In this Unstoppable Talk episode, I interview JT Badiani, President of Focused Improvement Consulting. JT is a Six Sigma Master Blackbelt living in the Toronto Canada area, and we discussed his deep background working for, running, and owning manufacturing plants, as well as the type of rapid improvements and ROI he’s able to achieve using his tried and true methods. You can find JT on LinkedIn and at his Website.
Sam Schutte: Okay. We are here today with JT Badiani. JT is the president of Focused Improvement Consulting up in the greater Toronto, Canada area. JT is a professional chemical engineer and MBA, as well as a Six Sigma master black belt. JT, welcome to the show.
JT Badiani: Thank you for having me, Sam. I appreciate it.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely. So JT, how did you get started and how did you get into this field?
JT Badiani: So, interesting story. I was a chemical engineer, I did a ton of work in various companies like GE, Bombardier, Molson, Breweries, did some work in automotive and then but seven, eight years ago, I was about to venture into my own and buy a company. So I was a VP of operations, so I ran pretty much most of the company except for a few departments. And the objective was for me to eventually take over and run that company.
JT Badiani: Well, things didn’t work out and I did not end up running that company, and we parted ways. And so, I was sitting at home kicking the tires on a number of companies when one of the first companies that took a look at, they gave me a shout and said, “Hey, are you interested in working with us on a couple of projects? You came and looked at our company and we’re really interested in buying it, but I know things didn’t work out, but we certainly can use your help to make some improvements.” So I did a short stint and then I got referred to another client from there, and then did another short stint on that.
JT Badiani: And I came home from that a second gig and I said to my wife, “Well, I could go back and start looking for a company.” And she goes, “You have one. Why are you looking for a company?” And that was the start of the consulting business. So, I did that for a short period of time. Ended up going to PWC where I worked as a Lean practitioner and in their operations consulting practice. Did a number of projects there and then eventually came back to my own about four or five years ago. And I’ve been running the company ever since.
Sam Schutte: Cool. Very cool. And so, what we wanted to talk about today was basically talking about the background and advantages of applying Lean or Six Sigma approaches in your business. Some of the case studies, you’ve gotten background stories there and also how technology is driving and forcing companies to innovate around how they apply Six Sigma and changing that landscape. Maybe a good place to start before we go into further is for listeners that might not be familiar with it, what is Six Sigma and what is Lean, and what are those programs, and why are they beneficial to folks?
JT Badiani: Okay. So let me start with what is Lean, right? So when people hear the word Lean, you think different things, but the way Womack and Jones many, many years ago wrote about Lean, was it’s a business philosophy based on the fundamental goal of continuously minimizing waste to maximizing flow, right? And the term Lean refers to the absence of waste, that’s the concept that everybody should have. So if you look at any company, right, we have to focus on delivering customer value. Every business has value streams, so we should define those values streams. We need to then think about how do we create continuous flow?
JT Badiani: And I look at flow in two different ways. I look at flow from a product. So if you’re manufacturing something or a service that you’re delivering, but also information. In today’s society, technology and the flow of data and the flow of information is phenomenal. So how do we make sure that both are in sync as you’re delivering your service or your product, and so the customer gets everything that they need, or internally, we deliver from one stage to another, the right information to make the right decisions?
JT Badiani: The other concept, I think that Lean really focuses on our customers pull the work. So demand is created at the customer level and it flows back into the business so that each work center or work cell, or area supports the demand that was created by the station after it. And then lastly, we strive for perfection. And so those are the guiding principles of Lean. Why do people do Lean? It’s all about employee engagement, it’s about cost reduction, it’s about improving customer service, it’s about process design or business process improvement.
JT Badiani: And then lastly, and often, which a lot of people forget, is it’s a cultural transformation, right? Where you focus on value, quality, people and you change the behaviors of the company so that you strive for perfection, you strive for delivering on customer value. A typical company has roughly 50% waste in its organization. So everything we do in a company, 50% of it is waste.
Sam Schutte: I believe it.
JT Badiani: Right? And then 25% of it is value added, real value added that the customer pays for. So our goal is to minimize the waste in the company and get it down to as low as possible. And hence, the ownership, whether it be shareholders or privately owned, you get better bottom line results. So that’s what Lean is about. Well, Six Sigma is a standard deviation, so a statistical unit of measure of a set of data. Six Sigma is a measure of variability. Right? So let me take a step back.
JT Badiani: So many, many years ago, right? The, the principles of continuous improvement which were developed by guys like Deming, Shewhart, they were brought to Japan during World War II. And then what happened was Motorola took a look at a lot of the things that were being done in Japan and they had issues in their plants. And they started taking that set of tools and looked at data that were coming out of their processes, and created this concept of Six Sigma. And Six Sigma is the number of deviations from the mean to the Upper Spec limit or over spec limit, depending on which way you’re going.
