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This past week I had the great experience of attending a week long work shop hosted by Norman Bodek, the "Godfather of Lean".  Bodek has met with and studied the teachings of Deming, Juran, Crosby, and Ishikawa.  He has also published the works of Akao, Ohno and Shingo as well as 100 others. He has published over 100 Japanese management books in English, and teaches the Best of Japanese management at Portland State University.  He has found another gem from Japan known as the Harada Method. 

The Harada Method is a step by step process for achieving your corporate and/or personal goals.  The process was developed by Takashi Harada as he taught track and field at the worst junior high school in Osaka, Japan.  With this method the school went from worst to first in track and field and built not only great athletes but exceptional students and members of the society.  He built a sense of belief within the children and then showed them a way to achieve their dreams. 

At a high level the Harada Method is broken into five main categories: Goal, Purpose, Analysis, Action and Implementation.  Goal setting is a little different in the Harada Method.  If you're working in a large corporation many times your goals are defined for you by the company - achieve this level of customer satisfaction, complete the work in this amount of time or produce this many parts.  With the Harada Method you choose your own goal that aligns to the companies and go from there.  By picking your own goal you have more buy in and motivation to achieve the goal.  Next is the Purpose of your goal.  Why is it that you want to achieve your goal?  What are the tangible and intangible benefits for you and for others as you attain your goal?  Third is Analysis - what have you done in the past that you would say are successes and what have been failures?  We want to build on the successes and develop effective countermeasures for the failures so that we don't repeat past mistakes.  A very detailed Action plan is developed next which includes coming up with 64 tasks that are put into 8 different bins.  Lastly, to Implement a daily diary helps you stay on track as well as developing a strong set of routines to foster great habits.  You work with a coach along the way who provides positive feedback and guidance.  The diary and coach makes you accountable for achieving your goal and sustaining your efforts. 

The week long workshop allows me to get certified in the Harada Method and teach it to others.  Look for a class in the last part of 2013 or early part of 2014! 
 
 
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Lean Six Sigma Games would like to know:  Have you ever heard anyone say something like "we're 95% confident the incumbent will get between 51 and 52 percent of the vote"?  A lot of times when gathering data on the entire population is too costly and/or time consuming we'll get data from a random sample of that population.  When we do, a confidence interval will describe our certainty that the true amount is within the noted range.  Let's take a short quiz to illustrate the concept.  You are going to see 10 questions below, for each question you will write down 2 numbers: a lower number and an upper number.  You need to be 90% sure that the real answer lies between your two numbers.  Don't look the answers up, use your own know how to guess.  How big your ranges are is up to you, just be 90% sure the true answer is in the range.  Ready?  Let's begin!
1) How much does an elephant weigh?
2) How long is the Nile River in miles?
3) How hot was the hottest day ever recorded in North America?
4) How hot was the hottest day ever recorded in Greenland?
5) How tall is President Obama?
6) How many miles away is the moon from the Earth?
7) What year was George Washington born?
8) How many countries make up modern day Europe?
9) What was the population of Las Vegas taken by the 2011 Census?
10) What is the average salary for full time black belts according to Indeed.com?
Theoretically, you should get 9 of the 10 answers correct if you truly tried to use a 90% confidence interval.  The actual answers are at the end of the blog if you want to see how you did. 

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Depending on how you did on that last exercise you might be asking something like "how big should my interval be?  How big should I make that range??"  Or you might be asking where did he come up with these crazy questions?  The truth is your data will drive the range and my crazy imagination came up with the questions.  Let's look a little closer at the ranges and what can affect them.  Let's say you went fishing with your buddy and he caught a really big fish but of course it got away.  When you get home you tell your friends about his big catch.  You say "that fish was huge!  I'm 95% sure it was between 20 and 30 inches!!"  After your friends look at you like you're an alien one of them says "that's quite a range, can you narrow it down?"  "Sure!" you say, "I'm 90% sure it was between 24 and 26 inches!"  As your confidence number gets bigger, so does the range that you're talking about.  For the 10 questions above, wouldn't you be 100% confident if your range was between 0 and infinity?  Typically we are very comfortable at the 90% or 95% confidence level and it provides us useful ranges.  The other main way to impact the range or interval is to gather more data.  The more data you have, the more numbers you can get, the smaller the range should be. 

