told you, not one thing.  You’re not going to be tested or expected to know anything except that the changes will consist of terms you’ve not going to be tested.  I just want you to do is look at these as tools pulled and used when needed.  I’ll explain how when we approach tasks in the shop where they are applied.  So with that said, let’s take a break and tackle task number one.”
            As the guys staggered outside, Daryl stayed with I, “Wow.  Even I’m confused.”
            “No worries.  It’ll fall into place.  In an hour, I provided a summary of about a thousand pages of reading.  Tell you the truth, I was happy to cover it in this short of time.”
            “Interesting.  So?  What’s the first step?”
            “5 S.”
            “5 S?”
            “Sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain.”
            “Simple sounding words but complicated at the same time.”
            “Yes on both counts.”
            “Okay then.  When the guys get back from break, let’s hit this thing hard.”

            When the team regrouped, they were met with I holding a big card board sign with the letters 5 S in bold spray painted on it.
            “How many of you feel this number and letter are hard to remember?”
            Lavon raised his hand, “Even I can recognize the number 5 and the letter S.”
            “Good,” Said I, “What this means is that I’ll be introducing five words to you.  Words you’ve heard before.  S. S. S. S. S.  Stands for Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.  Now repeat after me,” I pausing briefly, “Sort.”
            Everyone repeated, “Sort.”
            “Straighten.”
            “Everyone repeated, “Straighten.”
            “Shine.”
            Everyone repeated, “Shine.”
            “Standardize.”
            “Everyone repeated, “Standardize.”
            “Sustain.”
            Everyone repeated, “Sustain.”
            Together, we repeated the words over five times.  Then I asked them to practice recalling them over again by themselves, asking them to repeat in their minds 10 more times and introduce them to memory.  I wanted them not only to remember the words; I wanted them to feel comfortable saying and using them in their daily lives.  As a child growing up, I remembered the routine of listening; repeating; and writing knowing full well that his crew would not be one to take notes, I had the guys repeat the words multiple times.  What was cool was that with this group, I felt good about this method of teaching and so far recognized the enthusiastic willingness to participate and follow instructions.
            “So what you’re telling us that if we 5 S, we’ll become faster?” asked Zen.
            “Yes and no,” I explained.  “IF you keep your site and overall company organized and clean, it would definitely make you efficient.  Studies indicated that people worked better in an organized and clean environment.  Let’s take for example, the roll cart.”
            “No fair,” said Zen, “I’m still using it.”
            “Okay, do you clean it up before you close up for the day?”
            “Define clean,” he responded.
            “Is this tool chest clean and organized when you leave work?”
            “Yeah, sure,” Zen replied.
            “Bullshit,” Lavon clarified, “It can’t shit in your tool box.”
            “I’ve got a system, and it words for me.”
            “Yeah?” Lavon challenged, “Where’ the ½ drive ratchet wrench?”
            “Second drawer, in the back, right side.”
            “Bullshit.”
            “Go, check it out.”
            Lavon followed the instruction; the second drawer looked like one of the special drawers in a kitchen where miscellaneous items were thrown:  Lights, assortments of pens, check stubs, various nuts and bolts, small light bulbs, headband, band aids, and an outdated cell phone.  He pulled back drawer but the items were such in disarray that it got stuck half way.  With a wiggle here and there, he was able to dislodge the offending article and pull the drawer out where the ratchet wrench was as Zen advised.
            “That’s ridiculous,” Lavon said.
            “Told you,” Zen replied.
            “Well Poly,” I said, “you look like you’ve got something to say.”
            “Let me 5 S this tool box,” he said quietly.
            “Man, I don’t know,” Zen said.
            “You know?  That just might be a good idea.  Why don’t you go ahead and see what you can do.  The rest of us will tackle the inventory yard,” I said, “But before I get into that, I’d like to introduce one more concept, “Waste.”
            “Like my stomach?” Zen joked.
            “Funny, now shut up and listen,” Daryl said.
            “Waste was a concept that the Japanese learned quickly in developing their Toyota Production System or TPS.  In our discussions, I will throw out buzz words, many of them in Japanese.”        
            “Oh fine,” said Lavon, “I barely speak English.”
            “Poly speaks at all,” Zen quipped.
            Poly flipped him off.
            “As the concept of waste developed, so did some catch-all phrases.  One of my favorites is Find TIMWOOD.  Tim Wood is a fictional character that I use to identify and mitigate waste, the first letter of seven words that make up the acronym.  T for Transportation.  I for Inventory.  M for Motion.  W for Waiting.  O for Overproduction.  O for Overexertion.  D for Defects.  In the case of transportation, to eliminate waste, the best practice is to place items needed to conduct a job closest to the job site.  This reduces the waste of walking unneeded distance.  Second is inventory.  The goal in doing any work is to have needed materials to do the job at the job site, meaning not too much, not enough, and the right material.  Anyone of those situations can cause a delay.  Third is motion.  You want to place yourself in an area where you don’t have to move your body in crazy ways to get a job done.  Excessive motion also causes unwanted delays.  Fourth is waiting.  The dreaded wait.  When a person or piece of equipment is not producing for whatever reason, this waste is costly.  Overproduction is when you make too much and then have too much excess that gets stored in the back corner and not needed in future order.  Overexertion is when you find yourself working too hard on a task.  One thing that pisses a lot of people is the dumb things we do to make life harder when the task is relatively easy.  Finally, we have defects.  I mean, you run parts all the time, and the worst thing that happens is rejects.  That means you, the machine and the company spent time to create a product that virtually can’t be used, meaning a waste of time.”
            “Wow, TIMWOOD, huh?” Daryl said.
            “Yep, go find TIMWOOD,” I clarified.  I can see the guys say Tim Wood in their heads trying to grasp the concept. 

