Parsable Podcast

The Secret Formula for Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is the backbone of an organization’s longevity.

Without innovation and an incentive for change, the risk of collapse climbs.

But it’s not enough to implement a change — you must equip workers at all levels with the knowledge, skills, and expertise required to sustain change.

Ray Ardahji, Managing Director at MICHIANA LEAN TECH, LLC, knows this better than anyone after over 30 years of helping companies pivot and grow into new systems.

He is also passionate about employee engagement and has built reliable processes to support the crucial elements of successful transitions.

How does he do it?

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What people get wrong about Continuous improvement
  • The Formula for Change
  • Implementing and sustaining new systems/process


Are you ready to start your digital transformation journey? Request a demo today.


Check out the full episode below:

[00:00:00] Ray: My analogy here is simple. You cannot leave a bonsai tree on its own. You got to water it. You got to trim it. You got to take care of it, fertilize it, and so forth. Similar to people. You got to take care of your people. You got to train them. They make a mistake or oops. That’s okay. It’s a training development.


[00:00:24] Josh: Welcome to Conquering Chaos. The show for manufacturing leaders. In each episode, we are connecting you to the manufacturing leaders of today who are driving the innovations needed to futureproof the operations of tomorrow. If you feel like your time is spent fighting fires, trying to control the everyday chaos, this show is the show for you. My name is Josh Santo. I’ll be your host.

Hey, you all it’s Josh. Before we get into this episode, I wanted to put this into your ear. If you like the types of conversations we’re having, you’ll enjoy the content that we share through our mailing list. Go to Scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up to get more insightful content delivered directly to your inbox. Okay, onto the show. Welcome ladies and gentlemen, today, we are Conquering Chaos with continuous improvement. Our guest today is a strategic hands-on project leader with-20 plus years leading lean transformation, driving performance excellence, and maximizing ROI on supply chain and continuous improvement.

He’s honed these skills at major manufacturers like Toyota Boshoku, Denso manufacturing, Leggett & Platt Cooper tire, and a few others. He’s currently serving as the managing director and founder of Michiana Lean Tech. Which specializes in operations, excellence, business transformation, industrial engineering consulting, and lean manufacturing. Using a unique systematic approach, Michigan Lean Tech works closely with operations teams to optimize product flow, reduce footprint, and improve process reliability.

The team has helped clients with the optimization and simplification of its complex processes, systems, and organizations by developing, improving, and implementing integrated systems of people, materials, methods, and processes. He’s just recently completed the first chapter of his book. Jidoka the DNA of Toyota. Please welcome Ray Ardahji. Ray, thanks so much for being here today.

[00:02:44] Ray: Thank you so much, Josh, I appreciate your opportunity to speak to you and the audience about continuous improvement.

[00:02:51] Josh: Yes, I’m really happy to have you here. I know when we first connected, one of the things I was struck by was just how not only know you are but passionate you are about these conversations. That’s one of the things we look for in the guests that we bring on. Thank you for being here, sincerely. The first question that we typically ask people is, what’s your day-to-day look like in your role? I’d love to hear from you.

[00:03:17] Ray: Yes. Every day is for us honestly. Sometimes we get calls, emails from clients other companies looking at staffing, industrial engineering challenges, lean training. They asking us to quote or come in, do some assessment, maturity assessment, lean maturity assessment. They ask us to do data analytics. We’re proud to be strategic partners, for example, with throughput, AI. It’s a great tool where we take the data and identify constraints for companies. basically. shown the weakest link and how to improve. Throughput and output and reduce waste and maximize the processes in-house.

We’re proud to be also industrial engineering by trade. We have a great team, and while industrial engineering is about three main things for us is people materials, processes. If we optimize all those and we’ve helped clients to prioritize those, whether we use burrito or some other tools to really look at the critical view, and what’s the biggest bang for the buck for them. That’s a typical day for us.

[00:04:35] Josh: I can imagine just like you said, every day sounds a little bit different. I imagine that some of the starting point, especially, with your clients is just where are they? Then based on where they are that changes the approach that you’re going to have to take. It sounds like you probably have got a lot of different fun creative, and challenging opportunities that pop up.

[00:04:56] Ray: Yes. For example, yesterday I got two calls. One is a, I can’t disclose that client, but it’s a medical healthcare organization that does dialysis. They looking for agile lean program manager to lead five to six initiatives cost-saving initiatives. Another company locally trying to implement QS9000. We’re working on that. Another aerospace company from Europe first plant in North America in Westcoast. For example, they trying to implement another strategic partner with us is a manual tool. This is where we document tribal knowledge document, how to do things. We take videos, text work instructions, and put them in a QR code.

Anyone on anyone with the QR code can watch and see how things get done. You can retain that knowledge. Things like that every day pops up emails, calls, and we take care of business one day at a time.

[00:06:10] Josh: With the goal of being, how do we help our clients improve on whatever it is that they need to prove, right?

[00:06:17] Ray: Absolutely. Moving the needle in the right direction, do better today than yesterday and do better tomorrow than today. That’s our motto, and we keep it really close to the heart on this one.

