Rules for Achieving Production Goals

Knowledge Check!Some may scoff, others may scowl, but I will tell you an open secret, if you are not quality first, production goals will never be achieved.  Sure, a company may hit a target now and then, of course a quarterly statement might come in on target, but reliable production cannot be achieved without quality focus and the following rules.

With more than 20 years’ experience in manufacturing, supply chains, logistics, call centers, and much more, the following production rules are at least a moment of your time for reading and two moments for consideration.  Yes, there are a lot of people who will claim they have the path to success mapped and if you follow it, you to can achieve success.  I am not one of them!  I have tried and true lessons, I have common sense approaches, and I offer freely information that when combined with your knowledge, and the people you have working for you, solutions can be generated to achieve success.

  1. Quality is everyone’s job! – Tell me; whose job is it to pick up trash in the parking lot? How much litter is in your parking lot, trapped against the fence, collecting around the dumpsters, and crowding the floors of your facility inside and out?
    • A colleague states the following:
      • I can tell you within five seconds after arriving the quality mindset of the facility I am visiting, by looking at the parking lot.”
    • My colleague is correct; every facility I have visited that has had a clean parking lot, where employees and managers are picking up after themselves, has a quality culture worth emulation. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true!
    • What does your parking lot look like?
  2. Never take your customer, employee, shareholder, vendor, etc., where YOUR brain has not traveled first! – I sat in a meeting where the leader openly admitted, after telling the new strategic focus, goals, and mission plan, when answering questions about this plan regarding implementation, stated, “I haven’t thought that far ahead.” That company is bankrupt.  Not because they did not have good products, customers willing to buy, or great service, but because the leadership took the business places they had not personally already traveled in their minds.
    • How can you expect any goal to be achieved if you cannot answer implementation questions?
    • How can people follow if you do not know where you are headed?
    • Where are you going and has your brain already traveled there?
  3. Data will be misinterpreted if specific explanations are not included! – New manager, fresh from school, knew all the lingo, had all the buzzwords memorized, was handed a sheet of data, and failed to comprehend what the data meant. Worse, he led others into ruin by misinterpreting data.  If data is not explained, if the why behind data is not clearly understood, if the data story is incomplete, the data is useless, meaningless, and valueless!
    • What is your data story?
    • How do you train others in your data story?
    • Can other people explain the why behind the data, or do they have to come to you for that explanation?
  4. When in doubt, trust your people! – Time does not allow me to relate even a tenth of the stories where the people have proven the data wrong, have gone above and beyond expectations, and achieved miracles. Yet too often the people are the first ones cut in a crisis.
    • Juran’s Rule – When something is going wrong, 90% of the time it is the process, not the people. Yet, how many times are the people blamed for bad processes?
    • Appreciative Inquiry – The theory that states that when you have a problem, the people already in the positions doing the job, hold the answers needed to fixing the problems. Yet, how many times are the people the first one’s lost in crisis?
  5. Data lies; humans live! – Recently the data stated that the problem in a facility was in a specific area. The specific area was encouraged to perform better.  The management thought, “Problem solved.”  Production goals were missed, more counseling to this specific area, more encouragement to achieve, more focused spending to target pain points.  Still missed production goals.  Nobody looked beyond what the data said was the problem, and the data was suffering from a pretty severe case of GIGO (Garbage In = Garbage Out).  There was no production goal problem in the area specified, the problem was on the other side of the plant, and because of the investment in the wrong area, it took longer and more resources to fix the proper area.
    • When data is purported to have “concluded” anything, first give it a reality check!
    • Data is only as good as the inputs.
    • Humans live in the real world, whereas data lives in an altered reality that mimics (rarely) the real world.
    • Never forget, data lies. Data can, at best, only support a decision direction.  Data cannot conclude, prove, or justify anything.
  6. The Rule of 6-P’s – The Rule of 6-P’s is known in various forms and words, but the sentiment is always the same, “Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Purely, Poor, Performance.” Yet, how often is planning done without proper prior activities?  How often is poor performance blamed on everything but poor prior planning?
    • Do you know what proper prior planning looks like as an activity?
    • What is involved in prior planning, and how do you tell the difference between proper and improper prior planning?
    • Who is involved in prior planning and why are they there?
  7. Celebrate small achievements! – Here is another open secret, rarely implemented, always discounted, but remains the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox, praise! That’s it.  Praise is better than cash gifts for the brain, research and fMRI imagery support this conclusion.  The research is fascinating.  Yet, honest, regular, sincere praise continues to be the most overlooked aspect of leadership in business today!
    • Praise is celebrating achievement with someone else.
    • Celebrating success is imperative to moral, discipline, and enthusiasm in the workplace.
    • When was the last time you showed genuine praise for your people? When was the last tangible “Thank you” witnessed?  Who witnessed that gratitude, praise, and celebration?
    • Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Issue praise!  Celebrate all achievements, but most of all celebrate the small achievements.
  8. Success is a choice, but you need everyone making this choice! – Find me a successful team where one team member is not fully and wholly committed to achieving success, and I will show you a team that missed achieving the highest success. Production goals are the exact same thing, if everyone on the team does not know the goal, know the why, and are committed to achieving the production goal, that goal will be missed!
    • How do you find the person not interested in achieving the production goal; who is dropping trash and not picking it up?
    • What do you do when the person is identified; that depends, are you a learning organization or a money pit? If a money pit, that person is fired.  If a learning organization, then it is time to ask questions, discover reasons, and explore options.
    • How do you choose to lead, carrot or stick?
  9. Success is designed; who is drawing the lines? – One of the most egregious problems in today’s world is the delegation of authority to those not worthy or capable. On a consultation the boss had delegated his role to an author of a book.  Every question asked of the leader, he grabbed this author’s book and looked for an answer.  The book is a good resource, but the lack of application to direct business problems was not the author’s intent and was beyond the authors ability.
    • Who is drawing the lines designing what success looks like?
    • Why?
  10. The Pyramid Analogy – Use it, Live it, Love it!

