I Feel For Toyota

During my fifty-three year career in manufacturing, I developed a flair for solving a problem. It is not easy.  In order to find the root cause you have to continue to ask why until people think you are nuts.  My last job was manufacturing a product that we made in the billions. The item is relatively simple in appearance, but it is highly functional. The product is a cable tie. The original purpose of the cable tie was to hold wires together.  Over the years, people have learned to find many applications for this unique item.

My team designed the product, designed and made the molds that produced the product, and set the quality requirements of the manufacturing process. Often we received a complaint. Usually, a customer told us the ties were breaking. He wanted us to fix the problem. Our sales staff immediately replaced his defective product. Most of the time, it was a single package.  My engineers always asked for samples of the failures and any unused samples from the package that the failure ties came from. The failed tie often contained clues to why it failed.  The unused samples gave us some product to test in our lab. If we were very lucky, the Quality Control number was still on the package. That number allowed us to trace the manufacturing process variables.

Usually, I received a handful of broken ties from the complaint. With those samples, it became my job to determine what caused the failure.  I will not bore you with the details of how I proceeded, but if I could not duplicate the problem in the lab, I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Many times, we shut down our highest producing mold until there was an answer.  Talk about pressure to do something.  I can only imagine what is going on within Toyota right now, but I have a good feeling for what it is. I feel for the engineers whose job it is to solve the problem.

Currently, I drive a 2005 Toyota Avalon. I have rehearsed my reaction to a runaway acceleration many times. I only hope that if it happens that I have enough time to react appropriately before I kill myself or someone else. I have dubbed my car the Death Star. At this writing, I am listening to the Senate questioning of the CEO of Toyota. The man, Akio Toyoda from Toyota, said their fix might not be the answer to the acceleration problem. That is a nice way of saying they still do not have a clue about what is causing the problem.

I also studied the quality process taught by US guru Joe Duran, and utilized by the Japanese car companies. In this program, Duran taught that it is cost effective to shut a line down when you find a problem, and leave it down until you fix the problem.  That is a hard concept to swallow. Most manufacturing companies do not buy into it. Mine often did, but the justification for shutting down a mold had to be great. In Toyota’s move to stop selling cars, and to shut down their factories until they fix the quality problem, they practice what they preach. They will come out as winners in the long term.

In the meantime, I bet there are at least a thousand engineers running like chickens with their heads cut off trying to duplicate the problem. As they analyze every aspect of the design, they will come up with ideas that are very probably the answer, and they will implement solutions. They may even stumble upon the root cause and re-create the problem. That is when I will believe they have solved the problem, and until then I drive the Death Star.

The Power of “Why”

The number of health care bills being presented for our benevolence is overwhelming.  A bunch of radical liberal lawyers elected to represent us are hiring major lobby groups to write legislation. The writers must get paid by the page because the bills get longer and longer. I can only imagine that the cost to us will escalate with each page.

Intelligent Design

It is obvious to me that there isn’t a single problem solver in the entire administration. They haven’t got a clue as to how to approach the solution to health care reform. I was faced with cost cutting situations many times on my job. We never approached the problem by inventing a new one. The first step is to define the problem. The next step is to analyze where your money is going. The next step is to find the root cause. Then, and only then, could we design improvements or alternatives.

None of this is easy. It takes a lot of diligent effort and focus to stay on track. So far, I have heard only two things that define the health care problem: 1. The cost is too high. 2. End of life costs account for too much of the budget.

I also hear many remarks telling me that the bills will cut waste and fraud to pay for the improvements. Have you ever heard of a single page in any of the bills that is dedicated to finding and cutting waste? If you find one, let me know the number of the bill and the page, I want to read it. 

Put me in charge of this problem and I will come up with true reform, not reinvention to dump the old and begin with a new mire of costs. First, I would form a team of the best Black Belt Engineers that I know. We would insist on accurate definition of the problem. Second, we would conduct a Pareto analysis of the money being spent on the entire healthcare system. This would include the costs spent by insurance companies as well as providers. Don’t get me wrong, this is not simple. Getting those numbers would be a monumental charge. They are necessary however, in order to effect true reform. Currently, all we have is the total cost. In order to know how to reform, we need a breakdown of cost by functions. What are the functions: Administration, hospital, medical staff, supplies, records, legal, insurance, drugs, etc. Not having the cost categories in front of me limits how many categories I can assign charges to. All of these costs would then be totaled and charted;  the highest cost to the lowest cost.  My guess is that there would be one category that would tower over all the others.  Once I had that chart in front of me, the work of analyzing “why” begins. The greatest opportunity lies in the single largest cost function. Another method  we use to analyze costs is the 80/20 rule; eighty percent of the good comes from twenty percent of the activity. My black belt team would then begin asking “why” we incur the costs.  

