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Sunday, April 24, 2011

ISO in English

If you are in manufacturing you have heard of ISO.  For those who have heard of ISO, it's quit probable what you have heard is negative,  Redundant, excess paperwork, and a waist of time are common perceptions of ISO.  I am going to attempt to dispel these perceptions.
To understand ISO it is essential to establish it's history and purpose.
ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. ISO was founded in 1947 as an attempt to integrate several standards organizations worldwide.
Companies concerned with establishing standards for quality must insure the same standards are imposed on their raw material and component distributors. To accomplish this representatives were sent to the suppliers to audit processes and machinery and provide input for improvements.  Although somewhat costly this was reasonable since most related distributors were located in the same city. As transportation improved ,companies were able to select suppliers in other cities and states.  Quality audits visit became more difficult and less frequent. ISO became a useful alternative. When companies select distributors that subscribe to ISO they are accepting an outside organization, ISO to insure the quality they require.
The challenge for ISO was establishing standards that insure quality in diverse industries.  How do you establish one set of standards that would apply to assembling jet engines and manufacturing springs? ISO addressed this situation by establishing standards for the process not the product.
ISO requires companies to define all of their processes, in detail, establish their process for identifying customer requirements, establish their measurements of all outputs and follow specific procedures to identify and correct problems.  That is ISO in short, tell what you are going to do, make sure it happens correctly and fix it when it doesn't.  Sounds allot like continuous improvement.
So, if ISO is this simple, why all the bad publicity.  Consider this example,
You are president of the "Shoe Tying Company". Your customers are requiring that you become ISO certified. No problem.
First, define your process in writing.  You must write out the specific steps in tying shoe laces so a person with no knowledge can repeat the process.  EVERY STEP FOR EVERY SHOE FOR EVER CUSTOMER.  You take most steps for granted.  ISO requires you to document them in detail. 
Process Description for Shoe Tying
   Insure that both ends are of equal length
   Cross the two ends
   Loop the right end under the loop
   Pull both ends and tighten .....
Tighten?, How tight?  If you pull too far it will hurt and may break the laces, too loose and the shoes will not fit correctly. How do you define tight.  Tight might be considered completely different for a weight lifter in his prime and a young child,  This is the key to ISO.  Specific directions must be measurable and specific for each individual product.  This makes the task more difficult but allows you to define the quality you seek and determine if it is achieved when the operation is complete.
Now you know specifically how and what you expect the outcome to be.  ISO isn't done yet.
Your shoe tying company is going great.  You are tying the perfect shoe laces every time. Then after six months, a strings breaks.  This wasn't expected. It's a non conformity.  An NCR, Non conformity report is generated. ISO requires you to correct the problem.  A CAR, Corrective Action Report is filed.  You investigate to determine what caused this unexpected result (The Root Cause). After reviewing you find that the strings get worn and weaken after six months.  You change your procedure to replace laces after five months to eliminate this problem.  The new step in the procedure is documented.  You have improved your process.  Strings will not break in the future.  A different pair breaks a lace, another NCR. After checking it has only been three months since you changed the laces. Your new procedure, changes laces at five months before they are worn.  A CAR is started and your root cause investigation identifies these laces were not waxed like the previous ones.  Another corrective action.  You find that your customer specified un-waxed laces.  You change your procedures to replaced un-waxed laces at two months.  Now you are establishing yourself as truly the expert in your field through your continuous improvement program, ISO.
This is an oversimplification of ISO but it illustrates the benefits.  ISO is a continuous improvement program that allows you to recognize when things are not as you expected and make changes that will stay in place after initiated.  Each time you find a problem, you make your product better.  Problems are opportunities with ISO.
If ISO is so great, why are some people so reluctant to embrace it?  It takes discipline. It takes time.  For ISO to work you must be committed to continuous improvement and willing to invest the time to make it work.  The human memory is amazing.  It can store and process more information than any computer known to man.  The problem is the Mind sometimes has a mind of its own.  It becomes distracted and sometimes leaves out details.  If it's important enough to do it right, it's important enough to write it down.
