Distance, Flatten, Pivot, Advance

If you haven’t done anything different and learned something new over the past three months, you’re living under a rock. From COVID-19 to the tragic death of George Floyd, our daily lives, businesses and ethos have been impacted. Have you pivoted? Are you advancing?

A Time for Forced Change, and Time for Reflection

I’ve learned a lot. From the simple — like stopping my home desk chair mat from sliding on the carpet and how to disinfect groceries, to more challenging — like how to run a workshop giving breakout groups a virtual whiteboard for collaboration and process mapping. In the past few months I’ve advanced from being a Zoom and Teams novice to being quite proficient with breakout groups and holding participants’ attention in live-virtual training events.

I’ve also learned more about epidemiology, racism, and listening to other’s points of view and experiences.

Pivot and Re-Open

After initial cancellations due to the coronavirus, I’m very appreciative that The Luminous Group is coming back-to-work stronger. We’re planning for a very good year.

We used some of our downtime to revise our Project Planning training and we completed development of an updated Process Improvement workshop (because not everything is a Six Sigma project!).  This training includes tools to understand customers’ needs and core concepts to apply Lean thinking and innovation. We’ve dusted off and updated our Process Mapping training workshop to help client teams accelerate process improvement in an era of COVID-19.

We’re Helping Clients Advance

We’re seeing a resurgence in organizations wanting us to help them inspire process excellence. In the past few weeks we have helped clients re-think how to conduct judicial court hearings with heath screening and social distancing, we’re helping a manufacturing company reduce die changeover time for a stamping press, and consulting with another client to minimize delays in their order-to-cash process.

Other projects that clients have asked us to facilitate in the past two months include:

  • Redesigning a new product development process to reduce risk, clarify responsibilities, reduce searching for documents and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Implementing Layered Process Audits (LPA) to verify that defined processes are followed to ensure safety and quality.
  • Internal Audits for ISO 14001, Regulatory Environmental Compliance, and IATF 16949.
  • Training to improve managers’ skills for coaching their employees to improve performance.
  • Training for skills in stress management and personal productivity.

Since mid-March, we’ve put more energy into our partnerships with the American Society of Employers (ASE), Michigan Manufacturer Association (MMA), and Schoolcraft College’s Small Business Center, to bring their member companies resources and checklists to help them pivot, reopen and advance.

Where Will You Advance?

Process is more than machines and procedures. My team and I believe you can ‘manage’ process and ‘react’ to problems; but for a company to excel, employees must be ‘led’ by supervisors, managers and leaders who build trust and engage the workforce.

Consider what you’ve learned the past few months and how you will pivot and advance. There are new challenges — and I believe a lot of new opportunity — for work teams to do things more efficiently and effectively.

20 Years of Tailored Improvement Solutions

Twenty years ago, I started a training and consulting company called The Luminous Group.  It was 1999. I was married with two young daughters, ages 5 and 2.  It was a scary move, but I was passionate about seeing clients make improvements in their businesses using strategies, methods and tools in which I had a great deal of confidence.

Before starting The Luminous Group, I worked extensively with FMEA doing work with General Motors Powertrain Division and saw it as an amazing technique to look deep into the process and learn from Operators and Skilled Trades. By looking at the big picture (risk profile) through the lens of FMEA, I could help managers and leaders see where to invest resources and controls to prevent problems. Additionally, in my experience with Quality System compliance requirements, I felt there was greater value in knowing and understanding the ‘why’ rather than just checking off the compliance box.

As I started The Luminous Group 20 years ago and grew my team, my goal was to make accessible the quality tools and methods that I had a passion for so managers, engineers and other professionals could get more things done ‘right the first time.’  I believed showing those tools in a different light could help clients improve productivity and quality both short-term and long-term and get more net income for their companies.

Today, my girls are 25 and 22, college graduates, starting off in their own careers.  And I’m slightly older, engaged to be married next month.  I’ve had the pleasure of running and growing The Luminous Group for two decades and am proud to say, we’ve helped hundreds of companies improve their bottom-line.

