Tuesday, May 26, 2009

North Pacific gyre

I've always been fascinated with how the ocean works, how waters flow, significant tides occur, and the big heat transfer system it exibits.

It's no surprise looking at this current map that there would be water not moving very far in the Pacific ocean. This is the North Pacific gyre. You may have seen pictures of what gets captured here many years ago. I thought it'd be worth a review today. Charles Moore talks at TED about our waste.

If you'd like some ideas on how to reduce your intake of packaging and thus your consequent release of garbage, you'll enjoy following Dave's blog, 365 Days of Trash.

Image from duenos.net

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Your green office footprint

I’ve talked a little already about under- standing energy usage in the house- hold and how lowering such translates directly to my pocket book as well as a good feeling that the local power plant is burning less coal because of moi.

What about my office?

What about your office?

Replacing appliances, equipment, changing insulation, and adding south facing windows are all pretty expensive investments to make to your home or office. In any quest to be ‘less bad’ in regard to sustainability, starting simple is the key.

In an economy where everyone is perhaps a little more desperate for customers, if you could also market yourself as more ‘green’ and thereby more professionally ‘cost conscious’ wouldn’t you be more competitive?

It’s hip. It’s responsible. It’s about cutting overhead.

Wouldn’t cutting your electric bills make your margins just a tweensy bit bigger? For me when it comes to greening your home or office, there are four areas to target: energy use, waste reduction, air quality and water use.

Energy use

My office is easy because there are so few of us (and by few, I mean two). To save energy we keep the printer/copier off until we need it and strive to only print in the afternoon. We also turn off the coffee maker to stop the power company from sipping energy while we’re sipping the fruits of our brewing genius. Did you know that across the US, the cost of powering appliances when they are turned off adds up to over $1 billion a year? I’m talking about the digital clocks and internal low power sipping activity going on with these appliances of course.

We’ve installed CFLs of course but find much better peace with natural light. By the way, CFLs that emit harsh blue lighting should be banned in my opinion. Not only are they hard on the eyes but they give CFLs a bad name. There are plenty of warm and low Wattage CFLs on the market that incorporating these into your office may not even be noticed –except by you and your lower energy bills. I evaluated my home lighting usage and I think you’ll be surprised how much I save by converting to (warm light) CFLs; see spreadsheets here.

Waste reduction

The biggest waste from my office is paper. Whether its scratch paper I’m ideating on or misprints. Whether it’s for me or a customer, I double side print when ever possible. It saves paper and frankly I think the customer notices I’m saving paper and ultimately costs to him.

Nothing beats a face to face meeting. Nothing. I do however have clients that are far away and while we meet when necessary I try to keep my availability open through IM, Skype, and video conferencing even if it’s just to catch up and even if this colleague is located ten miles away.

Air Quality

I’m perhaps lucky in that my office has windows that open and wood floors that are both easily cleaned and not emitting toxic carpet fumes. Choosing the right cleansers makes a difference in that off gassing not only smells bad but well, is just that: off gassing – chemicals wafting through the air. To read more from experts try both these Canadian and US government reports.

Water Use

An office certainly has a leg up over a manufacturing facility and understanding your processes will go a long way in reducing potable water use and potentially implementing reuse of process water back into your operation or part of your heating & cooling system. Read more about what others are doing here.

I’d like to learn what you do to save on energy as well as how you look at the whole energy use verses CO2 picture.

I’m keenly interested to learn about changes you’ve made in both your office and manufacturing facilities to conserve and how these changes have affected your colleagues (if at all).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Managing time verses productivity

I like to talk about time manage- ment because it's a phrase that I grew up with in my corporate career. But let's be straight:

Just as 2+ 1 does not equal 4,

Managing Time does not equal Productivity.

I'm not saying you won't get a lot of things done by understanding all the things you want to do, all the things you're getting paid to do, then breaking down those projects into actionable tasks. you could be super busy doing all those tasks and more having lots of 'checks' in your planner.

By working and even finishing tasks that don't get you closer to reaching your goals - work or personal, you'll find yourself perhaps more stressed and feeling like you don't have enough time in the day because what you are working on isn't in harmony with what you ultimately want to do. Perhaps what you choose to do everyday (even following your to-do list) isn't getting you any closer to the end of your project.