Let's see how you did on the quiz, the answers are as follows:  1) An elephant weighs about 13,000 pounds.  2) The Nile is 4132 miles, 3) The hottest day in North America was 134 degrees F, 4) The hottest day in Greenland was only 77.5 degrees F! 5) President Obama is 6'1" 6) The moon is 238,900 miles from Earth  7) George Washington was born in 1732  8) Europe is composed of 47 countries  9) Las Vegas had 589,317 people in 2011 and 10) The average Black Belt's salary is $91,000!  Hope you enjoyed the quiz and if it worked right you should have gotten 9 out of 10.  Try this with your next green belt or black belt class and see how they do!
 
 
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Lean Six Sigma Games loves competition and this year's NCAA tournament has been nothing short of surprising and amazing.  Each year there are upsets and Cinderella stories which is part of the reason it's so much fun to watch, track and fill out brackets.  If your team made it into the tournament there's always hope that this is the year that they advance further than they have ever been or upset a higher ranked team or make it to the Final Four.  If you've filled out a bracket you've no doubt picked some upsets.  The 12 seeds are popular choices and in fact 3 out of the 4 twelve seeds beat their five seed opponents this year!  There are even contests for picking perfect brackets.  You can win $10,000 on Yahoo with a perfect bracket and up to a million dollars on other sites.  How can they offer so much money for free entries you might ask?  It's simple; the odds are incredibly in their favor!

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Using the pick distribution from Yahoo.com it's easy to figure out the odds of a perfect bracket.  Before we dive into the actual odds let's pretend that each team in the tournament received 50% of the picks.  This would be like predicting a coin flip correctly 32 times to have a perfect bracket after the first round.  To do the actual calculation you would multiply 50% times 50% 32 times.  This results in an incredibly small number.  The actual odds are similar, we'll multiply the % of picks for each winning team times each other.  For example, Louisville and Duke both won in the first round.  According to Yahoo, 99.3% percent of the people picked Louisville while 98.8% picked Duke.  If we multiply those two numbers together we get about 98.1% of the people with a "perfect" bracket so far.  The problem comes when teams like Harvard (4.5%) or Florida Gulf Coast (1.5%) win: now we're multiplying by very small numbers! 

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So just how likely is it that someone picked perfectly for the first round?  Not likely at all it turns out.  After multiplying all the odds together only there is only roughly a 0.0000000000017 chance of a perfect bracket after just the first round!  To put that into context, if everyone on the earth (about 7 billion) filled out a bracket there is still just over a 1% chance one person would be perfect after the first round.  To match the pick distribution each person on earth would have to fill out 82 brackets!  This is why it's not a risk at all for Yahoo and other companies to entice you to their site for a free chance at winning some money. 

 
 
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In our last national election Lean Six Sigma received a significant increase in exposure as Newt Gingrich included LSS as part of his core message.  In fact, an article in Forbes from September 2012 asks the question of why politicians ignore LSS given its resurgence and success in the Department of Defense, the state government of Iowa along with thousands of private companies.  The short answer is that our federal government isn't ready for continuous improvement.  There are a lot of things that need to be in place for continuous improvement or lean six sigma to work and a key one is the identification of problems and a willingness to attack them. 

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It's not that we lack issues.  I think most of us have heard about a deficit problem that we're facing.  Gun control or more specifically gun deaths have been a recent issue and hot button topic.  Taxes, the sequestration, North Korea and everything that happens in the Middle East are all issues and problems that our government has to deal with every day.  Here's a question for you: when was the last time you heard of a team of people/experts get together, analyze an issue such as any of the ones noted above, developed a well thought out solution and had it implemented, measured and validated?  It just doesn't happen.  You will hear from both parties about the impacts of increasing or cutting taxes or more generally of implementing certain policies.  But rarely are issues broken into core measurable pieces with a representative team working to solve the issues.  Typically when a bipartisan bill is presented it seems it is attacked by both parties. 

