ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - June 2001


Issue Highlight — A Sad and Grateful Remembrance
- Peter Block reflects on the life of friend and colleague, Joel Henning. Read about his lifelong contributions and what we can learn from his vision for a brighter future.

 In This Issue...
A Lesson In Leadership
Holding On
Microfiching For A Solution
Solving The Presentation Puzzle
Reopening "The Diary Of A Shutdown"

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

Microfiching For A Solution
How Output Technology Solutions Discovered Their Future Through the Eyes of Teamwork

It would be great if we could waltz through life without feeling the undeniable stress and anxiety large problems can cause. Like water off of a duck’s back, these strenuous issues would just fall to the wayside—never to bother us again. We would all have movie star smiles pasted on our faces and unwavering confidence in ourselves. Reality just doesn’t work that way. In order to realize greatness, you have to fight. That earned value—whether in victory or defeat—will have a lasting, positive effect.

   Some organizations choose to take the duck’s role and ignore problems—treading water until they are forced into an even more taxing situation. Only a special breed of company grabs the bull by the horns and searches for the difficult answers. When Output Technology Solutions realized they were struggling with a problem that had affected major photographic film manufacturers for years, they took charge. Cathy Burgess and her team never gave up and ultimately reached their goals. The result of their journey demonstrates that those who stand up and face the ugly truth can come out on top.

As Thomas Edison once said, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” The problem for many people in today’s organizations is finding that outlet to show their capabilities. For the lucky people at Output Technology Solutions (OTS) in Kansas City, Mo., the opportunity was there for the taking.

   As national director of archival and retrieval for OTS and manager of their technical services team, Cathy Burgess understands the power of a working unit of people. She gave that team the authority to do what they thought was right and watched the empowered group solve a problem that not only changed an industry, but saved their company over $500,000 in one short year.

Mission Impossible
For years at OTS, the microfiche equipment and hardware on the machine lines failed. As the problem persistently worsened, the organization took action, and the team of five engineers who had worked 15-20 years together—officially formed. “They were meeting every day, continually working on the problem,” states Burgess. “I met with them twice a week to find out if they needed more money, my signature of approval, financial support or any additional resources.”

  Originally they thought it was a problem with parts, only to find that a few weeks later, equipment was failing again. Unfortunately the new parts did not solve the problems, but their measurement of those results did save them time and money. “We are proof in the pudding that you have to measure,” says Burgess. “We realized the ‘parts problem’ wasn’t the root cause—there was something else.”

  That “something else” was discovered by chance, and only an enabled group of workers could have taken the risk to follow-up. As they pulled the circuit boards out of the microfiche equipment, one of the team members happened to notice a film on the board—a slight coating, when caught in the light, could be noticed. They called the manufacturer and tried to rub it off with alcohol, but it remained.

   “They really weren’t sure at that point,” says Burgess. “They just knew it wasn’t supposed to be there.” Ultimately, the team found the substance was amine—a water-soluble chemical. To remedy the problem, they decided to take water-soluble soap out of a dispenser and scrub each expensive circuit board with a soft brush. After the cleaning, they dried the boards with compressed air and popped them back in their test machine. One of the team members worked all night, staying after his regular shift to clean the 10 circuit boards. They knew they had found the solution. Burgess now jokes, “When the sun came up the next morning, so did the machines.” All of the error messages and problems simply went away. The boards just needed a good bath. The team kept measuring, and sure enough, they solved the problem. Their measurements also found that the chemical would build back up in as soon as one month. Although not as heavy as before, it can still cause problems. Cleaning the boards on a regular basis is now part of their preventative maintenance—saving them from going through further costly downtime.

The Triumphant Outcome
When the group’s results told their story of victory, happy stakeholders, both internal and external, lined up to give thanks.

   OTS has a very large microfiche business, and when the equipment was not working properly, it meant that late product deliveries to customers were possible. “It just meant we had to work harder with other machines and spend more on overtime pay,” says Burgess. The organization’s goals of high quality and customer satisfaction went hand in hand. “We had to keep customers happy, but they wouldn’t be unless the quality was at an extremely high level. That’s what they had become used to.” As they fixed the problem, the process became more streamlined. When the overtime became less frequent, morale went up and they saved financially—creating a positive effect.