JT Badiani: So the goal of Six Sigma is to listen to the voice of the customer, listen to the voice of the business, understand what your requirements are. So your upper and lower spec limits or your upper and lower limit, and then measure performance against those requirements or those limits, and then find a way to reduce the variation and shift the mean so that it’s targeted to where the customer expects it. So that’s what Six Sigma is all about, reducing the variation, shifting the mean and targeting it.
JT Badiani: So the focus is all about variation, understanding where it comes from, whether it’s from the supplier, from the process, from your inputs, and you measure it at the output level, which is what the customer feels the most. And then you drive root cause analysis to make improvements in your processes. And we do things like rapid improvement events, or we have various belts that get created out of it. So there’s a white belt, which is at the associate level or the ground floor employee, a yellow belt typically at the lead hand or a supervisor level.
JT Badiani: You have black belts, which are technical people. So it could be engineers or managers, or lead hands that have a little bit more technical capability or leadership. And then you get master black belts who then teach and train others in the theory of a Lean Six Sigma or Six Sigma within the organization. They also have to deliver projects. Right?
Sam Schutte: I see.
JT Badiani: So if we take a look at either one of those types of methodologies, Lean or Six Sigma, they both have goals you have to achieve. Could be a reduction in defects, could be a reduction in waste, could be an improvement in variation. But what a Six Sigma project typically delivers is roughly about… So if you’re doing a green belt project, is probably around a $100,000 to $300,000 in savings over a year, and a black belt should be able to deliver multiple projects if they’re dedicated to a role, continuous improvement role, roughly a million dollars savings annually.
Sam Schutte: Interesting. No, those are great descriptions because it’s a lot of times those words get thrown around and folks don’t really get a real understanding of what they mean at the basic level. So that’s great. And how did you originally learn Six Sigma and get certified in it? At what occasion in your career pulled you into it?
JT Badiani: So, great question. I was actually moved into a program management or project management role. We were in the midst of designing a new fridge when I worked at GE. So this was going to be a three-door or two -door with a bottom mount drawer fridge. We hadn’t decided which design we were going to do. And Jack Welsh, at that time, put an edict out saying that all projects must be “Six Sigma”. We were roughly about nine months, a year into our project. The project was supposed to last for about two, two and a half years. So we were roughly halfway through or 40% through.
JT Badiani: And so, the project came to a grinding halt and we have to go and learn this thing called Six Sigma. So here we are in the classroom. At that time, black belts received five weeks of training. So we sat in on five weeks of training and we were unleashed and said “Make our products Six Sigma.” And so we figured out through bumps and bruises and scraping our knee, and trial and error, what it meant to be Six Sigma. And so here’s a really cool example of how we used Six Sigma.
JT Badiani: So if you take a look at your fridge today, and let’s say you have a three-door or two doors French doors, and a bottom bounce, right? And if you take a look at the gap between the left hand door and right-hand door, we didn’t know this, but we did a number of experiments to determine what does the human eye see in parallelisms. So you have your two doors parallel, what’s the biggest gap or difference in gap that an eye can see?
JT Badiani: And so we had people walk up to a series of doors and we asked them, “Does these doors look parallel, yes or no?” and we figured out that a human eye can detect roughly a 40 tau difference from, let’s say, top to bottom. And so we then knew that-
Sam Schutte: 40 tau, you said? Is that the measurement?
JT Badiani: Yeah, 40 tau measurement. Right. So if the gap-
Sam Schutte: Okay, so is that 40,000th of-
JT Badiani: An inch.
Sam Schutte: Okay. Got you.
JT Badiani: Okay. Yeah. So, so if your fridge is, let’s say, half inch and gap at the top and it’s wider by 40 tau at the bottom, the human eye can detect it. If you stand at a certain distance, and I can’t remember what that was, I think it was like four feet, three feet. So what we tried to simulate was if you’re at a store and you’re buying a fridge, and you see our fridge out there, and you’re looking at it and go, “Oh, I’m not going to buy this because the doors are crooked. It’s not well-made.” We didn’t want that to happen. Right?
JT Badiani: Or even worse, you buy the fridge and it gets delivered into your house, it goes through a series of bumps going up the stairs or down the stairs into your house, eventually against your kitchen and it gets rolled in, and the doors are all crooked and the magnets don’t line up with the frame of the door, and now you have heat leaking in or cold leaking out, and your fridge is now going to have a service call. So we used that data to design our fridge.
JT Badiani: So we said, “Okay, maximum is a rough 40 tau. What does that mean?” So we took that element of the design and said, “Our tolerances have to be such that to be Six Sigma, it can’t be more than 40 tau. So we have to have around a four or five, six tau tolerance in certain aspects of our design. So we have to beef up our hinges. We had to make our gaskets that much bigger. We have to make sure that we had enough plastic at the bottom of the design so that air would be flying up into the fridge rather than out if the gaskets didn’t hit the landing properly.” So those are all the different considerations that went in to make the design Six Sigma.
