2017 – What a great year. 2

2017 was quite a year

There have been a lot of changes in my life the last year.

Health events, career events and just general life events have all added to the mix. Some of the events have been surprising to say the least and frankly you could look at what happened in 2017 and almost ask “What a great year? Are you nuts?”.

Yet despite all the challenges, I’m still on this side of the dirt. I happen to think that is a good way to start each day.

The Career took a pretty radical turn as well.

We decided to downsize our work a bit and step away from corporate politics for a while. Maybe forever? I guess we will see how things go in the next few months. For now, its been nice to sleep in a little bit and not worry about what fires needed to be put out when I got into work each day. The fires have continued unabated but I no longer feel the direct heat.

Family life has changed a bit too.

My second favorite girl in the whole world is on a whole new journey and there have been a few bumps along the way. Its been interesting to see the way people who you thought you knew ending up being complete strangers. I am incredibly glad that I can distance myself a bit from some of them. Its one thing to keep up appearances but there is a marginally thin line between protecting someone’s dignity and denial. I chose to face things head on which sometimes makes me a bit unpopular. Thankfully, my wonderful wife and my dog love me. The cat tolerates me so I guess that is all I can expect from a family.

(By the way, Moses the cat is thinking about expanding his Facebook presence this year. He’s pretty clever I’m told)

Moses the Cat… look for me on Facebook in 2018. The world through the eyes of a pretty smart cat.

The new year seems pretty promising though.

I happen to believe that unshackling the many prohibitive regulations of the last eight years and cutting burdensome taxes on business and industry. I read a report that businesses are now facing a potential shortfall in workers and leadership since the baby boomers are retiring in mass numbers. The same report indicates that business will need to hire management consultants in large numbers to make up for the shortfall. As a management and leadership consultant, that sounds pretty good to me. I already have a number of classes set up at Westmoreland Community College and hopefully will have some more to add to the list. I’m also getting some interest in my story telling services. That should be fun.

2018 is shaping up to be a good year also.

What to expect for next year

I hope to publish a few more submarine stories and some helpful stories on leadership and lean. The submarine stories make up most of the blog and range from the early days of submarines to current operations (unclassified of course). Maybe I will even finish the book (I have eight chapters ready to go to the editor but still want to finish the last four).

Thanks for all your visits this year.

We have published over 580 blog posts with 354,000 views since the blog began. While a majority of the posts have been seen in the United States and other English speaking countries, the total views have come from 194 countries around the world. The most interesting missing country remains North Korea. But they may be sneaking a peak as another country in disguise. You never know.

There is a small chance that this may be the last story for the year.

I hope that you and your family will be healthy and prosperous and if either becomes a challenge, I hope you find the strength to see your way forward and appreciate the great and wonderful things that can still be yours.

God Bless you, God Bless America, and God grant us the peace the world sadly needs. In the event that doesn’t come to pass, God Protect You!

Mister Mac

The Bedford boys of Company A of the 29th Infantry Division’s 116th Infantry Regiment never had a chance. 1

There is an old truth known by military men that no military plan survives contact with the enemy. This was never more obvious than what happened at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, when the invasion at Omaha Beach began. Allied bombardments and a massive air campaign that went awry had failed to eliminate or effectively slow down the Nazi machine-gun and mortar crews.

D Day 2 D Day 4

In the first wave of the invasion, 19 men from the small town of Bedford Virginia were part of Company A of the 29th  Infantry Division had trained together, ate together, slept together, and now were landing together in the face of a hostile enemy that had been preparing for them for years.

D Day 12

The interlocking fields of machine gun fire were carefully laid out for just such an invasion. The bombing and ships cannons failed to prepare the beaches in a way that would help the lightly armored troops that were rushing through the surf towards their doom.

D Day 24

In the first wave, all 19 men died, some without ever firing a shot. The nightmare that Eisenhower had about being stopped on the beaches had a painful reality that first hour as many men became trapped on the beach. So many deaths on that first morning were gruesome and painful in their passage. The Nazi gunners were relentless and it was only the actions of brave men that finally breached the defenses to start the long march to Berlin. Their story is recorded in a book called “The Bedford Boys” by Alex Kershaw.

D Day 17

Besides the first nineteen, two others died before the month was out, and two more were killed before the war ended a year later. No other community in America suffered a heavier proportionate share of loss than Bedford (its population was 3,200), so it was appropriate that the town was selected to be home of the National D-Day Memorial.


The site is a privately run 501 C3 organization and rests in a quite place in the hills of Western Virginia. If you have never been there, you need to go. The displays on this page do not do the place justice.

In a cemetery in Normandy France, a place of honor is reserved for men like the Bedford Boys.



You have no soul if you are not moved by seeing row upon row of crosses and Star of Davids.




Mister Mac


An incredible resource was brought to my attention by John Montgomery: http://www.witnesstowar.org/

The recorded stories there remind us about what true American Heroes are all about

How well do you know Eric Holder? 2

Warning – Warning – Warning

Purely political rant coming on!!!



"In 1997, Holder made history … when President Clinton nominated him to be the deputy attorney general. Holder was quickly confirmed several months later by a unanimous vote in the Senate. He was the first African-American elected to the position"

Every Senator who was present in 1997 is responsible for this man gaining the position of power he eventually gained. Did someone not do their homework about who he was and is? Look at the Establishment Republicans who voted for him and remember their names…


Some notable highlights: McCain, McConnell, Graham, need I continue?

"As deputy attorney general, Holder developed and issued the "Holder Memorandum," which spelled out the guidelines for the criminal prosecution of corporations. He also developed rules for the regulation of health care, and assembled a task force that determined how to investigate criminal investigations of high-ranking federal employees."

  • Prosecuting corporations

  • Regulating Health Care

  • Criminal investigations of high-ranking federal employees

Really??? Really???