   Throughout the team’s progression, they held regular conference calls with their manufacturer in California, Fuji and Kodak. “Those calls kept regular lines of communication open with vendors and really helped to brainstorm and gain confidence to go back and look for something else,” says Burgess. Not only did they solve a problem for themselves, but also for companies like Fuji and Kodak who can now offer the knowledge to other clients. Additionally, the manufacturers have already sent out notification to their customers to inform them of the problem and recommend the solution.

   “The whole industry really benefited by what the group did,” states Burgess proudly. “The team knew it, too.” Ken Kopald, the head of Fuji Micrographics North America, a leader in the film industry, arrived on April 26 to give the group an award for their efforts. The recognition was unexpected. “The group was very humbled by the fact that they had been recognized for something they felt was their job,” says Burgess. “As a team they needed to find out what the root cause was, so when they were rewarded for that, it made them feel really good.” As satisfied as the outside appreciation made them feel, the intrinsic joy of actually solving the problem outweighed any award.

   “I’ll never forget the day they told me they had found the answer and how excited they were,” says Burgess. “After going through the whole process once and finding out the test results weren’t getting them where they thought they should be, coming back and finding the root cause the second time was amazing. The awards were just icing on the cake.”

The How and the Why
After watching her team come together and work smoothly and successfully, Burgess reflected on the overriding factor that figured in the outcome. “Teamwork. Absolutely teamwork,” says Burgess. “That was by far the most important contributing factor to the achievement of this goal.” The team worked worked various hours and various shifts; their department had to be covered 24/7. In order for this to work, they had a variety of people in the group—one who works different days and hours than anyone else, one who covers at night, one who leads the group, etc. Teamwork came from knowing and trusting that the person at night was testing and relaying what he or she found to the morning group to carry on that work throughout the day.

   “Our team and department are like a family and that was definitely part of their success,” says Burgess. Of the approximately 75 people in the group, the majority touched on the project, demonstrating effective communication within the group and allowing all to share in the glory of a job well done.

   “We celebrated with the entire group—not just the people who helped solve the issue, but all of those who assisted with the testing, those who allowed their associates to come over and support the project, those who came to the meetings and helped with the buy-in and those who covered for everybody else—each one of the 75 people in the department had a part in this and knew what was going on,” says Burgess.

   That sense of family coupled with the feeling of responsibility and empowerment helped make this a successful team. “They had worked so closely together for so many years,” says Burgess. “For me to come in and micromanage would have stalled the project.” The team wanted to take the risk because they knew they were correct. This responsibility meant something to them.

   That responsibility has carried outside of the workplace as well. “When we travel to conferences together, we wear matching outfits,” states Burgess. “We like to look like a team.” One night while having dinner in Chicago during conference, the team met with an unexpected visitor. “We went to Mike Ditka’s restaurant, and unbeknownst to us, Mike was actually there,” says Burgess. Ditka, head coach of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, was attracted by the teams look. “He saw us with our matching vests on and came over to our table specifically to talk to us,” states Burgess. “His first question was, ‘Wow, you are all wearing the same uniforms. Tell me what your team is here for?’” After chatting for a while, he congratulated the team and wished them continued luck. It was one of many fun times the group has shared together.

   The fun times have also taken them into the surrounding community. “This group has done a lot of community work with me and has really enjoyed it,” says Burgess. “We’ve taken it one step further into the Kansas City area.” It carries on whether in the office or in the community, they continue to be a very tight team.

   It has been said that “the family that plays together, stays together”, and that adversity builds character and strength. Coming out successfully only adds to the satisfaction—and this group knows how to be successful. The members of this team are now part of a distinguished group of individuals that have been able to truly astound themselves. Perhaps their determination and dedication teamed with Burgess’ open management style will give others the opportunity to travel the trail they have helped blaze.


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