The power of “why” resides in repeated questioning. Ask why. Get an answer;  ask why that is the answer.  Get another answer, ask why again, etc. eventually, the answers are harder to get. Eventually, the root cause of a problem becomes more evident.  Once the root cause is defined a solution is easier to effect. Sometimes the root cause is never found, and then change is chancy. It is my opinion that most of the time, the root cause would be some government intervention in the form of a law written by some representative to cover some obscure problem one of his constituents had. Politicians are famous for introducing legislation that insures a problem will never occur again. Years later, we learn the consequences of the law as applied to the general population.

Recently, I had a personal experience with an end of life situation. In an earlier post, I wrote about my beloved Aunt Marie passing. The bill she incurred while dying was horrific. I can see how the administration is touting end of life as a high cost element of reform. Here is what I saw. Marie is ninety-four. She has a multitude of physical problems that have made her last few months really miserable. She covered herself with a living will, and specific end of life instructions.  While helping her go to bed one evening, the attendant at her nursing home notice she was bleeding from her colostomy.  A hundred years ago, she would have simply bled to death at home. In a nursing home, the staff cries uncle and calls 911; why?  They are not equiped to handle a situation such as Marie’s. Why? She had prepared them with current instructions on the kind of treatment she wanted to keep her alive, yet they couldn’t grant her that request. They had to pass the ball to an emergency room. 

The ER finds her bleeding and begins treatment  by giving her blood. The hospital asks the family if  she has a living will? The document printed on bright orange paper stands out in the chart sent along with her records from the nursing home. Does anyone read these things, do they care?  By this time, she was admitted and being given blood to extend her life. $$$$$.

I consults with my daughter and  several doctors.  We learn that any further procedure to learn the cause of her bleeding presents an extraordinary means, and a violation of her body for very little else but more pain and suffering.   Since I am her DPOA (durable power of attorney), I request she go into hospice. She was sent back to her home to die. She expired within five days. It is my belief that giving her blood only extended her life for a week. The cost was covered by Medicare and supplemental insurance. It is high, but not as high as it would have been had common sense not prevailed.

True health care reform is improving the system in place, not re-inventing the round wheel to  make it square. My approach to reform is a logical one. The approach , however, does not yield control of our lives  to the government. It rather, keeps our liberty and makes us responsible to fix the problem ourselves. We can do it.

I have my team already picked. I know with the people I have in mind, we could make true reform happen within three years. It would be a logical, lasting reform of the health care system which would be the model for the rest of the world. We would use good old Yankee ingenuity and diligence to solve the problem, not legislation. Why not give me the chance to “get-r-done?”

Obama Cooks!

In my business I learned about something called “root cause.” Whenever we were faced with the solution to a problem, we were to keep asking why, until we found the “root cause.” The concept sounds simple, but in the real world, looking for, and finding the root cause was not always easy. For the last two weeks, I have been looking for the root cause of the “bailout.” It hasn’t been easy, but slowly the facts surface and the source of the problem is emerging.

Back in the nineteen sixties Lyndon Johnson became President after John Kennedy was assassinated. LBJ wanted a legacy. He created the “Great Society.” He saw a world that  would be equal for all people, not just whites. His program was a response to the black civil rights movement. In nineteen sixty eight, with the support of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Congress passed and enacted the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968). This law was enacted to eliminate discrimination within the housing market.

Tracing the path from the subprime mortgage failure to Barack Obama, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bill Clinton, ACORN, to LBJ is complex, but the underlying root cause of this catastrophic failure is the Fair Housing Act. Looking back on it, the act totally contradicts good business practices of free trading banks. It is a Federal givaway program to poor people across the country. We as a nation bought into this venture, and as long as everything was going well, we enjoyed the profits.

Several leaders involved in the melt down  enjoyed really big profits. I laugh when I hear the politicians speak about the “greed” on Wall Street.  The “greed” thing was being promulgated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The leaders of these organizations were cooking the books to make a bonus. Thank God the mess finally exploded. Who are the greed mongers? Three men emerge as prominent thieves.

They are: 1.) Franklin Raines, CEO at Fannie Mae, he left with a golden parachute of $240,000,000.00.

2.) Tim Howard, CFO at Fannie Mae, His parachute is valued at $20,000,000.00.

3.) Jim Johnson, CEO at Fannie Mae, jumped with a $28,000,000.00 parachute.

All three of these guys should be incarcerated, instead they went out and found new jobs.

Guess where they work now?  All three work for BO as economic advisors. With these three guys in his pocket, imagine how  BO will cook the books of the United States Treasury?

Can we really trust him to guard the hen house when he has all the foxes working with him?

Back to my original point, the root cause of this mess, the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) must be repealed before it destroys the world economy.

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