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Mark R. Hamel

Six Sigma

Unexpected Snow and Two Lean Lessons

How nature keeps things relevant

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 14:06

During the first winter storm this year in the Northeast, I found myself, along with hundreds of thousands of folks in the area, without power for the better part of a week. It was a long wait before the lights came on… and the heat.

Heck, they had to send the National Guard to my town, and an adjacent one, to start clearing downed trees.

The root cause of this whole mess was about a foot of snow on heavily treed land, when virtually all of the trees were still laden with their leaves. Near many trees were houses and power lines. You can guess the rest.

During the weekend leading up to the storm, the neighborhood was full of the sound of chainsaws and snow blowers. Then there was a lot of dark and cold. But we got through it.

The point here is that there is a lean lesson to learn from this experience. In fact, I think there are two related lessons.

Before the snow started flying, my youngest noted that my neighbor, Rich, was blowing the leaves and pine needles off of his driveway. Rich later shared that he wanted to avoid the messy mix of snow, leaves, and needles. At the time, I must admit, I was thinking perhaps that wasn’t a bad idea.

Well, shortly thereafter the heavy snows came. By around 3 p.m., the first tree split and hit my house—just a glancing blow, mind you. After that, it really started getting bad. The power went out and the next 12 plus hours were full of crashing tree limbs and trunks. My family and I slept, more or less, in the basement.

At sunrise, we could see the full scope of the damage. We had been absolutely hammered. It was chainsaw, shovel, and snow blower time. Fortunately, my neighbors came by and helped clear a path through my driveway. We then patrolled the neighborhood and cleared the roadway.

(Note to self: There should be a legal limit on the number of chainsaw-wielding amateurs within a 20-foot radius.)

Well, during this orgy of fuel and bar and chain oil, I recalled a figure that is within my Kaizen Event Fieldbook. This leads to:

Lesson No. 1: When the muda and the stakes are high, ditch the scalpel and carving knife. Instead, go for the chainsaw.

In other words, don’t screw around with making things elegant. If you’ve got to get the tree off of your house or clear a path in your driveway (or road), go big and go aggressive. Make it pretty later.

Too often during lean transformation efforts, folks will spend too much time, resources, and political capital trying to make things perfect. Well, perfect never happens. Get the value to flow better, as quickly as possible.

And my neighbor’s pre-snow, leaf- and pine-needle blowing? Well that, as admitted by Rich, was just plain stupid.

Lesson No. 2: Quickly understand and acknowledge the magnitude of the coming storm and take proportionate action.

How often do we give the proverbial patient the proverbial vitamins while he is on the proverbial operating room table?

Put another way, bad things happen when we are ignorant of the pending competitive challenges for our business; choose to ignore the challenges (maybe they’ll never materialize… ); or do something lame that will never sufficiently address the challenge.

Yes, there’s nothing like a little post-storm hansei (reflection).

Discuss

About The Author

Mark R. Hamel’s picture

Mark R. Hamel

Mark R. Hamel is a lean Six Sigma implementation consultant and author. He is founder of GembaTales, a blog for providing insight into the application of certain lean concepts, and co-founder of the Lean Math blog—a tool and construct for thinking to integrate lean math theories with application. His book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events (Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 2010), received a Shingo Research and Professional Publications Award. Hamel can be reached at mark@kaizenfieldbook.com.