“More than thirty years ago I stood beside the desk of Professor Richard Rosenbloom, who taught courses in manufacturing management. In those days they called the field "production." I was a research assistant, and Professor Rosenbloom had just stood up to welcome one of his students into his office. The student, of medium height, was dressed in a dark suit and tie. He stood before the desk, bowed deeply, and handed to his professor a beautifully wrapped gift. He had completed his studies and was returning to his home in Japan.
The professor murmured thanks and then, to demonstrate his appreciation, he unwrapped the gift. It was a black fountain pen with gold trim. He sat down at his desk, took out a piece of paper, filled the pen from an ink bottle, took the pen in his hand, and began to write. The student beamed. But then he looked stunned, as we all did–the pen was not writing. Professor Rosenbloom pressed harder. The student frowned more deeply. Nothing. Professor Rosenbloom tried swirling the pen. Still, no ink flowed. Finally, in exasperation, the student reached across the desk, grabbed the pen, shook it forcefully, and said with great feeling, "Cheap Japanese pen!"
I realize now that the chuckle Professor Rosenbloom and I repressed, out of civility, came from a perception you today would not even recognize: In those faraway times, much of what then came marked "Made in Japan" was shoddy. It often would not work and was seldom expected to last.
Oh, how the world has changed. You were nice to smile at my recounting that incident because the story seems strange in the world in which you live. The words “Made in Japan” now almost mean "made with quality." But more than that, the entire world is chasing the goals of quality set by products from Asia.”
He goes on to discuss the concept of quality by quoting a Business Week article:
“As trade barriers come down, worldwide competition will turn white-hot. Only companies with the finest quality will thrive–and not because of quality alone. Two by-products of making or doing things better are almost always lower costs and higher productivity. ["The Quality Imperative: Overview," Business Week, 25 October 1991, p. 10]”
His analysis of the article follows:
“Some manufacturers have priced their product high and have tried to make you believe that a high price ensures quality. But, no, we’ve learned that it usually costs less to make a product right in the first place rather than paying the cost to catch the errors later and fix them.”
This leads into the following point:
“Now, one other thing we’ve learned is that when you make the decision to build a quality product, or give a quality service, you must make the choice early and then stick with it. Here is the way Genichi Taguchi, one of Japan’s quality masters, put it: "To improve quality, you need to look upstream in the design stage. At the customer level, it’s too late" ("A Design Master’s End Run Around Trial and Error," Business Week, p. 24).”
At this point he changes gears from production to humanity:
“But there is a paradox–and that is my message. At the very time more and more of us are choosing quality in the products and services created and used, a strange thing is happening: More and more people are making the opposite choice for their lives.”
Since this speech was from a religious University the rest of it discusses religious and moral decisions. I wanted to take it a slightly different direction at this point. I want to touch on one of the most controversial topics of our time. You guessed it. Nutrition.
Raise your virtual hands as I ask the following question. How many of you ate out at least once in the last 72 hours? Ok, keep your hands raised in your own mind. How many of those that have their virtual hands raised ate something that was fried, fatty, or salty? Hmmm. Not many hands went down, in fact, mine is still up. Ok, how many of those with their hands raised also had a soda, beer, or some other high caloric beverage with their meal? Hmmm again. Not too many hands came down. How many of those with their hands still raised have caught themselves saying, “I need to lose a few pounds?” How many of you have overpaid for some diet product believing that the high price will help you lose weight? Yep, I see a few hands still raised. How many of those left also bought an expensive gym membership and only go a couple of times a month?
Well, the questioning could go on but I think that a few of us, I’m including myself, were squirming a bit as we reflected on those questions. If being unhealthy and/or overweight is considered a defect, then I’ve got plenty of them.
Why is it that we make bad decisions that lead to health “defects” while dining out or in for that matter? Do we justify it by saying that it is faster, easier, better then building quality into our diet? Are we too busy to design out our meals? If you answered yes to one or both of the last two questions you may want to rethink your reasoning. Have you ever tried to lose the weight you put on by making decisions and being overly sedentary. I have. It is a lot tougher trying to lose it way downstream after years of neglect. Not to mention the costs associated with all the health issues that come with sustaining bad habits.
So why is it that we are unwilling to design in quality to our nutritional selection. What is holding us back from eating a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Why can’t we stop the snacking and reduce the soda intake? Why aren’t we exercising regularly?
It might not hurt to do the 5 Why’s on yourself to get to the root cause of some of the health and nutrition problems you are facing.
My wife did her degree in Dietetics and is one of those rare people that manages to figure out how to apply what she learns to her life. She looks and feels great. How does she do it? I’ve spent a lot of time in the gemba studying this and at the risk of embarrassing my wife, I’ll try and share her secret.
Whenever my wife consults someone on nutrition she tests the water to see if they are ready to make a change. (Sounds a bit like some of the stories I’ve read about the Shingujitsu when they would visit companies that say they want to learn to do Lean) Next she has them do a diet analysis. In other words she has them write down everything they eat over the course of a couple of days. (Kind of like going and seeing what is actually occuring or genchi genbutsu) She takes the diet analysis and can make recommendations based on what she immediately sees or she can dig deeper to determine what the totally calories in vs. the totally calories out equal. If more calories go in then go out it is not likely they will lose weight so she will likely recommend an increase in physical activity through exercise to increase calories out or she will recommend a decrease in caloric intake to reduce calories in. Either way it will lead to weight loss. She then recommends that they be patient and take a long-term view of the situation. Plan on losing 1-2 pounds a week. This doesn’t seem like much for most people but over the course of a year that would equal 50-100 pounds. The idea is not to get a quick fix but to change your lifestyle. (I know a few companies that have had layoffs in an attempt to get a quick fix and then just packed on the operating expenses shortly after since the fundamentals never changed)
So now we know what she tells others to do, but what does she actually do? First she reads the ads from the local grocery stores and notes what items are on sale. She then makes a weekly or monthly meal plan for dinners. (Lunch and breakfast are pretty standard and don’t change much) She takes the meal plan and creates a shopping list. She takes the list with her to the store and buys only the items on the list. The plan is modified day by day based on the supplies on hand and any last minute social engagements that may come up.
Five days out of the week she arises early and goes to the gym for an hour or so making sure she does some weight bearing exercise and at least 30 minutes of cardio. She has a bad back and bad knees thanks to her genetics so she may do some yoga during the week to improve her flexibility. With all of that she still manages a job, a social life, some light reading, and her fair share of the housework while still getting to bed at a decent hour. I like to think she is the Leanest person on the planet because she manages to root all the waste out of her life to focus on the value adding activities.
Ok, so my wife has a system that works for her. A little like Toyota has a system that works for them. You don’t need to copy my wife’s system, but it may not hurt to learn from it and improve your own system continually.
Maybe the rest of us just need to take the time to build a weekly meal plan to design in quality. We could use some heijunka to balance our intake. Maybe create a pull system where we only eat when we feel hungry. We could perform some personal TPM for our bodies by planning some time to exercise. Maybe we can create a shopping list and only buy what is on the list instead of being allured by the sugary, salty, fatty food packaging. Maybe if we did all this we won’t have as many “defects”. Maybe we can even reduce healthcare costs worldwide.
If you are like me you are probably thinking, "Maybe I’ll start tomorrow."