JT Badiani: And it took a lot of time, a lot of effort. We learned a lot and that was probably the greatest learning I ever had in my career when I was applying Lean Six Sigma principles, not only in the design of the product, but on the factory floor. We used a lot of Lean principles on the factory floor.
Sam Schutte: So you worked on designing refrigerators, but I understand you also worked in other refrigerator products earlier, namely Ice Cream at some point. Was that before that, that you were working in that factory?
JT Badiani: No, actually it was after that. So I was leader of the Canadian manufacturing site here in Canada for one of the major ice cream brands, retailers. So I led that group for about three and a half, four years. Unfortunately, we shut the plant down and moved production to the U.S., from Canada to the U.S. but-
Sam Schutte: Outsourcing jobs to the U.S.
JT Badiani: Yes, that’s right. The interesting thing was we applied a lot of Lean philosophy and thinking at the ice cream facility. You’d never think that you’d be doing that in a continuous flow environment, but a simple thing was we did a Lean Six Sigma project on the fill weight on ice cream. We had a ton of variation from tub to tub as to how much ice cream was going into the tub. So we started looking at it from a Lean Six Sigma perspective and did a project on it, and made a series of discoveries through root cause analysis, five whys and fishbone diagrams, and process mapping.
JT Badiani: Well, so we improved our control system, we improved our weigh scales, we improved our pumps so that the delivered the right quantity. We’ve made some piping and equipment changes. So a series of improvements were made and that helped manage the amount of ice cream that we’re putting into the tub so that there was too much, because obviously if you put too much ice cream, we are giving away money. But you worse is if you put too little and you don’t deliver the quantity that’s stated on the label, you could be in trouble with the government with weights and measures. So…
Sam Schutte: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I actually know what you mean about continuous flow, just because I was reading recently about we have a couple medium and or large sized ice cream manufacturers here in Cincinnati and something, one of the famous ones, Graters, which is a smaller company. They do individual pots basically in the old fashioned way where it’s more or less handmade. And then of course, all the larger industrial ones, they have these continual flow freezing… I can’t remember the name exactly, but freezing to have essentially that it’s just always running through it in a big Auger or something, I guess, mixing ingredients.
Sam Schutte: So I suppose in that environment, like you said, there’s only so many along that production line inside of the continuous flow, there’s only so many things you can change because it’s just marching down the line. Right?
JT Badiani: Yeah, that’s right.
Sam Schutte: So it’s more outputs and stuff of it, I guess. So, I see. And so what was your first big break after you were working in those fields that one of the biggest clients you first got and what were some of the real game changing things you got to do with your business after that time?
JT Badiani: So one of the best clients I had was a poplin paper company out of the U.S., their processes were somewhat stable, call it that. At times that were really, really stable and they hit the specs, but other times, variability crept in and so we got called to go down and help them do a series of rapid improvement projects on one of their big paper making lines. And so, we spent roughly five sessions that were both three to five days each, depending on which one it was. And we started working through the production line.
JT Badiani: We had a very large cross functional team. So there was about 15 to 20 people. So we have production staff. We had maintenance, engineering, manufacturing engineering or process engineering. We had the PLC coding guys, application engineers, and then we had technical leaders, so who were experts in paper making. And we had other experts from various suppliers in the room in this project team. And so this diverse group of folks were given a very targeted mandate and the mandate was to find a way to improve the line speed.
JT Badiani: So we weren’t hitting great or we weren’t hitting line speed, and it was a very, very specific target we were given. It was general enough that we broke off into four teams, each team after a brainstorming session we then targeted those four teams and what we consider were the top four issues. And so, each team did a sub project across five sessions to improve those four areas. And each team did a mini Lean Six Sigma project and applied a lot of the tools and the cultural piece, and we trained a lot of people along the way.
JT Badiani: And that project was a phenomenal success. It led a lot of improvements in speed and we found other issues around quality and those spun off into other projects that this poplin paper company then focused in on to make improvements. So phenomenal, phenomenal impact to the bottom line and the business got paper quality that made the right weight and targeted the process to achieve that weight a lot of the times.
JT Badiani: And with this project, there was there was a lot of focus on using technology to make sure that the changes that we made or learned about were implemented and stuck year over year. And so, we did a lot of things around center lining, the process. So out on the shop floor and we put markers and we ascribed where things needed to be put when you’re running certain weights, a product online. But additionally, with all the control systems that are in a production line, in a paper making line now, we made software changes that rung alarms when certain set points were not being achieved or if they went out of line.
