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Fixing What Already Works


The business world continues to become more and more competitive every day. Organizations unceasingly look for ways to improve and adapt to the volatile global environment. Many tools and methodologies are well-known and available to support improvement. These tools include Lean practices (the Toyota Production System), Six Sigma quality initiatives, Hoshin Kanri strategic planning, and workforce empowerment, to mention only a few. There are so many it can be difficult for a small to medium size business or organization to identify which are appropriate for its situation. Many of these tools or methodologies may also require a major resource investment to deploy fully. Many also focus on the manufacturing environment and processes, even though much of their information can be applied to non-manufacturing applications.

Fixing What Already Works is designed to share the experiences of two seasoned, successful, and award-winning business leaders to help show a path for smartly deploying these tools or their parts to improve operational effectiveness in businesses already doing well but needing or wanting to evolve to the next level. The book discusses and demonstrates how many of the most effective of these tools, philosophies, and methodologies have been used in part or in whole in the authors’ successes, but it focuses most on those impacting the organizational, environmental, and cultural aspects of the operations. These areas are often where the greatest challenges are faced in an established business.

The information presented in this book is aimed at helping organizations assess where and how they can improve, what tools are most appropriate depending on the organization’s maturity, and what aspects of these tools bring the greatest benefit. It also presents a roadmap process for implementation, while discussing many of the intangibles to consider along the way. Change is imminent, and controlled change is most desirable. Employing a process that unifies the organization around business critical objectives and then leverages the power of the appropriate tool or process is the best way to manage change. This “interactive organization” approach provides channels for the development of people and processes in any business environment and has been proven to be successful.

The situation presented in the book, while fictional, resembles many situations that the authors have faced in their seventy-plus-year combined careers. Each has had the challenge and opportunity to apply the tools and philosophies mentioned in the story on different scales—everything from fixing a poor performing segment of a production line to designing entire “green” facilities to operate under these principles. Our intent in writing this book is to share with the reader what we have experienced. In what it takes to make such transformations succeed, both in attitude and process; each is equally important. We have also drawn upon our personal experiences to touch upon many peripheral issues associated with such transformations all the way down to effects on personal behaviors and interactions at the individual level. This additional information helps to present a broader scope of considerations when change for improvement is implemented.

We have written this book as a way to pass on to others the lessons learned during the many challenges we have faced over time. We hope this book can become a reference for others to follow when they face situations requiring creative action to promote business-mandated changes. We have chosen to present much of the information in a fictional story format so some of the political pitfalls, personal considerations, and other challenges encountered during change but never documented can be revealed and discussed. It is our intent to make the information attractive to any reader—not just the engineer or manager in charge—and we felt that this format was best suited for that purpose. In the later chapters, we discuss in a more technical format what was presented in the story and how and where these ideas and concepts may also be applicable. We also believe that this format makes it easier to envision how these changes can take place in a real environment, which is key to a thorough understanding for many people. In addition, we introduce several concepts that are unique to the successes we have enjoyed in our careers and that we believe can help others to achieve equally successful results.

We hope many of our readers can extract value from the experiences we’ve had and represented here. We have tried to compress the best of our career experiences into this book to share with anybody confronted with change in a business environment. There are many subtle lessons embedded in the text, which may be perhaps the most important lessons because they deal with people, culture, and environment—all more important than most people recognize. Both of us are people-centric leaders and fully recognize and appreciate the power of a motivated team, a theme that runs throughout the book. We believe that reading and understanding the story, and studying the discussion points after the story, will allow many to apply managed change and realize the same successes we have.

Chapter 1


Springtime in southeastern Michigan was probably Mike Preston’s favorite time of the year. Finally, the long cold nights were fading and the days were becoming longer and warmer. The sense of change was everywhere. The barren gray skies of winter were now replaced by comforting blue, spattered with the white of the occasional, effortlessly floating puffy clouds. The stark and barren trees were now covered with new, bright green leaves, and flowers of every sort blossomed everywhere. The grass became lush and full, and the seemingly endless winter snows were replaced by the occasional spring shower. Numerous birds had returned from their winter migrations, and the sounds of their sweet songs resonated across the countryside.

All of the surrounding farm fields had been plowed and planted, and the light coating of green was evident as the new crops began their journey to maturity. Yes, it was a beautiful time of change and welcomed by all.