Client Relationships and Results

Looking back, I’m most proud of the relationships and the results.  We’ve had great employees and contractors who have been fun to collaborate with toward the goal of serving our clients.  Many of those clients have become professional friends and a few have become personal friends.  And the work of helping more teams and companies get more things ‘right the first time’ has been very rewarding.  These results have been achieved through training workshops with applications to current problems, as well as through customized and facilitated consulting solutions to high-visibility issues.

A staple in our industry is training, and we have facilitated several hundred training workshops in the past twenty years.  Most popular have been:  FMEA, Root Cause Problem Solving, Project Management, Layered Process Verification (aka: LPA) and Internal Auditing (QMS and EMS).  We’ve also provided personalized training for GD&T, DOE, Jump-starting Projects, Leadership Development, Microsoft Excel, SharePoint and MS Project and a few specialized quality software tools.

High-Impact Tailored Solutions

The most interesting and rewarding projects for me have been our customized solutions that take a problem or a need and tailor a facilitated approach that best fits the team or company’s culture.  Clients have ranged from a few that were less than 50 employees, to many who are multi-plant enterprises with 1,000s of employees.

I think this portfolio of projects, like facets of a gem, defines The Luminous Group.  Here are some highlights that come to mind:

  • Provided our facilitators for the rollout of problem-solving training to a Tier One supplier’s plants
  • Led a two-pronged intervention to bail-out a vehicle manufacturer’s supplier after a poor new product launch, reducing defective parts per million from double digits to low single digits.
  • Facilitated component engineering teams responsible for developing Process-FMEAs for a new engine program.
  • Facilitated development of Bill of Process, including best-practice Process-FMEA for a vehicle final assembly, that was leveraged to future programs.
  • Undertook a project to train hundreds of an OEM’s North American Supply based in Layered Process Auditing. We rented a large conference facility and facilitated four ½-day sessions of up to 25 participants in each, running four consecutive days.
  • We ‘thought out of the box’ and innovated and published a training product called “LPA-in-a-Box” to give companies a jump-start in their implementation of LPA.
  • As a catalyst for an OEM’s quality requirements for Suppliers, we customized training to not only convey the what and how, but also to illuminate the ‘why’, and help top management through front-line work understand not only the task requirements, but why it’s important to them and to their team and organization.
  • Brought insights and knowledge of FMEA to a major lighting company ramping up the complexity of their product design and certified their Process and Design FMEA trainers.
  • We developed a replicable Kaizen-like program focused on improving outcomes and reducing cycle time for tooling/equipment changeover between jobs.
  • I served as a volunteer on the AIAG committee to revise the Automotive industry guidebook for planning and conducting Layered Process Audits (which I still prefer to call “Layered Process Verifications”!).

And more recently,

  • Documented key processes that were haphazard and then helped the HR department of a global financial services company improve their recruiting and employee development functions.
  • Worked with a distribution company to refine their process flow and incorporate techniques to minimize problems and streamline workflow.
  • We continue to service as an OEM approved auditor, trainer and coach to help their suppliers develop effective Process-FMEA and Control Plans early in their APQP cycle.
  • We helped a rapidly growing company that designs, builds and tests equipment used for oil extraction from hemp; to have a consistent, repeatable, efficient process for design of new equipment.
  • We developed and facilitated a customized PDCA workshop and job aid for sales managers to monitor and improve KPIs in a more consistent and effective fashion.
  • We served as the subject matter expert and designer for a global engineering professional society’s eLearning course for structured problem solving.
  • Several times a year we run an open-enrollment live-web seminar in 8-Step Problem Solving, for individuals or departments.

All of these were a lot of fun, even under sometimes tight deadlines and client pressure – and resulted in The Luminous Group growing our capabilities and our reputation.

Looking toward 2020

In this past year, we’ve had the opportunity to work with new clients in industries that are new to us, and that’s been great.  That includes: a national airline, two property and casualty insurance companies, a designer of extraction equipment used by hemp processors, an aftermarket parts sales organization, a local college and a non-profit job placement community organization.

