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Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software, tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.

Starting Lean Six Sigma, Pt. 2

Starting Lean Six Sigma, Pt. 2 continues with Six Sigma Black Belt Chuck Hardy. Chuck tells of the value of a mentor. He offers advice on books to help anyone on their Lean / Six Sigma quest. Mr. Hardy also gives insight on 5S programs.

Chuck Hard, Six Sigma Black Belt

Brandon Nys discusses Chuck’s history with Eastman Kodak and Lockheed Martin, and is now working for a non-profit, NMEDA, The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.

In part 1, Chuck discussed Lean as being a cultural thing. Workers and managers can include it at home or at work, no matter what field they’re in. He also emphasized the value of left and right brain thinkers into a Lean culture. More right brain thinkers are included in important decisions that were once left to the number crunchers.


Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at for links and transcripts.

Introduction music

Brandon: Hello everyone. I am Brandon Nys, and this is part two to our sit down with Six Sigma Black Belt Chuck Hardy. Chuck worked with Eastman Kodak and Lockheed Martin, but has left that world to join a non-profit, NMEDA, The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.

In part 1, Chuck discussed Lean as being a cultural thing. Workers and managers can include it at home or at work, no matter what field they’re in. He also emphasized the value of left and right brain thinkers into a Lean culture. More right brain thinkers are included in important decisions that were once left to the number crunchers. With that, let’s pick up where we left off in our Lean / Six Sigma conversation with Chuck Hardy.

Transition music

Brandon: So you mentioned that you had a mentor as your launching point for Lean/Six Sigma. For someone who maybe doesn’t have a mentor to get them started in a process, or someone who just wants to learn more about it, what would you recommend as their first entry into Lean/Six Sigma?

Chuck Hardy: I think, certainly, starting out with a Green Belt course is a great way to go but if you want to realize the full benefit, it’s not a bad idea to go in there a little bit prepared and I would recommend getting the books out and doing some reading.

And there’s a lot of great reading out there. “The Machine That Changed The World” by James Womack and Daniel Jones. I mean, that’s a story of Lean production and I’d say pretty much a must read for anyone starting a Lean journey. I don’t think you’d be able to put that one down. 

Another good one that I can recommend is “Lean/Six Sigma” by Michael George of The George Group.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a real breakthrough book, and one that I take personal pride in—because I helped contribute to it—and that’s titled “Corporate Sigma”, and that’s by Anwar El-Homsi and Jeff Slutsky. That book is the first book I know of that embraces a holistic approach to Lean/Six Sigma culture through the integration of Lean/Six Sigma and Systems Thinking, so it’s really something special, and I’d recommend it for anyone out there that wanted to learn about Lean.

After reading, taking a course is a great way to go. Start out with the Green Belt course and you’re going to learn the history of Lean, you’re going to learn everything about it, so yeah, no doubt.

Brandon: You mentioned this book that you contributed to, it speaks of of Lean and Six Sigma in a more holistic view. With that holistic view, what would you say is the most important aspect of a successful Lean/Six Sigma program?

Chuck: Well, without a doubt, the most important aspect is the people. So, when we do training, one of the things I like to present as an analogy is a car engine. Say, a NASCAR engine.

Everyone knows that NASCAR’s very competitive. You need to have engines that perform at extremely high levels. Efficiency is a top priority, but if you have the best engine in the world, the most finely tuned precise engine in the world. If the fuel that’s going into that engine is not what it should be, it’s going to sputter.

And that’s really what it is in a Lean/Six Sigma program, is the people are that fuel. So really, having the right fuel—having the right people—is the most important aspect of the successful program, in my opinion.

Brandon: Let’s say I’ve gone out, read a couple books, started a class, completed the class and now I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and go into my organization. In order to be successful, what are some of the first steps that I should take?

Chuck: Well, one thing to keep in mind in Lean/Six Sigma: they’re not a “one person is going to run the show” kind of deal. While it may be that you, yourself, individually, has said “Hey wow this is fantastic. I’m going to go out, I’m going to read, I’m going to train and do all these things.” And, while there are successes that you can have as an individual, it really is a cultural movement, the Lean/Six Sigma movement.

So, it’s really something that should be embraced, to be successful, as an organization. Meaning that the CEO all the way down the line is on board with the program. So having that in place gives you a good foundation to be successful. When you want to start the program, one of the ways that I found most successful is to start with, you know, after everyone’s received the awareness training and the different levels of training necessary, is to go into 5S.

And 5S is really a culture shift, and that the reason I like to bring 5S in first is because it gets everyone involved. 5S—meaning SORT, SET, SHINE, STANDARDIZE and SUSTAIN—are all steps that bring everyone into the picture and get everyone involved.

In fact, usually what you find during the kickoff and the training of some of these programs is “Ohh.” You know, you’ll have some folks in the room and there’s like “We’ve seen this before, it’s another ‘flavor-of-the-month,’ there’s going to be banners and signs” and you have the naysayers.

What I like to do is I like to take those folks and kind of focus on them and turn them into believers by putting them in charge of some of these teams, letting them feel what’s going on, letting them see the success. And then it’s funny how you can turn the naysayers into the ones that are really promoting the program.

Brandon: I like that idea of taking some of the people who may not be in agreement with 5S and turning them in the champions of the program. I have some friends in manufacturing and because of the people I talk to, I’m always talking to them about “Hey, how’s your 5S program going? How’s your continuous improvement?” They all just begrudgingly “Oh, I hate it because they made me mop today” or, all this stuff.