The Pyramid Analogy

Consider the triangle from geometry, there are six different classifications, all of which demonstrate production goal attainment, but only the equilateral triangle makes up the pyramid, and only the equilateral triangle can report success in production goal attainment.

Right Triangles:

Right triangle - WikipediaA right triangle has one 90° angle.

The Acute:

Acute triangle | Acute angled triangle
The Acute Triangle has three acute angles (an acute angle measure less than 90°).

The Obtuse:

Obtuse Angled Triangle | Formula and Properties | Solved Examples & Practice Questions
The Obtuse Triangle has an obtuse angle (an obtuse angle is more than 90°).  Since the total degrees in any triangle is 180°, an obtuse triangle can only have one angle that measures more than 90°.

The Isosceles:

Properties of Isosceles Triangle - Definition & Solved Examples
The Isosceles triangle has two equal sides and two equal angles.

The Scalene:

Scalene Triangle (Definition, Area, Perimeter & Examples)
The Scalene Triangle has no congruent sides. In other words, each side must have a different length.

The Equilateral:

Properties of Equilateral Triangles | Brilliant Math & Science Wiki
The Equilateral triangle has three congruent sides and three congruent angles.  Each angle is 60°.

The Pyramid is an interesting shape, it is self-replicating from a single equilateral triangle.  The pyramid is a five-sided object that represents one of the strongest shapes in the galaxy, with integrity to flex without breaking and being destroyed.  Did you know that if you drew straight lines inside the equilateral triangle, and bent the triangle along those lines, a pyramid would take shape?

Volume of a Pyramid - Assignment PointConsider the production environment and the variables generally fall into three categories, inbound, or products needed to make something for a customer; outbound, the product shipped to a customer; quality, the need to ensure the product is acceptable for the customer.

Using a right triangle, if outbound is the 90-degree angle, your quality is way out of reach, and inbound inputs and outbound deliveries are not being properly reviewed by quality.  Thus, the production environment cannot function to its fullest potential, because all three, inbound, outbound, and quality, are not working equally together.

Bobblehead DollTake any other triangle and the story is exactly the same.  When the inbound and the outbound are not equally bound to quality, and quality is not equally bound to inbound and outbound, resources are not properly shared, time is wasted, and production goals will never be met!  Arrange the variables anyway you prefer, and if the pattern is not an equilateral pattern, there is a problem in the production environment and production goals will be missed, opportunities, lost, and money follows potential right out the door.

Follow the rules and watch production meet goals almost by magic.  Fail to follow the rules and production will continue to struggle.  Production goals are effort incarnate, humans pump efforts in, looking for results.  The goals are statistical symbols reporting success, failure, and percentages of improvement towards goals.  At then end of the day, the human element is the only variable worthy of consideration in meeting production goals, and quality is the badge of honor in human efforts.  Thus, quality is the tool that promotes production goal attainment.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Uncomfortable Truths: Department of Veterans Affairs, are you listening?

