Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E9 Kaizen Culture and Facilitation with George Mahoney

Ryan Chan

George Mahoney is the Program Manager and Business Optimization Lead at Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company.


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have George Mahoney, Program Manager and Business Optimization Lead at Merck, on the show! Ryan and George discuss everything Kaizen – what it is, how it works, what the word “Kaizen” even means, and so much more! Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • What is Kaizen?
  • How does Kaizen work?
  • How to plan for the unplannable and work effectively.

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00:03 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times, their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited, we’ve got George Mahoney here on the show with us. George currently works as a Program Manager and Business Optimization Lead at Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company. Welcome to the show, George. I’m super excited to have you as a guest here on our podcast.

00:38 George Mahoney: Thank you, I’m super excited too. I can’t wait to get into it.

00:41 RC: Alright. Well, hey, the way that we always start off, could you kick us off by sharing a little bit more about you, your background, and how you got started in this field of maintenance and reliability?

00:52 GM: So I actually got started into maintenance and reliability when I was 10 years old. My father was looking for a new career, he started his own heating and air conditioning company, and I was the guy that was carrying all his tools, and it was the best education that I ever got. I actually worked with him for 27 years until the day he retired, so even as I was working at Merck, on weekends, I’d work with him. He made me take days off from work if he was installing a water heater or a furnace, it was a super small company. I learned a lot about maintenance, doing it right the first time. I learned about the value of Squirrel Stock when you need it. I learned about how to plan and schedule. I live in New York City, so it was really important to figure out how you were gonna do your jobs across Staten Island, to deal with traffic, to deal where certain jobs were. I also realized that talking to customers was extremely important, that you had to educate your customers on how they had to run their furnace, or how to run their air conditioner, so they’d realize that they, too, were part of the process. In a home setting, they’re the operators.

01:47 GM: They have that saying is, when all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. My motto is, well, look for your nail, and there, I found my hammer, and it’s actually two hammers. The first one was, I learned about the perspective of a mechanic. I feel like that’s pivotal, because they’re the closest to the equipment, so if you’re working in maintenance and reliability, no system you put in, no matter how good it is, if they don’t buy in, it’s not gonna work. The other thing I learned about was eliminating waste. We spent a lot of time waiting, maybe waiting for customers, maybe waiting for another mechanic to show up, maybe waiting in traffic, and I became obsessed with eliminating waste from my day and from my dad’s day so we can get as much done as possible.

02:23 RC: That’s awesome. Hey and you spent 27 years working with your dad, what made you so passionate to continue on in this field, in this industry?

02:32 GM: When I was working with my dad, I’m glad you asked the question. We’d be crawling under a furnace, trying to get a blower motor out, and he would say, “Whoever designed this is a bad person. How did they design this? We can’t get this motor in or out, they never thought about maintaining it.” So when I got out of college, I was put in a rotational program, it started off being a design engineer for large projects. I wanted to do the very thing that my dad was trying to fix as a mechanic himself, and I realized that I didn’t like big stuff, I liked the smaller stuff, I liked having mini wins every day. So in the last six months of my project, I had a rotational assignment, I asked to go in to become a maintenance supervisor at an active pharmaceutical ingredient facility, so they put me there, and that’s where I started working with crafts, crafts I had no knowledge of.

03:14 GM: I was never a welder, I was never a pipe fitter. I did some stuff as a heating and air conditioning guy, but I never did things to the scale of the mechanics that I was with, and that’s where I really took my maintenance and reliability world to another level, and I started off doing a lot of things wrong. I became a planner and a scheduler after I was a supervisor, and I tried to plan and schedule work without actually having any proactive maintenance at all. I became a reliability engineer and I tried to write PMs that I thought would save the world, and they stunk. And then, in that journey, I got involved with Six Sigma and I really learned a lot about eliminating waste at its root cause, and then I also became involved with something called defect elimination, which I became absolutely obsessed with, and then for me personally, that’s become the mecca of maintenance, that’s become the answer to almost all of my questions.

04:00 RC: That’s awesome. I’m super curious, it sounds like, through a lot of trails, tribulation, you’ve gotten through a lot of learnings, what have been some of the most pillar moments where you said, “I messed up here, but I came out learning something that has been pivotal to the success of my career?”

04:20 GM: I got two, two that stick in my head. One was, at first, our company said, “Look, we wanna do maintenance planning and scheduling. George, you’re really good at scheduling, so we’re gonna have you do this,” and I did it. I wrote awesome schedules, and they were awesome. 40 hours a week per mechanic, things were mapped out to the finest detail, things were coordinated, except I never planned for breakdowns. I never understood, why isn’t anybody using the schedule that I used? Well, they couldn’t, because my schedule was based on knowing when things were gonna run and not run, not knowing when they were gonna break randomly, and one of the best supervisors at the site, he just said, “This is garbage. Everything you’re doing is a waste of time because our equipment keeps breaking down.”