For Mike, perhaps the best thing about spring was that you could finally play golf without the encumbrances of sweaters and sweatshirts, jackets, and long pants. Mike was an avid golfer and loved the game as much as he loved anything. The golf courses were closed all winter, but that didn’t stop Mike from working on his game. Several years ago, he had purchased a practice net he saw online and an artificial grass mat that he put up in his garage. There he could practice his golf swing all winter long, hitting balls into the net. Mike could imagine that he was playing any golf course anywhere in the world. He could be on the 18th hole of Pebble Beach, trying to hit the perfect tee shot. He could be on the old course at St. Andrews, trying to hit the perfect approach shot to the difficult 17th green (the famous “road hole”). Often, he imagined himself at Torrey Pines or Pinehurst, trying to finish his final round of the PGA championship and becoming the winner in his first try. This winter’s practice was especially significant since Mike had finally invested in a beautiful new set of Taylor Made golf clubs. He had decided that to get as good as he wanted to, he needed to have the right tools and equipment. So he sprung for the $750 clubs, but he now had what he was sure would give him an edge against his playing partners. Mike just couldn’t help it. He was a competitor from the getgo. He never liked finishing second, and he never started anything he didn’t think he could win. This Saturday’s round was going to be especially significant. Mike and his best friend, Jim Spencer, had teamed up to answer the challenge from a couple of Mike’s workmates. Jim was the greatest guy you could ever meet. His calm demeanor and excellent sense of humor made him easy to spend time with and enjoyable to talk to. Mike had met Jim a couple of years after moving to Michigan to start his career with Sanders Electronics. Frankly speaking, until Mike met Jim, he wasn’t sure he’d made the right choice in coming to this part of the country. Brighton, Michigan was a relatively small town located about halfway between Flint and Ann Arbor. It was surrounded by farms and the small downtown area didn’t have much to offer to a young man. That was part of why Jim became a “golfaholic.” Even though Brighton had a population of less than 8,000, it somehow managed to have three beautiful golf courses in great shape that were always busy. Many of the local residents made the most of the short summer by enjoying the time outside on the golf course. And they were right. There just isn’t anything that beats a mid-summer day in Michigan when the sun is shining and a cool, gentle breeze lightly brushes your hair across your forehead. Mike had actually met Jim at one of the local driving ranges where they each hit frustratingly awful shots off of adjacent tee mats. It turned out that Jim was a beginner, too, and trying just as hard as Mike to become the best golfer in Michigan.

“Wow, your slice is as bad as my duck hook,” Mike said after seeing

Jim fired one into the woods on the right.

“I was thinking the same thing,” chuckled Jim after seeing several of

Mike’s shots fly wildly to the left. “I’m Jim Spencer; I’m kind of new around here. I hoped when I moved here my golf game would improve, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.” He laughed again.

“Hi. I’m Mike Preston. I’ve lived here a couple of years and finally found that golf was the only way to spend my free time. I bought some cheap clubs, took a couple of lessons, and thought that somehow I would become good overnight. I was wrong. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of training, and a lot of guidance from a teacher to figure out how to play this crazy game. But I got halfway decent the second year, and now I can’t stop playing.”

The two shook hands and became best friends after that. They found that they had a lot more than golf in common. Both were techies—Mike a process engineer, and Jim a software engineer. They often shared stories on the golf course about similarities and differences in their professions and found that many of the issues they dealt with were the same. Each had different ways of dealing with those issues, so it was always fun hearing about the successes and failures the other had endured. Mike and Jim also made a great golf team. It seemed that whatever Mike could do well, Jim struggled with, and whatever Jim could do well, Mike struggled with. This formula worked well when they played in a scramble format as a team, but it was unpredictable with stroke play when each was on his own.

Today’s match was especially important for two reasons: Mike was finally going to use his new weapons on the course, and they were playing for bragging rights at Sanders Electronics. Tom Gardner and Bob Booker, from the sales team at Sanders, somehow thought they could beat Mike, even after he had told them about his friend’s great capabilities. Mike was admittedly concerned. Salespeople are generally pretty good golfers. Mike had played with Tom before, and they were about equal in skill, but Mike had no idea how Bob, Tom’s boss, played the game. He wanted to play a scramble match, knowing that between Jim and Mike, they would always have a good hole, but Tom and Bob insisted on playing best ball stroke play. It didn’t really matter that much to Mike as he pulled into the golf course parking lot. He was just excited to get the game underway.

“Hey, Jim, did you get a golf cart yet?” yelled Mike from the door of his car in the parking lot. Jim had gotten there a little earlier to practice his putting and was standing by the clubhouse.

“Yeah, Mike. I got a cart. I’m just going to get a bucket of balls to practice. Take your clubs over to the bag drop and I’ll pick you up there,” Jim replied.

“Okay. I’ve just got to put on my golf shoes and I’ll head over there,” Mike said, although he really hated the thought of leaving his new golf clubs all alone at the bag drop. Yes, it’s true. Many golfers have a special relationship with their golf clubs.