            Daryl had a large yard, almost too big for his company.  Unfortunately, it was cluttered and in complete disarray.  Though I saw scrap and good material stacked at various locations, I saw what appeared no structure or organization ; brass cold stock was mixed in with the stainless steel; sizes not sorted or stacked by lengths; a short block engine next to several cast iron blanks.  An old forklift that saw its years of service was parked on the corner, weeds growing next to the nearly bald tires.
            “When was the last time you fired up that thing?” I asked.
            “Don’t know?” Daryl replied.
            “I’ll do it,” Lavon ran and jumped into the driver’s seat.
            “Hang on Lavon.  We need to regroup and plan this out,” I said.
            “What’s to plan out?  We just got to clean the place out,” Zen said.
            Daryl said, “Yeah?  Place is a mess.  It could use some Spring cleaning.”
            “But it’s important that we all agree upon a plan,” I said.
            So they ended up in Daryl’s office once again where one of the walls had a white board.  Collectively, they though out a plan on how the yard should look based upon access and demand need.  Three major diagrams popped up, settling upon a combination of ideas.  I explained that company’s large and small started first by brainstorming using things like affinity diagrams and multi-voting.  I felt that some brain storming methods with all their rules defeat the purpose of creating spontaneous ideas.  His idea was to let the guys go to a wall and write any idea:  good, bad and indifferent, smart and stupid.  Stupid ideas more often created opportunities for other ideas that sometimes led to the perfections solutions. 
            “I can’t write,” said Lavon.
            “No problem.  You’ve got ideas right?”
            “Yes.”
            “Then tell us and we’ll write it for you.”
            I remembered one idea where a team was called upon to develop the design of a new widget that was supposed to replace an existing wigit.