None of the bozos in the Senate saw this coming yet still confirmed him for AG? No wonder I shred every request for money from the Committee to reelect Republicans to the Senate (Except Rubio, Paul and Criz))

Time for America to wake up and take their country back before its too late.

Mister Mac


Fun facts about Eric: He constantly talks about helping the underserved become better served… Eric however went to private schools for gifted kids and received scholarships and grants all the way through his Ivy League Education. From his Bio:

Holder attended a public school in his neighborhood until the fourth grade, when he was selected to participate in a program for intellectually gifted children. The school consisted of predominantly white students, which Holder says forced him to keep his "foot in both worlds." This only became more apparent when it came time to attend high school. While his friends at home chose to attend public schools in Queens, Holder’s white schoolmates were taking an exam to enter the city’s most elite institutions. Holder got into the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, an hour-and-a-half commute from his home, which pulled him even farther away from his neighborhood friends and community.

You don’t suppose he feels guilty about his “gifted” status do you?

Elizabeth Home-coming Centennial Celebration ~ July 1, 1934 Reply

The first day of the Elizabeth Centennial Celebration in 1934 started the same way as the previous days had … hot. The entire country had been sweltering in an unseasonable hot weather pattern and the people in Elizabeth were not exempt.

The four day program began on July 1 with an 8:00PM Union religious service at the High School Athletic Field. The program denotes that all events will be held using Daylight Savings Time. I thought it rather odd that the program would need to identify the use of daylight savings time until I did a little research.

DSTActPassageThumb           DSTEnd1918Thumb

Daylight Savings Time on a national basis had been passed in 1918 during the First World War but was rejected by the American Congress due to its unpopularity (1919).


President Wilson’s veto was overridden and apparently it became a local option to use that method for adjusting time. Reinstatement did not occur until World War 2 so the importance of telling people which time standard you were using was a necessity. (Note: the uncertainty returned after 1946. States and local areas were once again able to make local decisions for years to come).

The temperature leading up to the 1st of July included a few spikes into the 100’s. Of course air conditioning back then was not as available as it is now. The heat wave extended all across the area for the entire week of celebrations. Knowing the formality of fashions in that day, can you even imagine being dressed in a full wool suit, hat and spats for men and long length dresses for the proper women of Elizabeth. Now add 93 degree sweltering heat (even at 8PM DST) and you can imagine how daunting it must have been.

Sabbath services were held by: Rev. Dr. R.H. Kirk (Presiding Minister), Rev H.G. Howell, Rev. R.C. Rogers, Rev. M. C. Brubaker, Rev. M.A. Leen, Rev. J Jordan

An address was given by Dr. Gaius G. Slosser Professor of History, Western Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh. Music led by a community chorus, directed by Thomas Grenfell Sr.

Note: In case of unfavorable weather the services will be held in High School Auditorium.

Today’s entry is courtesy of:

The Elizabeth Printing Company

“Printing Worth While”

formerly “The Herald” Job rooms, established 1871…

F.C. McGinley and P.R. Ashton

See Alex Paxton for “Good things to eat” and George A. Lewis for all of your REAL ESTATE ~ INSURANCE ~ AND NOTARY PUBLIC NEEDS (Second floor Masonic Bldg.)

The heat wave of 1934 was the hottest on record up to that time. Continued dry weather and heat would contribute to the hottest North American heat wave ever which was recorded in 1936 and coincided with the Great Dust Bowl.

I can’t find a record of how many people actually attended services. In my heart, I want to believe it is anyone who was physically able to come. The times almost demanded extraordinary behaviors and I am sure the good people of Elizabeth Borough heeded the calls from their various Ministers and Priests.

As we close out today’s program, here are some interesting facts about what it costs in 1934:

  • Bottle of Pepsi 10c
  • Average income $1,601.00
  • New car $625.00
  • New House $5,972.00
  • Loaf of Bread 8c
  • Gallon of Gas 10c
  • Gallon of milk 45c
  • Gold per ounce $20.67
  • Silver per ounce .38
  • Dow Jones Average .98

Tomorrow will be day two of the Elizabeth Home-coming Centennial Celebration. Don’t forget, quoit matches and mush ball elimination begin promptly at 9:00 A.M. at the Rockwell Garage and the Safe Factory ground respectively.

I had no idea what a quoit was but apparently these folks are quite familiar with them: http://www.usqa.org/

Steamboat inspection at the docks is also available from 9:00 A.M. but all visitors must be clear before the 1:00 P.M. Parade.

See you at the river!

Mister Mac

A more complete history of the event is contained here:


Elizabeth Pennsylvania … 178 Years of Freedom and Liberty 1

The boroughs and townships of Western Pennsylvania are a patchwork of communities that have evolved over the past several hundred years. Elizabeth Borough is one such community and has a story typical of many of the river communities of old. In 1934, The Great Depression was working its way around the country and the globe. But 1934 was also the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Elizabeth so the city leaders bravely decided to honor the occasion.

Elizabeth's First 100 Years 003

I have a copy of the Elizabeth Homecoming Centennial Celebration Souvenir Program 1834 – 1934 which was held on July 1-2-3-4. The Souvenir Program costs 10 cents which probably was a pricey amount for that day and age. It was handsomely made and printed by Palmer Ashton.