[00:06:28] Josh: Definitely. That certainly resonates with us at Conquering Chaos, because the way that we’ve seen it, and in our experience, so much of the day is spent just fighting fires. This chaos becomes normalized over time. Sometimes it takes, it may be an individual who’s been there for a while. Maybe someone new, it may be someone outside the company who says, “What if we did it differently? How could we improve?” That’s the theme here today. Lean Six Sigma, TPM world-class manufacturing, operational excellence.

There are also internally developed initiatives that represent similar ideas and concepts. Most manufacturers recognize that there’s always room for improvement. Sometimes that purpose or the purpose of these disciplines get overlooked. Sometimes we focus too much on tools and not enough on the understanding needed to truly center ourselves around the chosen methodology. Sometimes this is probably more often than sometimes we have unrealistic expectations. This gets me to my first question for you, Ray, in your experience, what do organizations get wrong about continuous improvement?

[00:07:44] Ray: Yes. Great question, Josh, companies from my experience for the last 30-some years, we see it in different ways, different shapes. Companies tend to want quick results and at certain costs or effort. We really help companies see the big picture, the forest versus the trees and the leaves. We really encourage companies, for example, to look at why change? Why do you want to improve? What’s driving this benefit. We help them. We leverage a PDCA model plan, check, act, but also try to see the gap. What are you trying to improve? What are your pain points?

A lot of times we interview executives and management, and we get different each one of them, the person they give us different feedback. At the end of the day, we say, “Show us the numbers, your financials let’s talk the numbers.” We validate some of this feedback we’re getting. It’s very hard. We really like organic and continuous improvement. We like it organic within the company. For example, again, I’d like to share, we come in and train companies with certain tools. Let’s say it’s value stream mapping. We do that. We show the first view. We show time, the pool, all the processes.

We show the non-value add and all the constraints in the map and opportunities, current state, future state, ideal state. However, what we like to do, is not just show them the tool, how to do it, but we do it on the floor with them, and that’s a key. We pass it on to them, and then we do it together. They own the own doing the next value stream, the next factory. Some companies get it wrong in continuous improvement is they ask consultants to do it all by themselves. There is no ownership, and there is no sustainability. That’s a key we think we should consider, let the teams themselves do it by themselves. We watch over their shoulder, helping them, guiding them, coaching them, mentoring them to really get to the next stage, the future whether or ideal.

[00:10:10] Josh: I think those are some interesting points, and I want to dig into a few of those things. One of the first things you said was this idea of focusing on quick results and rather where you see people really needing to make an effort is focusing on why there’s that change, what needs to happen, what’s the benefit? You talked about interviewing different stakeholders on their perspectives, and then looking at the actual KPIs, metrics, financials to understand, “Okay, what’s the data saying about what needs to change?”

You also brought up the pain points. There’s a lot going on there in order to really get into what is the problem to solve and the impact that it has? Do you have any best practices when it comes to, here’s how to identify what needs to change, and here’s how to prove that you made an impact with that change?

[00:11:09] Ray: The most important thing is the baseline. We pride ourselves in standard work, but if there is no standard, there’s no kaizen and improvement. What you’d like to do is put a line in the sand and say, “On that day, when we came in, show us the numbers, the current state where we’re at. Whether it’s turnovers, metrics, KPIs, turnover, safety, accident, incident rate, recordable.” We look at quality, scrap rework, rejects, any recalls if it’s a medical device definitely regulated. For any of the waste and the change management, we look at many engineering changes, product launches, what methodology they use.

There is really a toolset of tools we use to gauge it. When we set that bar, then we start identifying the critical few, the few issues, for example, let’s talk about employee turnover.

For example, one company, keeps hiring, they’re saying, “We need people,” but one thing we noticed is that people leaving. The turnover was high so there is a hole in the bucket. You’re hiring a lot of people but your employees are leaving and why? We need to understand and we did the survey, and so forth. One of the things that came up is recognition. Then this is great because now how easy is it to recognize employees for their effort.

Whether one of the day, one of the week, one of the month, parking lots, packed lunches, pizzas, and doughnuts? Really you need to motivate people, recognize them, go on the floor and understand and do the game by understanding them and get that pain point and listen to those guys. One of the things is really standard work is people do what you say, say what do you do basically. We hope for leadership to go on the floor, engage in a systematic way, and keep that channel open. What’s going on, how can I help you?

A lot of times we hear from employees is they complain. “I don’t have the tools, I don’t know how to do my job,” or some other feedback. Well, leaders need to understand that, and they need to help these employees. We’re responsible for them to be very successful. We need to give them the tools, the training they need, and then follow up on how things are going and what do you need for me to make you successful? Every day.

[00:13:55] Josh: What you called out ties back to another idea that you said when you first started speaking about what people get wrong is this idea when you partner with people, you’re not just presenting them with tools but you’re training them on the tools. You’re right there with them implementing and using the tools and then you slowly start to step back as they build the habit and the experience in the expertise using the tools.

