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When I turned 16, I got a job stocking shelves in a supermarket.
On day two I’m stacking cans when the PA blares: “Bags to check stand six! Bags to check stand six!” My supervisor turns to me and says “You’re up.”
So, as instructed, I go to the stock room in the back of the store with a big cart, load it with paper bags and proceed to make my way to the check stands at the very front of the store. Now, it’s 4:30 pm and the dinner rush is on. Every mother in town is there with her hungry, crying kids. The aisles are packed with shopping carts and strollers. And here I am wending my way through this obstacle course with a big cart laden with bags. “Excuse me.” “Pardon me.” “Could you move to the right please?” “Thank you.”
By the time I get to check stand six, it’s backed up like an O’Hare runway in a blizzard. No bags means no checkout. People are impatiently lined up with their carts full of groceries waiting…FOR ME! Baleful stares. Unhappy frowns. Heads shaking. Then, I realize I can’t load the bags from the back of the check stand; I can only do it from the front, which means going around ALL the check stands. That takes more long minutes. More stares. More frowns. More heads shaking.
So I finally get there and as I’m restocking the bags, head down, trying to keep a low profile, the checker says to me “You’re new, aren’t you? This happens all the time. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be doing this a lot.”
After I’m done restocking, I make my way all the way back to the storeroom through the aisles like a pinball “Excuse me.” “Pardon me.” “Could you move to the left please. Thank you.”
And I’m thinking “All the time? Doing this a lot?” That’s nuts.
The next day at 3 pm, I arrive for work and the first thing I do is go to the check stands and assess the bag situation. Low. Low. Full. Half full. Low. Full. Half full.
As I’m walking to the back of the store to the locker room to stash my jacket and get my apron, I see that the aisles are empty. It’s the afternoon lull. You could throw a bowling ball down the aisles and not hit anything. So, what do I do? I go to the storeroom and load a cart with as many bags as will fit. Then, I speed from the back to the front of the store and start restocking every check stand.
The checkers stare at me. “I didn’t call you.” “What are you doing?”
I explain my logic. They all nod approvingly. That evening, no frantic calls for bags. No runway in a blizzard. Everyone’s happy, EXCEPT my supervisor.
When I start to do the same thing the next day, he stops me mid-aisle and asks “Where are you going? I didn’t hear a call for bags.” I explain. He does NOT nod approvingly. “Restock the bags when they run out,” he says and sends me back to the store room with my load.
Every job I had in my early years was like this. See a problem. Make an improvement. Unhappy boss. “Not how we do things here.” “Not your job.” “Who gave you permission to…?” I was a maverick who was way ahead of his time.
But, then, as an industrial engineering graduate student, I found an entire collective of people like me. Even better, there were principles and techniques that made more far-reaching improvements possible. I had landed in Heaven.
Later, as I went from individual contributor to being an operations director running two factories, I learned how to drive improvement at the strategic level. And saw, by the way, plenty of bone-headed executive decisions in this regard as well but by then I had enough power and savvy to effect change and my teams accomplished more than a few process improvement miracles.
I founded the Maverick Institute to bring my process improvement skills (and Rainman-like talent for spotting waste invisible to others) to a larger and broader audience. As it was from the very beginning, my prime motivation isn’t just helping organizations become better and more efficient. For me the heart of it is freeing people from the bonds of inefficiency, so they can focus their innate talents and skills on creating and delivering more value to their customers and patients.
I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you in this blog. I’ll discuss specific principles and techniques and how to apply them. You’ll see pics and vids of great practices. And occasionally, you’ll hear me ranting about the inefficiencies and wastes that drive me nuts in everyday life, and how to improve them.
I’d also love to hear your experiences with waste and process improvement: both good and bad. Do you have a tough challenge? Scratching your head about how to tackle a gnarly problem? Email it to me at email@example.com. I’ll share it here (anonymously, of course) and tell you how to approach it.