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Yearly Archives: 2007

A Manufacturing Lean Program for Your Office and Home: The Five S Program

By Jim Edmonson

Have you ever watched someone move around their kitchen effortlessly, making meal preparation seem easy? Have you ever tried to complete a simple operation in another kitchen where every move seemed frustrating and inefficient? I have worked in some amazingly organized offices in which it was incredibly easy to get a job done and in others where it was incredibly difficult. Organization, or lack thereof, can impact our offices and kitchens in much the same way. Fortunately, manufacturing’s Five S Program will reduce the effort required to get things done in both office and kitchen. In the kitchen, you might have one place for mixing bowls while the pantry stores food supplies in an organized way. You can do the office equivalent by paying attention to the second S in Five S!

A fundamental, systematic approach for productivity, quality and safety improvement, Five S is an effective program for all types of business. The Five S program focuses on maintaining visual order, organization, cleanliness and standardization. The results you can expect from a Five S program are improved profitability, efficiency, service and safety.

The principles underlying a Five S program at first appear to be simple, obvious, common sense. And they are. We put its principals in place every day in our kitchens. But until the advent of Five S programs, many businesses failed to benefit as they ignored these basic principles.

Manufacturing and industrial plants are among the businesses that can realize the greatest benefits. However, any type of business, from a retail store, power plant or hospital to a television station, and all areas within a business, will realize benefits from implementing a Five S program.

Step 1: Sort (Clean Up)
“Sorting” means to sort through everything in each work area. Keep only what is necessary. Materials, tools, equipment and supplies that are not frequently used should be moved to a separate, common storage area. Items that are not used should be discarded.

Don’t keep things around just because they might be used someday.

Sorting is the first step in making a work area tidy. It makes it easier to find the things you need and frees up additional space.

As a result of the sorting process you will eliminate (or repair) broken equipment and tools. Obsolete maps, reports, video tapes, printers, computers and displays, just like the broken blender in the kitchen, must go.
Step 2: Set In Order (Organize)
Step two is to organize, arrange and identify everything in a work area for the most efficient and effective retrieval and return it to its proper place. Have you ever wondered where that stapler keeps disappearing to? In our kitchen, the spoons are always in the same place, so why not bring that predictability to the office?

Commonly used equipment should be readily available. Storage areas, cabinets and shelves should be properly labeled. At home in your garage, you can outline tools on your tool boards, making it easy to quickly see where each tool belongs.

In an office, provide bookshelves for frequently used manuals, books and catalogs. Label the shelves and books so that they are easy to identify and return to their proper place. Do the same for materials, supplies, equipment, easels, and other frequently used materials and equipment.

The objective in this step is the classic saying: a place for everything and everything in its place. But don’t forget the second important part of Systematic Organization—set up a system so it is easy to return each item to its proper place using good labeling and identification practices for all the equipment and materials you use.

Step 3: Sweep (Clean Regularly)
Once you have everything, from each individual work area up to your entire office, kitchen or garage sorted (cleaned up) and organized, you need to keep it that way. This requires regular cleaning, or to go along with our third S, “shining” things up.
Regular, usually daily, cleaning is needed or everything will return to the way it was. You can also think of this as inspecting. While cleaning it’s easy to also inspect the machines, tools, equipment and supplies you work with.
When done on a regular, frequent basis, cleaning and inspecting generally will not take a lot of time, and in the long run will most likely save time. With practice, it should happen naturally. My general rule is the last person to leave the office at night is assigned the inspection job. As they pass through the office turning off lights and equipment, they are to return things to their rightful spot and notice anything broken or unusual and report it.
Step 4: Standardize (Simplify)
To ensure that the first three steps in your Five S program continue to be effective, the fourth step is to simplify and standardize.

The good practices developed in steps 1 through 3 should be standardized and made easy to accomplish. Develop a work structure that will support the new practices and make them into habits. As you learn more, update and modify the standards to make the process simpler and easier.

One of the hardest steps is avoiding old work habits. It’s easy to slip back into what you’ve been doing for years. That’s what everyone is familiar with. It feels comfortable.

Any easy way to make people aware of, and remind them about the standards is to use labels, signs, posters and banners.

Step 5: Sustain
The final step is to continue training to maintain the standards.

Have a formal system for monitoring the results of your Five S program.

Don’t expect that you can clean up, get things organized and labeled, and ask people to clean and inspect their areas one day and then have everything continue to happen without any follow-up.