            As the men went outside except for Poly who was already working on the roll cart, they had 5 S and Tim Wood on their minds reviewing the plans they discussed in Daryl’s office.  It was a good idea, but Daryl warned that other ideas and changes could occur as they worked on the task at hand.  I mentioned Ed Deming’s Wheel, Plan/Do/Check/Act a cycle that fostered continual improvement.  Just because you thought of a perfect plan, there was always room for improvement.
            First thing they did was pull out all scrap and unusable material including the old engine block.  It was sent to the furthest corner of the yard and separated by material types and categories.  Daryl took a picture of the piles that he said he’d forward to a recycler.
            Zen used some of the scrap metal.  With his welding abilities learned in high school, he put together racks used to hold and segregate bar, flat, angle iron and other sized stock material; sizes were sorted.  Just by creating this system, the yard’s space was freed up tremendously, almost making it look naked.
            The structure was positioned closed to the rolling garage door nearest the building for easy access and short access.  The material scattered previously was an accumulation of jobs spanned twenty years.  Even Daryl was surprised to see what they found.
            Before the end of day, the outside crew gathered around the tool box Poly worked on.
            “The heck?” Zen said in awe.
            What they saw was an immaculate tool box with tools lined up in attention and sorted where the sizes lined up in areas for easy identification.  Poly removed unnecessary items like Zen’s personal belongings and placed them as neatly in a separate box, some with post it notes indicating some pertinent information.  It was so clean, it almost shined. 
            “Dude,” Lavon said, “Good job.”
            “A perfect example of 5 S,” I said while Poly beamed with pride but still stoically quiet.  “I can see by body language that everyone except Zen is happy.”
            “Now how am I supposed to find shit?” Zen said.
            “Learn,” said Poly succinctly.
            “Gonna take me some time,” Zen said.  “I guess I can get used to it.  Poly, you’re going to have to show me around this new house.”
            “It’s not here to stress you out,” I said.  “It’s here to help.  You’ll be fine!”
            “I’m just busting your chops,” Zen said cheerfully. “I can see it already working.  A clean organized placed removes the clutter from your head.  Pretty cool.”

Japanese 5 S

            “Which comes to my next point, Shitsuke.” I said.
            The guys looked at him with puzzled faces.
            “It sounded like you wanted us to shit on ourselves,” said Lavon.
            “I wish there was an easier way to say this, but I’m not Japanese and my pronunciation is way off base.  Remember the 5 S?”
            “Of course,” said Daryl.
            “Good, someone repeat them please,” I asked.
            “Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain,” Poly contributed immediately.
            “Show off,” said Zen.
            “Good.  Now the Japanese that invented the original 5 S used these words:  Seri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke.” I said.  “Earlier I told you to remember the words Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.  Well, the originators, the Japanese version, I feel were way better.  Don’t get all messed up.   Seiri.  Tidiness – Throw away junk, don’t keep what you don’t need.  Rule of thumbs, if you don’t miss trash it, or store it the hell away.  Seiton.  Orderly.  Organize for efficiency.  Set things in proper places for quick retrieval and storage.  Seiso.  Clean.  Everybody’s a janitor.   So if you see trash on the floor.  Pick it up.  And just don’t stop there, be clean.   Seiketsu.  Standardize a routine, a habit to maintain the first three concepts.  Shitsuke.  Discipline.  Be like Samurai warriors.  We committed to doing your job like soldiers.  Happy warriors.”
            Daryl said, “Hate to say this, but the Japanese version makes more sense.  Tidy.  Organize.  Clean.  Make it routine and be disciplined.  Don’t ask me to remember it in Japanese, but I can remember this.  Don’t ask me why, but I do.”
            “Daryl’s right,” Zen agreed.  “I understand this than that Sort stuff.”
            “Sonnie said, “Whatever works for you.  On the find TIMWOOD gig, some like to use the Japanese Muda, Mura, Muri or waste, uneven and overexertion explanation.  Three words or concepts are easier to remember and visualize.”
            “Less is more,” Poly said quietly.
            “You’d say that,” Zen smirked.
            “It’s true,” he replied back.
            “And that’s one of the big issues with process improvement.  A lot of buzzwords and concepts backed by statistical probabilities and analysis confuse the heck out of people,” I said.
            “Keep it simple stupid,” Daryl said.
            “Amen,” Zen said.
            “One more thing when you finally get to a good starting point, keep what you have and don’t get lazy.  The greatest swordsman in the world, Miyamoto Musashi, wrote in his book Book of the Five Rings coined the phrase, “hold down the pillow.”  You see, way back when, pillows were made out of ceramic.  It was hollow and if placed in a tub full of water, it would float.  Ceramic is a smooth material that when wet becomes slippery.  If a person attempts to push one of these ceramic pillows down the tub, the slippery surface would make it almost impossible to submerge.  However, if a person has his hand on the pillow before water is introduced into the tub, he could hold the pillow down with no problem, until which time he releases it.  So the moral to this story is that when you finally keep the place clean, tidy and organized, don’t get lazy and go back to your old ways.  Hold down the pillow.”
            I ended the session with the guys and asked them to put to use what they learned in the next couple of days. 
            Daryl approached him with a wide grin on his face.  “That was awesome, possum.  What’s next?”
            “I’m going home to take a nap and when I wake up, I’m going to draft up an agreement and a big fat bill.”
            “Okay, so when are you coming back?  This was a good start, but there’s so much more to fix.”
            “There’s a ton load of stuff to learn, but I can’t drop zillions of ideas all at once.  It takes time and the guys are real good so far.  Different challenges in the near future will require different techniques.  Give it some time.  It’ll be fine.”
            “This lean stuff is pretty cool.”