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It's also not that our elected officials aren't familiar with high level problem solving.  In fact, they're both very good at it.  Take for example Obama's election strategy.  According to a well written article in Mother Jones, the Obama team employed a myriad of analysts that helped him dominate the social network and in turn win the election.  Just look at the job posting: "We are looking for analytics engineers and scientists...to work on text analytics, social network/media analysis, web personalization, computational advertising, and online experiments."  Wouldn't it seem a similar group might be good at figuring out how to reduce the deficit or address health care?  Likewise, the Republicans know a thing or two about analytics.  In a recent Slate article it is noted how the Republicans are trying to redraw the Electoral College lines to help ensure victory in 2016. They've looked at the numbers, the mapping and can make the system work so that they can win an election even if the Democrats win the popular vote by a fairly wide margin.  _

In the end, it's not that we don't have issues nor is it that we don't have expertise; it's not even that the parties involved lack experience in using similar tools.  The problem is the elected officials are solving the wrong problems.  They're using all their knowledge and know how to get elected or re-elected and not to address our country's biggest issues.  Imagine if our government put the effort noted above into just one of our issues and actually implemented something using facts, data, analysis and reason!   But that's not the climate in Washington right now and that's why Lean Six Sigma just won't work at that level at this time. 
 
 
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Back in November of last year I wrote about the 5 pillars of Lean Thinking: 1) Value from the Customer's Perspective, 2) Value Stream, 3) Flow, 4) Pull and 5) Perfection.  In my piece about perfection I mentioned the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA.  Recently, the New York Times published an article noting that the airline industry is at its safest since the dawn of the jet age.  There are some impressive statistics in the article, most notably:
- It's been 4 years since the last fatal crash in the US
- Globally, 2012 was the safest year since 1945 with 23 deadly accidents and only 475 fatalities.  This represents a reduction in more than half the 1,147 deaths and 42 crashes just 12 years ago. 
In my November blog post I mentioned that a big reason for the reduction in deaths and crashes was due in large part to world class root cause analysis.  When a plane went down the NTSB is the best in the world at determining the many "why's" and mitigating those issues from further flights.  The NY Times explains that the NTSB has moved forward in their pursuit of perfection.  According to Deborah Hersman, the chairwoman of the NTSB: "The lessons of accidents used to be written in blood, where you had to have an accident and you had to kill people to change procedures, or policy, or training.  That's not the case anymore.  We have a much more proactive approach to safety."  There have been a couple of changes that have taken them to the next level.  One, they now study data for every flight to analyze common problems (think six sigma) and two; there have been advances in engineered safety.  It's refreshing to see an industry focused on improving safety and taking countless steps to make improvements.  Many other industries could take lessons from their continuous improvement journey! 

 
 
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I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had signed up to do a "commitment contract" through the website http://www.stickk.com.  The idea behind the commitment contract is simple and fully customizable.  The first thing you do is pick a goal.  In my case it was to lose 8 pounds in 8 weeks.  But the goal can be anything: weight loss, stop smoking, exercise regularly, remember an anniversary or study to get an A in a class.  While stickk has some common goals to choose from you can create your own custom goal.  Once the goal is in place it's time to put stakes on your goal.  In my case I "bet" $25/week that I would hit my weight, for a total risk of $200.00.  The interesting part of the stakes is that you can tie them to another person, a charity or what might be the most effective thing - the anti-charity!  Do you despise the Republican or Democratic Party?  Then pick them as your anti-charity!  There are several to choose from, certainly something you wouldn't want to donate your money to.  From there you pick a referee to validate your progress and you also sign up a support group to cheer you on along the way.  In the end you have a well thought out goal, meaningful stakes, someone to watch you and a group to support.  So is it successful?  Did I meet my goal? 

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Yes!!  I did it!  I did meet my goal, met my required weight every week.  It was more difficult at the end of the 8th week than it was in the beginning and there are some lessons learned.  What I haven't told you is that I did this challenge with 2 friends of mine and the three of us went on this journey together.  It turns out though that we all approached it slightly differently.  I did the full thing: goal, stakes, anti-charity, referee, support group including my family at home.  Friend A did the same thing but without the family support group as he was afraid of getting too much help.  Friend B did everything except instead of committing money on the site; he pledged to us that he would pay a moderate anti-charity should he fail.  While both friends A and B did a great job, lost weight both had a week or two of failure.  While the three of us are a very small sample, I can say from personal experience having all the components helped me tremendously.  I needed the big stick of the anti-charity tied to money from the beginning.  I also needed the support and understanding at home to help me get through.  In the end the experience really showed me the difficulty in making and keeping goals.  The book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath go into this part very good and if you've read the book you can equate this commitment contract to giving your "rider" a super strength boost to help control the elephant.  So how does this tie to lean or six sigma?  I'm glad you asked!