I think it’s safe to say that, especially with continuous improvement or lean or whatever methodology, you can’t just implement it and you’re done. You can’t just say, “We’ve got standard work,” or “We do 5S.” There’s more to it. Talk to us a little bit about that idea of how do you go from it being a tool to it being the way that you work?

[00:14:50] Ray: What we try to do is we’re big on layer process audit, and it’s a systematic way. Basically, it’s a checklist, 10 questions, 10 minutes and we go on the floor and pick safety, quality, processed items, and we have some randomization in it. It’s a tool, it’s a checklist, it’s on a paper clipboard, but now we use it on app. To do that, when we move that needle to sustain it so we don’t have any regression or rolling back and so to speak, we do with these tools. We teach up the managers and operators and different levels of the organization to really do the layers that they work. Now we call it ELPA for Electronic Layer Process Audit.

It’s really neat, you have a dashboard, you have visibility everywhere in the organization. They see who’s doing it, who’s passing it, who’s behind. You get all these activities, and then if something fails you got to notice if it’s safety quality, you get notified to the right people. What we try to do is take the opportunities. It’s okay to miss something or not. We’re not perfect, and there is no perfect plan, there is always set back, there are always challenges, you just have to work through and mitigate them and keep moving the needle.

Another opportunity is we like to huddle with employees regularly. We ask a small group of people to come in from different departments cross-functionally with different shifts. We have a listening point saying, “Hey, how are things going, and what we can do to help you take the feedback and engage?” Let the managers also do that. Instead of one-on-one, we also encourage the skip level. Really the managers and the lower level they’re talking in, and they’re understanding all that’s going on the floor because we’re busy every day. Nobody’s having attention to communicate or listen in or gauge what’s going on truly on the floor. Sometimes we miss that detail and we’d like to keep it very healthy and lively.

[00:16:59] Josh: Part of what you’re calling out is prioritizing the people of really focusing on what does it take to enable this individual who needs to perform the task. What’s going to help reduce the burden of the process? You mentioned digital tools, I’ve certainly seen the impact of that is how you can get rid of some of these inefficiencies that we take for granted which ultimately alleviates some of the responsibilities of people. Really driving that connection between the individuals who are working on the line or the mechanics who are performing the changeovers or responding to the unplanned downtime, and the leadership levels as well.

How do you promote those good relationships, make sure people are on the same page as to what’s going on with this individual? What are they struggling with their work? How can I as a leader help empower these individuals? Ultimately, the theme that I’m picking up on is this culture of prioritizing the people and really set them up for success.

[00:18:06] Ray: Success. Absolutely. One of the things if I may add, Josh, is people are smart. They have families, they have responsibilities, they have budgets, they have a lot of things going on. We really need to empower the people, give them the tools, give them the training, show them how and let them really embrace the change and go back. It’s no difference back working with Japanese companies, the bonsai tree. My analogy here is simple. You cannot leave a bonsai tree on its own. You got to water it, you got to trim it, you got to take care of it, fertilize it, and so forth.

Similar to people. You got to take care of your people, you got to train them, they make a mistake or oops, that’s okay. It’s the training, development. You need to really work with them and embrace them and then recognize them. Pay them for skills. For example, one of the things we drive is cross-training with the people, the labor force being scarce, skilled trade, and so forth. Cross-training is having one person know more than one job, multiple jobs the one before, the one after. Is very powerful, and guess what, we encourage our clients to pay for performance, pay for skills.

What we’re saying is, if you know more than one skill you should earn an extra dollar, for example, on our because one job, two jobs, three jobs. People feel very valuable, and they reward them accordingly because now they know more jobs, they can do more. The company when they lose somebody or someone’s sick, it doesn’t lose productivity has a negative impact on them.

[00:19:48] Josh: Yes. These things that you’re calling out sound so obvious, they sound like what people would refer to as common sense. However, as you mentioned, there are troubles in the workforce, right? There are a lot of factors impacting it but you brought up the example of one of your clients, and really the first way that you tried to address the problem of turnover was with recognition. You saw the impact of providing different ways of recognizing and rewarding individuals. I think that that makes total sense but it gets overlooked, things get in the way, it doesn’t become a priority. Production is the priority, or getting the machine back up and running is the priority.

Really, I think you’re describing this different perspective of like, “You have to put your people first at all times, and the people will put their job first.” Which will be if I’m an operator on the line, I got to put production first, I got to address these unplanned stoppages. If I’m the mechanic, I got to get this machine up and running, or I got to complete this plan maintenance. By empowering people to do their jobs, you’re having that impact on production.

I think a little bit of priority has gotten lost whether or not it’s conceptually in the practical application. This brings me to this idea that we discussed in our pre-call. Continuous improvement is a good thing and no one disagrees with that but not everyone supports continuous improvement initiatives for a variety of reasons. What is your experience causes resistance to continuous improvement initiatives?