Think of this step as sustaining the benefits you are getting from your Five S program. The benefits include fewer work interruptions looking for or fixing something and therefore a more efficient work flow. You’ll see faster and more accurate report preparation, better presentations and meetings, and impressive visual impact for visitors.
Speaking of visual impressions, when you make your business retention calls, see if the office and production areas are practicing Five S. It can be an indication of how efficient, and therefore competitive, a company is.
Information for this article is from Industry Week Newsletter at

Attitude…It Makes all the Difference

By Dean Whittaker

How many times have you heard that it is not what happens in life, but how you react to it that matters? Life can deal us some pretty crummy cards from time to time, but our attitude can make all the difference in the outcome. Where does our attitude come from, and what shapes it? According to the authors whose books I’ve read recently, we create our attitude by the thoughts we hold in our minds. Our repetitive thoughts become habits that shape our approach toward life. We may not control the wind, but we can certainly adjust our sails to make our passage more enjoyable.

While our approach to life shapes our experience, it also significantly influences those around us. Recently, I had the pleasure of encountering a potential vendor through an email message that reflected a great attitude towards life. Her positive attitude made me look forward to working with her on a challenging project in which we are engaged. Her approach made a difficult project seem engaging and challenging rather than demanding or impossible.

I recommend three recent books to get you thinking about the mysteries of attitude. One set of authors, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Lee Hewitt, argue in their book The Power of Focus that those who focus on what they want prosper, and those who don’t, struggle. The trick is to remain focused on what you want (or, for those of us who take our good fortunes for granted, on wanting what you have). They take the pragmatic approach of creating a personal master plan to promote focus on specific areas of life–health and fitness, relationships, personal goals, financial aims, career enhancement and contributions to society. The Power of Focus also urges you to focus on your obvious talents, spending most of your time each week on what you do best while letting others do what they do best.

Rhonda Byrne, in her runaway bestseller The Secret, takes a more mystical approach to how attitude shapes events. Byrne has documented the “secret” of several successful individuals through a series of interviews that first resulted in a documentary (available on DVD), which later became a book. The Secret is that we attract what we think about. We draw to us those events and people that we hold in our minds. How many times has someone called you just as you were thinking about them? How many times have you created a parking space in front of the store where you are headed? Ask, believe and receive is Byrne’s mantra. At the risk of seeming too metaphysical, I believe that our mind shapes energy into matter. So be careful what you wish for, because you are very likely to get it.

If you need a kick-start each day to focus on improving your attitude, I would recommend The Power of Attitude by John Maxwell. His book offers a series of quotes from thoughtful people regarding their approach to life. For example, “Health, happiness and prosperity are primarily mental,” says Marian Ramsey, or “Attitude…it is our best friend or our worst enemy,” says John Maxwell. This is a great book to flip open to a page for an inspirational quote.

If a summer reading list is part of your personal development, here are a couple you can add to it. My two current books are Einstein – His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, a biography based upon a series of personal letters, and Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, a look at how mass collaboration changes everything.

Note: for the non-readers in the crowd, these books are also available on CD and through iTunes.

Farming the Field vs. Low Hanging Fruit

By Patrick McConahy

There are basically two main ways in which economic development organizations can pursue leads. One way is to look for those few companies out there that we classify as “low hanging fruit”. These companies have plans to grow immediately and rapidly develop an area. The other way to pursue leads is by “farming the field”, casting your net wide and then slowly reeling them in. Valid arguments can be made for both approaches in terms of what way is the best, but at the end of the day you cannot focus on just one and forget about the other.

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the economic development industry over the past year is the growing need to find these “low hanging fruit” leads. I suspect the reason for this is a growing level of accountability that boards are holding their economic development professionals to. This translates into the need produce results, i.e. business development, quickly. However, the more and more an organization focuses on trying to satisfy the needs of here and now, the less attention they pay to securing leads for the future. This is a very dangerous path to travel down because you are putting all of your eggs into one basket. Even if you are able to attract the lead to your area, once the deal is locked in place you have to start from scratch re-building all of your relationships with the leads you let go by the wayside.

Yes, it is important to do as much as possible to develop your area quickly, but the way you can add the most value to your organization and your community is by developing relationships with many leads all at the same time. Today’s business environment is so transient that what is true for a company one day, may not be true the next. I’ve seen it countless times, a company says they have no plans to expand or relocate, but then the next day they get a new customer and all of a sudden they need to build a new facility. That right there is why farming the field and building relationships with companies and executives over a period of time is so crucial to the viability of an economic development organization. However, it can sometimes be difficult to prove that point if you are going through a little bit of a dry-spell.

The bottom line is, when you have leads don’t take any of them for granted. No matter how cold the trail has seemed to go at least take the time to let your leads know that your still interested in them. Yes, you should hope to get great leads that want to develop right away, but you can’t count on that happening consistently. The lead development business can get mighty tricky sometimes, but at long as you don’t give up on anyone for any reason you always have a chance at success.

The Ever-Expanding Emirate

By Jami Miedema

Can you imagine living in a city whose attractions boast “The World,” the 8th World Wonder, and the tallest architectural structure on the globe? For residents in the city of Dubai, UAE, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, this is rapidly becoming a reality.

