Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

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13. Outside the Box

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          As we began our attempt to improve production at the Fairchild plant in Jakarta we were faced with a monumental communication gap. Several of the current leadership in the plant spoke good English, but very few second level workers did. These were the important hands-on personnel who did the work.

          My previous experience as a trainer/educator made me very aware of the value of the personal connection, teacher-to-student. In fact, what I wanted to capture was that inner, feel-good domain called the Affect. A quote I treasure is, “They won’t remember what you tell them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

          Here is a feel-good aha that workers will relate to.  Ask them which square is larger, red or green?  The point, of course, is they are exactly the same size.  But the surrounding lines make the green stand out, seeming larger.  So what’s the message?  Pay attention to what’s important, don’t be distracted by large fluff.  We often miss the important tasks at hand, distracted by images on our left and on our right.                            Fig. 13.1  Perspective.

          Give the workers (students) the following dots on a plain piece of paper:

Fig.  13.2

          Ask them to connect these nine dots with four straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper: Here’s what they will try…

Fig. 13.3

          Next, show them the solution, the simple solution.

Fig. 13.4

          The first time I showed this to my grandkids, they said, “That’s cheating!” They were taught to draw within the lines. We have to break the mindset that all lines must stay within the box. This is where the metaphor started, “Think outside the box!”

In my experience, this little activity connects with students of all ages. And they feel good about it.

But what’s the value here? Its up to us to examine every aspect of our workday, workplace, and work mindset to find the little things to make it all work better (smarter). Each time we consider that word “better,” substitute “smarter” to help get that added 30% from existing headcount. It’s up to us! And its up to “them.”

Now ask them to connect the nine dots with only THREE straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper!

Fig. 13.5

Lastly, how can you connect all dots with a single line? (How about a paint brush?)

          Managers at a local bank tried to speed up the traffic-flow, reducing time-to-wait for those standing in line. They found many customers hated the hurry-hurry, rather enjoying the time to visit other like-minded clients. How important is it to understand all aspects of each situation, before applying smart solutions?

Here’s one to try on the management side, those who do speak English:

Count the F’s in the following sentence:

Finished files are the result of years of scientific study and years of practice.

          Did you count three? There are six F’s, however the F in “of” sounds like a “V”, it seems to disappear and most adults will count only 3.  What’s the lesson here?

                                    Foundry
A foundry producing 350 tons of gray iron castings per month had a high rejection rate of 21%. An equally high percentage (20%) of castings (20%) was also being rejected during machining.  An early survey revealed that the operational managers weren’t aware of quality, technological improvements were slow, and manufacturing systems and procedures were not well-defined. Thus, the operational managers received training in quality management and problem-solving tools, their commitment to the quality improvement program was obtained, and they initiated quality improvement projects at the management level. These steps helped bring down the rejection rate to around 14% in a year’s time, but it remained stagnant at that rate during the next six months.

          At this point, management decided to involve workers in the quality improvement activities. A cross-level team consisting of the general manager, departmental heads, shop supervisors, inspectors, and shop-floor workers was formed. The team reviewed the foundry scrap on the shop floor daily at a set time and place. In these meetings, rejects were discussed, their causes were identified, corrective actions were planned, and responsibility for the corrective actions was assigned to various team members.
The rejection rate dropped to less than 6% in one month. Other benefits were also realized:

          Top management’s support of and involvement in quality improvement activities became evident. Employees at all levels became concerned about quality.

          The pace of identifying root causes of problems and developing the corrective actions was accelerated. Employees’ morale was boosted, and they gained confidence in their ability to achieve better performance.

          What conclusions can you draw from this case study about the difference in the early approach and that taken later? What is the most important single point that contributed to the later success? Could this approach be used in a non-manufacturing enterprise, such as a hospital?

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.