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Carrie Van Daele


How Staying Skinny Is Like Developing a Lean Work Culture

When it comes to manpower, a starvation diet is not a healthy way to ‘get skinny’

Published: Monday, October 8, 2018 - 11:03

Karen is skinny. For almost 15 years, one of my personal goals was to join her in running three times a week. That never happened because I was skinny, too. I was able to eat as much as I wanted without gaining weight. And then, I turned 50. My clothes were not loose on me anymore, and guessing my weight gain was difficult without a scale. So I ignored it.

Losing energy and buying new clothes worried me the most because I passionately hate both. What I ate turned into fat, and that didn’t go away. “Dang it,” I thought, “I may have to rethink my diet. My metabolism is not going along with staying skinny.” In other words, my metabolic rate had slowed, it wasn’t burning calories at the same rate as my caloric intake. I had to either reduce my caloric intake, or run with Karen.

I decided to watch my portion size. I had to get familiar with standard portions to learn they are smaller than mine. For example, three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. One serving size of pasta or rice is about the size of a tennis ball. Using smaller plates forced me to eat smaller portions. I now take a doggie bag home when dining out because typical restaurant portions are way too big. I also stop when I start to feel full.

Paying attention to what I ate helped me to slow down and consider every bite. Eliminating TV or the computer while I ate made me enjoy my food more and eat less.

Another new skinny practice for me is to start my dinner with a fruit or low-calorie salad to fill me up first, and then eat my main course. Honestly, now at age 59, I’m not skinny anymore. My lean learning, however, provided me with more energy and better clothes.

How is being skinny like growing a lean work culture? I asked Andy Gargac, senior manager of production support at Nissin Brake, Ohio; and Ted Schorn, vice president of quality and technology at Enkei America, about how being skinny is like growing a lean culture.

“While cutting manpower is sometimes the result of improved efficiencies, a company that is a novice at lean may fall into the trap of being too ‘skinny’ in terms of how many associates to carry,” says Gargac, likening cutting calories to cutting people.

“Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the four pillars, or 4Ms, of manufacturing: man, machine, method, and material,” he continues. “All four of these are equally important when it comes to keeping your production lines running. Often a company may think it is making great strides in manpower reduction by cutting the direct and indirect technical associates in the name of waste, but we need to consider the all-important 4M pillar called ‘man.’”

Gargac defined ‘man’ as the people, especially engineers and technicians, who reduce cycle time, improve machines to reduce quality issues, and perform the preventive maintenance work to keep the line running. “They are the people who make the connection between customer requests, old equipment, and reduced downtime,” says Gargac.

“There are many other groups that need to be reconsidered when reviewing direct and indirect manpower elimination of positions, says Gargac. “The point is, we need to evaluate our entire operations as a collective system. We need to evaluate how every position contributes to the entirety of the system, and how these positions contribute to the bottom line. When the system is fully understood, only then should we work to reduce the manpower waste. There is a growing concern that when it comes to manpower, a starvation diet is not a healthy way to ‘get skinny.’”

Just like me learning to eat sensibly, companies need to look at manpower sensibly.

Schorn likens being skinny to eating the right food at the right time, much like a lean manufacturing operation.

“Lean at Enkei is about eliminating waste (not ‘waist’),” says Schorn. “Enkei is focused on what it calls the three basics of manufacturing: reduce the reject rate; increase the pass-through rate, and reduce the inventory level.”

Schorn explains that while his people “understand that defects and scrap are waste, they don’t always relate to inventory as wasteful.”

Schorn uses food and cooking as an analogy to defects and scrap: “If you are going to have a dinner for four adults, how much food should you buy? You need to plan your purchase so that you have enough, but making 20 steaks for four people will no doubt result in waste. If you think about it, hospitality has been frequently equated with having more than enough food for everyone. While this might make the host comfortable that he won’t run out of food, it is expensive, and the excess goes to waste. It might even encourage overeating and get somebody sick. Cooking 20 steaks takes more time, a larger grill, and more preparation than cooking six or eight would be. This, too, is wasteful.”

Schorn goes on to say, “In a similar way, in manufacturing everyone is very comfortable when there are lots of parts around. Nobody is worried about delivering product on time because we have plenty. You might even think that approach is more hospitable to our customers, and if they ask for ‘seconds,’ we can still take care of them!

“But this approach is very expensive. Making parts costs money in materials and labor, but the company gets paid back for that only when the part is sold. When parts sit they tie up cash. Warehouse space to store them costs money, too (especially if they have a long shelf life, unlike leftover food).