Earlier this year, the Dubai government released its Strategic Plan for the objective of cementing its city as a world-renowned center in all aspects of work and play. Already under way, this Plan aims to complete its goals by 2015. The backbone of the blueprint relies on the development of five key areas; Social Development, Infrastructure/Environment, Security/Safety, Government Excellence, and Economic Development. According to the Strategic Plan, the last area, economic development, is sustained through travel and tourism, financial and professional services, transportation and logistics, trade and storage, and construction. In Dubai, the outlook for these industries is promising, as we can see.

The travel and tourism sector is expected to flourish, especially with the creation of the three man-made Palm Islands and The World, which will house numerous luxury hotels, shopping parks, restaurants, entertainment venues, and residences. It is expected that fifty-seven hotels will be underway by 2011. To accommodate the influx of tourists, the Dubai International Airport is looking to expand its capacity to 75 million passengers by building a new terminal. This projected number is more than double the 35 million passengers presumed to pass through Dubai International Airport this year alone.

Dubai’s interest in hotels is not limited to its shores, as the Dubai Investment Group recently purchased the Essex House Hotel in New York City. Other investments include a 70% stake in the Dubai Bank and a 68% stake in Thomas Cook, an India-based travel company.

Transportation and logistics is yet another industry in which Dubai is making its name known. The city is becoming a major logistics hub for the Middle East, Africa, Southeastern Europe, and parts of Asia, due to its location on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. What’s more, DP World, a Dubai-based ports operation company, has come to operate over forty ports in every continent thanks to its $6 billion acquisition of a U.K. ports company. An expansion of the shipbuilding and maintenance industries in Dubai has also gone hand-in-hand with the ports expansion.

In addition, Dubai has become a major exchange for the trade of goods such as gold, steel, and fuel. In 2006, trade amounted to $9.8 billion and continues to grow rapidly at about 23% per year. New exchanges are set to open in the near future.

The aforementioned endeavors are just a few of the many strategies underway to propel Dubai toward meeting the main objective of its Strategic Plan. Perhaps the city’s most important investment is in the people residing there. As one of the Plan’s key areas, social development is being nurtured. The University of Dubai is building a new campus, and education at all levels will be improved by upgrading curriculums, teaching methods, and access to quality education. The government has also put in place an initiative to help the locals develop their skills and assist them in finding work. In addition, the social sector can expect to see improvements in healthcare, work environment, and cultural life.

As with any country, city, or company, Dubai’s strategies are only as effective as the leaders who implement them. Moving forward with a united vision for Dubai, the government strives for excellence by addressing reforms for efficiency, accountability, and responsiveness. Time, alone, will reveal the outcome of their master plan.

Source: Dubai eGovernment. (2007, July 17). Dubai Strategic Plan 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2007, from

Profitability: It’s About More Than Just the Bottom Line

By Patrick McConahy

Probably one of the biggest challenges a boutique firm faces is the bottom line. Salaries are typically 75 – 90% of the firm’s annual operating cost. Some clever business practices to ensure that a firm of this size stays afloat are a diversified client base, high velocity output, and a crystal clear understanding of the scope of services it offers. However, no matter how hard a boutique firm tries or how well it operates, projects can arise that simply cannot be completed without the firm losing its shirt.

How a small firm deals with these situations, however, is an entirely different story. When a project starts to head south, most people tend to feel an elevation of annoyance and malice towards the project as a whole. Many people take the stance that “this is nothing but a waste of time and money.” Continuing to work professionally and diligently can become harder because of the negative feelings associated with the project.

“Giving Information Meaning” is Whittaker Associates’ motto. While an occasional project may turn out to be financially unprofitable, as long as we have been able to learn, Whittaker Associates still considers the project beneficial. There is always something to be learned from every situation. The trick is remembering this fact when things seem to be going by the wayside. It’s often the meaning we give to a situation that can make it either unbearable or profitable.

One project comes to mind in which a miscommunication arose between us and our client. It wasn’t a giant miscommunication, but it was enough to put both parties on edge for a couple of days. In the end we worked out a solution, but it resulted in us offering a much larger scope of services without receiving added fees. I’ll admit it was a bit frustrating to continue working on the project because it seemed like such a daunting task. However, we continually looked at the project as an opportunity to learn something as opposed to a waste of time and money. By looking at the project in this positive light, we could keep working diligently and professionally until it was completed. Not only did this result in a happy client, but we’ve now added this type of project to the services we offer.

It is never a waste of time or money to take the opportunity to learn. Problems and issues you can’t control will always arise in your everyday life—things go wrong whether you’re at home or at work. What you can control is how you respond to this adversity. What view are you going to take, giving in to hopelessness or seizing the opportunity to learn? Martina Horner said, “What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.” I’m proud to say that I work at Whittaker Associates, an organization that jumps at the opportunity to learn.