            The next day, I did something out of the ordinary:  I brought a dozen donuts.  Again.  When I reached the break room, I wasn’t surprised to see a box of a dozen already on the table, almost half-way expecting it.
            “Most important meal of the day,” the voice startled him.  When I turned around, I saw  Daryl, but a younger, taller and handsome version with Asian features. 
            “You must be Rocky.”
            “Guilty.”
            “Thought you were in school?”
            “Finished several weeks ago.  Done for now.  Gonna spend some quality time here at the shop.  Help out since Fernando passed away.”
            “Good, we can use you.”
            “One thing I want to tackle is the books.” 
            “It was actually on the list, on top matter of fact.”
            “Thought it would be.”
            “Tell me, did you study accounting?”
            “Absolutely.  Also worked for a health clinic and did billing for money and experience outside the machine shop business.”
            “Health care, huh?  I have experience in that.  Way more strict than what’s needed here, but a good base.  Looks like you and I will get along.  Where’s your dad?”
            “He’s sleeping in.  With you and me here, he figured that we’ll spend the day doing office work, something he dreaded and hated.  He also sucked in it.  Keeping him far away actually is the best thing.  We can get a lot done and focus on cleaning up the mess.”

Office 5 S

            Daryl as successful he was in running a business was terrible at book keeping.  It was worse than Zen's tool box and that was bad.  Daryl had this 80 gallon bin, gray, with the lid on it.  When the lid was lifted, Rocky and Daryl found it full of opened and unopened envelopes, some very old, two years, perhaps three.  It took both of them two days to sort it all out, bills, tax statements, payroll records, bid requests, engineering documents, pictures, drawings everything important that should be in folders tucked neatly away in filing cabinets that took another day to archive properly away in banker boxes.  Rocky was successful in stacking documents in the right order making it easier to reconcile what was and not in the accounting program. It took the whole afternoon to reconcile the checks written and despite the mess and Daryl's slovenly business practice, he was relatively accurate.  The 5 S allowed an opportunity to audit whereas prior to Rocky's hard work was not possible.
            Between shuffling paperwork and moving boxes, tripping over this and that, losing and misplacing, finding again and satisfied, they discussed goals, Rocky's, the company how he fit in, if he could or wanted, if the machine shop had a future, if Daryl had plan to sell, if my Lean Six Sigma or intervention helped.  Life was in part predictable and most likely Rocky would take over Four Stones Machining and Daryl and Myrna would move to Shell or Grover Beach and go fishing every day after waking up to the sounds of waves pounding the surf.
            Rocky understood the value of organization but was unexperienced, book learned in college, knowledge in theory, argued in  classes, and graded upon his ability to write or buy a good term paper, graduate without honors, but good enough to bring a diploma on the wall behind a cherry wood deck with a bronze plate with his name on it.  Despite this impressive start, it pales to match the battles and wars his father log each day, religiously, constantly for the past twenty or so years.  He loved his father what he died to help him through school, the support and encouragement, the money, the ease without struggle.  That part he wished, the struggle to survive, the experience of having the think on his feet and fight through bad decisions.  Now he placed himself in a position of power to continue a legacy and increase value to himself, the company and his father. Glad that someone with my experience, talents, skills was there to mentor him.  His father had strong skill sets outside the parameters of scientific process management, carnal, competitive, cultural and tribal, the inner core, magna, fire that pushed the limits of success.  In their talks while sorting out the company paperwork, I told him of the battle between the greatest samurai swordsmen of feudal Japan, Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro.  Story had the duel occurring in a secluded island away from witnesses, spectators, human distraction.  Musashi though a master of the two sword technique had heard of Sasaki his difficult to defend, Swallow slice utilizing an oversized specially designed made to order sword.  Musashi realized that someone who could expertly wield a longer, heavier and awkward Katana had to be someone of great skill, strength, and talent.  He knew, despite his unbeaten record that he could not defeat Sasaki. His only hope was to develop a plan, strategy, method to give him the edge and hope victory and life. The duel was to the death as with 50 or so Musashi past wins and survived in the past; not to change, deviate plans of living to be an old man.
            Sasaki spent time and energy to locate Musashi who he was told tending fields as a farmer giving up the sword and the way of life of a Samurai though writing memoires of his past, what he learned, could teach and pass on to others.  When Sasaki finally found him and formerly issued a duel, Musashi accepted but only on his terms which was to delay the match for a period of six months and held in an island hours away by boat to start at the crack of dawn.  When the day arrived, Musashi boarded and used the time to fashion a weapon from an extra oar, a wooden katana longer than Sashaki.  When they finally met with the two oarsmen as witnesses, it was predawn.  Musashi was careful to place himself on the shoreline, his feet immersed under the lapping waves of the ocean.  Sensing advantage, Sasaki dug his stance firmly on the ground and waited.  Unmoved, they waited and stared, waiting for the right time, an advantage, errant wisp of wind, heartbeat of the bird.  On schedule, the sun inched past the horizon, blanketing the waking earth, a swath of bright light spreading, a wave like a ripple on a lake.  The bright light reached warmed Musashi back and for a split second met Sasaki eyes signaling the time to strike.  As predicted Sasaki was more skillful, stronger and faster but off target by an inch, leaving a thin scratch on Musashi face and slicing a long line on his robe while receiving a blow to his rib puncturing a lung.  By the time Musashi reached the mainland, Sasaki died from his wound ending Musashi reign as a swordsman.
            What Rocky learned from this story was many but what came to mind was the plan, preparation and thought, dedication to a goal, life and death, winning with no option of losing, inches determining success and failure.