Documentation is the driving force behind ISO.  People like to create and complete, they don't like documenting what they have already done.  For ISO to work it must be documented.
If a customers requires a company to become ISO certified, what insurance do they have that the supplier will follow through on the process?  Audits.  ISO requires documented internal and external audits.  To be ISO certified a company must hire a certified outside auditor annually.  The outside auditor will review the company's documentation and evaluate if they have appropriately followed the ISO process. Everything is verified.
Hopefully now, when someone brings up ISO you will know that this is a positive thing for your company.  You will know that ISO is more than a marketing tool for potential customers.  ISO is the framework for your company to continually get better at what it does, It allows the company to consistently provide the same level of quality, time after time.
I can assure you of one thing.  If your competitor embraces ISO and you do not.  Over time, their quality will surpass yours.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If a Tree Falls in the Forest....

You've heard the saying, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?"  I would like to propose the question slightly different, "If a company makes changes and doesn't tell everyone about it, did it really make a change?" It's a legitimate analogy.
Like a forest, made up of several trees, companies are made up of several people and departments. In the forest every individual tree impacts the entire forest, they share nutrients. create shadows and impact the environment they all share. Ebsco is made up of over seventy people and several departments forming an organization. By definition, an organization is a group of elements that contribute to the whole. In other words, several different departments interacting to complete one goal.
As I mentioned in my last blog, everyone at Ebsco is contributing ideas and concepts to move us to the World Class status we are pursuing. An idea is nothing more than a thought if its not implemented.  When an idea is implemented it creates change.  Like the forest, no individual or department at Ebsco stands alone. A change in any department will impact several other departments and individuals. So... If we make a change and don't tell everyone about it, did we really make a change? I can assure you things changed but did we make the change.
If we were in the forest when a tree falls, we would hear more than just the tree, the crack of the trunk, limbs snapping as they impact other trees, birds taking flight, brush and leaves rattling when the tree lands.  The tree falling would create several sounds.  It is the same in the organization.  A small change will ripple through the company. If we are iunformed about the change and understand why it happened, other departments and individuals can adjust and change in sync so we move the company in the right direction.  Change without communication is nothing more than a bunch of dead trees.
At Ebsco communication is constant. We have created several formal opportunities to share ideas and keep everyone in the loop. 
Daily announcements every morning.  Sometimes compared to the daily school lunch menu announced when we were in grade school. This gives us an opportunity to find out what events are happening that day, and celebrate personal achievements like individuals birthdays.
Department meetings each month. This is an opportunity to sit down, share ideas and talk about what is happening in each department and across the company that impacts everyone. 
Flyers posted around the shop. They're everywhere.  Who has a birthday or anniversary day with the company, upcoming events and training sessions to come.
Monthly full company luncheons.  These are fun events to share in our accomplishments.
Social media postings. The way we communicate change is also changing. Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking and Blogging.
Texting. When we had the recent blizzard, management prepared for the event. Everyone was informed ahead of time that they would receive text messages of any scheduling changes.  Cell phone numbers were gathered from all team members.  What wasn't considered was the time it would take to send over seventy text message. Many employees did not receive the message in time.  We now have a mass text message program that broadcast one text message to all employees, instantaneously.
Web page. has a wealth of information for customers and employees.  On the web page we have links to our Facebook, Twitter and Blogger sites. 
Facebook. Our Facebook page has been very popular.  We are utilizing it to share stories about employees and the company.  We have photos and videos and try to keep it fun.
Twitter.  Ebsco is Tweeting.  Short notes every day on what's happening and when we post to our other social media sites.
Blogger.  You're reading it now.  We are posting weekly to our Blogger site.  It is our intention to utilize these blogs to offer greater insight into the whys behind the whats at Ebsco. 
Communication is obviously important.  Change that isn't communicated will result in random confusion. To successfully create change with a purpose requires great communication with everyone impacted.