Elizabeth's First 100 Years 005

Nothing was left to chance according to the bulletin and the entire community (plus some surrounding towns) were involved in one way or another. Music and sports, Sabbath services and a pageant, a river and a street parade, historic readings and historic objects on display were all taken into account. This would be four days of celebration for the tiny community. The last veteran of the Civil War able to get around was going to be feted during the Fourth of July celebration

From the Program; In Memoriam

“The pioneers in any line of worthwhile endeavor make the succeeding generations their debtors. We are prone to overlook or even forget the toils, the perils and the hardships of those who were here in the beginnings of our history as a community and the early years of its existence. These well laid the foundations for our town today. Devoid of many of the conveniences of our modern living, they often toiled under great handicaps, but they carried on well. The foregoing pages could mention only the few whose positions of leadership brought them into the prominence which preserved their names through the passing years. But the great unnamed hosts are worthy of our remembrance also, and these lines are placed here as a deserved testimonial to all those whether in a position of leadership or the humble walks of life, who so well laid the foundations of this community of our homes and hope.”

Elizabeth PA 1897

Elizabeth was named after the wife of one of the town’s early settlers. The community on the banks of the Monongahela is the story about the growing of America even from its earliest days. From its days as a part of the western wilderness to the booming days of riverboat traffic, Elizabeth played a key role in the history of this pioneering country.

Richard T. Wiley wrote the forward called “The Story of Elizabeth and its Centennial Celebrations” From that story:

“Long before the eyes of the white people looked on the location of Elizabeth Pennsylvania, and its beautiful environs, the place was inhabited by hosts of those of other races who have left many evidences of their occupancy. In an apparent early age of human development those people of mystery, the Mound Builders, took their living largely from the great swollen streams of the passing Ice Age, besides which their rude habitations were reared, and they buried their dead on the high places. These were followed, apparently long afterwards, by the red Indians, who were in possession when white people first came into the regions.”

As a kid, we spent many hours scouring the woods in our area for arrowheads or anything else that may have been left behind. There is a lot of shale in that part of the country and it was easy to convince yourself that the small piece of oddly formed shale was indeed a leftover from some great Indian attack on the settlers. The area was hotly disputed during the French and Indian wars and it is easy to convince yourself of the legitimacy of your fins, even if there was no known proof that Indians actually came any where close to the road we grew up on.

Interestingly enough, the tradition of burying the dead in high places still exists all over the Borough and the Townships. Maybe the memory of rivers overflowing their banks still haunted the people of the area, but many of our major cemeteries occupy the highest grounds around.

“The whole country for many miles around was densely covered by noble forests which teemed with game of many sorts, while the streams abounded with fish. These living things, in large part, provided sustenance for the simple wants of the people, while the forests and its denizens gave them clothing, habitations and the graceful canoes which went streaming over the placid Monongahela, in prophecy of the mighty navigation which would mark the continued occupation of the white race.”

1850_Ohio_&_Pennsylvania project

By the late twentieth century, industrialization and the baby boom ensured that most of the streams and even the rivers were tamed and barely useable for the fishing and hunting that was once so important. Mining and steel mills of every kind blotted out the sanguine properties of all the waterways and the need for more housing tracts ensured that the open land required for large herds of animals was long gone. The rivers were tamed with locks and dams which lessened the devastation of the flooding but even in more recent times, the waters still outsmarted the ability of humans to contain them.

“Occasional traders or emissaries from eastern centers of white population, coming on errands to these tribes, had seen the country and its people, but it was not until about the middle of the eighteenth century that movements began to be made looking to white colonization and occupancy of Southwestern Pennsylvania. These witnessed the stirring times for the section when the French and the British contended for tis control. The youthful George Washington here began his military career, getting the training which did much to fit him for his leadership in the founding of the great nations later. The Braddock disaster in 1755 gave the French undisputed control for three years, and other years of stubborn fighting between colonists and Indians followed.”

In school, we were taught all about the battles of the French and Indian wars and of course the story of the British Redcoats marching through the woods near my home was a fanciful but incredibly stupid tactic. The Indians had never learned to fear and the French used that tactic of surprise to great affect. I can barely imagine marching to a drum beat through the unimproved brush of the woods in bright red uniforms while the Indians surrounded you in clothing that was designed to match the environment.  The lessons were not well learned as was discovered in the war for Independence that would follow.

“William Penn’s grant by the British Crown was to include the valley of the Monongahela, though it had not yet been surveyed. But his policy of respecting the rights of those found in possession of the land continued with his sons and their successors in the colonial government. The Iroquois or Six Nations, claimed the region of Western Pennsylvania and proclamations of the Penn government forbade white settlement on their lands. But it was impossible to enforce this command in the western wilderness, and when the region was bought by the Penn government from its Indian claimants in 1768, many choice spots within it had already been occupied by squatter settlement.”

It occurred to me that this action by the squatters was an early form of Occupy Wall Street since the settlers were probably homeless men and women who had been driven out of the settlements that hugged the coast. But in a larger sense, the very granting of land to William Penn by the Crown was  a form of illegitimate enterprise since the Crown never actually held deed nor trust to the land. I am fairly sure that the Iroquois tribes would like to be able to challenge that in a modern day court.

“The tongue of land between the lower stretches of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers was early recognized as one of the choicest sections in the whole region, and was soon being appropriated rapidly when the movement of colonization got underway. This was known through many years of white occupancy as the “Forks of Yough”, and the community of today’s celebration was it metropolis and principal place of assemblage. Announcement was made by the Penn government that an office for the sale of the ground in the new purchase would be opened in Philadelphia on April 3 1769, and when the doors opened the scene was much like that of a modern advertise bargain day at one of the great stores.”

Looking at it from Wiley’s point of view in 1934 when this was written, its interesting to try and imagine what a great store would have looked like. There are advertisements in the Bulletin which run the whole spectrum of small and large merchandisers. Rockwell Motor Company (Ford Dealer with Atlantic Gas and Oils, Geo, Jaskol for Discriminating Dressers, Allen I Schwartz – Elizabeth’s greatest Store, Wearing Apparel for Men, Women and Children, and my perennial favorite, GC Murphy Company 5 and 10 cents stores for Quality merchandise at the Lowest Prices with selected merchandise up to $1.00. (Funny, I never noticed before tonight that there is no key for Cents).