04:57 GM: So I’ll take you to the second story where I was sitting in my office, this is a couple of years later. Now we’ve put in what I thought was a very effective PDM program. We’d have our condition-based maintenance mechanics go around, they’d do an inspection, they’d say, “Look, this V-belt, it’s gonna fail. We used infrared, we used vibration analysis, it’s gonna fail within six months.” And then I’m sitting at my desk, and one day, a mechanic comes, one of our best mechanics, and he throws the V-belt at me and says, “Your PDM program, it’s garbage, this belt failed.” I said, “What? How’d we miss this?” And it turns out, we didn’t miss it, we called it, we just never got around to changing the belt because we had so much corrective maintenance going on.

05:30 GM: So my buddy, my mentor, he said, “You know what we need? We need precision maintenance, we’ve gotta eliminate these defects,” and I Googled it and I found this book on defect elimination. I thought it was gonna be a technical, mechanical book, and what it turns out to be is this, I’d equate it to a graphic novel, I’m a big Batman fan. It’s like a graphic novel of this plant manager who’s living my life, and he comes up with, as he’s going through this, they really paint the picture of, look, it’s not about the equipment, it’s not about your process, it’s about the people, and they have to learn how to get these bugs out of the system and keep them out, and managers, you need to get out of their way ’cause they already know what they’re doing, just eliminate those obstacles.

06:08 RC: I’m also curious, George, you mentioned a lot has to do with planning the unplanned. I know that this is a challenge that all of our listeners probably face. How do you do that? How do you do that effectively?

06:21 GM: So here is my personal advice. First of all, I agree that you should actually schedule your mechanics time to 100%. I am a big believer in that. I believe that by having that schedule, it allows you to make an adjustment. Now I’m gonna quit, I go to the gym a lot, I have my workout all ready to go, and it’s ready to go. I’m gonna make that plan and here’s what I’m gonna do from the second I walk in to the second I walk out. But if I go in there and my second workout is supposed to be back squats, and there’s a guy curling in the squat rack, he’s now ruined my schedule that I had for myself. But if I go in there with no schedule, now I have zero productivity, so maybe my schedule, I get eight of those 10 things done when I do have a schedule, but if I have no schedule, I might get two of those 10 things done. So it’s better to schedule to capacity.

07:05 GM: Having said that, the hardest part for me was convincing supervisors, “You’re not a bad person if you only get 60% schedule compliance, or you’re not a bad person if you only get 80.” We say, “Look, you got the best in the world, you probably have about 15% leeway.” So use it like a cheat day, use that 15% to cover all of those emergencies. So what we’re doing is building in the unknown, like you said. We’re not building it into the schedule, but we’re building it into the allowable results. And we let them choose, “Hey, okay, based on the priority of the work, do you need to do this now? Or based on what your customers saying, or can you push this off to next week?

07:40 RC: Again, plan for 100% capacity, but enable and allow leeway within reasonable limits for what the business can basically take in.

07:51 GM: Yep, and a really good practice is after the week is over, you go back and you look at all the stuff that you did that wasn’t on the schedule and say, “Why did I do this? Was it really an emergency? Was it just someone with a poor prioritization? Was this an emotional decision?” And then, now we’re going back, we’re start to talk about Six Sigma a little bit, but then you start making a Pareto analysis of, “Okay, what is the behavioral reasons why we’re doing this? What are the 20% of the reasons causing 80% of the break-ins in our schedule?” And that will tell you, the data will tell you, is it equipment? Is it people? Is it both? What is it that’s causing these break-ins? Is it bad scheduling, it could be that too.

08:26 RC: We’ve talked a little bit about Six Sigma. I also know one of your big specialties is Kaizen. And today, I would love to learn a little bit more about your experience implementing Kaizen within your teams. What was it? How did it work?

08:41 GM: So I got introduced to Six Sigma when I was a reliability engineer. Actually, I think I might have still been a maintenance supervisor at the time, and we had mechanical seal failures. They just kept failing over and over and over again. So the team decided to bring in a reliability engineer to help us go through a Six Sigma experiment, and figure out why is this happening? And we did find out the root cause, there was actually a few root causes, but I became obsessed with, “Oh my god, this is great. This is eliminating all the defects and eliminating a lot of the waste that has been bothering me my whole life since I was ten.” So I went in, got a black belt in Six Sigma. Part of that was Kaizen. So, a part of Six Sigma is Kaizen. Some people think of it as an event. To me, I think of it as a culture. So what does Kaizen mean literally? It means a change for the better. Some would say it means a small change for the better.