[00:21:26] Ray: Good question again, Josh. One we hear all the time is, “We’re going to do Lean and we want to reduce costs.” The first thing it comes out is labor, we need to reduce labor. To us, Lean and job elimination reduction, don’t go together to us, honestly but we would like to grow the company. If we have excess labor, or when we do Lean and reduce waste, and so forth, we really train them in kaizen and do other events to really going to look for the next goldmine. We really discourage companies and put it upfront and center. When you’re doing Lean continuous improvement, please do not make Lean and job elimination or cuts or job cut.

Because the people morale will go down, and eventually, they won’t make any suggested improvements to you. It’s very detrimental to the employee base when somehow you outline Lean and job and cost reduction by eliminating jobs. Say, listen, let’s say we save you potentially 10 people, well, there are other processes you’re sending outside, outsource. Why can we bring them to the source? Or get a new business, expand growth, internal growth, organic, look for another joint opportunity? Train these keys in kaizen and then they go to different places so they know the tools and everything.

Coss-train everybody so you have these 10 people extra, they can be cross-trained, they can help people when they go on vacation, they can help you with the Lean transformation, and so forth. They are an asset and is an indisposable asset.

[00:23:24] Josh: That’s a great call out because if someone builds a pattern of recognition that when we try to improve, what we really mean is we’re going to try to get rid of workers. You’re going to find a ton of resistance that’s going to take morale, people aren’t going to want to work for you. That’s already a problem right here right now, you don’t want to make that worse. The idea that you brought up is the goal of continuous improvement of your initiative should not be job reduction. The goal and let’s back to your earlier point-of-focus on the why, the goal is operational excellence, right?

Instead of saying, “Okay, you know we eliminated these non-value-added activities, we’ve streamlined these processes. We no longer need two people on the line, one person can manage the line now,” or whatever the example is. Don’t get rid of that individual find the next opportunity to optimize. Empower them to be the ones that then help you bring about the next set of changes to get closer to that goal of operational excellence. I think that’s such a critical point that you brought up.

[00:24:37] Ray: Thank you. Josh, one other core competency that we really promote to companies is problem-solving. Peeling the onion, so to speak, and giving them the tools to the people. Whether it’s 7 QC Tools or some other tools, give them the toolset, tool bag, whatever, and then they solve problems on their own and ask the right questions. We really mentor coach the people, managers to ask the right questions. When a red light, you walk by it on the floor, and the red light machine stops and says, “Why it’s red? Why it’s down?” “Oh, the tool broke.” “Well, why did it break?” “Well, there was no coolant enough. It was overheating.” “Why it was overheating? Why the coolant was not stopped?”

You’re asking him all these questions so next time, it’s already too late on this one but the next opportunity is how to do it better. How can we put those fixture nozzles coolant on the endmill to cool it so we don’t have this problem again? A lot of this is engaging the workforce and asking the right questions. Within five seconds, we ask managers, “If you’re on the floor, you got five seconds to really have the opportunity to judge okay, not okay. We don’t need a lot of time but we need you when you see it red, stop and ask why.” Asking why is very important. These people when you start asking engaging them, know they care, and automatically, you see a paradigm shift on the floor.

Now saying, “Oh, my boss is curious about this, I got to do it better next time. I got to do this, I got to do that,” that’s important. When you walk and you see red lights, and you don’t stop by and ask questions, status quo, and continue on every day, and that’s not the Lean approach we take with our continuous improvement.

[00:26:30] Josh: Yes, you want everyone to be an owner or have that sense of ownership where if they see something, they say something. They may not be the person who can fix it but you need that ownership of- it’s very similar to what we had Jamie Flinchbaugh on the podcast talking about his new book, People Solve Problems. That’s one of the concepts that he brought up is how the right priority on problem-solving skills and techniques and best practices, can drive a lot of improvements. What you said reminded me of I have been fortunate enough to have some great leaders in my life. There’s one individual who preached this idea, I don’t think he came up with it but he introduced me to it.

Which is your thinking informs your actions, your actions, form your environment, your environment influences your thinking, and it becomes a circle. What you’re describing is you want people to start with that thinking and take that action. By taking that action, that starts to change the environment. You need the manager to promote that idea so putting it out there, “Hey, next time you see a problem, prioritize it” “Okay,” now they’re thinking about it, they’ve taken action, the environment improves, and how it becomes a change. It’s such a great concept but change is hard, right?

[00:27:48] Ray: It is hard. Although change around us, the weather changes every day, everything changes, things happening but in a business and so forth, we need to really embrace it. Please mind you, Josh, the rate of change. You don’t move all the needles, your critical few. What do you need to change? What you’re transforming, whether it’s quality, safety, and so forth? Do not move everything at the same time change, you create chaos, and then hopefully, you manage well with it but not a lot of companies do well with it.

You need a critical few, pick and choose your fights, your changes, your initiative, and the critical few, and start working with the teams. Do one at a time and then move on to the next one but be careful of that.


[00:28:42] Prompt: Hey, we’re going to take a real quick break to hear from our sponsors. Stay tuned for more Conquering Chaos.

