We Must Adapt … but How?

Author: Diana Martinez, Ph.D.

Posted: June 2020

Dear Lean Six Sigma readers, I would like to start this blog with few quotes you might be familiar with:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin

“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

“With the dizzying rate of change in technology and increasing competition driven by the globalization of markets and technology, we must not only be educated, we must constantly re-educate and reinvent ourselves. We must develop our minds and continually sharpen and invest in the development of our competencies to avoid becoming obsolete.”  ~ Stephen R. Covey, from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Constant adaptability has always been essential for survival but the need for it has probably never been greater than nowadays (at least in our lifetime)! In this blog, I will focus specifically on my experience at TMAC in adapting to delivering services remotely for our customers.

Everything starts with a mindset! Would you have ever imagined leading a brainstorming session online instead of using sticky notes? Or developing a process map with a team behind your screen? Or even performing a Kaizen event online? Me neither! However, I think every crisis is accompanied with creativity. You probably heard about the French man who ran the distance of a full marathon on his tiny balcony. He was determined to accomplish it and he found no limitations to do it. The same logic applies here: Be creative, challenge yourself and think about any possibility before you say, “we need to postpone the event until we can meet in person”.

First, I would like to discuss training online. Back in March, we had scheduled our second week of Green Belt training, just when the disequilibrium started in the country due to the pandemic. We had a commitment with our customers so there was no room for us to cancel or postpone it. We were forced to transition our Green Belt training to an online modality in just a little over one week.

Our challenge was not to talk over the computer for eight or more hours straight, but instead to keep the students engaged and find alternatives to conduct all the exercises we would normally do. We needed to make sure the learning experience was not negatively affected. – Sigh! “After a storm, comes a calm.” Now that I think about it, I can say, “it was not that hard” but when you do not even know where to start, believe me, it is very stressful. Here are some of the practices we followed:

  • Number one: positivism! We wanted to put the class at ease, so showing frustration or worries was not allowed. We made sure to show up every morning with our best attitude and with a smile J.
  • Transparency – We communicated to the class that it was expected to have some “fails” or adjustments during the week, as it was something new for us. The students responded with the best collaborative spirit and understanding. It was a win-win situation. Every day we would ask for their feedback and take actions. During and at the end of the week, we kept hearing phrases such as “it was much better than expected, thank you.”
  • Technical check – you want technology to work for you but you also need to learn it. Scheduling a preliminary session for testing to ensure audio and camera work well for everyone is a must. This is true regardless of the video meeting platform you decide to use.
  • Constant breaks – We did our best to give 10-min breaks roughly at every hour. This helped to keep our students focused. In addition, we found it benefited our own eyes and legs. Tip: use an online timer to keep control of the time during breaks.
  • Dynamic online interaction – enhance participation by calling each participant’s name to respond to a question or comment about something. Ask participants to share their screen when it is time for exercises and show solutions.
  • Preparation – tons of it! You need to have a plan for everything you are going to do, practice if necessary, try in advance to see if the approach works. Have a clear description on the instructions to conduct an exercise, have templates ready, and create online notes in advance for explaining a math problem or for a key concept that requires extra explanation. Tip: use animations!
  • Huge plus: have two screens, one to handle the screen you are sharing with the participants and the other to be able to see the meeting chat and address questions or comments on time.

The following recommendations are key but are not exclusive for online events, planning; this is an essential task for any activity. This includes communication with the participants about meetings, schedule & expectations, logistics, preparation of a detailed agenda, and time allocation. Finally, I would like to add one more thing that I have found extremely beneficial when teaching – show your passion, own the topic, and attract the attention of the people by demonstrating how much you like what you teach. Believe me, they do notice it and it makes a difference and as Steve Jobs said “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Now, I would like to talk about my first online Process Mapping Kaizen event. Before the event, I had a conversation with my customer in which I was both positive and transparent. I said “I have never done this online before, but let’s give it a try” and we agreed to do it. The event was a success; I did everything I would have done if we were together in person.

The suggestions above apply for a kaizen event as well along with the basic preparation tasks (logistics, team selection, learn about the process in advance as much as you can, determine objective and scope, get data if possible and analyze it, etc.).

In terms of the schedule, I would highly recommend three things:

  1. Schedule four 4-hr sessions, two consecutive days one week and two consecutive days the following week. Of course, this would depend on the scope of activities you are planning. Just to give you an idea, this specific Kaizen consisted of a short training session on basic lean concepts, project charter development, creation of SIPOC, swimlane map, brainstorming session for improvement opportunities, ideas prioritization (benefit & effort matrix), and the development of an action item list.
  2. Schedule the sessions in the morning, for example 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. People are fresh and likely less distracted by other work responsibilities.
  3. Plan for two to three 5-minutes breaks on each session. I kept the breaks short to maximize the time and to provide continuity.

As you might be thinking right now, there are some situations where working remotely might not be an option for example, a 5S event in a warehouse; but how about doing a 5S event online for your department’s share drive in the meantime?

I would like to finish the blog with this thought:  I personally prefer to do all this in person. I do believe that there is no technology – and there will not ever be one – that could replace the human physical interaction, the vibes, the atmosphere… the feelings are simply irreplaceable. However, we must adapt…!

More about Diana Martinez, Ph.D.:

Diana is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 12+ years of experience working with dozens of companies in a variety of industries, from healthcare to government to aerospace. She has taught more than 30 LSS classes and conducted dozens of coaching sessions for Green Belts and Black Belts. She has also worked closely with many firms in applying lean best practices resulting in reduced costs, higher productivity, and a more skilled workforce. Diana has a PhD in Industrial Engineering.

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