John J. Casey’s picture

By: John J. Casey

When I was a boy, my grandmother used to read me nursery rhymes to entertain me and teach me about the world. One has resonated with me for years:

"For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a nail the horse was lost
For want of a horse the warrior was lost
For want of a warrior the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a nail.

This little poem displays the heart of the five-why problem-solving method that’s used mainly in the automobile industry, especially the Japanese auto industry. Basically, five-why analysis is a fundamental approach to thinking, based on the logical linkage of elements into a cause-and-effect analysis. Look at a problem and ask yourself, “Why did this happen?” Then with each specific answer, repeat the question about five times and you will typically end up with a rather solid root cause. In the poem above, the problem was that the kingdom was lost. The series of why questions leads you through the loss of the battle due to not enough soldiers, and ultimately due to not enough nails in the hands of the blacksmiths.

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

By: Thomas R. Cutler

One of the most demanding problems lean manufacturing faces in discrete manufacturing is control of first operations, where raw material may be cut into multiple parts. First operations such as laser or CNC Punch Press processes dictate what parts are available to subsequent operations, thereby controlling much of the downstream process flow.

Building an optimal nest of parts is a complex problem. Nesting isn’t axiomatic. The ability to read an active-order file for the current demand of parts, extract the appropriate ready-to-nest parts, drawing upon parameters established to create the optimal nesting pattern, is far from axiomatic. A host of factors must be considered, from material efficiency, part priorities (today’s orders, hot parts, filler parts), setup costs, order completion, labor, and machine throughput to name a few.

jmarzola’s picture

By: jmarzola

A mortgage lender in Kansas implemented a customer relationship management (CRM) solution and experienced a 304 percent return on investment (ROI) over three years. Would a similar investment make sense for your organization? Upgrading or changing your CRM system can be a big decision, and many business leaders question the value of implementing a CRM software strategy. Every business wants improved processes, greater visibility into their sales pipeline, predictability, and increased revenue. The right strategies plus proper execution lead to greater profits. Value begins with the executives. When the major stakeholders agree on the value and communicate to their staff effectively, the true ROI of a CRM software strategy is realized. Success is always on the other side of inconvenience. Three key points of view: CEO, CFO, and CIO Usually, in small- and medium-sized businesses there are three key people involved in making a CRM software strategy decision. As they understand and agree upon the value of a CRM software strategy and take a leadership role in its implementation, the investment will benefit the organization in several important areas. CEO A well-assembled CRM software strategy addresses key chief executive concerns for benefits and costs.

Mike Thelen’s picture

By: Mike Thelen

As with any lean implementation in a traditional environment, culture change is the most difficult obstacle to success. A company can hire consultants, develop work teams, and begin lean initiatives, but if it only talks the talk, the initiative soon becomes just talk. Early in 2007, we hosted a kaizen blitz to focus on setup reduction in our newly-formed product cell. As one of numerous subsidiaries of a corporation, we were able to invite many people from beyond our four walls to participate and share knowledge. The goal was two-fold: To help us see during the event and help the participant’s sight when they returned home. We also involved the consulting firm that we have worked with over the last two years. During the first day’s activities, one consultant asked the operators of a gear-hobbing machine why the process was being done that way. After agonizing minutes of pondering and stammering, an operator admitted that it had simply “always been done that way.” Does this sound familiar? Later that day, the operator came to me and remarked that a kid probably would have wondered why he did things that way, but he never takes the time to look carefully at what he does.

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

By: Akhilesh Gulati

Since one of the pillars of lean thinking is the visual workplace, why hasn’t problem solving in the workplace been taken to the visual level?

Flowcharts are popular visual tools that can show what’s currently happening, what could be happening, or what should be happening—a great opportunity to show where there may be a disconnection between procedures and reality. A flowchart also provides a pictorial display of where problems occur and where and how proposed solutions may or may not solve the issue.

This pictorial display isn't used just in the workplace. Consider explaining the sports of baseball or American football. Just words in explanation can be a bit difficult to follow, but when paired with pictures drawn on a napkin, various positions and plays become quite obvious. Why don't we say it with pictures more often? Using pictorial displays isn’t a new approach in problem solving or process improvement. Lean and Six Sigma use pictures extensively, qualitatively (value stream mapping, fishbone diagrams, affinity diagrams) and quantitatively (pie charts, histograms, control charts, radar charts).