[00:28:48] Rob: Hey, listeners, it’s Rob. I’m one of the producers on Conquering Chaos. I’m right here with you for every episode, working behind the scenes to make sure everything is just right for your listening experience. Whether you’re a new listener, binging content to help you conquer the everyday chaos, or a dedicated fan tuning in for each new episode, there’s one thing to always keep in mind. Information is useless unless you use it. Obvious right? It’s so easy to learn, forget, and then miss out on the opportunity to make real improvements to day-to-day activities.

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As a result, you can’t respond quickly to problems. You struggle to standardize the completion of critical tasks, and you miss out on new continuous improvement opportunities. Possible is proven to help across a number of different functions, including autonomous maintenance, line changeovers, in-process quality checks, and more. Which has helped industry-leading manufacturers reduce unplanned downtime, increase OEE, improve throughput, and more. See for yourself how easy it is to bring a connected digital experience to your frontline workers by using possible risk-free for 30 days. Check the show notes for the link. All right back to the show.


[00:30:54] Josh: It’s an oxymoron we’re talking about continuous improvement, and we’re also talking about how no one wants to change but to improve is to change. How can you be an organization that practices continuously improve it if you don’t change? It’s because look it’s natural for people and organizations to resist change but, Ray, like what you just called out the constant all around us is change. How do we drive change and overcome resistance? What I want to really ask you about, Ray is the formula that you have mapped out for this topic. Talk to us about-

[00:31:37] Ray: Absolutely. I was going there with you. This formula came from my Lean sigma which is we talk about the Y function of X it’s output model. We really try to understand the access, the variables that give you the Y. Of course we want to optimize Y the maximum of Y the output for a company. Being for the last 30 years involved with so many transformations, and a lot of transformation initiatives fail, 75% fail. Lessons learned from so many. I came up with this paper, and I came up basically the formula and its eight factors.

Basically, we talk about urgency, sponsorship, the executive suite, the vision of the company, communication so critical, change management, and the skills the operators need to be successful. The incentives. The incentive to me is how do you motivate people to change. Not just doing their day-to-day job but because now you’re asking them to go beyond what they do every day. You want to go to a different situation or a condition. I think we should add a very well-looped machine. The incentive is like the oil, making it lubricate and go smoother. The action plan is a bias for action.

What you’re going to do what, by who, by when is very important to have a lean PMO role where you really have somebody following up crossing Ts, dotted Is to make sure happening. Resources. Who’s going to do this and who’s the leaders and who’s the organization, who’s the team, and really identify the roles and people. If you don’t you have to do all those eights to be successful. For example, urgency, I can take you back and this is really all about the burning platform. I don’t know if you remember Nokia CEO when he wrote a letter to the employees about the burning platform. Do you remember that, Josh?

[00:33:46] Josh: I don’t. No, tell me about it.

[00:33:47] Ray: Interesting. In the North Sea, there was an oil rig and an employee, a person woke up and it was an explosion and then fire on the burning platform. What happened is these people were faced with either jumping 30 meters into the water, icy water, or dying, really burning on the rig. The burning platform, and Steven Elope, I think he’s Microsoft now but when he was at Nokia, send a memo to the employee saying, “We have a burning platform in our technology and cell phones.” It’s interesting to take an analogy to create a sense of urgency when we said, what’s the burning platform, why change?

Can you articulate and concisely, tell the people why we need change because of quality, because of safety, because of customers whatever the driving force behind this change, make sure you articulate and explain it and make it simple to the people so they understand, and they jump on your bandwagon. Tell them the consequence., “If we don’t do this, we’re going to lose this, that whatever.” Always improve on that. That’s a real example I showed you just one area of urgency, the burning platform. Every organization needs to do that homework first. Why do we need to change and what’s the outcome, what’s a benefit, and what are the risks, if we don’t?

[00:35:22] Josh: This is back to the point that you started at, which is the why. You put it so well, why is the status quo no longer acceptable? It has to come down as dramatic as the sound is the end of the company if we don’t do something about it. This leads to the decline, we will lose, if we lose, we will no longer be a company. If we’re not a company, no one has jobs. There are no operations. This impacts the community. Urgency is not to be dramatic. It has to surround life and death for the company.

[00:36:01] Ray: Great point, Josh, if I may interrupt.

[00:36:04] Josh: Of course.

[00:36:04] Ray: I’m a religious guy. I say it in a different way. Imagine this is your last prayer right now. What kind of prayer would you do with God before you go? Wow. Imagine a big NFL coach, and I’m big on football and teams and stuff but let’s talk about NFL. A coach once said to his team, “Okay, guys, who wants to die? Raise your hand.” Nobody raised their hand. You may have heard this one. Nobody raised their hand. He asks again, “Guys who wants to die?” Nobody raised their hand. Then he asks the other question who wants to go to heaven?

Everybody raised their hand but you cannot go to heaven. [laugh] You got to die. That’s interesting. There’s pain, there is effort, there is something to gain that nothing is free and you got to put the effort and stuff. We really tell people, you need to articulate this point very well to move the needle in the right direction, and have the people jump on the bandwagon with you.