If you're not working on the right stuff (- on what's important to you -) deep down you know it. Deep down you know what you should be working on. This knowledge you carry deep down inside of you is screaming for attention and this is causing you stress.

Important tasks support both your values and your goals. These goals could be work related and assigned. These goals could be personal ventures. The same rules apply.

Understand the big picture of what you're trying to achieve. From this you can define the path to get there: what needs to happen, who you will work with, how to do it, and what you don't know.

Understand what it is you really want to achieve. We have a lot of ideas in business and it is all our job to ensure that what we do supports the corporate vision. Has your project deviated? Perhaps it's time to stop - or redine the corporate direction. Is the corporation you?

Focus on showing up for yourself. If you've gone to the trouble of understanding how your direction supports the project that supports the vision of the company and you know how to get there, what are you doing continuing research for that old project this morning - or worse, checking your email and twitter accounts 25 times a day? (go ahead, track how many times per day you look - it may surprise you)

The constant review of your plan and important tasks you've assigned yourself each day will remind you how you can be best productive. You will work on your important stuff.

You can always procrastinate tomorrow.

Rarely do I start a project where I know everything about what I need to do and the technology required.

What do you do when you don't know?

Building momentum for yourself is equally important as building and maintaining momentum for a team. Momentum inspires, energizes, and creates believers. Sometimes it's necessary to make a decision when all the information isn't present. To quote an old manager, you "reserve the right to get smarter." There will always be things you don't know. Building time into your schedule and planning to learn may help remove your personal "this road ends" signs.

Show up for yourself. Cherish your day. Do More.

Extra: I like the way Dr. Manlowe talks about TIME in her recent article. She also echoes the assignment by the book, The Artist's Way by recommending writing every morning to both clear your head and align your vision with your day's agenda. I do this as both a writer and an engineer. It works.

Image credit, Jeff Morrison. Symbol # indicating 'does not equal' used as blogspot.com does not recognize input of actual symbol 9April2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the problem with problem solving

Problems are an everyday occurrence in business; some more easily fixed than others. To be sure, the problems fixed the easiest are the ones that we know the most about; we know what the issues are, we actually know what happened, and we know why we didn’t notice.

The problem with problem solving is that ironically the quickest problems solved are often not the real problems at all but a symptom of the root cause. This isn’t to say that fixing all that is broken is a bad thing; it merely suggests that you will continue to suffer with the problems generated by the true root cause.

Problem solving can be broken down simply enough:

Find out what’s wrong,

fix it,

then check to make sure it’s really fixed.

Ford’s 8D process takes it a bit further breaking down these steps into recognizable actionable tasks. Where the 8D fails, is in helping us to understand that all steps are not created equal. Defining a problem is pretty complex if you’re not sure what it is. A failure on your production floor could be happening on several lines, with different machines, on an irregular basis, etc. Similarly, determining the root cause and analyzing risk for possible solutions is more like a six step process. Frankly a 19D would be a little cumbersome if not intimidating.

Let’s focus on root cause analysis here. There is one basic question one should ask when figuring out the root cause; that question is:


It’s best phrased like this: Why did it happen? And: Why didn’t we notice? We ask these two questions because with every one root cause, two things happen: 1) it happens, and 2) it escaped our attention getting to the customer. To be effective answering each scenario, it’s important to address each “why” separately.

The tricky part is in truly answering (the why) and considering most of the causes. Keeping it simple is a no brainer, but how often do you really keep it simple?

Ask your self and your team, “Why?” Then directly answer that new question.

You will get many answers to your “why” questions. Each answer represents a new trail to investigate.

Asking and answering questions takes very little time. Ignoring a line of thought or a trail you think you know all too well might make the difference in figuring out the root cause verses fixing a few things that you know are already wrong (but not really the main contributor to your problem).

Extra: As you know I’m all about training. I enjoy the camaraderie and energy of a large classroom and to see the differences in team dynamics during the application sessions. Small team training where you can take their top priority relevant issue of the day and lead them through this exercise drives home the effectiveness of root cause permanent correction action; ie: problem solving.