Sam Schutte: Cool. So we talked a little bit before about some of the ROI that clients are getting based on the different belt levels you might have, that’s what kind of ROI they might be expected to deliver. What are some of the ways you measure that? Seems like in some of these projects, you have to have an actual structured, valid way of measuring the savings or all just be a little too loose.
JT Badiani: You’re absolutely right. So in one of the early phases of a Lean Six Sigma project, the measure phase, we establish what instruments or devices, or how we’re going to measure our key variable, right? Our big why. And we actually test the measurement system to ensure that we can detect the change. So we do what’s called a Gauge R&R. And if the gauge can detect a change, then you know what, we’ve got the right gauge and we can then use our gauge as we work through the project. If not, then we stay in that measure phase until we develop the right gauge.
JT Badiani: So very early on, if we were to go back very early in my career, we didn’t have that capability to measure certain change. But now that sensors and technology has improved substantially over the last 10, 15 years, we can now take a lot of these technologies and put them into processes. A simple example was I take a look at what we did at the ice cream plant, after the tub of ice cream was full, we would then move it to the next station. And before the lid went on, we would take a picture.
JT Badiani: Well, that camera system that we were using was thousands of dollars. It was probably about $50,000. And the recognition software that went with it, training it and helping us detect an out of control situation or defect in the product, it was really difficult to do. Now, detection systems are much, much, much less and the software is so much improved that it’s easy to use. So measuring things has gotten a lot less expensive. Additionally, it’s gotten a lot smarter. And so, we can take technology and utilize it very, very effectively to measure change, measure the impact on the process, measure how things need to flow in the future and tell us if something has gone out of control really, really well.
JT Badiani: So, we use that measurement device or devices to understand what that change is and quantify that change into $dollars. So it could be how much weight are you overfilling a tub of ice cream to how much of a fluid goes through the pipe before things have to change, to how much waste are we leaving on the floor, if you’re doing some metalwork type of activity, how much waste are you leaving… C&Cing a sheet of metal, how much waste you’re leaving in the trays after the product’s been cut. So there’s really good ways now to measure what success looks like.
Sam Schutte: And I’m imagining, of course, when you’re setting all this up, these matrices and stuff, that’s part of what you use to select which projects to actually work on, some of that set up. What else do you do to be able to actually select which Lean Six Sigma project to move forward with?
JT Badiani: Yeah, that’s a great question because a lot of companies do projects with it for the sake of projects, right? So what I like to do is I like to always ask the following questions, why are we doing this project? What is the impact to the customer? What is the impact on the business? And how will we move the needle on safety, quality and delivery of costs with this project? And if there’s no direct linkage to a strategic initiative or one of those variables, then I then I often question the management team and say, “Is this the right project to do?” Right? If it doesn’t go that way, then then let’s not do it, let’s focus on something that’s really, really important.
JT Badiani: Then the other thing I ask is if it’s a big, big, big nugget, it’s a big juicy problem, can we break that problem into some projects? Because what you don’t want is a poor black belt with a team of three, four or five people working on our project, the same project for a long period of time and not achieving any results. So you put small teams together and I call them banded projects where you band a bunch of teams together, almost like a chain, right? Where you’ve got the links and you link those projects together. And over a short period of time, within three, four months, you solve that big problem.
JT Badiani: But you need good communication within the team to make sure that everyone is lining up and they have a really good narrow scope focus so that you don’t have overlaps and people stepping on toes, and things like that. But I’ve done both and I preferred the link methodology of tackling a big project. And then within those projects, we do what I call rapid improvement projects or rapid improvement events. And so, that accelerates the implementation or the learning so that the business realizes gains a lot, lot faster.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, that’s interesting. Just from our working together and when you really look at some of these processes and such, how many similarities there are to all over the popular software development methodologies that I work in on a daily basis. Just because what do we work on milestones of small teams, iterative development. We don’t want to have too long of a software project where you’re not delivering value. Right? Just exactly the same thing you just said.
Sam Schutte: Or even when you’re evaluating projects, one of my mentors always said that if you’re at a start-up software company and there’s a feature in the software that’s not tied to a revenue opportunity, it needs to be cut, period. Right? It’s just fluff otherwise. Right? So it’s funny because you can see the influence. That’s where agile and stuff gained a lot of influence, was from these manufacturing approaches. It’s interesting how the similarity is there.
Sam Schutte: And I guess along the same lines, what are some of the biggest ways that you’ve seen a manufacturing technology impact Six Sigma and some of these other programs? You mentioned some of the recognition and detection things that you’ve implemented, what are some other manufacturing technologies that have changed that landscape.
JT Badiani: So I think there’s two big fundamental streams of impact coming through. So you take a look at ERPs or MRPs, or software to control the business, like whatever you’re using, right? And what a lot of companies are doing is they’re jumping very quickly into implementing an ERP without really understanding their processes. So I’ve worked with the manufacturer here in Toronto, and we used a very systematic approach prior to implementing the ERP. And what we did was we mapped out a lot of their process, I want to say process, the value streams and said, “If we want to get this product out, what are the series of steps that it needs to take?”
