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Do you wish upon a STAR when you have a problem?

“The problem is not that there are problems.
The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that
having problems is a problem.”

Psychiatrist and author Theodore Isaac Rubin, quoted in the Buffalo News

I ran across this quote and it really struck a chord with me. I was living in a week of problems. In manufacturing, there is always a problem. Why? Because in any complex system…

…where multiple people interact with multiple machines, tools/equipment

…and embrace imperfect systems (designed by imperfect people)

…in an effort to deliver to the customer a perfect part

…there will be a problem or two.

I recently had the privilege of a private tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center where my husband had worked. One of the things I saw was the original Mission Control where they flew all of the Apollo missions. During our discussion I was told  they drill into everyone (Astronauts and Front Control Room Operators) the STAR thought process when presented with a problem: Stop Think Analyze React. That really resonated with me as I was in the middle of writing this post. (More on STAR in a future post.)


STAR in action

Knowing that every day you will have a problem or two is key to having a successful day. You will be either getting into a problem, are currently in a problem or coming out of a problem. For those of us in manufacturing we need to:

  • Design flexibility into our systems.
  • Understand the risks and have back-up plans already in play.
  • Embrace problem solving with a vengeance. It is our best friend.
  • Mitigate potential risks. Not every problem can be solved, however every problem can be assessed for risk.
  • Figure out early if the battle wins the war, and if fighting the battle is worth the resources.
  • Celebrate all wins. Bring humor to the effort. Recharge your teams batteries. Without engaged people, there is nothing.

Be the STAR of your operations environment.

Be intentional

Organic vs. Inorganic Growth. Which is right for you?

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects, oil on canvas, 10″x20″. Used w/permission of artist.

Have you noticed all of the discussion around “organic” these days? I always chuckle when I see “organic apples” because I think to myself, of course they’re organic. (Yes, I know they are referring to how they were grown but still you have to laugh at the labeling.) A factory didn’t produce it, a tree did.

Similarly, in the business world, there are different ways to grow a business. You can grow either inorganically or organically. Inorganic growth is through the use of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&As). Organic Growth (OG) is done from the floor up. Both have goods and bads.

M&As are a means to increase capacity, obtain new products, or enter a geographical location – all just by “buying” someone else with the capacity, product, or location. It may take months or years to purchase another entity but once the ink dries, poof – you have instant “apples”.

OG does none of that. It is about investing into current operations with new equipment to expand capacity or increase quality. It is about investing in research and development that creates new products. It is about expansion into locations using the current team (and sometimes really stretching that team). It is about building on customer relations. Your “apple” will grow, just not overnight.

Organic growth ensures you control your culture and allows everyone to understand the direction and pull accordingly. While purchasing others may be considered faster in some circles, it may not always be as sustainable as organic growth. Purchasing growth means combining cultures, realigning visions and dealing with issues that weren’t uncovered before the purchase. It’s a different mindset. Not wrong, just different.

There are times where pursuing a strategy of M&A makes sense and there are times when pursuing OG makes sense. What you have to decide is how soon do you want to harvest your apples?

Be Intentional,

What’s the flap about a butterfly causing chaos?

butterflyEver since seeing the movie Jurassic Park, the theory of chaos has intrigued me. Chaos theory looks at how disruption changes events. I am sure you have heard something along the lines of, “A butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world causing a hurricane in another.” Wikipedia describes it as:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

Think about it, a SMALL change can result in a LARGE difference later. Normally, procedures and processes are designed to minimize disruption in order to drive sustainability. The processes account for the butterfly flapping. But what about when they don’t? What happens then? How do you right the ship and get through the storm?

Here are a few ideas you can use the next time that pesky butterfly flaps his wings halfway around the world and creates a storm for you:


Volunteer whenever you can
Sometimes the butterfly has flapped so hard it causes a really big storm. It is very tempting to provide a “not my job” answer when asked to help in an area outside of your normal responsibility. Here’s a radical idea, instead of waiting to be asked to help, why not offer your help? A pre-emptive “I can help” goes a long ways in fostering teamwork. If you can help – then help.