Going back to our forest analogy, I think their is one more consideration for it to actually make a sound.
If we were in the forest when the tree fell but had never heard a tree fall or a branch break, did it make a sound.  Without an understanding of what we are hearing it is nothing more than noise. A sound without  some reference and understanding is simply a noise. In an organization, creating change without MEANINGFUL communication still isn't meaningful change. Training creates the reference necessary for true change to happen.  If you previously heard a limb snap you will begin to understand what is happening when you hear a tree fall. 
Our commitment to training allows each of us to understand the changes when they are communicated.  To communicate to someone that the process for FAI is changing means little until they understand what FAI stands for.  Learning that processes in other departments will change means nothing unless you have a basic knowledge of those processes. Communication does not occur without shared common knowledge.
At Ebsco, as most companies we have always trained our employees well in their departments and the skills they need to perform their jobs.  The key is to expand that training beyond their daily scope to other departments and processes across the company.  For employees to maximize the benefits from changes implemented outside of their scope they must understand the entire process. We have implemented Ebsco U to address this issue.
Ebsco U is designed to present all departments and processes to every employee.  We will teach the fundamentals of our product and process beyond the scope of the individuals daily job. With the knowledge gained from Ebsco U, employees will better  understand the information passed on to them and allow them apply their individual expertise for a better outcome.
Understanding how to communicate is another key to effective change.  It has little benefit to equip your employees with the knowledge to understand the changes if those who deliver the message are unclear.  Communication is a learned skill and something that requires training and practice.
One of the primary functions of our team leads is to communicate with the teams.  We have implemented monthly meetings for our team leads.  These meeting will focus on coaching, communication and sharing ideas.  We are developing formal training programs, within Ebsco U to address these issues to our team leads.  Communication is also the primary responsibility of our managers.  We have weekly management meetings and are developing training programs for them in Ebsco U.
So back to our original question. Does a falling tree in the woods make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Scientist define sound as vibrations transmitted capable of being detected.  My answer is if no one is there to hear it, it really doesn't matter and if they don't understand what they are hearing it's just noise.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Everyone around Ebsco is probably tired of hearing me say "Baby Steps...One Million at a Time". I use the phrase often. It fits the changes taking place at Ebsco so well. 
Six months ago when Ms. Dooley, our CEO stated her vision, "Ebsco will be a world class manufacturer in five years", everyone knew that meant change.  Change of some degree is required in any organization; continuous improvement, new technology, new customer requirements.  But this is a completely different level of change.  "World Class" requires real cultural change in the organization and that's significant.
Change is a big topic in the business world and I did my research on change management. I downloaded articles and read books from the experts on change management. They all centered on getting "buy in" from the team on the changes and including them in the process.  Sounded like good advice...but as usual I took a different road.  Selling the team on the process requires management  initiates what will change and then allows the employees to be included on how it will occur.  It seems more logical to allow the "experts", the employees, to determine what needed changing.  We presented Ms. Dooley's vision to the employees and then turned them loose.  We asked them what was needed to make the journey, and did they ever respond.
The one thing I wasn't prepared for was the magnitude of ideas that pour in when you let an energized team loose.  They came from every angle and every department.  I find myself holding on for dear life on a very exciting ride.  I have to keep up.  Anything short would make them feel my commitment and excitement isn't there and I assure you it is.
My role has become coordinator for the changes. 
As "change coordinator" it is essential I take a major role in communications.  Every small change impacts several areas.  If new methods and processes are not communicated effectively to everyone involved, the changes may create new problems that weren't anticipated.  It takes EVERYONE working as a team to analyze how each change will impact their areas and make adjustments for success.
Another role of "change coordinator" is to balance enthusiasm and caution. Crawl, Walk, Run is a prudent philosophy. In today's society, it's sometimes difficult to exercise caution and keep up with the world's pace. It's easy to overlook those who advise caution when making dramatic strides.  They are often the ones never heard until it is too late.  It is important that I insure everyone's input is considered to make the journey a success. A good balance of enthusiasm and caution is the right recipe for change.