Scientific Methodology         

            After reviewing the records, I discovered orders outstanding.  When asked, Daryl had a conniption fit.  It required special ordered blanks, a composite allow consisting of hard material I never heard of, could not understand, knew was pretty unique and important, an order that wasn't placed, would take weeks to receive.  It was an important order that in the past took four to five days to produce, set up included.  The slew of orders that took the crews time were routine, ran like clockwork, slipped on, spun dried, packaged, and out the door via UPS or customer will call.  In their routine schedule, one of the machines had to be dedicated to this run which was relatively complex, Fernando the designated machinist to the job.  Though Daryl was the most experienced, Zen was the best operator.  He would be assigned the job with hopes of doing it right for the customer.
            "Shit," Daryl said.  "Hate it when this happens."
            "What do you expect?  Your filing system sucked," I chided.
            "It's fixed now," Rocked said, "and you're not allowed to mess it up, dad."
            "Fine," Daryl relented, "Hated filing anyway.  So what's the plan?"
            "First, let's get the raw material in.  It'll take what, a week or two to get in?"
            "Maybe more," Daryl said.
            "Good, we can use this time to get a head of the tame, finish early and create a buffer," I said.
            "With Fernando gone, we're lacking that extra body that could take the night shift," Daryl said.
            ""Maybe we won't need to," I countered.
            "How, pray tell?" Daryl asked.
            ""Be more efficient," I said.  "I saw that on occasion, CNC idle and not running or being maintained.  Best way is to replace rule of thumbs with a scientific process. Fred Taylor early 1900 started the movement and now we have tools to use."
            "Ok boss," Daryl smiled.  "What' the plan?"
            Rocky said he was familiar with how Scientific Methodology worked the many facets of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and control complicated and lengthy where few understand and able to make the information useful providing that the information was precise and accurate.  I told him that the concept was abused and inappropriately practiced.  Certified black belts with insecurities tend to flaunt their knowledge proof of their hard work and pseudo wisdom that I fought when explaining their trade.  He was different, wasn't one to flaunt knowledge, never an IQ higher than average, difference in dogged persistency, tenacity, and desire to complete a project, succeed and win.  That meant he worked harder, longer, tirelessly, the black belt certificate his prize, badge of honor but not flaunt smug intellectual discussion spitting out foreign sounding words leaving listeners uncomfortably quite, not impolite but unresponsive due to an inability to do so.  I was careful not to talk fast or condescending using common words to explain concepts and only turning it on when in front of certified green or black belts, still avoiding inappropriate use of terms in wrong applications.  Here the talk had the team needing to change their routine to accommodate an emergency run to meet the demands of an important on-time high paying customer.
            The plan was to complete routine runs earlier, develop a system implementing lean techniques to reduce cycle time developing a total efficient system following up with written Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs.  By having a library of SOPs handy, the company can reference them when needed instead of relying upon memory to reconstruct a plan that might take them to a totally different direction.
            The plan I suggested was to collect data or information from takt time studies that took demand units divided by time; example being 1,000 slip rings kin 24 hours; 75 bushings in 16 hours; 18 lock shoes in 8 hours, time being actual machine runs, explaining that reducing non-value added tasks shortened cycle time tremendously.  I said that Lean practitioners outlined a Value Stream Map aka Process Map that listed sequentially the steps of a job that included:  drawing review, CNC programming; tooling; chucks; job stacking raw materials; equipment maintenance and set up; trial and production run.  What I explained to the crew was that cycle time represented the period it took to run a job.  The team needed to find the quickest way to set up a machine and get it running with the least amount of passes, least amount of tool changes, and least amount of operator intervention.  Currently, the jobs were not planned, not set up for quick set up, maximized machining capabilities and operator intervention.  It was set up to run and finish when completed.  This system provided no clear time frame on how long it would take to consistently run, set up, and cost a part run.  The routine was to get the job run as quickly as possible, bill and paid, which worked well when Fernando was alive to run a machine afterhours when everyone was home having dinner.  I hoped with the changes, the shop would reach the same productive levels without overtime or extending machine times. 
            The team went to work and decided together a plan to affect the changes needed to