09:32 GM: Typically it’s, you look at a complicated workflow process, you identify all the non-value added steps and you eliminate them, and then you identify business value-added steps and you simplify them. And then at the end of that, you put in some sort of control process to make sure that this is sustained and that people can easily follow it. I think of Kaizen as a way of life. What I like is when people make small improvements every single day, so when they leave work that day, it’s just a little bit better than it was the day before. And if you’re going back to defect elimination, that was actually the mantra of defect elimination, it wasn’t these big giant projects, it wasn’t a Pareto analysis that said, “Find the five pumps that are causing 80% of our maintenance cost or 80% of our downtime.” It was, “Hey, mechanic. What’s bothering you right now?” “Oh, it’s the way this door handle turns.” “Alright, we’re gonna fix that.” “Why are we gonna fix that? It’s gonna make no difference?” “Yeah, but you do that 100 times, it’s gonna make a huge difference.”

10:26 GM: And what you start doing by doing these little things over and over again, you make it a habit. It’s like playing a sport, it’s like playing a guitar by repping out good maintenance 1,000 times. It’s not one giant Six Sigma project. It’s 1,000, small, many little Kaizen events. Every work order I treat as a Kaizen event. Now I developed this habit, and now, because I’m doing that through defect elimination, not only am I getting the bugs out, but now I’m not adding new bugs in.

10:54 RC: I love that you bring this into the maintenance and reliability space too, because I feel like a common thing that I’ve heard, at least, from talking to a lot of our customers is that maintenance reliability is commonly viewed as the department that’s just supporting, sustaining, and maintain the status quo, not trying to make it better every single day. What I’m hearing from you is that’s the complete opposite. We don’t wanna just maintain status quo, we wanna make things better than it was yesterday. George, what’s the best way for someone to get introduced to Kaizen.

11:27 GM: For me personally, I was lucky enough that my company, it was really pushing it at that time. It was pushing Six Sigma. There was the Toyota Production System, Merck had a Merck production system, and they were really trying to ingrain it into who we are and what we did. If you don’t have a company that’s doing that, there’s so many videos on YouTube. They’re just little quick things that you could pick up, but I think that might be one of the easiest ways to just begin to educate yourself on the process.

11:56 RC: Any big success stories from you personally implementing this culture within your team?

12:02 GM: Yeah, so some pretty cool things. After I had left the maintenance world, I actually went into the energy and sustainability world. And when I was in the maintenance world, we had a real good deal of success with defect elimination, so I’m sure a lot of your listeners have heard of the Uptime awards and reliability web. We were big fans of them, we had worked with Allied Reliability and the defect elimination team. Well, we had done this so well, I believe was 2015, that we won a national award as the Uptime Award winner for best defect elimination group.

12:34 GM: At the time, I think we had maybe close to a 1000 defects that we eliminated at our site, and as a result of that, it cleaned up all the other problems. So I guess taking this a step back, if you’re trying to fix a scheduling problem or a PDM problem, you’re trying to fix the symptoms of the real problem, and really there’s bugs getting into your system, so we really took this approach of, okay, we’re gonna focus on the small stuff, we’re gonna fix all the small stuff, and we’re gonna empower the workforce to get rid of things that are bothering them every day. So we have some great success there, and then we start noticing, wow, our energy costs are going down, our material costs are going, we weren’t even focusing on this stuff. So fast forward, I’m now the Global Head of energy conservation at Merck and we say, how are we gonna do this? How are we going to utilize the same tools that we had in the energy world that we did in the maintenance world?

13:27 GM: So what we did was we said, look, we’re not gonna give them another initiative to compete with maintenance, let’s just use maintenance to drive down energy usage, so we started using what we called was an energy Kaizen. So imagine you walk into a machine room with about five or six people, a few of them have PDM equipment, and you start finding equipment that is defective that is causing energy leaks, maybe a steam trap, may be a VFD that’s failed, it could be a clog filter, it could be anything like that, really small stuff, and then you use defect elimination to eliminate that book and then nicely with that when you combine in another Six Sigma tool, we picked this up from Allied Reliability, it was a great tool called a one point lesson. I think it was Mike Gehafen, Sean Eisenhower, those guys had talked to us about this one point lessons. Think about the most simple thing in the world, no one wants to read an SOP.