Elizabeth contributed many of her sons to the Revolutionary War and an every conflict since. She also played host it many famous people including the Marquis de Lafayette and his son Colonel George Washington Lafayette as the toured the country in May of 1825. But it was at the height of the age of steamboat building when Elizabeth came of age and was incorporated as a borough.


Credit: Courtesy of The Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Penn State Fayette, http://www.coalandcokepsu.org/
Although the plight of city residents attracted the most public attention in Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, some of the worst poverty in the state was in the rural mining districts in northeastern and southwest Pennsylvania. Not far from Pittsburgh some unemployed miners and their families squatted in abandoned coke ovens. This photograph was taken by Louis S. Michael, an amateur photographer who documented his family, friends, and everyday life around Pittsburgh.


The Elizabeth celebration of 1934 was an amazing testament to the conviction of the sons and daughters of the pioneers that settled on the banks of the Monongahela.

Holding a four day celebration in the midst of a difficult depression was a bold statement about the faith of the community in the future based on its past.

My favorite part of the Bulletin is near the last page. The West Penn Electric Shops took out a full page advertisement heralding the advantages of a new type of technology gaining favor:

Elizabeth's First 100 Years 006

178 Years ago, the little town on the Monongahela River had its beginning. Like many other small towns, it has seen its share of ups and downs.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Mister Mac

Built Like a Mack Truck 5

How many times have you ever heard the expression Built Like a Mack Truck? For most people in the US, that is one of those old expressions that symbolizes strength and endurance. The trucks that were designed and built by Americans were once the pride of many trucking fleets and rightly so. The story of how they came to their place in the trucking world is a story of America at its best.

Built Like a Mack 002

The story started with the five Mack brothers and a dream that John (Jack) Mack had in the 1890s as he sailed around the world on tramp steamers. The boys were sons of German immigrants who settled near Scranton PA. The automotive age was just coming into its own but building a truck was something still far from most people’s minds. The idea that something would come along to replace wagons for local delivery and trains for long distance would be a fantasy for many years to come.

Built Like a Mack 001

The only trucks that were being built were limited in scope and used old automobile parts that were converted or remade. The very idea of having a truck that could haul greater loads was restricted by the roads and streets of the time. The crowded streets of New York, Philadelphia and Boston were better suited to horse drawn vehicles and there were no  “interstates” where large trucks would one day shoot along at the unheard of speed of forty miles an hour (and heaven help us, faster than that).

Built Like a Mack 003

That didn’t stop the Mack boys though. They actually decided to launch their carriage business in 1893.


1893 was a financial panic year and not a great time to start a business. But the boys saw a need for more efficient transportation and they designed their first vehicle: a bus. They made money repairing wagons in New York until their idea caught hold but once it did, they grew and grew.  They finally outgrew their facility in New York and moved to their long time home in Allentown PA. The old buildings from the World Headquarters that would later be built still stand there today.

Built Like a Mack 005

From busses, they moved to gasoline trucks. Mack played a key role in the transportation industry for several key reasons. First, their trucks were able to be mass produced and ready for entry into World War I. It was their entry into the horrible conditions of the French countryside that had been battered by war and weather that earned them their name “Bulldog”. The little emblem most people are used to did not come into play until later in the century but the name Bulldog was granted by the Brits and Doughboys that came to rely on them.

World War 1

At war’s end, the use of trucks for an alternative transportation across country fired the imagination of many. The successful experience of point to point delivery discovered in the combat situations of the western front showed the flexibility and purpose of a truck that could traverse over open land. What if there were “highways” that cut through the hills and mountains of the land?  In 1919, the War Department sponsored a truck convoy that would go from coast to coast.

There were no highways that stretched across the land and the trip was long and tortuous for the 75 trucks that made the trip. A young Army officer kept notes of the entire trip and deduced along the way that a system of highways would be needed at some point to make the trip more accessible. Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s journal is on view at his Presidential Library in Kansas and it is almost certain that riding in one of those trucks was on his mind when he helped to create the National Interstate System in the 1950’s.

Mack CF Brochure 1

Mack trucks developed many other products along the way including vocational trucks of ever nature, fire trucks that were the gold standard, over the road trucks for the coming age of trucking, and busses that far outpaced their early products. Mack reached its pinnacle in the 1960s and added one more strength to its already full workshop of ideas: Brand Marketing.

Built Like a Mack 006

The Bulldog really came of age when a man named Zenon C.R. Hansen was named President. His experience in the trucking community and the business world helped Mack at exactly the time they needed help the most. The previous years of growth and expansion brought chronic problems such as overextension, profitability issues, and labor stability concerns to the table. Zenon, using his 38 years of experience turned the company around with some courageous decisions.

He consolidated the far flung offices into a World Headquarters in Allentown. Mack’s most profitable years were between the mid sixties and the early seventies when it merged with Signal Industries. Unfortunately, the success was not long lived.

There are many opinions about the demise of the brand. The sale to Renault and the later sale of both to Volvo led to a distinct loss of unique brand identity. The oil crisis and its effect on the entire transportation industry was a major factor. Customer expectations and the ability to custom build vehicles damaged the entire industry. Finally, organized labor’s hold on the industry and the increasing cost of benefits helped to add the final piece to the destructive potion. The Mack trucks of my Father’s age no longer exists as it once did.

Allentown World HQ

The Bulldog was relocated a few years ago to his new home in Greensboro NC. The smaller building that houses Mack is in the shadow of the larger campus of Volvo North America. The truck models Mack is allowed to build are still built near Allentown but the fire trucks, busses, and even most of the famous over the road trucks are now part of history. The old world headquarters in Allentown has some uses but no longer houses any decision makers. If you look under the hood of a Mack these days, the color of the engine is the only distinction between it and its parent company. Time will tell if color is a strong enough incentive for the buyers.