Continuous Improvement - Kaizen
            As a martial artist for many years, I was taught dojo kun.  “Hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto” was the first of five guiding rules of practice in Shotokan Karate, one of the major martial arts systems originating in Japan, practiced worldwide, and founded by Gichin Funakoshi.  Translated it meant:  Each person must strive for the completion of one's character.  When recited in the dojo after each class, it was shortened to “Seek perfection of character.”
            People trained martial arts for various reasons: Self-defense, health, competition in a ring or cage, self-confidence, something to be included in a resume when applying for a movie role, spiritual, the list stretched on and on.   From a pure physical and technical viewpoint, martial arts consisted of a series of movements that could be used in attacking or defending oneself in a physical encounter that usually ended up with someone hurt, maimed or killed.  Techniques were fast and economical, executed with the least amount of effort.
            To bring up the subject of dojo kun, the responsibility of this rule “Seek perfection of character” introduced the idea or culture behind training.  As students practiced and imagined being attacked, they executed a technique with the intent of returning the favor quicker, more economical and powerful, a competitive spirit that triggered a winning attitude.  Winning in martial arts had been thought of in several ways.  First it encouraged ego.  Second, it fostered a sense of pride that bordered arrogance.  Third, it became the end of a long journey of self-development and the need for continuous improvement.
            The Japanese term Kaizen translated meant “change” “see” or witness change, a term used in a scientific management, a technique called “Lean” that promoted continuous improvement through waste reduction and process and method development.  Other management techniques used in conjunction include Theory of Constraints, eMyth, Management by Objectives, and Six Sigma, each approaching different angles and positions of creating efficient and profitable workplaces.  Kaizen was a term that not only promoted continuous improvement but it represented a culture of thought that anyone could use personally.
            As a martial artist, I spent many years in a dojo; consider himself a strong fighter, excellent technician and philosophically in tune with the spirit of the art.  Several months ago, a friend and sensei I met in college now in his sixties emailed and said that he still trained with fellow martial artists that were well in their sixties and seventies.  His martial arts training of late transitioned towards the internal baguazhuang, qigong and taijiquan methods, though on occasions practiced traditional karate kata and kickboxing. I realized that physically, I could not perform as I did in his younger years being less stretched, limber and powerful; but able to practice, pushing forward, aiming for perfection not ready to say this was all there was to contribute. As a culture and way of life, like my good friend, I knew at any age, I could strive for perfection, continuous improvement, and contribute to humanity.

            “Hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto” 

            Seek perfection of character.