JT Badiani: And so we actually ended up mapping out three streams. And so we classified their business into three types of product. We call it a simple product, a standard product and then a complex product. And each of these value streams had a really good set of steps that were defined with inputs and outputs, and responsibilities or accountabilities, if you use that profile, right? And we then stepped back before ERP folks came online and said, “Is this how we run our business through these three standards activities and value streams?” And so the business came back and said yes. And then we brought the ERP folks in and we started mapping out the way the system’s going to flow.
JT Badiani: And so, there was that interaction of technology with, I call it real life, where we understood how product needs to get out the door, gets out the door. And we started going back and forth and really said, “We don’t want to change the ERP process because that’s going to cost us a lot of money. There’s already money put into developing the base software, but at the same time, we don’t want to lose focus on why we do what we do.” And so, when decisions had to be made, whether we would change a piece of code or not, we would always come back and say, “What was the impact on the process, the people that work the process and the customer.”
JT Badiani: And so we started going back and forth and you know what? Often, it came down to we are going to make the code change because it’s going to take some waste out of the system and it’ll make our processes that much better. And so, we would flag those opportunities as we went back to the value stream map and then the other thing we did was we then stepped back and said, “What are other opportunities that we’re doing today that we can automate?” And so, we then went back to the developers and said, “Hey, we’ve got these 10, 15 opportunities. Can you change your code and what would the cost be?”
JT Badiani: And we did an ROI calculation and wherever it made sense, we did the code change. And so when we went live, it was so smooth. Actually, the company won an award for the best implementation in 2019 and that’s how well that implementation went. So the software can interact with Lean Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma can influence software. We also dovetailed in things like RPA where we made some repetitive tasks, programs so that it can happen behind the scenes.
JT Badiani: The next thing that’s going to happen is artificial intelligence. So as we get more data, we understand how to use that data, how we can make faster decisions, and what can we get a software or a computer to do behind the scenes that the human can do. I think that’s the next level of change that’s going to impact Lean Six Sigma. And I’m just starting to dabble in it a little bit, that’s why I have big brain guys like you helping me to learn a little bit more and see how we can utilize it to be really effective.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And I mean, I think a good example that we’ve been discussing somewhere on our side recently around artificial intelligence, is if you look at a company out there, for instance, that’s mixing a lot of ingredients for an end product. So let’s say you’re mixing 12 or 14 different raw materials into an end product, along the way, at the end of that batch, they’re going to QA and whatever it is they’re making, it has to be adjusted sometimes and changed because it’s slightly out of Spec one way or the other. And the amounts and levels of those ingredients that you’re putting in are water thrown it off, but it’s of course, very tricky to figure out because it’s such a sometimes big long list of ingredients, what it is that’s causing the problem. Right?
Sam Schutte: And so, we’ve been looking at and talking about, for instance, using some machine learning to try to predict what the ingredients that are causing the problem are so that we can warn the user like, “Hey, actually, don’t put as much of this in.” And so maybe it’s ice cream, for instance, right. If your end product is ending up having too much of one flavor or whatever, or some something consistency wise to it, being able to spot that and predict that ahead of time and during the process, those are things that in some industries, they don’t have a consistent product out the end. Maybe ice cream is a bad example.
Sam Schutte: But so trying to use AI to determine why that is and try to make it more consistent, for instance, is probably a big application of it. So yeah.
JT Badiani: I would agree. Actually, you just reminded me of another project that we did… I didn’t do this, I was a coach on this one, but in the insurance business, when you have customers that call into your call center and they go through the series of prompts, right? “Hey, if you want this, you press one. If you want this, press two.” And by the time you get to that first operator, you have an idea what the problem is. We did this project to understand how we can improve the customer experience when you do call.
JT Badiani: And so, we did what are called design of experiments at a call center. And we looked at a number of variables, training, education, background, experience, knowledge of the products, knowledge of the services that are provided and mapped those out. And then we did a series of exercises with real customers and then figured out how to make improvements. And so, one of the outputs of that was how can we, in real time, develop a method to get a customer sentiment.
JT Badiani: And so that’s what the company’s working on so that the user or the… not the user, but the customer leaves feeling a lot better at the end of the call instead of being frustrated with the customer service person or with what was provided. It can’t be perfect all the time but we try to make it as best as possible. So yeah, it was a really, really cool project and something where I learned a lot about how to use it in a different, completely different environment as opposed to manufacturing. This isn’t a call center. Lean Six Sigma in a call center.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. I think it’s in that whole field of data science, it’s about finding the answers hidden in the data that the eye can’t see, and then also figuring out if the answer means anything. Because there’s a lot of answers or intelligence that you can find hidden in the data but they don’t actually provide any lift or any beneficial change. It’s like, “Oh, well, we see this trend.” Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Right? So you have to match that input to the output of an actual beneficial change. Right?