I am eternally grateful to the old Mack family. Dad worked there from the time I was a kid until he had put in over twenty years.

John Mac receiving an achievement for best salesman

I will always honor the brand as a legacy and a part of America. I hope that the people who are a part of the current Mack family have a successful story to add to the Mack story in the years to come. In my mind though, it would be nice to imagine Mack once more being a fully American product with the ability to do the things John Mack once dreamed of back in 1893. Innovation for the future, self-determination, and a real distinctive product identity that is thicker than a coat of paint.

A boy can dream, right?

Mister Mac (k)

Searching for Superman – why CI/Lean initiatives often fail (Part 2) Reply

Failure is not an option… but most of the time it is assured

One common set of factors that can affect success or failure for a Continuous Improvement/Lean Initiative is the recruitment, selection process, and use of a CI/Lean leader. Leadership at all levels has an impact on every initiative but this becomes more critical during a cultural change initiative like CI/Lean. Selecting the wrong CI/Lean leader can set the organization up for failure. Worse yet, a poor start can actually make it harder for the next time when it is even more important for success.

From Part 1, its not hard to imagine the scene in HR when the company decides to move forward with its CI/Lean Program. This is how I imagine it looks like:

“Lois, get in here and bring your stenography pad”

“Yes Chief, what’s up?”

Chomping on his unlit cigar “Lois, the big office has ordered us to find a Lean Leader. Get on the internet and find out what that is. Get back to me before close of business. The BIG Kahuna himself is hot on this one so we have to execute quickly”

“Alright Chief, I’ll get on it right away”. She leaves his office and jumps on a search engine to find out what a Lean Leader is supposed to look like. The good news is that there are only 6,700,000 pages about lean leadership. The bad news is, there are none of them which really tell you what an individual company needs in the way of lean leader competencies.

Lois found out that there were CI Leaders, Lean Leaders, Lean Six Sigma Leaders, Black Belts, Green Belts, no belts, Mentors, Coaches, Master Black Belts, TPS Trained, Lean Change experts and on and on. There were more competencies listed than for any other position she had ever encountered.

In the end, she went back to the Chief and said “Chief, we need Superlean-man”.

“Great Lois, get him on the phone right away. What’s it gonna cost us?”

“Its not that bad Chief, 250 a year”

“Holy smokes Lois, we can’t afford that much. Hey listen, what about that kid in the mailroom, Jimmy something or other…”

“Jimmy Wholesome? Why Chief, he doesn’t have any of the super-competencies of Superlean- man.”

“No Lois, but he has been hanging out with him so he probably knows just as much. Plus, if he fails, we won’t take the blame… get him up here this afternoon.”


Based on the research I have been doing, the poor HR community has been using a number of cobbled together job descriptions. There are some that look like they may have had some input from an engineering manager or existing lean guy. But most are so broad and far reaching, it is no surprise that CI/Lean leaders are passed over in exchange for a candidate that looks better on paper. Here are some of the CI/Lean Leaders that actually show up.

Flat Leanly

Flat Leanly is normally a recent college graduate with an engineering or technical degree. (His cousin Stanley was the basis for a popular children’s story back in the sixties). Flat Leanly doesn’t have a great range of actual experience but he looks like everyone’s mental model of a bright young engineer.

His enthusiastic appearance hides his lack of any actual experience and he travels well. You can find Flat Leanly all over the factory or office. The workplaces are organized and clean and all of the bosses are initially pleased with Flat Leanly’s influence. As time progresses though, Flat Leanly starts to show the scars from being moved all over the shop. No longer fresh and vital, Flat Leanly ends up being shuffled off to more and more obscure locations and finally discarded all together.

Don’t cry for Flat Leanly. Every year, new ones are produced by the schools of the country. There are never any shortages of replacements for Flat Leanly. Doesn’t it seem funny though that almost every lean leader job description requires some kind of coaching and mentoring experience. Yet the required years experience in over 80 percent of the job advertisements I have read is 1-3 years. Really? 1-3 years???

Attila the Implementer

Attila the Implementer will leave a lasting effect on the business whether they are successful or not. Attila believes that culture change comes at the business end of an audit. Shove them through and they will change regardless of their personal needs or preferences. Mass training events that measure success by the number of butts in seats. Chart after Chart showing progress regardless if there is any linkage to the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).

Other leaders run from or stop taking meetings with Attila forcing him (or her) to start sending emails to their sponsors asking for help. Attila only lasts a few quarters. No one misses him/her when they are gone.

The Green Intern

The Green Intern was a High Potential internal engineering candidate and ended up being selected as a cost avoidance measure (not having to hire a new “Expert” not only gives the Chief Engineer resource he can trust, but allows him to hire a new engineer as a replacement). Traditionally trained in Frederick Taylor’s Scientific management theories, the Green Intern and his mentors agree to give this “Lean stuff” a try as long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.

The Green Intern is well managed by his mentors and while the plant does look a little sharper, no revolutions will occur on their watch. After punching their ticket, they plan on continuing their rise in the company so no real waves will be created.

Plant managers like the Green Intern. The really bad ones see an opportunity to deflect personal responsibility for the lean initiative since:

a. They supported lean by appointing this go getter. They can say their plan was to succeed by this person’s success.

b. They can set arbitrary KPIs and the CI/Lean leader has no choice but to try and meet them

c. Failure to meet the KPI’s allow the plant manager to remain free from blame since the CI/Leader works directly for HR, Engineering, Continuous Improvement sections. Their department heads need to fix “their” problems.