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In my experience as a master black belt I've seen too many instances of improvement projects fail.  It becomes too difficult for teams to stick with the improvement plans and they fall back to current performance levels.  So the question you, I and everyone should be asking is: would commitment contracts work?  They are very motivating and if structured correctly I believe they could be a huge boost to improvements!  After all, it's not that we don't know how to improve we just need that push to get it done!  I'd love to hear your opinions on if you think a commitment contract would work for you or where you work!

 
 
When teaching or facilitating a group it's always good to break up the monotony and to get their brains re-energized by challenging them with a puzzle or other fun activity.  These puzzles also help get them thinking in new directions and out of their proverbial box.  Enjoy these three brain teasers from Lean Six Sigma Games and post your answers below, I'll validate correct answers!
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One day a thrifty woman found an old bracelet that she loved.  Unfortunately the bracelet was broken into four pieces, each containing three rings.  She decided to take the bracelet to the jeweler to see how much it would cost to put back together.  "Well," the jeweler said, "it will cost you $5.00 for me to take a ring apart and re-connect it so your total will be $20.00."  "Not so fast" the woman said.  "You are overcharging me by $5.00!  You can do that job for $15.00!"  How is it possible to connect all the rings for $15.00? 

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Puzzle number two contains three containers filled with marbles.  One container is filled with 1000 blue marbles.  Another container is filled 1000 red marbles and the other container is filled with 1000 mixed blue and red marbles.  While all the containers are labeled, you know for a fact that all three labels are wrong.  What is the minimum number of marbles you must pull to know what's in each container and why? 

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Puzzle number three is the trickiest and most difficult of the bunch!  You are given two ropes and unlimited matches.  Here is what you know about the ropes:
- each rope burns for exactly 60 seconds
- each rope burns at variable speeds along the rope.  For example, 90% of the rope might burn in 5 seconds and the last 10% in 55 seconds.  Or it might burn fast, slow, fast, slow.  You have been asked to make a timer with the ropes and matches that will last for exactly 45 seconds.  How do you do it? 

 
 
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Lean is often synonymous with speed and efficiency - making processes faster, quicker and with less waste.  While that is true, higher quality is also a key characteristic of Lean that a lot of people don't realize.  With bloated push systems quality issues get hidden out of view and show up late in the process often causing expensive rework or scrap.  In a truly lean process issues are identified and mitigated right away improving quality on the spot and eliminating the need for excessive inspection downstream!  To illustrate this, here is a quick and easy way to show a group of people how flow and pull both increases speed and improves quality.  Lean Six Sigma Games presents the free Lean telephone operator game!

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When you were young did you ever play the telephone or operator game?  It's the game where you whisper something to someone and they pass it along to the next person and so on until it gets to the end.  The last person says what they heard and everyone laughs because it's always very different than what was originally said.  This quick facilitation game works the same way but shows the power of Lean especially flow and pull.  Start with 20 or more people and break them into two even groups.  If you have an odd number always put them in the pull/flow group.  Have them line up to the best of their ability so that they can easily pass information to the next person.  Tell each team they are about to get a three sentence paragraph that they must process through their line.  Both teams will get the same sentences with this catch:  One team will process all three sentences at once (batching) by having the first person read the entire paragraph to the second person.  The second person will repeat what they heard to the third person and so on down the line until it reaches the end.  The other team will process the paragraph one word at a time.  The first person will tell the second person the first word and can only give them the second word after they've passed the first word onto the next person.  It continues one word at a time until the end making sure you give a word before receiving a word.  Once the rules have been described ask the group A) who will be the fastest and B) who will have the highest quality.  Most people will say the full sentence team will be fast and the one word team the highest quality.  It should turn out that the one word team is quite faster with higher quality.  Here is a sample of a three word sentence that I've used:
      "It was such a busy weekend.  We went to the store and bought ham, peanuts, beer, chips and carrots.  We then went to the hardware store to return a fan and buy a lawn mower."
It's a very fun exercise, one that should provide plenty of laughs and learning! 