It would be much easier to focus on one department or process at a time on this journey.  The problem is that every decision touches every other area.  If it is truly a team effort; nothing stands isolated. We are systematically focusing on specific areas as we go through the process, but the domino effect touches everyone. It is a classic example of the Butterfly Effect.  One change sparks the ideas of a hundred others that all move us closer to our destination. Hence, BABY STEPS...ONE MILLION AT A TIME. 
"A million at a time". I sometimes feel like I am holding on by my fingernails, looking in four directions at once and ready to scream.  Sound familiar?  It's like a roller coaster. The same rush and excitement and yes , the same fun.  I purchased a five year ride ticket on this roller coaster but I assure you when it's over, I'm getting right back in line to ride again.
Baby Steps...A Million at a Time, the Ebsco thrill ride.

Friday, April 1, 2011


We are launching the first class at Ebsco U on Monday and I am very excited!
Ebsco U is going to be a great benefit to our team at Ebsco.
The original intent of Ebsco U was a structured training program for all new employee.  It was to consist of four units, delivered in each quarter of the new employee's first year.  The program was to go beyond their specific job training, presenting them with information on all other departments, the machinery, the process and the science of springs. As we began the project we realized that our existing employees could benefit from this also.  We also decided to add H.R. content to each session.
Looking at content and topics we realized that this was something that could progress beyond an employee's first year.  We could develop this program as continuing education with unlimited topics.
Ebsco has always been good at training our staff at their jobs, you can see that in the quality and difficulty of the springs we produce.  Ebsco U will go beyond that.  This additional training, beyond the scope of their daily jobs will allow them to understand Ebsco better as a company.  This understanding will lead to greater team work and appreciation for the company.  It will also make them better at their jobs.  A more in depth understanding of all the process' will allow them to reach new levels in their abilities.
So Yes, I'm excited. 
I will presenting the concept of Ebsco U and then I will attend the classes my self.  We had input from some of our sharpest people on this program and I'm excited about what I can learn too.  Paul Lord, our Quality Manager will do the presentation on the process and machinery. He has a reputation as a spring savant.  He's has forgotten more than most people in the industry knows. What an opportunity to learn from him.  Liz Jeter our CFO and VP of Human Resources will present the HR portion.  She has twenty years of experience and again I'm excited about what I can learn.  Liz has developed a completely new employee evaluation process focused on goal setting.  We are just rolling this out and she is using this opportunity to explain it in more detail to everyone in our first unit. 
Unit one of Ebsco U will have been presented to everyone in the company by the end of April. We have already begun on session two and plans for three and four. I'm sure we will revise, edit and improve these units as we go but we are committed to delivering them to all current employees and making them part of the training of all new employees to come.   
Our first unit will focus on departments, machinery, tools, types of springs and the evaluation process.  Many of these topics came from my experience starting at Ebsco.  In my initial weeks with the company I walked through the shop and was constantly asking what this or that machine did and how it worked.  Spring making is very complex and we have several pieces of equipment.  It was intimidating not understanding what they actually did, how they worked and why that mattered in the production of the spring. The team was very patient with me and explained everything but wouldn't it be great to make that part of everyones training.  Some employees stay in the same department they were hired in and may not be as forward as myself asking those same questions.  Some are shy and or self conscience about asking.  I think it will be surprising how many do not know what all of the machinery in other departments do. Learning what other departments do, in greater detail will help us build a stronger team through appreciation of others skills and talents.  It will also allow us all to make better springs as we understand the entire process.
Looking at the concept of Ebsco U, I am reminded of the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. Maybe Ebsco U will be a part of what takes us to the next step.  We already make great springs but everything can improve.  Continual improvement is the life blood of any business, especially manufacturing.  There are allot of ways of approaching this.  I want our efforts to focus on our employees.  New machines and process' are great and must be a part but none of it matters without great employees.  We have them at Ebsco.  I want to focus my energy on making Ebsco a better place for them.

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