These tools and concepts aren’t new, and some of the more popular examples include:

Ron Kirscht’s default image

By: Ron Kirscht

Donnelly Custom Manufacturing of Alexandria, Minnesota, a short-run injection molding company, knows that proper training is vital to productivity and quality. Still, using traditional methods, training at Donnelly was taking longer than desired and employees often weren’t retaining enough of what had been taught. Donnelly was committed to continuous improvement, and the company needed more advanced training practices to help employees more fully understand their jobs, improve quality, and eliminate any turnover associated with job confusion.

Sam Wagner, job methods certified trainer at Donnelly, has this story to share about teaching Donnelly employees this method.

“One group I taught came to class in the second day with only one example for improvement rather than the two I had asked for. When asked why there wasn’t a second example, a trainee said he walked the floor from one end to the other but was unable to find a job that could be improved.

Gregory Roth II’s picture

By: Gregory Roth II

In the 1990s the theme seemed to be, “Don’t compete against your competitors, buy them and compete with yourself.” It appeared that every company was merging with another. To their stockholders, companies pitched, “We’re going to buy company XYZ and increase economy of scale for both companies and make more profit.” “We’re going to consolidate accounting, human resources, production of all sorts, etc.” We all heard the rationale. Post studies have shown that most mergers weren’t cost-effective. Many good people joined the unemployment ranks. The damage to the purchased company employees can never be corrected. In many cases, good functioning systems were dumped in favor of the buying company’s system creating grief for the employees. Many of us worked under these conditions. Does this describe some period in your career? Did you really want to work there?

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

By: Akhilesh Gulati

Remember way back when you knew Newton’s Third Law, how to do long division, how to solve quadratic equations, and the difference between mean, mode, and median? As quality professionals, we’ve probably all had to learn these basic concepts at some point in our careers. Do we remember them?

While teaching a group how to read blueprints, I realized that I could mentally calculate the least common denominator, yet I couldn’t explain it to them easily. I sought help from a teenager, and as he started explaining it to me, it all came back to me and I remembered. Why had I forgotten something so simple?

Thinking back over all of the complex calculus equations I used to solve, it also dawned on me that I hadn’t worked with these techniques since I learned them. Those skills had just vanished. We have all heard the phrase “No pain, no gain.” To that I add, “No practice, no skill.”

Skills are a perishable asset. What can organizations do to keep up their employees’ skill sets? During most training sessions, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I vaguely recall having learned some of these tools way back when, but I don’t really remember how to use them now.” What a waste of time!’s default image


In the world of marketing and branding, sticking out like a sore thumb isn’t necessarily bad, advised brand innovation specialist Chandran Dharmarajan, a co-founder of I-morph, a marketing innovation consultancy based in Singapore. Dharmarajan, who worked for more than a decade with Unilever in India and Thailand followed by a stint with Kraft Foods Asia Pacific, spoke at a seminar, “Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable”, organized by the UOB-SMU Alliance Centre of the Singapore Management University.

The seminar also featured guest speakers Ting Choon Meng, chairman and CEO of HealthSTATS International and president of the Fellowship of Inventors; and Donald Dalderup, managing director and innovation catalyst of the New Business Development Academy (NBDA).’s default image


Harley-Davidson knows how to build ownership. For decades, the motorcycle company has attracted and retained a client base that shows no signs of waning. People purchase its products without solicitation, and collectively they gladly spend millions of dollars to wear its advertising on clothes, attend national and international H.O.G. rallies, and even tattoo the Harley-Davidson logo on their bodies. As the tagline goes, Harley owners “live by it.”

For decades, Harley-Davidson has been “engineering” customer expectations, says Lou Carbone, founder and chief experience officer of Experience Engineering, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm. Carbone recently presented “Clued In: Managing Experience as the Value Proposition” to members and friends of The Emory Marketing Institute (EMI). EMI is based in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.

What Harley-Davidson gets—as do Starbucks and Disney—is that it’s selling more than motorcycles (or coffee or entertainment). “It is all about understanding the psychology of the customers,” Carbone begins, launching into an entertaining and informative spiel. “It requires getting into the minds and hearts and heads of customers,” and ultimately, discovering the clues that make them loyal, sometimes irrationally so, to a brand.

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