 
 
The word statistics is one of the scariest words in the English language to a lot of people.  In fact, 72% of Americans cringe at the word "statistics" even though 68% of all statistics are made up.  That's a nerd joke.  In a more serious light, lean six sigma games would like to show you three similar examples of visual statistics that are easily interpretable. 
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Maybe one of your New Year's resolutions is to become a billionaire!  That would be great right?  The graph on the left shows how the US is a great place to be especially if you want billionaire company.  The US is represented by the yellow circle.  The size of each circle represents how many billionaires there are - the bigger the circles, the more billionaires.  The Y-axis or vertical axis shows billionaires per million people so the higher up the graph the higher the ratio of billionaires.  The bottom axis or X-axis shows the average income per person.  It shouldn't be surprising that the higher the average the more billionaires per capita there should be.  Monaco, Iceland (yes, Iceland - go figure) and Hong Kong, China rank higher than the US.  To see how things have changed over time simply click this link.

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So I bet I know what you're asking now - if I become a billionaire, how long am I going to enjoy all that money??  Well, maybe that's not what you're asking but that's what we're going to look at.  We've kept the same X-axis - income per person and are now looking at life expectancy.  In the graph to the left I'm comparing the year 1800 to 2011.  It's incredible to me how much the world has changed over 200 years.  In the 1800s nearly every country was the same but over time some countries have become more affluent and health has been a beneficiary of that.  So see the progression over time click this link.

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Lastly, let's see if what a country spends on health has any impact on the life expectancy of it's citizens.  Again the US is highlighted in yellow and the graphs show us that we spend more on health than any other country.  And while we don't have the highest life expectancy we are near the top.  What's surprising to me is how similar the graphs are from 1995 to 2010.  It seems our costs and spending has gone up with little improvement.  This may be true, but it appears to be true across the planet.  Switzerland and Japan seem to be leading the way in terms of costs per longevity.  To see the actual changes over time click here. 

Statistics and data should be easy to understand.  All the data and graphs above are provided by gapminder who have made it their goal to make stats easy to interpret.  Check them out at www.gapminder.com. 

 
 
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Lean Six Sigma Games would like to wish everyone a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!  Of course the two big things to do when the new year comes are to reflect back on the year that was and then make plans for the year that's coming.  A lot of people make New Year's resolutions and we're no different at LSS Games.  For 2013 you will see more games, plans are in the works for some videos about lean, six sigma and our games and if everything works out right we may even offer some green belt training along the way.  But what's the problem with New Year's resolutions?  Do they always work out?  Do you always follow through?  Much like continuous improvement events where action items don't get completed we aren't always that great at doing everything we set out to do.  To that end, I'm trying something new - a commitment contract to lose some weight.  The details are below. 

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In his book Carrots and Sticks Ian Ayres makes a convincing argument that quite often we already know how to accomplish whatever goal we're aiming for.  For example, you already know how to drive to the gym 3 or 4 times a week.  You probably already know what foods are good for you to eat.  You probably already know how to spend more time with friends and family or whatever other goal you might set.  What you might need, Ian would argue, is both a carrot or reward and a stick or stakes if you fail.  To help with this he created a great website: http://www.stickk.com.  On this site you set up commitment contracts that offer both support as well as consequences if you miss your goals.  I'll use my commitment contract as an example.  My goal is to lose 8 pounds in 8 weeks.  When you get to the site it offers you the most common goals or you can make up your own.  If you choose weight loss like I did it will calculate a weekly goal that you have to hit - 1lb a week for me.  You then have the option to put stakes on your goal by putting up money if you miss a weekly target.  Here's where it can get interesting - the money you "wager" can be put toward an anti-charity.  For example, if you are a Republican the money would be donated to the Democrats and vice-versa.  Once you pick your anti-charity you then set up your support group who can cheer you on along the way.  Finally, you'll need a referee to validate your success.  So now you have rewards, stakes and accountability to do well which are three huge ingredients to help you succeed!  For me, I've been through 3 of my 8 weeks and have hit the target each week.  I can honestly tell you that it makes me very conscious of my eating habits and it is truly motivating! Now, just imagine if we could get our lean six sigma champions and sponsors to do commitment contracts for improvements! 

Happy New Year everyone!!