For those of you who weren't able to attend the CPI Symposium at Cal State Northridge or participate in the webinar of the symposium, it was a wonderful event. Yes there were hickups throughout the proceedings, including my own presentation on an Aviation Maintenance case study, but all in all it was good. I was privileged to work closely with Bob and Kevin Fox as the three of us attempted to present a unified vision for continuous improvement.
The over-riding message, among others, of this symposium was this. Improvement in parts of the system does not typically result in improvements to the system. Or...localized improvements do not translate into system improvements. The true power of the Theory of Constraints is realized by identifying the key leverage points in the system....the system constraint and then focusing your improvement efforts there. This simple focusing act unleashes the true benefits of both Lean and Six Sigma.
I had the opportunity to speak with many of the attendees at the symposium and in particular two college students attending Cal State. Both of them were sponges, soaking up as much information as they could. One of these students was majoring in Operation's Management and near the end of the symposium he approached me and asked me a very compelling question. He asked, "Since I will be a new employee of a company, how can I take all that I learned and apply it right away?" My answer shocked him when I said, "You can't....." I explained that many of the TOC teachings are counterintuitive and that there will be significant resistance from leadership. I further explained that especially the longer term leaders have been bound by the teachings and the performance metrics associated with traditional cost accounting. Metrics like efficiency and utilization have somewhat of a stranglehold on many leaders. When he repeated, "Then what can I do?" I responded by telling him that he would probably be hired as a supervisor in his first job....responsible for perhaps a single production line. I explained that if he applied what he had learned to his scope of responsibility and demonstrated superior results, they would stand out and be scrutinized. Let the results speak for themselves.
Another message that these two students and I spoke about was the importance of true involvement of subject matter experts (SME's). The people in the trenches....the people doing the work....the people making the products or delivering the service have all the answers if you'll simply take the time to listen and act on their ideas and suggestions. With these two simple messages, two light bulbs went off and I feel certain that at least for these two passionate students, this symposium was a life-changing event. I can only hope.....