There is always the need to change, to grow, to seek higher truths, set more aggressive objectives and to realize their fulfillment. For Ptolemy, the great Egyptian astronomer, the earth was the center of the universe. But Copernicus introduced profound change by placing the sun at the center. He met a great deal of resistance and persecution as well, but suddenly everything looked different.
Newton’s explanation of physics was a clockwork model and still the basis of modern engineering. But we learned from Einstein that Newton’s model was partial and incomplete. That model was good enough to put a man on the moon but couldn’t explain the basic structure of the atom.
Until the germ theory was developed, high percentages of women and children died during childbirth and no one knew why. In battle more men died from wounds and diseases than from the major traumas on the front lines. But once the germ theory was developed, profound medical changes provided ways to understand what was happening, resulting in dramatic medical improvements and sustained life.
The need for change is nowhere more evident than in Russia, manifest during the 10 week quality course we facilitated recently at Avtoagregat, automotive parts manufacturer, in the region of Ivanovo. I’ve facilitated this course many times over the past 20 years in the United States, Asia, and more recently Russia. I’m always amazed at the renewal felt taking part in these sessions. This session was quite different.
We attacked this task on two fronts: First, technical skills (tools) necessary to compete with high quality in the global market place, and secondly, softer “teamwork” skills to help establish relationships and an environment more conducive to the successful use of these tools. The reason for this dual attack lies in part due to the difference between education and training. Training is done to improve skills, while education can change the way people think. It is not enough that workers have good skills to do their jobs. They must know when to use them and how to enlist the support of others to achieve even greater success than can be realized individually.
Today we see changes taking place in the manufacturing world. Primarily in the way today’s sophisticated customers view things. To become and to remain competitive we must continually exceed these customer expectations (customer delight instead of just satisfaction). This means:
1) delivering higher quality products
2) at lower cost
4) with a more satisfied work-force
(good, cheap, fast, happy)
Many manufacturers from the west have tried sourcing products in the former Soviet Union to address one or more of these pressing requirements. In a country as vast as Russia, with a history of suffering for a greater cause, who now in many ways are treated as a third-world country, this course was different.
We used the most important river in the country, the Volga, and built a metaphor they could embrace. This river has for centuries been the life-blood of the Russian economy.
Our task was to view a Palace of Prosperity on the other side of the river and ask how to get across. That is the manufacturing quality problem; the palace is high-quality products in great demand in the global market place.
In all of our endeavors, we found differences between where we are and where we want to be in four important ways:
1) between actual and desired quality
2) between actual and desired cost
3) between how fast we get an order to the dock or a new product to the market and the speed of our competition
4) between a happy, optimistic, excited, motivated, innovative work-force and a crew of be-draggled, whipped, burnt-out, TGIF hired-hands.
We defined differences as the problem, calling it the river; one that must be crossed to bridge the difference, to get from where we are to where we need to be. The question: what is needed to cross the river?
Rivers have four relevant dimensions; 1) Width; how large is the problem, how far are we from where we need to be? 2) Depth; how much trouble if our boat sinks before reaching the other side? What are the risks? 3) Speed; will we be too far down stream by the time we get to the other side to reduce the difference? 4) The nature of flow; are there hidden whirlpools to thwart our efforts, or white water around the bend to create havoc and chaos? Some rivers have rock bottoms that are treacherous but predictable. Others have sand bottoms where channels shift constantly.
Each dimension must be considered before selecting the method to cross any river. Since no two rivers have the same characteristics, there is no “best-skill” for all problems. We need a set of skills (tools) to deal with each problem. The failure to understand variability is one of the major problems facing industry today. The skills needed to understand and to control variability were introduced during our sessions. The participants were already quite statistically literate, but they came away with some simple but effective technical tools.
Most problems we deal with, however, have a personal dimension. That is, there is usually something about persons or personalities that affect a problem and its solution. Computers can do a great deal to simplify operational tasks, however a computer cannot give praise, recognize personal grief, or act to bring to adversaries to a win-win position in a heated debate. People rarely fail at a task because they don’t have sufficient technical skills. Failure usually comes from the inability to work with others, to take as well as to give. We found this dimension particularly relevant with our Russian audience. We addressed this important problem area with team skills covered during the sessions.
For instance, to change something, especially to remove a problem, we often have to ask someone to do something differently. People may see this as being asked to admit they have done something wrong. This was true in the Russian environment but for different reasons than we find in the west. The Russian psyche prides itself on its ability to suffer in the pursuit of its dream. That dream is quite individual, dependent upon a scheme of personal (soft) networks as the only way to achieve the dream, to get something done. An informal personal agreement is more binding than a contract. This makes everything negotiable. The source of reluctance to admit to wrong-doing lies in how will it affect posturing for advantage within the network.
The big picture, Bit-Q vs. Little-Q if you will, had to be the focus. With only the short view people often resist change even though it might make their lives easier. Team mentality is critical here to promote group working together for a higher purpose. When accepted, change becomes welcome, with each team member seeking changes to continually improve their job, their process, their system. A team paradigm is counter to the Russian mentality in this manner,
How did we do? Did the participants find success in these endeavors? We learn there are few absolutes in our world. The answer is, some did, some didn’t.
There were many diligent participants who labored through all the classes and came away with greater understandings in both technical and team skills. Others, who were caught in the “urgency of production,” were unable to spend all the time they would have liked to and came away with less that what was possible. As well, do we feel there are ways we could do it better another time?
One of the principles we stressed during the sessions was that of continual improvement. Of course we can do it better next time. It is the spirit of this fact we hope all participants went away with. We can all do our jobs better and should continually seek ways to improve what we do. We hope they continue this process that has only just begun, both in the realm of training and education.
“The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”
Clive S. Lewis