Superlean-man seems on the outside to be the perfect choice. This person has a mastery of every single tool and theory in the CI/Lean box. They are everywhere and create the best projects they are directly associated with. They speak with authority, influence with ease, impress the leadership and save everyone. The problem with this candidate is that they are so good on their own, they never feel the need to develop anyone else. Its easier to simply do everything by themselves. In time, everyone lets them.

Then one day, someone finds a box of kryptonite and Superlean-man fails. As he lays on the boardroom floor slowly wilting away, no one thinks seriously about closing the kryptonite box. Chances are, they never heard of kryptonite. He was so busy, he neglected to tell them about it.

Captain Ameri-lean

Probably the best choice for a chance at success. Brings a strong balance of knowledge, skills, and experience. Coaching and mentoring have been gained through many years of experience. Team builder and great team member. Training and facilitation skills. Cultural awareness is a high point but it has been bought and paid for with a lot of mixed experiences.

This person has a fair amount of failures in addition to a fair amount of successes. They may not have a traditional engineering degree but they have a broad range of experience with engineers. Leadership is a critical factor in everything they do.

I think the point is clear. Who you choose for your CI/Lean Leader is one of your most critical decisions as you decide to enter or continue on a CI/Lean Journey.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Get rid of any preconceived notions about what they should look like. Youth and unbounded energy may be great if you are putting together a touch football game. But there may be a better case for experience and developed skills if you want to successfully implement and influence change.

2. What are your real needs and motivations for implementing a CI/Lean initiative? Make sure there is a careful review of the current and anticipated competencies. Match those against the master plan and prioritize.

3. Considering the importance of the cultural change to success, make sure the CI/Lean leader is placed in the proper place within your organization. The members of the organization will treat the CI/Lean leader exactly the same as the leadership does: If they report to the assistant training manager attached to the HR department, everyone in the organization will measure their importance by that position. If they are speaking with the plant or business manager daily, that too sends a message.

I am continuing my work on competency mapping for an ideal CI/Lean leader. I would welcome comments on this article and your thoughts on what you have seen in this role.


Mister Mac (Lean)

Searching for Superman – why CI/Lean initiatives often fail (Part 1) 1

Starting a Continuous Improvement (CI)/Lean Journey

I have been working on a project for a few weeks that categorizes what companies are looking for when they seek a lean or continuous improvement leader candidate. While that sounds rather boring on the face of it, the project has actually been a very interesting look at why so many companies still don’t get it when it comes to continuous improvement (CI), lean and six sigma. For the purposes of this article, I am going to use CI/Lean as an all encompassing term. (Sigma is fast being absorbed into a quasi-lean mode anyway and that is a story for another day.)

Why does a company decide that it wants to enter into a CI/Lean journey in the first place?

Based on fifteen years of experience with a large number of companies, the answers are pretty straightforward

  1. It seems to be the right thing to do

  2. Everyone else is doing it

  3. The CEO/CFO/Board/Guiding Coalition said so

  4. We have no other choice

Besides the last one, the list isn’t exactly a compelling case for a successful cultural change initiative. The unfortunate thing is that once a company does reach the point where there is no other choice, they will probably fall into the traps that help to ensure their failure. While reaching for the bottom, they will actually accelerate their progress.

Looking at why: The Root Cause

In CI/Lean, we spend a lot of time on root cause analysis. The goal is to make sure we understand why something really happened and hopefully build up a defense for it not to do so again. The first real problem I have seen is that the very people who are supposed to initiate the initiative have no experience actually using the very tools that could keep them from making mistakes.

1. “It seems to be the right thing to do”

In most cases, companies who use this approach are moderately successful and have fairly good cash flow. Besides some minor structural issues they are cruising along and have their share of the market. CI/Lean is something they have heard about but since it was an important part of their DNA, selecting candidates prior to this has not included seeking out specific competencies related to it.

The finance folks are traditional financial people with detailed knowledge of traditional financial metrics. Even the engineering folks have been selected because they came from the “right” schools with the training and discipline that matches the existing engineers. All of the management folks are used to traditional methods of measurement and definitions of what success looks like. Their pay and bonuses are built around a certain model and that is just fine with most of them. Even the workforce understands that as long as they do their tasks in the appropriate manor, they get to go home at a certain hour and watch their favorite sports team win (or lose). Life is very pleasant.

2. “Everyone else is doing it”

These companies often look like the first set of companies but they have one difference. They are feeling a bit more pressure from the market place (including their customers and suppliers). The supply chain often provides a stimulus since they are trying to improve in order to compete better. It is literally a chain reaction that impacts even the unsuspecting.

For instance: a customer has implemented a just in time approach based on an a need to improve their product flow reliability to their customer. Once that kicks in, you may start feeling pressure to change the timing, quantity, packaging, unit of issue and so on. That change will also include a request for some pricing differential too.

A company that gets caught in this loop is often forced to change at least part of its process. When Toyota tells you to dance, you dance or else you face the loss of some pretty important business.

3. “The CEO/CFO/Board/Guiding Coalition said so”

This is actually one of the most dangerous reasons to undertake a lean journey. The people in the internal chain of command in most cases do not know the root cause for this “request”. In a traditional company, there will be layers and layers of people who will deflect the answer to the “why” question with many clever corporate responses. That is assuming the corporate culture even allows them to ask the question in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. There are probably some companies that have visionary CEO’s who honestly see the need to move towards a system that perpetually improves itself. But remember that these are the same people who have had their own mental models of success ingrained into their life’s experiences. My favorite saying about change applies directly to them: Everyone wants change but nobody wants to change. The higher up in the company a person is, the more resolute they are about this maxim. Good luck with changing that culture.

4. “We have no other choice”

Market conditions have finally caught up with the stagnant company. Material prices, labor costs, energy, infrastructure, insurance and so on are all rising with no relief in sight. Business regulations from government are also growing choking off innovation and growth. The only way this company can survive the endless recession is to find ways to drive waste out and develop a culture of continuous improvement.