JT Badiani: Yeah.
Sam Schutte: Correlation and causation and all that. Right?
JT Badiani: Yeah, exactly.
Sam Schutte: So what are some of the other sweet spots outside of manufacturing that you’ve been working on? You mentioned the call center there. Where else are you seeing interesting applications of Six Sigma and Lean?
JT Badiani: So I’ve seen it in a really a few cool environments. So the first one I saw it in was engineered product. So this company engineer’s a product and we were looking at their engineering processes, and the software that they use, and it was phenomenal how much improvement you can make in a made to product or meet the design engineer product company. So we’ve done some work around that. We’ve also done work with maintenance companies where they do service on equipment. So we’ve applied it there.
JT Badiani: We’ve also started to work with warehouses and transportation companies to optimize their flow in factories… Sorry, our factories’ warehouses and how they move product around. So Amazon is one of the examples that people use, but a lot of eBusiness retailers, they have warehouses and they need to be extremely efficient, and in order to be successful in that business, which is fairly very, very competitive. So we’ve started to work with a lot of warehouses and transportation companies to reduce costs.
JT Badiani: And then I’ve also done some work in government, so applied Lean Six Sigma in government. We’ve also done some work in pharmacies. So we’re starting to work with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to improve their processes.
Sam Schutte: Interesting. And how are clients typically finding you and how are you engaging with them out in the marketplace? I mean, how do you market your services and what’s your most productive channel?
JT Badiani: So my most productive channel is actually word of mouth. So I get a lot of referrals. And the second way of doing it is things like what we’re doing, which is podcasts, I do speaking engagements or I’ll go and network into a group where I can speak. So I belong to a couple of, I guess, societies or groups where we get together with like minded manufacturing type companies and I share best practices. And the third way is through the website, right? So I’m trying to improve the website and have LinkedIn attached to it as best as I can to generate interest, get some blogs out there and keep top of mind with a lot of companies.
Sam Schutte: And what is your website?
JT Badiani: focusedimprovement dot.ca.
Sam Schutte: Okay, great. And we mentioned this a little bit before about how a lot of the projects you do have to do with a rapid improvement workshop. What are some of the benefits folks get out of approaching things in that way as opposed to other approaches you might do, and then can talk a little bit about how those workshops are structured.
JT Badiani: Sure. So, often, companies want results right away. They don’t want to spend three, four, five, six months doing a big project and they don’t see the ROI very, very quickly. And particularly when I was in a leadership position, you want change to happen so that you can stop the bleeding, you put the Band-Aid on, and then you could make another change maybe a little time later so that you get to your ultimate landing spot. And so, these rapid improvement workshops or events do that. It’s a, depending on the size of the problem, three to five day event where you get people in a room that are cross functional with industry experts, and we tackle a specific problem which is very, very focused.
JT Badiani: And it could be on, instead of the entire production line, it could be on a piece of equipment that it’s causing some problem on that production line. Or it could be a quality problem that we can then dissect with a cross functional team and do root cause analysis. The key to a rapid improvement event are a few things. Number one, is that we have a real clear problem statement that’s defined. Number two, we have the right people in the room. So we may need technical experts. We need outside people, strong facilitation.
JT Badiani: The third thing is the company must sort of give people time to work together for those two, three, four days, five days, whatever it ends up being. And also, and most importantly, is we implement something before we leave at the end of that fifth day. So things might change before we leave so that the company’s better off. And then there’s obviously some medium and long-term actions that come out of these events, and that’s where individuals at that company can go in and start implementing those longer term actions.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And so I wonder if I think when we first started talking about these workshops and this structure, probably the biggest mental objection that popped into my mind is so if you’re dealing with a large facility, let’s say one of these mega manufacturing plants, how can you possibly change something after five days? How can you make any change that quickly? How do you achieve that and actually pull that off?
JT Badiani: That’s a really good question. Right? So the five days has different phases in it. So the first base is problem definition. The second phase is a bit of training. So every time you get together, you want to train people on how to think and look at a problem and the application of theory. So you want to teach them some theory around the Lean Six Sigma process, it’s called DMAIC, so define, measure, analyze, improve control. And then once you do that piece of it, then you take the problem and you start dissecting it.
JT Badiani: And the objective here is not to tackle the whole elephant, but to take a bite out of that elephant and eat it in small bites. So you may have to do three or four of these to make that elephant disappear or that problem disappear, but what you’re doing at the end of that event is, hey, you’ve taken a step change, right? And then you come back after a period of time, once your process has settled, you’d do another step change. And you come back again and again until you know that whole processes is fixed.