Follow through no matter how mundane the detail
Stay engaged until the last “T” is crossed and “I” is dotted. It’s the little things that can be easily over looked but not forgotten in the chaos. Forgetting to sign the paperwork or missing a part count can cause the next team to grind to a halt until the T gets crossed.  This just adds to the storm.

Create a timeline or at least a checklist (task list)
Identifying timelines allows you to prioritize by week, day or hour depending on your delivery schedule. Leaving it up “to someone else” can cause continued disruption in your organization.

Over-Communicate with your immediate and extended team
Keep everyone informed on progress, risks, and completion. Use the best means to communicate with the team which could be by phone, in-person, instant messaging, or video conference. It’s important to include those teams that are outside your normal communication loop as they may be working in-parallel with your project.

Learn from the storm
The best learning happens in the chaos. When things run smoothly, the process and procedures do the heavy lifting. It is in the storm you can learn how to

  • Manage your time
  • Manage resources – your team and others
  • Prioritize schedules and tasks
  • Ask better questions
  • Solve problems – yours and others
  • Communicate – with your team
  • Balance risk and manage its fallout

Remember what happened in the movie. They thought everything was under control until it wasn’t. Take a moment and think about how you can help “calm the storm” in your organization.

Be intentional,

Five ways to minimize disruption’s effect.


These folks take disruption seriously. (And I’m glad they do.)

One of the curses to a good running manufacturing operation is disruption. We try to plan for it, correct for it, and recover from it.  It is the thing that can go wrong, the surprise to a perfect plan, Murphy’s Law. Processes and process control are the ways strong, healthy operations acknowledge, minimize and correct for disruption.

However, it is not just the floor that deals with disruption – it is the whole enterprise that can be disrupted.  It just is not as visible, as it is “information flow” that stalls. This would be things like communication disruption, skill set disruption, and disruption due to failed assumptions. On the floor, we can see the disruption by the lack of movement of parts.  In the offices, information disruption is not so visible. What amazes me is that we fail to recognize how critical information disruption is – it usually results in disruption on the floor, just months later. We also have processes and process control for information – appreciating how this keeps us strong and healthy is key.

So how do we correct for and recover from our disruptions in the world of “information” – those things that if not addressed ultimately mean a disruption in part flow on the floor. How do we put the disruptions on the table and focus our energies as a team to ensure the disruption does not happen again? I am not talking about disruptions to your day (i.e., emails, phone calls, people stopping by), but disruption in the flow of information that passes through all of us.

  1. Realize that a small thing today may only seem like a ripple for you, however it may become a huge crack as it moves through the timeline. Learn how your disruptions effect your customer(s) downstream. Based on what is critical to your customer – take the time to communicate the incident (be open and honest) and communicate how you are pro-actively working to minimize future disruptions.
  2. Are you more busy covering up your disruptions or more busy actively finding them? If you breathe a sigh of relief that no one noticed your “information disruption”, your mindset is incorrect. Instead, let your customer know you are working on improving something – they just may help you get there faster.
  3. Really, if it can go wrong it will, really. So why do you plan for utopia? Good “idea people” have a plan, great “idea people” have a flexible plan with mitigation for disruption built in to it. Every day I ask myself “what if?” questions – how often do you?
  4. Before you leave, is there a piece of information, a communication, an execution of something in your computer systems, etc. that if you did your part today would ensure “flow” so that the next in line isn’t waiting? People are counting on you to do what you do in the computers so that they can do what they do.
  5. Know the processes that are around your information. Know the best practices for working with the information.  Knowing is a big part of minimizing information disruption.

Let’s work to stamp out disruption in our information flows.

Take a moment and ask yourself what three things you could do to lessen “information disruption” in your area of influence. Feel free to share one of those ideas below in the comments. We can all learn from each other.

kind regards,