But, I noticed with them as they were given the responsibility of being the lead on some of these projects, the culture shifted quite a bit. And they…they became the champions of that organization with regard to 5S, and it became less of a challenge for them. So I really like that, I’ve seen that myself.

So one of the things you talked about was making sure that the organization is completely on board. Do you think that’s the hardest obstacle or are there other obstacles that make launching Lean/Six Sigma difficult in an organization.

Chuck: It is, really, having support. Without having the support of the organization from the top, you’re not to be successful. So I believe that is the most significant starting point of a successful program is to have top management support.

I’ve gone into Bennett companies where, well, “Hey, we’re going to start this Lean program, and we want you to lead it.” And I’ll lay out a roadmap for implementation. And my number one thing is always management support. Because without it, you might see some success but you’re not going to reach all the benefits that you would if you had that support, so yeah, absolutely.

Brandon: Is it enough to simply have the verbal okay from the top just to say “you know what you’re doing. Take care of it, I support it?” or is there another level of support that they need to provide?

Chuck: Typically, if we’re looking at, say, a larger organization, or it doesn’t have to be a larger organization. What you want your top management to be, it’s not necessarily the people that are training and that are part of all the teams but you want them to be there to help the teams and help to the Black Belts overcome barriers, and break them down.

Say, you’re having some trouble getting the resources you need in the finance group to strategize a project and to understand the return on investment you may have. And that’s not your area, you don’t oversee that department. So that’s where you can go to your top management and try to influence that change and that’s where they can help. To make sure everybody is staying in line saying “Hey listen, this is important to our company. We’re doing this.” And once that message is sent, then you’ll find that everybody realizes “Yeah, this is what we are going to do.”

Once you start to achieve the successes, that’s where the fun begins. Because, in any program or Lean journey that’s beginning, you’re probably going to do something like a project charter, a project analysis where you’ll brainstorm, you’ll come up with a multitude of different projects that you could run. What I like to see is to align those to the company’s strategic objectives. When you find projects that are aligned to the company’s strategic objectives, that are aligned to satisfying the customer, then you can look at them from impact and effort analysis and you can find the projects that are what people call the low hanging fruit.

And that’s where the snowball starts as you start to knock off some of those projects, you get those success stories and everybody wants to get on board. There’s no stopping the train once it starts rolling. People, they want to be a part of it. And that’s what really is exciting for me when I see that transformational shift take place, and it will happen.

Ah, you mentioned, Brandon, about the naysayers and overcoming that. There’s a curve. A denial and acceptance curve that takes place where it’s fairly common that it follows that path, and it’s fun to watch once you get to the point of on “not on board.” “Hey, maybe this is something that’s worthwhile” and “I’m on board.” And it just really really gives me chills to see that shift, and it’s exciting.

Brandon: We’ve been using this train analogy to explain the progress of a Six Sigma program. Train’s in the station, everybody boards, everybody’s onboard, train starts moving. And you said: “You know, once the train starts moving you can’t really stop it”. But isn’t it true that there are still organizations that fail once the train starts moving? What you think causes that?

Chuck: Well, typically, if there’s a failure, it’s because something wasn’t followed. That the process, maybe, was circumvented. Somebody that was on board is not on board anymore.

The workers, I’ve found, the operators, the ones that are responsible for the work, I’ve never met one that doesn’t want to be involved, that doesn’t want to do the right thing. But they are influenced by their supervisors, by their managers. If they don’t have the continuing support of their supervisors and managers to continue the program to foster the program, then there’s going to be trouble.

In a Lean environment, especially one that’s utilizing a good “Pull” system—which is one of the principles—it’s going to cause of a lot of mess, it’s going to cause waste, and it’s not a happy day when that happens. Hopefully, it’ll be recognized and overcome. But, usually, a failure is the result of a human. Typically, not of of the process or methodology. It’s usually the result of a human

Brandon: Alright, Chuck. If there’s any last, final words of wisdom that you were to impart on somebody listening today what would that be?

Chuck: Well, Brandon, my final word is Lean and Lean/Six Sigma are not something that is just done in the workplace. When practiced, they become habit. They become part of your way of life. You’ll find yourself inherently doing the things to improve and continuously improve whatever aspect in life you’re in. From getting up in the morning, to going to work, to coming home.

This is one of the biggest takeaways I have: Lean is a way of life. And it is for me and it doesn’t have to be for everyone. Everyone has their free will. But we all want to do things efficiently, I believe. We want to have as little waste as we can, especially in the current economic conditions and the environment. 

So having as little waste as possible, I don’t think, is an uncommon thought. Lean does that for you in every aspect of your life. So I would say to folks out there: Don’t think about Lean as something that you do at work. Think about Lean and Six Sigma is a way of life, to improve the world for everyone.

Brandon: I think that’s great advice. I mean, there’s always that separation from work and home, but when you think about Lean, think about that is something that is there to better your life in general, not just who you are work.

Chuck: Absolutely, and that’s what we’re here for, is to help the world improve.

Brandon: Alright, Chuck, it’s been a real pleasure. You’re, I mean, immensely knowledgeable at this. We are extremely grateful for the time taken to to spend with us, and to talk about Lean, and further that message of of overall improvement to the world.

Chuck: I much appreciate it Brandon, and thank you for having me on today. It’s been a pleasure.


Brandon: Once again, we’ve been chatting with Chuck Hardy. He is a Six Sigma Black Belt, and his career has included time at Eastman Kodak and Lockheed Martin. And Chuck is now with non-profit NMEDA, The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. I’m Brandon Nys.

(Outro Music with Voiceover)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to
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