JT Badiani: It’s not it’s not a miracle worker type of activity, it’s incremental plan, do, check, adjust cycle, where you plan the work, you do the work, you make sure that you’ve done all the right adjustments and then you step back and do that whole cycle again. Right? And you check to make sure that the implementation has gone well. And people have really taken ownership of and the accountability to make sure that the process doesn’t fall back. So there’s a lot of activities, a lot of things that happen to make sure that there’s skill transference, there’s accountability, there’s responsibility and that the leadership is on board.
Sam Schutte: Interesting. Yeah. And we’ve been brainstorming about ways that we could work together on these workshops for customers, go out and take something to market. And I think the interesting concept that we’ve talked about, and you had talked to a couple of your mentors and other folks in your industry, that they see a large need or a lot of demand for with these workshop programs to dovetail in an it perspective and a software perspective. Maybe can you talk a little bit about what those folks were seeing in in the industry that you think drives that demand or what is the need for that there?
JT Badiani: Yes. And so that’s a great question. So as technology’s improved and the cost of a lot of these devices has been plummeting, it is now at that critical stage where we can say, “Okay, how can we take this process which has been around for so many years and use technology along with Lean Six Sigma to make a significant step change?” And so what we can do is we can go into a company and take a step back, and challenge the status quo and say, “Hey, let’s take a look at a software solution with some AI behind it and these particular type of IoT devices that can help you understand what your process is doing. And we take some decision making away from an operator that may have a bit of a leg or not even understand the process and automate it.”
JT Badiani: And so once we start doing that, the company or the business starts seeing significant change implemented very, very quickly. And so, a lot of my colleagues and my mentors, actually, a few of them have applied this in industry and they’ve seen ROIs that we’re 7, 8, 9 times, even 10 times the investment that they put in. So it’s been significant improvements that I’ve seen in a very short period of time.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, no, and I mean, and that’s often the kind of ROI we see on projects. And I think the way I look at it is anytime you’re sitting in a room working on a workshop, talking about changes to a workflow, which is essentially what you’re doing in any facility or any business situation, it might be a machine workflow or human workflow. There’s nowadays always a technological tool that you can apply to that. I mean, there are so few instances that technology wouldn’t be a factor or wouldn’t touch.
Sam Schutte: And it’s from a traceability standpoint, like you talked about if it’s a matter of measuring data with devices, it’s from a prediction standpoint if you’re talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, it’s from a visibility standpoint if we’re talking about dashboards. A lot of folks throw out all kinds of devices on their lines, but no one can really actually see in any kind of digestible way what’s happening. It’s certainly nothing that the customer wants to look at, right?
Sam Schutte: So it seems like that would just inevitably be part of the conversation. So definitely, that’s going to be an interesting thing when we only put together a launch out there. And so, we’ll have a link to some information about that out on the podcast notes for this episode as well for people to take a look at.
JT Badiani: That’d be great? I look forward to seeing that.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Let’s see. So we’re also going to touch on a little bit some of the changes you’ve seen in the global economy and how they’ve affected your clients in manufacturing and what they’re really looking to change. Have those global changes altered the things that they want to fix and the priority of things they want to look at for projects?
JT Badiani: Yeah. So I’ll give you the Canadian perspective first. So Canada is going through a little bit of a tumultuous time in economy. So one month we’re up, one month we’re down. So what a lot of manufacturers are looking at is, okay, if sales are going up and down or throughput is going up and down because customers are not buying even in what we would call normal terms or normal times, right? So their buying patterns are completely off. So a lot of lot of the folks are looking at it going, “Where can we make our processes more stable so that we can improve delivery times, so throughput has to be on time to the right quality, and meet customer’s specs every time, right?”
JT Badiani: So if you can reduce your throughput times for your delivery or your cycle time from order entry to a delivery can be reduced, then you’re going to start getting more market share and start winning globally. So that has been a significant focus for a lot of my customers. The second focus has been looking at what type of data can we look at to make really good business decisions? And so, ERPs have been implemented for years, but they don’t have the right dashboards or the right KPIs and visible so that management can make really good, fast decisions.
JT Badiani: And so, those have been some of the key trends that I’ve been seeing in Canada around data usage and then adding a layer of technology around it, and also improving processes so you got better cycle time with throughput to reduce delivery times. The client base in the U.S. that I work with, they’re seeing growth. So the U.S. economy has been expanding, it’s been several around 10 years of good growth. And so, I’ve seen a number of my clients go and expand through acquisitions or organically.
JT Badiani: And what they’ve been focusing on is how do we get our product made right the first time so that the customer doesn’t see a lower quality output in a production line or production facility. So that’s been the focus for a lot of the U.S. clients. And then I have clients in Canada that have been saying, “Hey, in order to also make things more even, should we expand into the U.S.?” And so they’ve been looking at companies to acquire or sites to set up so that they can have a dual plant thinking. So they have a footprint in the U.S. and footprint and Canada, and try to take advantage of a network in North America. And so that’s where folks have been looking.