All these organizations want to get more things right the first time, and every time, and we’re glad to help.

As The Luminous Group starts our third decade, I want to thank our many clients over the years (and our fans that read this far down in my blogs) for trusting us to provide solutions, insights and our own experience to help them see a clearer path to process excellence.

When Management Elevates the Importance of FMEA, People Do the Right Things

Is your Failure Mode & Effects Analysis a document that you spend time crafting but then only file it away? Or is it something that really impacts a product design or improves what’s happening on your plant floor? In other words, does your organization treat the FMEA as a noun – a thing that is complete and saved – or as a verb – an ongoing reflection of risks and countermeasures?

We want you to think about FMEA the way we do, somewhat like a cardiac EKG: it is most useful when it functions as a real-time monitor, reflecting the actual controls and risks in your product design or manufacturing line. When thought of this way, it has the greatest chance of making your business better.

Why is this shift in thinking important?

When you find yourself burdened by problems that could have been prevented, it is an indication that you need to examine how FMEAs are developed and updated. These problems might include customer complaints, excessive scrap, or poor first-time quality. Perhaps you wonder “Why aren’t we getting it right? We hire great people; we invest in the right infrastructure!” But do you use that talent to ensure no defects can get to your customer?

On a very bad day, your boss (or customer) might ask you “what is it in your quality system that allows you to ship junk?!!!” That sure would be disturbing!

If you’ve been in or close to that situation, I suggest that you change the way your organization perceives the FMEA. Move from a compliance mindset (having the perfect document), to an action mindset (driving a quality system that prevents problems). By bringing the FMEA to life, you can improve the ways team members experience planning and execution, so all feel good about the business results.

Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Demand sincere management involvement. Actions speak louder than words and your team will do what you value. Demonstrate that you value FMEA by not just managing milestones, but also by looking at elements in the FMEA that deal with new features, or new technologies, or things you worry about.
  2. When an internal or external quality issue comes up, ask to see what the FMEA said about it. You might find that it was not considered in the FMEA, or planned controls were too optimistic, or even that recommended actions were not completed. Reviewing this sends a clear message that FMEAs should be used proactively and continually to reduce risk.
  3. Encourage team input. Improve your FMEAs by gaining inputs from people with different points of view. Their knowledge makes your product or process better, and involving them creates the buy-in needed to implement change. Help them block out time to focus on FMEA because, without focus, there are bound to be countless interruptions.

These three simple actions are an investment in excellence and have a high payback, but that’s only possible when you treat the FMEA as a verb… a real-time monitor and guide to action, not just a document completed for your customer.

Taking the next step

If you’re ready to shake things up, to think differently about using the FMEA, The Luminous Group has a few ways that you can start.

We’ve created a video series called Bringing FMEA to Life. Two of those videos deal with the people side of FMEA. Rich Nave and I share our insights on how your organization can better implement and benefit from the FMEA. Upcoming installments to this series will focus on Applying Preventive Thinking to FMEA and Making FMEA the Hub of your Quality Documents.

The Luminous Group also wants to make it easier for companies to start this change in thinking. Contact us to set up a time for a call or in-person meeting to talk through your goals and challenges. After learning about your current approach, we’d be glad to shed some light on using your FMEA to achieve real and lasting improvement on your journey to excellence.

Checklist to Prevent Problems from Recurring

Do you spend time and money reacting to – and fixing – problems only to see them again? Maybe, like many others, you are reacting to issues (putting out fires) even though you would rather be investing in ways to prevent problems from arising in the first place. A culture that supports and values problem prevention is key to improving your department and company’s results.

We believe that there is great value in adopting a company-wide approach to problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of costly or recurring problems, and develops effective corrective actions. Doing so in the right way improves an organization’s long-term operational and financial performance.

8 Small Steps to Sustainable, Improved Results

In many organizations, problem solving is masked in forms, templates and systems that track activities related to quality problems, but don’t focus on the key objective of discovering the root cause of the problem. Without a known cause (or causes) there cannot be an effective corrective action (solution), and any contrived preventive actions are meaningless.