Jim was successful in making the rendezvous with Mike and his dearly beloved golf clubs, and then they headed over to the driving range to loosen up. When they had exhausted the bucket of practice balls, they headed over to the putting green to sharpen their chipping and putting skills. When they got to the green, there was Tom and Bob playing a little putting game with each other with a grand total of $.25 on the line. Tom looked up as Mike approached, and smiling, said, “Glad to see you made it. I was afraid you might not show up.”

“Not show up; are you crazy?” said Mike. “I’m looking forward to my free steak when we’re done.”

Jim looked down at the ground when he heard what Mike said. He was kind of superstitious and didn’t think that comments about the outcome were particularly smart before you started. He hoped Mike was right, but watching Bob Booker continuously sinking twenty-foot putts on the practice green made him more than a little nervous.

Tom laughed and shot back, “Well, Mike, I hope you’re not too hungry because it ain’t going to turn out that way. In fact, I’m so sure of my free lunch I didn’t bother to bring a wallet.” Both Tom and Bob laughed as Mike gave them a very stern look, which only made Jim more nervous.

Each team got in its golf cart and headed anxiously for the first tee.

They flipped a coin, and Mike and Jim were to hit first. Mike walked up to the tee box a bit nervously, placed his golf tee in the ground, set the ball on just perfectly with the brand name facing up, took a few practice swings, stepped up to the ball, and let’er rip. It was a pretty good shot, and Mike was happy; he relinquished the tee box to Jim. Jim went through a very similar routine, but he didn’t hit quite as good a shot. He didn’t really care though; he was just glad to get it over with. As they stepped down from the tee box and Tom and Bob walked up, Mike and Tom’s eyes met.

“Good luck beating that!” said Mike, smiling because he thought for sure he would have the best shot of the group.

Tom elected to hit first. He stretched to loosen his muscles, took a few practice swings, teed up his ball, and hit away. Not surprising to Mike, Tom made a pretty good shot—just about as good as his. Tom walked forward on the tee box, picked up his golf tee, and watched as Bob stepped up to the tee box. Bob was a pretty big guy—about

6’3”, very stocky, and showing some of the unwanted effects of the many dinners at restaurants with customers while on the road. Mike wasn’t very impressed with Bob’s stature and watched intently as he teed up his ball and hit his first shot.

“Oh, my God!” uttered Mike as he saw Bob’s ball take off like a rocket on a mission. To Jim, it seemed like the ball was never going to come down. It just kept going, and going, and going, and going. Finally, the ball returned to earth, bounced forward several times, and after rolling a little bit further, ended up about sixty yards beyond Mike’s spectacular shot. This was going to be a round for Mike to remember, but not for the reasons he had hoped. Bob birdied the first hole, Mike and Tom both parred, and Jim picked up his ball after hitting one out of bounds. The first hole was lost, but there were seventeen more to play, and Mike, always the optimist, told Jim, “We’ve got them right where we want them. They’ll think this is going to be an easy match and lose their focus. That’s when we’ll show them how golf is really played.”

Jim smiled but didn’t really agree with Mike’s logic; he just hoped he wouldn’t play so badly on the next hole. The match went on, and at the end of the first nine holes, Tom and Bob were up by four holes. They stopped at the snack hut between the ninth and tenth holes to get some refreshments and munchies to hold them until lunch. Tom was quick to point out to Mike that they had an almost insurmountable lead and that Jim and Mike might as well just give up now. Mike was a little flustered and said, “No way! In fact, we should play double or nothing on the back nine.” Jim could only roll his eyes; he already knew a bad outcome was evident, and he was disappointed that Mike was so reckless with his money.

“You’re on,” said Tom as he and Bob jumped back into their golf cart. It now seemed they couldn’t wait to get to the tenth tee. It turned out that Jim was right. In the end, they lost by a total of nine holes, and it was one of the most embarrassing days in Mike’s golf career. They walked slowly into the clubhouse and found a table at the grill. The waitress came over and took their orders, and wouldn’t you know that Tom and Bob both had steaks, a couple of beers, and a piece of apple pie to top it off. Jim had a hot dog and some French fries. Mike wasn’t that hungry, so he just had a beer. Mike picked up the tab for everyone. Tom and Bob got up and left the table, thanked Mike for the lunch, and said they would rematch them anytime. After they left, Jim looked at Mike and said, “You didn’t have to pay for all that. We’re a team, you know.”

“I know, Jim. But I’m the one who doubled the bet and made a fool of myself, so I’m the one who should pay,” Mike replied.

Jim reluctantly agreed, but he shook his head and said, “Hey, buddy. You need to remember there is no ‘I’ in team. We all win together, or we all lose together, and in my life, I’ve found that’s the only way that things work the best. I’ll let you off this time, but from now on, you need to remember a team is a team.”

Mike didn’t realize it at the moment, but that was perhaps his most important lesson from this round of golf, and it may have been the most important round in Mike’s life.