It was surprising that the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically share health information with third parties without the veterans written consent unless the veteran opts-out in writing or submit a revocation in writing submitted in person or by US mail.  Especially surprising is that the official form for opting-out is not legally active until October 2019, and the deadline for opting-out, in writing, is 30 September 2019.  While this news if significantly troubling, let us define the full problem, courtesy of the Department of Veterans Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

I-CareOn 12 September 2019, the VA-OIG completed their investigation into the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field system (BFFS), who handle benefits payments for veterans and other beneficiaries who, due to injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their financial affairs and are thus vulnerable to fraud or abuse.  The veterans affected are those who are the most susceptible in the veteran population, and the government agency charged with protecting, helping, and supporting these veterans is vulnerable to fraud and misuse.  In fact, the VA-OIG found that the BFFS, “… lacked sufficient controls to ensure the privacy of sensitive data and prevent fraud and misuse. Specifically, finding the VA’s Office of Information and Technology inappropriately set the security risk level for BFFS at moderate instead of high. Risk managers did not follow established standards and did not consider whether information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries stored in the system’s database was sufficiently protected.”

Yet, the VA is now making available to third-parties, the health records of veterans.  Does anyone else see a problem?  Previously I have written about the continuing risk of veteran’s files from being accessed by persons unknown, and how this problem does not slow, simply how the VA has stopped reporting how bad the problem continues to be.  Personally, I have been a victim of ID Theft from VA Data breaches three times.  I have had VA Employees surf my medical records and then use this data to discriminate against me.  I have witnessed blatant HIPAA violations by VA Employees without hospital leaders taking any action.  Now, the VA is going to “share” my medical record access with “interested parties.”  I have some concerns!

Just in case your attention was drifting due to fallacious impeachment proceedings, the VA inappropriately sole-sourced contracts for ambulance services in three separate Veteran Health Administration Regional Procurement Offices (RPO).  The significance of this event is evidenced in the lack of competition for government contracts.  Designed incompetence was the origination of this issue, the contracting officer claimed, “I didn’t know.”  The contracting officer, who must go to school to obtain authority to enter into contracts for the Federal Government, somehow “didn’t know” about the regulations and rules for sole-sourcing a contract.  I have some doubts!

In further news from VA-OIG investigations, we find another contracting officer who claims, “I don’t know,” to hide behind designed incompetence in sole-sourcing contracts.  From the VA-OIG inspection report, “15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million, were inspected to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The contracting officers in RPO West, who “misunderstood who the proper approval authority was.”  Are you kidding me?

Blue Money BurningThe VA-OIG reports, “when contracting officers violate federal regulation by failing to obtain the required approval for sole-source contracts, they exceed their contracting authority.”  Contracting officers work with the approving authority, how can they not “know” who they work for and how to obtain proper authorization?  The excuses are weak and inexcusable; as an operation professional, the first step in getting to know the business is to know who answers the questions, who has the authority, and where that person is located.  For contracting officers, the approving authority is the boss, either the employees do not know who they are working for, or there are significant issues in lines of authority, and both situations speak of phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.

Just like the Home Shopping Network is always claiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  RPO East, not to be outdone by RPO West, had the VA-OIG inspect “20 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO East totaling $41.4 million. The OIG found RPO East contracting officers did not obtain required approval before awarding 10 contracts worth about $14.2 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  If RPO West is suffering from “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership,” then RPO East is beyond saving under the current leadership, and I call upon Secretary Wilkie and his team to scrub RPO East leadership and start over under strict quality review teams to ensure compliance and correction.  I repeat, only for emphasis, this situation is inexcusable.  The contracting officers must attend school, must know the regulations, and must not “individually interpret” the purchasing rules, and they know this from the first second on the job.  I was made aware of sole-source contracting regulations, and I was not a contracting officer.

RPO West has the follow-through needed to boil someone’s blood.  “The VA-OIG reviewed 15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  I rescind my earlier comments about the ability to save RPO West, I call upon Secretary Wilkie to personally ax the leadership at both RPO East and West, to start on a clean slate the contracting officers, leadership, and then strictly observe and implement a quality control mechanism to protect the taxpayer.