Sam Schutte: And do you do any business outside of those two countries or overseas at all, or work with clients overseas?
JT Badiani: I did have for a little while and a customer in Europe, but I tend to stay more in North America. One of the things that I like to do is stay closer to home in North America rather than fly around the world like I did many years ago. So that’s been more choice for me and my family.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, because I was interviewing someone a little while ago, Brian Oulton on the show, who is also in the manufacturing space and IoT space. And it was interesting, he was talking a little bit about in China and these other countries when they first entered the market, how they didn’t need automation because they could just have people’s stuff move around. People move stuff around. Right? Labor was so cheap, they weren’t going to… anything a person could do more cheaply, they would have them do and have a robot do the really highly precise stuff that folks wouldn’t be able to learn because it wasn’t worth training somebody, it was too far behind or whatever. They didn’t want to try to train them.
Sam Schutte: And I think it’s interesting in the U.S. anyway, we have a problem with high labor costs, right? Or at least a challenge sometimes for manufacturers is labor is so much higher, more expensive here than other places. But the solution is the same often, right? Is to implement robotics and such to make or at least software tools and other tools to make that labor more effective, more efficient and do things at right the first time, like you said. Because obviously if you’ve got higher costs with those folks, they can also be redoing work. Just interesting to see that dynamic.
JT Badiani: You raise another big issue that Canadian manufacturers are facing, is they can’t find skilled workers, right? So welders, fitters, a break press operators, you name it, they are finding it really, really difficult to find good skilled labor. And so, that’s driving some automation, significant automation in some company because they want to move away from having that skilled labor force. And there’s another company I went to visit not too far from where I live, and they’ve invested heavily in R&D to see how they can automate to the welding processes.
JT Badiani: They don’t do standard fixed product. They get an engineered product and a designed product. So their configuration and their setup changes often. So they want to find a way to take away those welding operators and try to get it more into robotics. And they’ve invested about a million dollars in new technology and they’re making some strides. It’s taken a while, but they’re making strides and I’ll probably go back and visit them in about a year’s time and see how far along they’ve gotten. But they started their journey about two years ago and I was like, “Wow,” I was impressed as to how far they’ve gotten along. So there is a way to take technology and blend it so that it works for you.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And I’ve seen a big push too with manufacturers to build better sales enablement tools and customer sales tools. Because a lot of times, folks have put so much innovation and automation into their factories, and they can do and create all sorts of amazing products, but how do they sell them? Well, the same way they did 20 years ago. They get out an Excel Sheet, they give you a brochure, not necessarily the most innovative things in the world.
Sam Schutte: And so, it’s interesting, I think there’s a little bit of catch-up being played on the front end sales, sales enablement marketing side to say, Well, how can we automate coding? How can we automate… let’s give the customer the ability to design their engineered to order product, for instance.” Talking about engineered products, how much lead time can we afford to have from getting the specs from the customer to giving them to our engineers, to getting into the factory. Like what if we could eliminate that middleman and just have it go right to production? Right?
Sam Schutte: And of course, if your factories are so automated that, for instance, they can receive a cad drawing and just start cutting, right? If it’s that level, hey, there’s systems that the customer could generate a cad drawing with, obviously. So it’s interesting that end to end process as being automated more and more.
JT Badiani: And one of my clients, now you talk a little bit of that, they’ve started doing remote monitoring. And now I know remote monitoring has been out there for quite a long time, but what they’re doing is similar to what you’re saying in that they’re stepping back and saying, “Okay, how do we make this a little bit more unique? How do we make it so that we have some machine learning going on?” So they’re adding those types of value added components into their software, provided the customer agrees to it.
JT Badiani: And then they’re testing it out right now to figure out what they can do with their equipment and how can it send signals to either them or the company to say, “Hey, this thing is about the fail or you’re operating this little bit differently. Here’s what the impact is,” or, “Hey, we’ve corrected this situation based on our machine learning capabilities and here’s what it means for you. We’ve optimize this process for you a little bit better.” Right? So they’re starting to look at things a little bit differently and this is a company that’s been around for about 40 years and they they’re starting to implement that, and it’s been a big change for them to look at things differently.
Sam Schutte: Very interesting conversation with you, JT. And it’s been a great working with you over these last a couple of years on projects and getting to know you, just you have such a incredibly deep background and so much experience. That’s really impressive. So I really appreciate you coming on the show to talk about some of these things with me and share with our audience. So we hope we can have you on again some time and talk further.
JT Badiani: I would love to, thank you very much, Sam.
Sam Schutte: It’s been great and thanks again.
JT Badiani: Thank you. Have a good day.