"Don’t get bogged down in speaking all the Lean lingo"

A LeanOhio interview with George McNab
Legislative Liaison, Lean Liaison, Black Belt • Ohio Department of Agriculture

How and why did you get involved in Lean Six Sigma (LSS)?
I literally married into a family of Lean Six Sigma Black Belts. My wife is a Black Belt and my mother-in-law is a master Black Belt and deployment leader. I vividly remember being really lost during one of our first family dinner conversations centered on continuous improvement. I thought I had a lot to offer in the conversation in working with the legislature and creating policy centered on making things better, but I had no idea what I was getting into! My wife bought me a book about process improvement, and I found it interesting. The more we all talked about efficiency, customer service, and waste, the more interested I became in how I could positively influence state government through Lean and Six Sigma. When the opportunity to get involved with LeanOhio came about, I knew I wanted to learn more.

How do you apply the concepts used in Lean Six Sigma as a Legislative Liaison?
I love my job! I think I'm the only person who has the opportunity to work on legislation and continuous improvement in state government. In my legislative role I advocate for my agency and help craft legislation and policy. As a legislative liaison, I get to work on the front end of designing new processes – and as a lean liaison, I also get to work on the back end. Every day is different, and work is never dull!

You recently participated in the Lean Leader Development Program, where you worked at LeanOhio for three months. How will this experience benefit you as a Black Belt at the Department of Agriculture?
Participating in the program was a wonderful experience and an opportunity I could not pass up. I got to experience all the behind the scenes work that goes into making a Lean event happen – from scoping and data collection to the event itself and follow-up. Being a part of events worked to build my confidence as a Black Belt. Also, working with the entire LeanOhio team was terrific. They taught me many tips and tricks that I use daily to manage change within my agency.

What advice do you have for newly minted Green Belts and Black Belts?
First, find a Lean champion in your agency – this person doesn't have to know a great deal about LSS, but they do need to be a good listener and excellent at clearing the way for you and your work. Second, remember your Lean principles and realize they’re exhibited around you every day, so use them in everything you do. It’s the simple things like the four voices, poka-yoke, and the five whys that can help you with pretty much anything and everything you do. And third, remember that change is hard for most people and for all government agencies. But if you build a business case for your projects, with data that explains "why" for all who are involved, people are likely to be supportive.

Anything that Green Belts and Black Belts should avoid doing? 
Don’t get bogged down in speaking all the Lean lingo, because it can be intimidating. Muda (waste), DMAIC, poka-yoke (mistake-proofing), WIP, Value Stream – wow. Someone can get lost quickly. At the end of the day, improvement is something we should all be striving for, regardless of the terms you use. Getting others to participate in your projects will make them successful, so use words that make sense to them – not ones that you think will make you sound like an expert.

What’s your favorite example of how you have used Lean at home?
When I first met my wife, she 5Sed me before I even knew what 5S was! I was constantly misplacing my car keys and ID badges, and she was frustrated because she always had to help me find things. So she bought a key rack and put it on the wall by the door. She showed me that my house and car keys went one place, and my badges went in another place. Seven years later, we still use this system and it still works! Another example is how I've mistake-proofed my wardrobe. I’ve been known to wear crazy, colorful dress socks from time to time. I don't wear these necessarily as a fashion statement but more as a matter of practicality. You see, a bright orange sock with spades, hearts, and diamonds only matches one other sock I own! This is the same for my green sock with beer mugs or a red sock with Brutus Buckeye in a Heisman pose. This completely error-proofs the pairing socks when I'm doing laundry! I never wear one black and one navy sock together accidentally, or black socks with a blue suit. We have a beverage Kanban in my basement fridge so we never run out of drinks, and we place our silverware drawer close to the dishwasher to cut down on transportation and motion. See, Lean is everywhere in our house!

On a personal level, are there any other aspects of your life and work you'd like to share?
My wife and I run an all-volunteer non-profit in our free time aimed at helping those in need in Appalachia. My wife started this organization in honor of her grandmother after she died of cancer when Emily was 9 years old. I became involved when I first met her seven years ago. We conduct projects throughout the year, but we just completed our signature effort, the Secret Santa Project. This year thanks to our donors and volunteers, we helped deliver Christmas gifts to 60 children in Appalachia. While we do have a good time and enjoy helping others, it's amazing all the things you can learn from volunteering.

Interviewed by Michael Buerger • February 2017

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