Picking up the Trash

If you only get to walk through a factory or warehouse for a few minutes.  What is the single best measure of how effective and efficient the operation is?  If you ask any operations executive or consultant with any degree of experience this question, they will ponder the question for a moment and most likely respond with one word:  cleanliness.

It is absolutely true.  If you have never been in a place and have to make a five minute assessment of the operation, cleanliness and orderliness is the best indicator.  Simply, an operation is not very likely to produce low quality goods and services, be laden with cost overruns, and mismanagement while looking pristine.  Actually, it is nearly impossible to do that on any sustained basis.  

This is related to an old quality perception adage often attributed to Deming.  If you settle into your seat on an airplane, flip down the tray table, and see a coffee stain on it… it is quite natural to glance out at the engines and both wonder and hope their engine maintenance is better managed than their cabin cleanliness.  Cleanliness sets the perception of how the overall enterprise is run.  It has to be part of the culture and it is not independent of quality.  It is actually subsequent to quality.

There is an old practice that many executives employ when they visit a factories or distribution centers that they are responsible for.  We will stop and pick up any scraps of paper, packing tape, pallet pieces, food wrappers, and other debris they see lying about whenever they walk the floor.  We don’t say anything or draw any attention to their action.  We do it as it was a natural act; something we would do anywhere and anytime. Their direct reports, of course, see them do this and learn the lesson.  More importantly, the hourly folks, the associates, see the “Big Boss” picking up debris and are more motivated to keep the premises clean themselves.

We refer to this as an old and a good practice because it is simple and leading by example.  Some might call this a ploy or cheap trick.  It is not.  It only works if the executive is sincere in his or her intention to set a good example.  Those that think it is a ploy are, instead, more likely to dress down their subordinates for their pig sty (freely insert obscenities for more emphasis) operations.  

Here is an interesting question to ask ourselves?  Do we still stop and pick up the debris when no one is watching?  This is a quick and probably very reliable test of our core value in this regard.



The Alibaba Group

Introduction: At the time of this writing, October 5, 2014, Alibaba has had a lot of coverage in the business media. This is primarily due to their September 18, 2014 IPO which raised a projected $21.8 Billion making it one of the largest public offerings ever in the US. (Wikipedia, Telis & Jarzemsky). Furthermore: The price gives the e-commerce company an initial market value of $168 billion, making it one of the 40 biggest public companies globally, according to S&P Capital IQ, and worth more than U.S. online- shopping giant Inc. Amazon is currently valued at $150 billion. (Telis & Jarzemsky)

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The Clear Need for Metrics

Anyone versed in Quality Management principles knows the value of a well conceived and managed system of metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to both manage the day-to-day operations and guide continuous improvement efforts. Even if an enterprise does not have a formal continuous improvement effort and no plans to implement one, setting up a system of KPIs is still a very good thing to do.

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Annals of Quality II

There is, or was, a smart phone app call FourSquare. It is, or was, used to "check-in" in to various places. Say you went to a particular restaurant. You could "check-in" there and post, from the FourSquare app, the check-in on twitter, Facebook, and FourSquare. As you checked-in, FourSquare would provide tips from others that others would post. The tips would extoll what others found special about the place you found your self at. You were encouraged by the app to leave your own tips.

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Big Data? Master Managing your own Data First

As noted, Big Data and Predictive Analytics is a hot topic today. Many large companies, especially, retailers and consumer goods companies have viable programs to take advantage of the ever increasing amounts of data streaming real time and accumulating in data bases. Combining this internal, transactional, data with outsides data feeds, or streams as they are sometimes called, provides incredible, mind boggling, amounts of data the could be used to make better decisions to optimize performance. These decisions could range from optimizing product offerings and assortments to particular customer segments to ensuring that materials and service are bought at the best prices. With the ever increasing amounts and types of data streams available, the possible applications seems endless.

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