Dynamic Duos: Father-Son & Lean Six Sigma

Interview by Mike McKenzie

Jeff Gray and his son, Mason, moved to Bellingham last year and they have cut a wide swath into their life mission—instructing and guiding business leaders through the internationally acclaimed Lean and Six Sigma training. In addition to the full curriculum they created and teach in Bellingham Technical College’s Continuing Education Program, businesses contract with them through Jeff’s company, SixSigmaTV.Net.

What’s the difference between Lean and Six Sigma

Mason Gray: Lean, in short, is eliminating waste in business.

Jeff Gray: Six Sigma reduces variations and defects.

You merged them. Why?

JG: Combined, they work together to eliminate the costs of poor-quality performance, the things that sink a business.

MG: You can do one without the other, but it makes more sense to add the simplicity of Lean to the reliability of Six Sigma. It’s a happy marriage.

What’s at the core?

JG: Teaching businesses to eliminate where they’re bleeding (wasting resources) and reducing their variabilities so they can innovate and grow. In a nutshell, the keys are to standardize and stabilize, then innovate and grow to the next level of excellence and productivity.

Teach it where?

MG: Courses at Bellingham Technical College (BTC), where I graduated in 2018 from the fisheries and aquaculture science program. We’ve written BTC’s curriculum for Lean Six Sigma and we teach the courses.

What’s the methodology?

MG: With clients, we hold a variety of workshops focusing on waste, variation, innovation, and how to build market share and revenue growth using the DMAIC Lean Six Sigma methodology. [Note: DMAIC is a five-phase process—define, measure, analyze, improve, control.]

JG: We measure KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).We relate projects and issues to KPIs, aimed at growing revenues, eliminating waste by X-percentage, increasing capacity, improving through-puts, and reducing turnover.

Is it all classroom lectures?

MG: No. We also go to the workplaces and work with them hands-on, with support and mentoring on projects, measuring goals and targets, and working to close gaps. We teach the executives to learn and lead as they integrate Lean Six Sigma into their projects. And we ask them to bring in their next leaders, too. And it’s all tied to net savings on the bottom line.

JG: We’re working with numerous clients on-site: Silver Reef Resort, TransOcean Products, Cascadia Eye, Brist Manufacturing, Chevron/Texaco, and SODO Commercial Builders.

What’s that technique you use with a funny name?

MG: You mean the Gemba Walk? It’s a Japanese term that means ‘go to the scene of the crime.’

JG: In English, it’s basically saying to go to where the work is done. See how things are performed. And find out what their ‘crimes’ are.

MG: It’s an assessment tool. We do it the first day with leadership and subject-matter experts to identify areas for optimization.

How did you develop your expertise?

JG: I have a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma and have taught it since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when I worked at Boeing. (The Grays hail from the Seattle/Kirkland area. Jeff has a B.A. degree from City University) My involvement in Lean began in the division that builds airplane interiors. We had thousands of scrap parts, all roped off—waste. A VP visited Japan and decided to change the way we did business.

It’s a long story, but basically they sent me to see Dr. (W. Edwards) Deming, who’s recognized as the pioneer of Lean, and adopt his Toyota production system.  Back at Boeing, I was put in charge of increasing quality by eliminating waste, sustaining gains, and training our division. Essentially, I was thrown into the lion’s den.

Mason, you just finished college. What about you?

MG: Before I went off to school, I worked for my father’s business (SixSigmaTV.net) and learned all I could. He had me gathering metrics and doing value-stream mapping.

JG (laughing): He told me, “I don’t know about all this stuff.” And I said, “All I want you to do is to find out.”

And then?

MG: I attended Western Washington a year while going through the ‘what-do-I-want-to-do’ phase. While living at home at age 21, I decided to return to Bellingham and sort out possibilities. Ironically, in that I’m teaching resiliency, I lived out of my car for two weeks, went to Sehome Starbucks every day and sat in the same spot and planned the next five years of my life. I was asking myself, ‘What do you want to do every day of your life?’ And I thought, ‘I like to fish.’ So I enrolled in the BTC fisheries program and, after I finished, I saw the opportunity to apply Lean Six Sigma in the community.

Six months later, we were here teaching our curriculum! We’re running consecutive classes through a government program, the Jobs Skills Program, teaching the Yellow, Green, Black Belt, and Executive-Champion levels of Lean Six Sigma throughout Whatcom County.

How did you two partner up on this initiative?

JG: I worked for Washington Mutual after Boeing, and by ’08, when the market fell, I’d saved WAMU millions of dollars. But they still said ‘adios’ and laid me off. I began consulting with major corporations—Capital One, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Chase (which had purchased WAMU), Starbucks, Microsoft, adidas, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense. Along the way I created SixSigmaTV.Net, and Mason worked for me.

MG: Dad came up to visit when I was a BTC student, and he saw a lot of ways to increase the Chum Salmon Stock through the school’s hatchery operations.

JG: It was an opportunity to examine all the factors creating the problem, like water quality, temperature, what substances were in the water, and more.

What’s the end game in your mission?

JG: Teach all executives, managers, and general workforce to learn and lead as they integrate Lean Six Sigma into their organizations. At the highest level—domination.

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