People ProcessesSpeaking of “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.”  Please allow me to prepare the groundwork for the subsequent VA-OIG investigation.  To be a supervisor in the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery, you first must work in the positions you will be supervising.  This information was passed during a job-interview by the hiring authority and confirmed by several VA directors since.  From the VA-OIG Report, we find, “a supervisor at the VA regional office in Boston, Massachusetts, incorrectly processed system-generated messages known as “work items.”  The supervisor, “incorrectly canceled 33 of 55 work items out of 110 reviewed (that’s a less than 50% accuracy), and improperly cleared another nine work items from the electronic record. Because of these incorrectly processed cases, VA made about $117,300 in improper payments to veterans or other beneficiaries, along with about $8,600 in delayed payments.”  Best of all, the supervisor claimed these work items were improperly handled because, “he did not intentionally process the work items incorrectly, and the errors were the result of working too quickly and misunderstanding procedures.”  You are the supervisor, you are in charge, you should know who to approach for guidance and clarification, you have caused significant harm to veterans who either are not being paid or now must repay funds improperly provided.  There is an obvious question here, “If the supervisor is less than 50% accurate, what is the accuracy of the supervisor’s team?”  While the VA-OIG cannot investigate this question, is the director investigating this question?

If the accuracy of claims handling personnel is less than 50%, how can any veteran be sure their claim has been handled properly?  Having been forced to repay funds to the VA, I can attest to the financial impact these over and underpayments cause for veterans.  When will these decision-making officers be held personally accountable for improper decisions?  Senators, members of the House of Representatives, what are you doing to support improving the VA, in conjunction with Secretary Wilkie?  From what I witness, not enough!

You're FiredFrom the files of “Not Enough,” comes another egregious example.  A patient in a psychological ward in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania VA Medical Center was killed because of a drug-to-drug interaction, were due to insufficient observation, insufficient monitoring, and inadequate action when the patient coded, and a veteran died at the hands of caregivers.  When a patient in a hospital ward, which is monitored electronically and physically, commits suicide, I become very agitated.  When any patient dies at the hands of the healthcare provider, I have officially lost my “cherub-like demeanor” and begin resembling a grizzly bear with a bum tooth, hemorrhoids, and woken too soon from my winter nap.  The VA-OIG Report states the following, “… providers did not monitor the patient for electrocardiogram changes or drug-on-drug interactions.  Staff and providers documented signs consistent with over-sedation but did not intervene, communicate directly with each other, or add team members on as additional signers to the electronic health record.  The facility did not comply with the Veterans Health Administration requirements for issue briefs, root cause analyses, and peer reviews.  The staff did not follow the facility’s observation policy.  Facility providers did not adhere to policies requiring discussion, documentation, and patient signed informed consents prior to initiating methadone treatment.”  The providers knew they had a problem, before the patient got into trouble, and did nothing!  In any civilian hospital, this is called malpractice; but in the VA Hospital system, “this is an unfortunate incident.”  While I am undoubtedly glad leadership acted to remedy this situation in the future; I am very displeased to note it ever occurred.  With all the publicity over the power of methadone as an opioid, with the technology to remedy these problems before the patient dies, I cannot accept this situation could occur in the first place!  This veteran’s death should never have happened and the fact that this veteran died at the hands of providers from over-sedation, is a testament to the incompetence designed into the VA processes that excuses accountability and rewards malfeasance.

Speaking of opioid medication problems, the VA-OIG inspected 779,000 VA patients prescribed opioids, and for 73% (568,670) of those patients there was an insufficient investigation by the primary care providers in consulting the state-operated prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to ensure over-medication did not occur.  The VA-OIG estimated that 19% of those files improperly handled placed patients at risk because of medications prescribed outside the VA Medical System.  With the constant harangue from the mainstream media over opioid addiction and deaths from opioids, a person might ask, where is the concern?  Why isn’t this a talking point in a Congressional Investigation to understand why, and then begin to implement changes to ensure the VA is not stained with more veteran deaths over opioids.  Finally, with an accuracy rate of less than 25%, it appears to me this problem needs immediate rectification using technology and quality control measures at the local level to improve adherence.

blue-moneyI would like to take a moment and thank the VA-OIG for stepping up to the plate and correcting pre-award contract pricing to save the American taxpayer $515 million because the contracting officer on 16 of 22 proposed pharmaceutical contracts was improperly priced.  In case you are wondering, the accuracy of the contracting officers was less than 75%.  I know of no industry, business, or service organization that can have a 75% or less accuracy rate and remains in business.  As a business operation and purchasing professional, these numbers appear to suggest that the contract officers are either intentionally neglectful, or they are counting on pre-award review to protect them from price gouging; both situations are inexcusable for a contracting officer for the Federal Government.

Thank you!As the Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (LA VOCREHAB) was recently featured in an article, I am pleased to see that hiring additional staff has improved performance, per the findings of the VA-OIG.  The VA-OIG Report found accuracy in spending money had increased, compliance, and helping veterans to gain employment had all increased since the damning report from the VA-OIG; thus, congratulations to the LA VOCREHAB program!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.