To make problem solving effective, a disciplined thinking process must be embedded into your company’s culture; or put more simply — the right approach needs to become a habit and a way of thinking.  When this happens, corrective actions are held in place and made permanent, and actions designed to prevent the root cause are shared with similar processes and systems within your organization.  That part magnifies the improvement.

Our Unique Spin on 8D

We’ve put our own spin on the traditional 8-step Problem Solving approach.  First, it’s NOT followed as an obligation to your customer; it’s used because it will result in improvement to your work.   Second, it’s NOT the responsibility of the “Quality” department – problem solving is about fixing work processes that have shortcomings, therefore any function can lead it.  Third, each of the 8 baby steps serves a purpose… the steps are scalable, but they each have a purpose; with Step 4 as the focal point.

Step 1 – See the Problem as an Opportunity; this is a chance for improvement.

Step 2 – Describe the Problem; the more specific, the better.

Step 3 – Implement Containment; make sure the short-term plan is effective.

Step 4 – Recognize Root Causes; what’s the real driver of the symptoms?

Step 5 – Design Solution; does the plan and the team address the need?

Step 6 – Implement Corrective Actions; what resources and tools are needed?

Step 7 – Leverage Learning; how do you magnify actions into long-term improvements?

Step 8 – Recognize Effort; appreciate what team members contributed, communicated, and learned.

Developed with an understanding for why 8D is the standard problem solving approach in the Automotive industry, our method has universal applicability and can be used to improve organizations in all industries, including service, manufacturing, and product development.

Are you ready to learn more, or to start taking action to prevent known problems from recurring?  We’d like to give you a tool to help.  Download and refer to our 8-Step Problem Solving Sufficiency Checklist and see your teams move beyond treating symptoms and start addressing root causes.


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Making Problems Stay Away

In our work, we are often challenged with solving problems. Doing a very effective job in this area depends on three factors:

  • Identifying and addressing the root cause
  • Using that understanding to prevent the problem from surfacing again
  • Working with a leadership team that supports our work and allows us to help form a big picture understanding of problems and their underlying causes

Over the summer, an electronics component manufacturer we had been working with to help transition to the new ISO 9001 Quality Standard, came to us for help. They wanted a better approach to solving plant floor problems so that they could not reoccur.

We knew that they were in a mode of operation that many companies face:  lack of clear standards, new employees (many fresh out of school), some aging equipment, and many processes dependent upon proper human actions. These conditions don’t change overnight, but they were under pressure from a key customer to improve results quickly!

Working with their president and head of operations, we crafted a workplan to put three types of problems in the spotlight, each with a process owner and a small team.  One problem related to variation in a machined component, another was a product design issue, and the third was related to performance variation with an assembly machine.

Before training and challenging the three teams to address the problems, the president and his management team learned about the science of problem solving. Having the leaders work on a simple case study, we helped them see that:

  1. A problem is not described by one defective part in your hand… you have to look at other parts, observe the process and look for differences between conforming and non-conforming parts
  2. It is not possible to identify the cause of a problem if you don’t have enough clues about the problem… Guessing isn’t helpful
  3. You can’t create a lasting solution if you don’t know the true cause… Implementing an ineffective solution actually drives unnecessary costs

After the management group was trained to understand the process and ask the right questions of the team members, the three teams participated in our Effective Problem Solving workshop.  In two days, they were able to define their problem with facts and data, identify potential causes, and develop a plan to test causes that best fit the discovered clues.

Over the next four weeks, progressing at their own pace, each team narrowed the issues to the actual cause of their assigned problem, and were able to recommend systemic solutions that management was glad to consider, now with high priority.

Find out more about our two-day problem-solving workshop.

When your senior leaders are engaged, the Luminous Group brings maximum value to your organization.

By using a structured approach to problem solving to channel the knowledge and experience of your workforce, you will become better at fixing both the surface causes and underlying root cause of most problems.

Try it yourself.  When you see a costly problem in a new light, you might find that by following a structured approach, you’ll prevent problems from recurring.