[00:37:14] Josh: Absolutely. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with different individuals in manufacturing who have been interested in moving to a paperless operation. In connecting their workers to different systems so they can seamlessly push and pull data to it so that they can alleviate a lot of, for lack of a better word, non-value-added activities. It starts with this idea of like, “Well, I have this thing that’s a little bit annoying but you have to get to that. Why is it no longer acceptable to do the thing that we’ve been doing for all these years, this way?

Without that, a project isn’t starting out on the right foot.” I love this next idea of sponsorship because I’ve certainly seen projects with good, clear business value fail because they haven’t had the backing that’s needed at the leadership levels. Can you talk to us about sponsorship?

[00:38:12] Ray: The executive suites. Really that’s going to come from before, walk the talk. The executives not just saying we’re going to do this but they need to go on the floor engage. For example, I would like them in our kaizen events when we do weekly events workshops on the floor. I’d like to see the executives, the end of the day we have a call in or onsite or at the floor, they show up. They stick their heads and come in on the floor and see what we’ve done for the day. That’s very important to show the teams that it’s important what they’re doing and I am with you. I want to listen to what you’ve done today, what you’re doing tomorrow.

We do it every day, and then on Friday, we have a wrap-up. I encourage the management to go on the floor and show the people their presence and engage them in meetings, in conversation on the floor, the work, or the daily management STDC review. They ask the right questions and they don’t belong in the office. Listen, we encourage these guys, you need to spend some time. We understand you got time calls and stuff but you cannot spend 8, 10 hours in your office. You need to get on the floor.

That’s what we do in the layer process audit. The L-3 is the planning director manager and then managers, L-2s, and L-1 is a supervisor of team leaders. We really like to do cross-functional and at all levels to be on the floor systematic way and updating and watching. Maybe taking a picture, whether you’re doing ELPA on the phone and recognizing the people. When you see something ask, raise your hand, and so forth. Look in the trash hopper, the scrap look at why we have so much scrap ask the question what’s going on. What’s the fall off on this?

Why we’re having so much overtime on this process for the last- overtime and mandatory overtime, for example, or stuff, what can we do to help you? Can we move some operations, some machines reprogramming, and so forth. We would like those leaders to really not just give us the money, the budget to do this, but actually, be there with us hand-in-hand with all operators, be visible.

[00:40:22] Josh: At the end of the day, that sponsorship, what that’s telling everyone in the organization is that “This is something that matters and we’re doing it.” A lot of times I’ve coached people on this idea that when you’re not in the room, because you could care about something passionately, and you know that it’s of change because if it doesn’t change, it’s going to impact the company. If you don’t have someone who’s reinforcing that message when you’re not in the room to your leadership.

[00:40:52] Ray: Yes.

[00:40:53] Josh: It’s going to kill your project.

[00:40:55] Ray: All right. Excellent.

[00:40:57] Josh: We’re not going to I don’t think we’ll get through all the eight factors for I do want to talk about a few more. The next one I’d like to dig into is communications. Talk to us about communications and the importance of it.

[00:41:10] Ray: Yes. Communication is the key. Speak the language, walk the talk, and so forth. Really the vision, mission, and purpose and why we’re doing this. It’s very important. If we don’t and explain also, change management is important. How do you communicate by emails, by a monthly huddle with the teams, have a plant meeting, and tell them where we are at, where we going and the wins and not-so-great wins, and improvements we need help with. Make the teams present the information themselves, and let them own it. That’s why we do. Typically we ask, “Here are the updates and we ask the team to update it, talk about it and share with us. They own it and it’s organic, and it’s much easier.

We don’t have somebody else reporting the problem to some other departments. One of the things we really encourage is constant communication. If we’re doing the layout change, for example, I’ll tell you this is interesting. I have almost a beef silhouette, and I put it on the floor. By 4:00 AM, man, machine, material, methods, and so forth. I tell people, “We’re going to change the layout. Please give us the input on that. What’s your beef?” We give them post-it notes and they really post on the areas of the concerns they have. As a manager myself and the teams doing the change, we respond to each post-it note and provide it.

It’s all visible on the floor saying, “We’re going to do the layout.” Let’s say from a linear to a U shape. There are pros and cons. We’re doing line bouncing and so forth. We asked the people for feedback if we didn’t get it in a meeting or some other, but we leave it to everyone to tell them, “Here’s the change happening. Give us your feedback. We’re listening to you,” and then respond within 48 hours. It’s very important to step to listen to the people and so forth. Communication, if you’re ineffective with it, you’re going to lose that battle pretty quick, and you’re going to miss a lot of fans.

It’s a very important constant. We really like consistent communication. Every Monday morning, you send an email or you update your website on the status of the change, the initiative, that’s great. You need to keep doing it, whether it’s a monthly management meeting huddle. Be consistent and be repetitive because that’s standard work and that gets you really ahead.

[00:43:44] Josh: I love what’s your beef. I encourage everyone if you take nothing else away, then what’s your beef approach to communications with the diagram of the cow, split up the way that Ray described, I love that. What’s your beef? Everyone takes away, like pause right now, go implement this and come back and finish the episode. There’s another point to bring it up. Look, part of the struggle sometimes in implementing these projects from start to finish is you have to constantly communicate like you’re saying. Not just to the engagement from the people who you need help with, but so that it stays top of mind.

