Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gregg Meyer and his life before Teaching....

Gregg Meyer teaches Engineering at Sylvania

The Tokyo Two-Step
Circling in on continuous improvement

I enjoy change. Yet curiously, whenever I find myself in a totally new setting, my brain tries to map the present to the past much like Google Maps plunks down green and red pins and draws a zigzagging purple line between them. The transition from industry to education has forced many such correlation ponderings this past year. New acronyms, rules and terminologies spring up almost daily; will they ever slow down? Last Fall, I began hearing the “A” word echoing through our cold concrete corridors until one day it burst its way right through our SAC meeting door. It arrived with less welcome than dear old Uncle Bob received when he showed up just in time for our Thanksgiving feast.

Silently, I contemplated the reactions of my new peers. Were they merely resistant to change? Were they staunch protectors of their freedom to instruct as they pleased? Or, perhaps their apprehensions were symptomatic of “Initiative Fatigue”. You know, that syndrome brought on by the endless fad cycles imposed upon employees by management and their teams of highly paid consultants. Hmmm.

After 30 years in corporate manufacturing I’d become numb to the continuum of packaged paradigms each hailed as the solution to all our woes. Just In Time (JIT) inventory, Agile, Lean and Six Sigma (obviously one through five failed miserably); the epiphanies never waned— all proof that Dilbert was not a cartoon!

Thus, for those of you whose knee-jerk reaction to “Assessments” has left you with bruised chins, I get it. What in the world will they think of next? How can they make their jobs easier and yours… well… not? I have a surprise— Assessments can actually make your jobs easier and even more rewarding! Skeptical? Read on…

I call it the “Tokyo Two-Step: Hoshin & Kaizen”. These intertwined disciplines are the only two lingo artifacts I’ve observed to have stood the test of time. Pre-dating my manufacturing career by decades these Japanese expressions ironically have their roots tied to a crusty American gent named Dr. Edward W Deming. In the early 1950’s, Deming flew to Japan to help rebuild their war-decimated industry by employing his statistical process control techniques. Requiring no costly measurement devices, companies like Toyota Motor Company latched onto both his methodology and unwavering focus on quality. Although Deming went on to pen a total of 14 Principles of Transformative Leadership, his prime directive was simple: “Create constancy of purpose towards continuous improvement”. Hoshin, like many foreign terms, is difficult to distill into a single concept. The one I’ve most easily internalized suggests that Hoshin represents a cyclical process that spirals ever inward towards your Reason for Being.

Pop Quiz: What was Toyota’s first car called? Answer: the “Toyopet” (your likely failure is forgiven, but no worries, future assessment opportunities await:-). Notice how that name never got resurrected? I’ll just go on record that this 27hp wondercar wouldn’t have been a JD Power candidate. Yet post-Deming, Toyota’s encoding of quality into their DNA and universal buy-in to countless Hoshin cycles has earned them the highest dependability rating and netted them more quality awards than any auto manufacturer in history. As commercial-like as this sounds, Deming is acknowledged to have had a greater positive impact on Japanese manufacturing than any individual of non-Japanese heritage (an honor that subsequently earned him their “Order of the Sacred Treasure” award on behalf of Emperor Hirohito; of closer to home interest— Deming was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Oregon State for his advancements in manufacturing quality).

If Hoshin maps effective planning, Kaizen is the compass. Kaizen represents daily actions that ever so gradually guide your journey. Together, Hoshin and Kaizen form a reverse engineering team dismantling your mission, parsing it into one to three year objectives (read Assessment Plans) and measuring it terms of simple and sequential tasks. Each atom of action is to be practiced daily until it gets relegated to your brain’s background processing. Isn’t it ironic that actions requiring no thought are the ones that most consistently get done? This is Kaizen in action!

Pop Quiz #2: “Did you lock your car today?” Most will answer “yes”, but few can actually recall the specific act (your assessments are showing signs of improvement).

My Kaizen thought experiment:

If I were to take roll every single class period until the process became fully habitualized, would I get to know my students’ names more quickly? Would this in turn help build deeper individual connections? Don’t better connections foster trust? If a student were to trust me, perhaps they would share a little more about themselves and what makes them tick. With such insights, I could ensure the points I make in class come from relevant perspectives and improve the odds of them catching the balls I toss. Wow, learning might now really be taking root! When I administer my next exam I’ll bet they give better answers and that will save perhaps five hours of grading time. Result: Now I can focus on the more interesting aspects of teaching. Step, step, repeat. Win.

Final Quiz:
1. Might this daily work geared toward accumulating Kaizen wins pay off when program assessments come due?
2. “With a constancy of purpose towards continuous improvement” could Hoshin planning help PCC’s Six Core Outcomes thrive?
3. In the picture below, can you visualize the underlying element leading towards a long-term goal? Can you spot the Hoshin cycles or little Kaizen wins? How might you make real-time adjustments to keep the system in tune?

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