14:14 GM: No one’s gonna read… You can write a 500-page SOP, but if you show me a picture on one page with maybe two bullets, some arrows, some highlights that tells me how to operate that piece of equipment or what position that valve should normally be in. Now I have a win. So not only did we utilize the energy Kaizen to eliminate the bug, then we started using things like operator care and one point lessons to make sure that that bug didn’t come back, and that anyone walking through that machine would know, “Wow, that drain shouldn’t be normally open, that drain line should be closed. Why is this open right now? This is a problem we need to take care of.”

14:45 RC: Do you distinguish and differentiate Kaizen from continuous improvement. Where is Kaizen? Is it part of Lean? Is it part of Six Sigma?

14:55 GM: It kinda gets into semantics, so there’s Six Sigma, there’s Lean and then people will call things Lean Six Sigma. So the Six Sigma part, it could be more with the data analytics, you’re looking to get a process that’s in control and optimize that process, if you’re looking at it, from a purely Lean perspective, you’re trying to eliminate the seven wastes that are known as TIMWOOD. To me Kaizen it’s a form of continuous improvement, as is Lean, as a Six Sigma. This is me. There are some aspects of Six Sigma that maybe aren’t continuous improvement, it’s one project looking at one thing that maybe involves 10 people, and it’s a big bang approach looking for that big win. For me, I’ve tried to… I love the small things, so I try to combine all of these things together.

15:41 RC: This has been so great, learning more about how you’ve implemented Kaizen and how you’ve embedded it within the culture of your team at a Merck. I know that there’s still so, so much more for us to learn. Where do you continue to go to continue learning more about continuous improvement, where do you go for new ideas?

16:01 GM: So I am a constant learner. They did a personality assessment on me at work, they did it with our whole team, and one of my top five traits was learner. So I am not stopped, I’m going everywhere, I’m getting a behavioral science and self-help book. So behavioral science to me, again, it’s really all about the people, what makes people think, what makes people make decisions, what makes people worry. So I’m constantly reading books on that, and what I do after I read a book, I actually go back, I take notes on it, I’ll go back, I’ll reread it, I’ll link it to other books that I’ve read. I also listen to podcasts, I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss, Derek Sivers and Business Wars trying to get their perspective on efficiencies and optimizing things as it is in business right now. And then the other way is to always… You’re looking at the partners that got you there. So to me, the defect elimination team, Allied Reliability, the people at Reliabilityweb, your… Those people have helped me before. Those are real experts in this field, and those are the people that have helped get our teams to where they are.

16:58 RC: What’s something you wish more people knew about within the maintenance and reliability space?

17:03 GM: I’ll break this into three areas. The first one is the operators of equipment or the owner of facility, they have to know that they have as big of a part on this as you do, and it’s hard to just… I know it’s been said in all these conferences, reliability is not just a maintenance job, I get it. But I feel like the only way to do that is to make them part of the process, and that was great about defect elimination. We had a couple of rules, not many, maybe five, count them on your hand. One of the rules was, you have to have a cross-functional team, you have to have owners on the team fixing the problem with you, so imagine if you’re… We’ll simplify this, you’re heating an air condition mechanic, you go to somebody’s house and their blow motor failed because their filter was clogged. Now, if you imagine if you took the owner down the steps with you and said, okay, here’s a new filter, here is how you are gonna install this filter, let’s go, we’re gonna watch you install this filter and now you can maintain this on your own. That’s a beautiful thing. So they have to understand that they own it.

17:56 GM: The second thing is, it’s the people who make or break your equipment. We said let’s do these analysis and find out which pumps break the most, but that would mean that it’s the equipment that breaks the most, it’s really who’s breaking that equipment? Who’s operating it wrong? Who’s maintaining it wrong? And you should really be looking at the people themselves because they have all this knowledge, they have this tribal knowledge, they know stuff you’ll never know, and just get things out of their way, and that will be my third point is to management of maintenance people. You have to be able to check your ego at the door. You have to be able to let them be leaders in situations where they know more about this than you do, and I’m going back to… We talk about my career, I first started working at Merck supervising crafts that I never did that job before in my life, that humbled me enough to be able to at least from my perspective say, you know what, you know way more about this than me. You’re a welder or you’re a structural maintenance guy, you work with beams and stuff, I don’t know how to do that, so I’m gonna follow your lead. I’ll eliminate obstacles, you get the job done.

18:54 RC: Hey, George, this has been absolutely amazing. Can you share with all of our listeners the different ways that they can connect with you and follow you on your journey?

19:02 GM: I think the simplest way right now is just to follow me on LinkedIn, that’s George Mahoney, I work for Merck, that’s where you can find the most stuff on me.

19:09 RC: Awesome, thank you so much George for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning into today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, you can also shoot me an email at [email protected] Until next time, thanks again George.

19:25 GM: Thank you so much.

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