As you said, if you’re sending an email out every morning, then every Monday morning you’re providing that update to the key stakeholders so that they know here’s the progress made. Here are the obstacles that we ran into. Everyone needs to know that this is where you are, but there’s also a flip side to it. It’s not just the implementation of the project and keeping people aware that it’s still happening. Here’s where I find a lot of people run into some discomfort, and that is part of your communications is selling and marketing your initiative. You have to let others know what you’re doing. People who aren’t related to it, you have to get them involved and engaged depending on the project.

As you said, if it’s a factory-specific project, one of the things that you then want to do is share that with other similar factories. Or if you’re implementing some technology, you want to share that with these other groups, because at some point someone’s going to ask, “Why are we doing it this way? Change it,” and then everything that you worked for is well. It just turns into a frustrating experience after that. Let’s talk about incentives. Incentives are key. Talk to us about the importance of incentives.

[00:45:46] Ray: Hey, I hate to say it. Frankly, show me the money.

[00:45:50] Josh: Yes.

[00:45:52] Ray: I’ve been involved, fortunate with big initiatives. I tell you to move the needle in the right direction, and you need to reward the people. Not just, hey, your paycheck. This is going beyond and above their daily work. They do their work from 8:00 to 5:00. Now we’re asking them to go work beyond 5:00 to 6:00 to 7:00, to do certain things. They take a lot of work, more work, more changes, more discomfort. We got to really set the milestones for these teams when to pay them, reward them based on the results. You got to pay for performance, you got to do this oil grease very well to keep things moving smoothly and in the right direction.

You got to put the change in place, but you got to reward these teams and say, “If you achieve, if we cut down, let’s say, incident rate by half, right safety incident rate or we improve quality, or we have no recalls this year. Zero recalls everybody wins. It’s great of the company.” Instead of recalling products and expediting and sending people to sort products. You remember the waste, the cost of quality, and so forth, but there is so much money we’re spending here and there. Then we’re saying, “If we do this right, we going to reward you,” and we need to sustain that gain and that becomes a new standard.

It really incentives for me are non-negotiable because it’ll be hard without that to really move the needle and really recognize those efforts because they are really paradigm-shifting. They really lead the way and then it’s okay, sometimes they slide back and so forth, but really keep the milestones, keep the KPIs. Make it more visible and more immeasurable, the smart thing. Specific measurable, attainable, and so forth.

We really like to put team metrics, individual metrics and then really keep track of those KPIs and milestones in one organization. Literally, I had 10,000 action items and hundreds of milestones and it’s hard to track. I think having the right incentives, and the right Milestones, you can achieve more. Definitely, the synergistic effect will be phenomenal here.

[00:48:22] Josh: With incentives, you got to appeal to why should I change my behavior? Especially, if I see it as working and part of it it’s also a question of what’s the morale like at your organization. What’s the culture like, because that can play a part and that can also play a part in what are the problems that you have to help overcome. People will find ways of resisting and incentivizing, helping break down those barriers or those initial objections. I know we’re running up on time a little bit.

I want to get to one other topic with you, Ray and actually, this reminds me of a previous episode we had with our last guest. She spoke about getting inspiration for transformational initiatives from unlikely sources. You actually, invented a really interesting modification for an Endon Light System based on an unlikely source of inspiration. I would love for you to tell us just a little bit about your innovation.

[00:49:24] Ray: You’re talking about Honky Tonk I’m guessing.

[00:49:26] Josh: Yes.

[00:49:27] Ray: Absolutely. Honky Tonk started in a duck blind, me and my buddies. One of my engineers is the CI and we were calling the ducks interesting. We call feeding and call back and so forth. We’re saying, “We have a big platform Michiana over 200 feet one way or another. Three different operators, they don’t see each other’s silos really indifferent- when one operator is down or section of the machine, then the whole system is down. It was very hard to control balance and so forth.

We’re saying, “What if the machine can do this, this?” We know the Endon. We know the Tower of Lights. We know the Wheel of Fortune, the loser which is negative. We want a positive signal, and that’s what you see in Japanese companies like Toyota. You see a symphony melody is playing on the floor to get the attention of the operator. It’s a positive signal, not negative as a fire alarm, but we really promote a positive signal. We took the Toyota model and took it further. We said, “With Endon why not every machine section or a condition of the machine has a different tune, just like your cell phone when you have multi tunes?”

We did that eight different tunes. We asked the operators honky-tonk to really come up with their own tunes. They have switched by shift. Believe it or not, Josh, they can switch by shift. Recently, one of my colleagues I presented to this over 10 years ago, asked me if I can share my slides with him, and I said, “Sure, no problem.” A lot of companies doing that already. Padlight, they already have audio sound with it. It’s okay. I didn’t market it heavily. I did it for a couple of companies and it worked really well. It jumped our OEE by 9% being proactive and so forth.