            It was said that perfection was unattainable; however, to strive for perfection, make it a personal mantra, the wants, needs, desires, and way of life. By the very act of seeking continuous improvement and perfection, anyone could open his or her eyes to some of the "muda" or waste horded in his personal warehouse, excesses that held us down as individuals and prevented personal gratitude and self-actualization. Even the simple concept of compassion, which was the core of all religions, was hidden behind the mass of waste called negativity, ignorance, intolerance and misguided opinions usually fostered by money and/or the lack of it. An Asian monk asked a politician, "If the concept of money did not exist, what then would be the basis of your arguments? Would then there be room for compassion in any policy?"  People were like huge container barges carrying large loads of merchandises from far off lands; however, should this destination be misguided in anyway, swift angle turns were not possible. Change was difficult, but the impossible was possible. Start by "seeing" the "change" or kaizen and then through the process of seeking perfection or moving towards continuous improvement, this large container could make a steady and safe sweep towards the right direction.

            With the challenges and the millions of variations, a journey never ended feeding more reason for kaizen and continuous improvement.  By going forward, life, nature, required the pursuit of greatness: external, internal, introspective, within the workplace, communities, home, and heart.


            “So?” Rocky looked at me.  “What next?”
            “I need to take a look at our Income Statement and Balance Sheet.”
            “How do I do that?”
            “What software program are you using to keep your books?”
            “Quckbooks Pro.”
            “Alright.  I’m familiar with it.  What’s neat in the toolbar, it has a report writer that produces both reports.  Let’s see what it prints out.”
            After taking a look at it, I found several interesting developments.  Rocky knew that the Income Statement or Profit and Loss Statement pretty much shows how much cash you have to operate with.  The balance sheet, on the other hand, shows the net worth or equity.  Both are useful tools for the right purpose.
            After a quick analysis, I told him that the company’s net worth was healthy but it was dangerously cash poor.  There wasn’t enough new business coming in to pay the bills and I told Rocky his father has to step up the marketing and sales plan.
            I asked him if he knew how his father brought in work.  He said in the past both he and Fernando solicited bids from a current client base that consisted of five primary clients and about 20 others that provided small inconsequential orders that were far and few between.  Rocky said that when his dad’s former partner passed away suddenly, his dad was not prepared for the outcome.  His depression took over and as a result did not make calls like he used to saying that he was too busy trying to run the business by himself.  Rocky didn’t think a couple of months could hurt.  The problem was that Fernando passed away about six months ago, and his dad picked up a bad habit of complacency.  Rocky said that his dad was hurt, fearful and depressed wen his partner died and could not figure out how to take over. 
            “I guess that’s why he called for my help.”
            Rocky agreed, “I’m glad you’re here.”
            “You know what?” I said.  “I think it’s time I talk to your dad.”
           
            Daryl was in his office reviewing a set of drawings stretched on his desk when I walked in.
            “Working on a bid?”
            “Too late.  Deadline’s passed.”
            “That’s no good.  No bid no business.”  I said.  “How many of these bids do you have to respond before getting an order?”
            “Five sometimes 10 before I get a bite.”
            “How many did you respond to this week?”
            “I don’t know.  Maybe two.  Or three.”
            “Bad formula for disaster.  How do you expect to get enough business if you don’t respond to all of these timely bids?
            “You know, when Fernando was here, we had this routine.”
            “And now he’s gone.”
            “Yeah.”
            “Something’s holding you back, man.  What is it?”
            The fast-talking man I knew was suddenly weary, his eyes aimed at the drawing but not looking at it.
            “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.  As long as I’ve done this, I’ve had a partner to share the day-to-day operations.  Doing this alone is over my head.  Crazy beyond my abilities.  You coming here and helping me out shows how much of a mess I am.  How am I going to do this?”
            I looked at this pathetic looking man.  What a weenie, I thought.
            “Alright.  You had your five seconds of pity.  Now let’s get to work.”
            “That’s it?  Five seconds.  You really don’t give a brother a break, now do you?”
            “Listen Daryl. I’m charging you $75 an hour.  It’s up to you how you stretch you time.”
            “Seventy-five dollars? You didn’t say you cost that much!”
            “You didn’t ask.”
            “Dang, dude.  Let’s get busy.”
            “Don’t worry.  When I get through with you, you’ll have enough money to pay me double.”

            “Well, in that case, let’s get this ball rolling!”

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