The main problem these companies will find is that there are three cultural influences at odds.

The first cultural influence is the culture of grief for the way things were.

  • “We used to be so good. What happened to us?
  • “If only we could go back to the way things were.”
  • “Its not fair. Management should have seen this coming and done something sooner.”

The second cultural influence is the culture of survival in the current state.

  • “I only have three more years until retirement… if we can just last that long.”
  • “What we have is working, why mess with this and risk screwing it up.”
  • “Corporate is just looking for another reason to shut us down.”

The third influence will come from trying to implement a culture where change is not only needed, it is required to survive.

  • “We’ve always done it that way… not anymore.”
  • “I am the subject matter expert. Improvement is not possible.”
  • “We innovated this process. No one does it better than us.”

We need to fix this and fix it quick.

Quick, somebody call HR and find us a CI/Lean leader!


See Searching for Superman – why CI/lean initiatives often fail (Part 2)



Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (and they still don’t like him very much!) 1

What is your favorite birthday memory of all time?

Was it a special trip or maybe something you had hoped for all year? I don’t remember the year that I first got my favorite birthday present, but I do remember what is was. It was the year I found out that I shared the same birthday as Jimmy Stewart. Yep, that Jimmy Stewart. Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart if you please. Hero of World War 2 and Vietnam War veteran.

I can’t think of many things I could ever not like about Jimmy (we share the same birthday so I can call him that). He was born in 1908 in Indiana Pennsylvania to parents of good hearty Scottish stock – Presbyterians to boot. That was back in the day when there were real Presbyterians who read the King James and only worshipped one Trinity. He attended Mercersburg Academy and planned on entering the Naval Academy. Fate and his Father intervened and he ended up at Princeton instead.

Like many in his generation, Jimmy answered the call to serve months before Pearl Harbor. He was rejected due to his weight, but he enlisted in the Army as a private. It wasn’t long though before he was off on a lifelong career of service in the air, first as a flyer in the Army Air Corps and later in the Air Force itself. He could have taken the easy road of a Hollywood star but instead forced himself into the role of a combat pilot winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and many more individual and group recognitions.


His career was filled with many successes and some near misses as well. The most famous movie that gave him recognition for the ages was that classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The box office and critics initially panned the movie but it was the leader in something that has since been titled “Going Viral”. The movie, the characters, the message, have all grown into something that couldn’t have been planned by the original producers.

One of Jimmies greatest movies was filmed before he went off to free Europe from the Nazis. That movie was the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.


This 1939 movie was Frank Capra’s treatment about what could happen when one man goes to Washington and tries to change politics. Mr. Smith is selected by an “old boy network” to replace a Senator who suddenly passed away. Jimmy is picked not because of his brilliance or ability but because he might be easily manipulated by the powers that be. The movie becomes a showcase of the corruption of powerful people in Congress, the insatiable appetite of the press to destroy anything they don’t understand to get higher ratings, and the ease with which the public can be swayed.

When you think about the world as it was in 1939, you can understand how much those same powers that were being portrayed tried to keep it from being shown. From Wikipedia:

“In January 1938, both Paramount Pictures and MGM had submitted Foster’s story to the censors at the Hays Office, probably indicating that both studios had interest in the project before Columbia purchased it. Joseph Breen, the head of that office, warned the studios:

"[W]e would urge most earnestly that you take serious counsel before embarking on the production of any motion picture based on this story. It looks to us like one that might well be loaded with dynamite, both for the motion picture industry, and for the country at large."

Breen specifically objected to

"the generally unflattering portrayal of our system of Government, which might well lead to such a picture being considered, both here, and more particularly abroad, as a covert attack on the Democratic form of government."

and warned that the film should make clear that

"the Senate is made up of a group of fine, upstanding citizens, who labor long and tirelessly for the best interests of the nation…"

Breen later reversed course and allowed the movie to proceed.

At the initial screening, it was widely criticized by the Washington press, many  members of Congress, and politicians of all stripes who said its portrayal of Congress as a corrupt institution was anti-American and even pro-communist. The Democratic Senate Majority Leader called the film “silly and stupid” and said it made them all seem like “a bunch of crooks”.

The movie ended up being banned in some areas and widely supported in others. In the many years since, it has become increasingly more obvious that there is not much difference in the existing group of good old boys (and rarely occasional girls) in the Senate.

It was for that reason alone that many of us applauded the recent defeats of some of the longest standing members of that cozy nook of self adoration and public trough feeding. I hope its just the beginning…

I wonder if Jimmy would have been part of the Tea Party? I suspect he would have been. He spent his real life holding people accountable both in the service and in his later life as a staunch conservative.

The best birthday present I could ask for him today (and for all of us as well) is that out of the chaotic process that lies ahead of us, maybe we will get a real Mr. Smith. Maybe, just maybe, there is a man or woman of principle who will go to Washington and not become corrupted by that cesspool. Maybe there will be a whole group of them that are willing to go there and stand up to the people who have been there so long they have lost touch with the country they were sent to lead.

Fire them all. I think Jimmy would approve.

(Oh, and you can take the main stream media with ya when ya go fellas… anyone who spends that much time swilling at the trough of power with the crooks have become as crooked as the thieves they are protecting.)

Mister Mac


Do you know what would make it “A Wonderful Life” for most of us? If the Republicans who keep calling my house for money would spend just as much time finding more Mr. Smith’s to actually send to Washington. I get really bored with hearing how we have to beat Democrats and then find out they have no real idea what to do once they have done so.

Hint: Stop spending money you don’t have.