The beauty of it is, the people really embrace it, and this is for their own good. Then we took a step further also where we said one part slowly. For example, if its feeding system both feed or whatever, then it can tell you head-on in advance before it runs out of material, so you keep the machine running. We took it from reactive when it sinks down, but actually, take it proactively to make it tell us in advance when things happening. The operator can react, prepare for the change, or whatever is needed, so we don’t lose downtime on the machine. That’s how we help productivity. I tell you when the production is met during the day, guess what? Monday night football tune plays.

[00:52:05] Josh: [laughs] That’s perfect.

[00:52:09] Ray: That’s the kind of mentality is, engage the people, give them something positive and then let them know the condition so they can react instead of- react and proactively react, not just wait for the red light. We want yellow and green in advance. We need more yellow, less red, so we can take action and keep the green running and minimum yellow.

[00:52:35] Josh: There’s so much to break down about this idea. First of all, what a fun idea based on duck hunting. You’re doing the different calls and you’re like, “Wait a minute. Here’s the power here.” This question is one of the most powerful questions that you can ask in life. What if? That’s exactly what you said. What if we had something better? What if we had something like this? Because in your example, you’re going from, “Okay, look, the light’s red,” and maybe there’s a tone that plays when it’s down. If I’m the operator, if I’m the person responsible for figuring out what’s going on, or taking the appropriate action, I just see that red light, there’s still a lot that I have to like figure out.

However, you’re setting up a situation where the machines can more effectively communicate, and you’re actually eliminating a complete step of troubleshooting to agree, or at least figuring out what the actual problem is, by associating specific tones with it. When I hear this song play or this sound play, I know immediately here’s the issue where it is, and I can just focus on doing something about it. Those two parts of-

[00:53:47] Ray: Absolutely.

[00:53:48] Josh: -what if rethinking and providing a more collaborative experience within the working environment between the people and the systems that they have to work with. The machines that they have to work with, that is innovation.

[00:54:02] Ray: Thank you. You can improve on it whether it’s a welding wire when it’s running low, so you can get the welding wire replaced. Giving advanced notification to the operators, they’re really keeping the machine hunky-dory running and have no downtime or no issues with that.

[00:54:26] Josh: That’s great. Well, look, Ray, I could keep asking you questions all day, but I do want to be respectful of your time. Let’s talk about how our listeners can continue the conversation with you.

[00:54:38] Ray: One thing is to look up on the website,, and on LinkedIn, I’m available, ray-ardahji. Look me up. We have a lot of followers. We keep track of things as much we can, and we’re here to help. Then, believe it or not, we get a lot of calls and emails, and we help people at zero cost. Honestly, we help companies and organizations. We’re not in it for the money. Money is second. The first one is to help improve, move the needle, keep kaizen in the mind and spirit going with people. That’s the idea.

Sometimes they’ll come back saying, “Can you do it for us? Can you come back and show me how? I didn’t understand it. Can you come on-site? Can you do a Zoom call,” and so forth? That’s what we’re here for. We don’t know everything, but we definitely, can connect the right people with the right solution and get sustainable results every day, every moment.

[00:55:46] Josh: Well, I love it. I love it. Well, Ray-

[00:55:48] Ray: Thank you.

[00:55:48] Josh: -thank you so much for being here today.

[00:55:51] Ray: Thank you, Josh. I appreciate the opportunity and the listeners. I encourage you to keep moving the needle in the right direction. Sometimes you have setbacks, but don’t give up. It’s not the number of times you go down, but it’s really the numbers you get up and keep fighting. That’s important. Kaizen is not easy. It’s very challenging but very rewarding at the same time.

[00:56:16] Josh: Don’t forget what’s the beef? Implement what’s the beef process. [laughs]

[00:56:21] Ray: You know what? I’m going to send a picture on it on LinkedIn, Josh, and I’ll copy you on it so you can hit it to [crosstalk].

[00:56:27] Josh: Yes, please do.

[00:56:29] Ray: I’ll do that. I’ll do it.

[00:56:30] Josh: [chuckles] Okay.

[00:56:31] Ray: All right. Thank you, Josh. You have a wonderful weekend, buddy. Thank you.

[00:56:35] Josh: You too.

[00:56:35] Ray: Great job.


[00:56:42] Walter: Hey, all. It’s Walter. I’m another producer for Conquering Chaos. Before you go, if you’re not ready to try Parsable to help you get rid of paper, why not watch a quick video instead? Check the shows for a link to a demonstration. Josh put it together to show, Frontline workers, what it’s like to use a dynamic digital experience to get work done. In it, Josh shows you how using a modern-day app enables you to connect to people, information, systems, and machines, just like the apps you’re using in your personal lives. Take a look and let us know what you think.


[00:57:17] Josh: That’s the show. Thank you so so much for joining us today. Conquering Chaos is brought to you by Parsable. If you’re a fan of these conversations, subscribe to the show and leave us a rating on Apple podcast. Just tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. As always, feel free to share what’s top of mind for you and who you think we should talk to next. Until then, talk soon. Take care. Stay safe, and bye-bye.


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