“But excessive inventory is also expensive because it hides problems. Machine downtime is tolerated because we have buffer stock in between operations lying around. Quality problems can be tolerated because we have inventory to cover the losses from scrap and rework. This thinking just encourages production control to start more inventory to hedge our uncertainty from an unreliable process. What would you think of a cook who bought three frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving because she wasn’t certain she could buy one and make that one edible on the first try?”

Finally, Schorn says this: “Our goal in manufacturing is to make exactly what the customer can ‘eat’ and provide it ‘hot’—i.e., on time, exactly when the customer wants to eat it. To do that, we have to be master chefs: We need to know how much of every ingredient to buy, and we make the recipe exactly right every time. We prepare ingredients ahead of time so they can be added to the dish efficiently. We follow a recipe (standard work) and make notes in our cookbook when we see opportunities for improvement in the taste or to economize the recipe. These make us smarter cooks the next time we make that dish (PDCA). A master chef makes delicious meals that customers are happy to pay premium prices for—and he keeps an efficient kitchen so that he can offer a varied menu and sustain his profits.”

My company, Van Daele & Associates, does not manufacture a product; we provide a service. Like the analogy of food and cooking, my service company, too, can experience waste, if not careful.

Most of us know that creating a lean foundation can become a strain on growth for any company to stay ahead of competition, and sometimes to even stay in business. A lean foundation at Van Daele & Associates provides economies of scale in training delivery for our clients to get a bigger bang for their buck.

In other words, my training day rate accommodates up to 25 people in the morning session and 25 people in the afternoon session to give my client cost efficiency and return-on-people investment without compromising my training methodology.

Therefore, I cap the total at 50 per day to ensure my client gets real performance changes. There should be no conflict between my cost efficiency and my service delivery.

This is how I become skinny in a lean work culture.

Special thanks to Ted Schorn and Andy Gargac for contributing to this article.


About The Author

Carrie Van Daele’s picture

Carrie Van Daele

Carrie Van Daele is president and CEO of Van Daele & Associates Inc. at www.leant3.com, featuring her Train the Trainer System for trainers and subject matter experts. Van Daele’s company was founded in 1993 as a training and development firm in the areas of leadership, train the trainer, continuous process improvements, team building, strategic planning, sales/marketing, workforce development, and general business consulting. Van Daele is the author of 50 One-Minute Tips for Trainers published by LogicalOperations.



Getting the theory right

Hi Carrie, thanks, an excellent article, well done.  The food sector does lots of things better than many others when it comes to production controls, after all, they've been at it longer than nearly everyone else, and commercially, food is a risky business.  Here in Wellington NZ, it's an urban legend that new food outlets usually get off to a great start but are closed within 18 months.  Having watched a few whose offerings appealed to my palate, the story is the same.  They open with a hiss and a roar serving up food that delights most diners.  A cuppla months later, the food isn't so good, the service likewise, and so it goes until the real estate signs regain their place the window.

It seems to me that the difference between the wannabes and the established is an understanding of the theory of survival.  Many years ago, I was wont to preach about "quality" as the ultimate saviour in ensuring business continuity over time. It's still a current theme in the smoke and mirrors world of ISO 9001, even though ISO 9001 is only about supplier evaluation, but that's another story.  One day I was preaching about "quality as essential for survival" to our very experienced and much older (he was about "our" age now, Carrie) Sales Director.  He smiled benignly, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Never forget this, Ian, only one thing solves all company problems, and that's more sales!"  And that's the key.  All of Lean, Six Sigma, Zero Defects, Baldrige, ISO 9001 etc. ad nauseam are worth doing only if they are focussed first and foremost on creating more sales revenue. Operational efficiency comes next. 

As for your dietary struggles, I've been in "need-to-lose-weight-land" most of my life, but it's only of late I've discovered why.  I think I now have the theory right to the point where I am in control for the first time in 50 years.  Dr Jason Fung is a kidney specialist from Toronto.  His book "The Obesity Code - unlocking the secrets of weight loss" lifts the lid on the misinformation and lies that have pervaded dietary advice for the last 40+ years.  He explains exactly why obesity and Type II diabetes are a modern pandemic that has emerged only over that period of time.  Just as Lean doesn't work if you don't understand the theory, neither do weight loss programmes.  I commend the book to you.  As a "QA person", I'm sure it will help you as much as it's helped me as Dr Fung offers a very simple alternative that costs nothing and has been a part of human behaviour since our ancestors lived in caves!