I Came To Learn About Lean… and All I Got Were These Legos ™ Reply

Today’s post is in honor of all those who are seeking a better and more productive workplace

(Trying to put some Lean back into theleansubmariner)

Establishing a “lean” culture based on continuous improvement has been a very sought after goal for many organizations over the past fifteen years. With the rising costs of labor, raw material, utilities and infrastructure of all kinds, manufacturing and other industries have struggled to contain their costs. With foreign and now even U.S. competition seeking better and more efficient methods, continuous improvement programs can provide one of the last truly competitive advantages. As many companies have found though, the concepts are indeed “foreign” and the tools are only as effective as the culture they grow.

Using Legos as an example, the core issues of eliminating waste, creating flow and demonstrating the need to have a climate of change can be shown in a small area with minimal costs. Properly done, it is a framework for future lean learning and can help to being participants more quickly on board with the ideas that continuous improvement has definite strategies and goals. Lean and continuous improvement activities have been around long enough to create concerns about ambiguity and confusing goals. I believe that is the direct fault of people who tried ot oversimplify lean and sold it to unsuspecting companies who were desperate to fix problems that had already gone past the date of no return.

One of the hallmarks of many continuous improvement implementations since 1996 has been the use of some kind of experiential learning device. These devices are used primarily when dealing with large groups in group settings to try and demonstrate the concepts. Normally time is a critical factor and finding a way to introduce game changing terms and ideas required some out of the box thinking. Companies such as Ford, GM, ALCOA and others have all tried corporation wide initiatives and at one point or another tried a cookie cutter approach to achieve lean.

Experiential learning has been around for a long time in business and industry and comes in many forms. According to David A. Kolb, an American educational theorist, knowledge is continuously gained through both personal and environmental experiences. He states that in order to gain genuine knowledge from an experience, certain abilities are required:

1. The learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience;

2. The learner must be able to reflect on the experience;

3. The learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and

4. The learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.

The particular types of experiential learning experiences used have evolved over the years. They can be as complex as making paper airplanes in a make believe factory setting with takt times and production goals plus quality issues. The very first lean exercise I helped to facilitate involved dozens of people in a number of these “factories” with a centralized planning and deployment activity. The sales team that sold the implementation project to the customer must have promised that unicorns could actually fly since managing such a chaotic process almost created a riot among the participants. Imagine a roomful of unhappy hardened union factory workers being told they will learn a new skill from folding paper into airplanes.

Subsequent implementations have been a little less insane in scope and size. This has allowed me to make some observations over time as to which methods are more successful and how they can actually be used to have a good effect. This is not a how to list for a person with no adult learning experience by the way. If you are reading this because last week you got a new assignment from your manager to spread lean in your workplace, you probably should start working on polishing up your resume. You have just been set up to fail.

Facilitation of an experiential event of any kind requires some background work. As identified above by Kolb’s study, getting the people to participate is a critical factor for success. Forcing them to participate in any event against their will often leads to an unmitigated disaster. There are some important steps that can be taken but let me give you one last warning: the learning I am about to relate has come from a number of years of success and FAILUREs. If it possible at all, seek individual help from someone who has examples of both under their belt before you try this on your own.

Still here? Great. Let’s get started.

By asking yourself the following questions, you can anticipate and create countermeasures for the activity you are about to enter into. It is by no means complete and I don’t have the ability to fully go into every step but these are some examples.


· First and foremost, will you be using this as a part of a comprehensive plan and not just a stop gap measure? Experiential learning can be as useful as any other tool at your disposal if you have built it into a complete plan. Just as teaching someone how to organize their workplace does not make your factory lean, teaching a few concepts using any methodology will not create a lean workforce. The oldest adage in the book: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


· What is the target audience? Age, experience, position in the company, length of service and so on can be factors in understanding the challenges and opportunities ahead of you. Younger age groups will more than likely feel more affinity with hands on learning since their generation has already been accustomed to learning through unconventional means. More seasoned workers will probably push back if the ground is not properly prepared for their participation. In no cases should you set up an experiential learning experience where any age participants will lose too much “face”.


· Why are they here? Are they prisoners sent against their will or are they willing participants. I would love to encourage you and tell you that all participants came to your class to better themselves but we know better. In most cases, they have been sent to learn this “new stuff” and it is already a little threatening to the way of work they are accustomed to. Some will be worrying about the future of their jobs, some will be annoyed at having to be in a classroom setting and most do not want to reveal any personal weaknesses in front of their peers that will be heard later that day in the lunch room. The facilitator can make or break a program by displaying his or her own attitude towards what may appear to be push back and rejection in the early going of the class.


· How many facilitators are needed for each group? The answer depends on the complexity of the “game” selected. I have managed a typical Lego game by myself with small groups but try to have a co-facilitator/helper to manage the mechanics of the process. Special warning: Do not try and teach the co-facilitator the morning of the event. You will not only have a potentially hostile class, you will also have an actively hostile co-facilitator.


· The method for using an experiential learning device is deceptively simple which makes it all the more dangerous to someone with little experience. Understanding the adult learner is a critical first step. Understanding the need for properly laying the groundwork before using the experience is just as critical.


· Time and resources. How much time do you have to develop the process and where will the resources come from? Is there a place that can easily be converted for the task? Set up and tear down are also important. Even with an experiential learning experience, your participants will be much more at ease if everything is already set up and there is no “fumbling” around on the facilitator’s part. I will never forget when a very large truck assembler in my first event in Kentucky walked over to the obviously distressed facilitator’s table and asked “Do any of you educated people have a clue what you are doing?” I am afraid we didn’t. But no one had to actually tell him that as he walked away in disgust.


We get few chances to overcome a first impression. Any improperly used learning experience will have long lasting effects. When you are using one in an already uncomfortable setting, those effects most likely will spill over into all of the areas you are trying to change. Even though we often use children’s toys for examples, this is anything but child’s play. If it is done effectively as a part of a comprehensive program, you have a chance to help move the needle in a positive direction.

Mister Mac