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Operational Excellence in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe

Posted by Michael Urick on Mon, Jan 6, 2020 @ 12:01 PM

Over Christmas break, I had the opportunity to see the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” in the theater and really enjoyed it. I especially liked the scenes where Mr. Rogers (played well by Tom Hanks) referred back to the songs that I remembered on his show from my childhood. I have come to know these songs and other Neighborhood of Make-Believe songs well. My daughter loves the “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” show (produced by Fred Rogers Productions) and I enjoy the music because I like how several of the songs are slight updates of Mr. Rogers’ originals. My family and I listen to Daniel Tiger songs all the time – and in them I hear a lot of Operational Excellence (OE) principles. After listening to these songs, I believe that OE is alive and well in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. In this blog, I will share how some of the lyrics to Mr. Rogers’ and Daniel Tiger’s songs illustrate the OE philosophy.

Before doing so, though, I want to share that OE is a management philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement, waste reduction and problem solving.  To achieve these ideals, organizations must have a culture that supports related values and then implement tools to help them move in a unified direction.

“Look a Little Closer” and Genchi Genbutsu

“We've gotta look a little

Look a little

Look a little closer

To find out what we want to know.

We've gotta look a little

Look a little

Look a little closer

To see just how things go.”

In the above lyrics, characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe talk about how they will increase their understanding of what they see around them by examining a particular phenomenon firsthand. In other lyrics of the song, characters talk about looking inside a clock to see how it works and watching what particular nests certain birds go to.

This is similar to the problem-solving concept of “Genchi Genbutsu,” a Japanese term which means “go and see.”  In the OE philosophy, when a problem occurs, it is important to go directly to where the problem is occurring to gather data and information.  Only by seeing the part of the process firsthand where a problem occurs can we begin to analyze accurate information in order to try and solve it.

“When Something Seems Bad, Turn It Around” and Viewing Problems as Blessings

“When something seems bad,

Turn it around

And find something good.”

The lyrics of this song suggest looking for the good in all things. Throughout the song, characters in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood discuss how they fixed a mistake they made while painting as well as changed the game that they would play outside because of the weather.

In each of these instances, Daniel Tiger and his friends face problems, but they look for opportunities to improve the situation. Many successful OE practitioners share this outlook.  Instead of getting frustrated or sad by the problems that they experience (and even the best organizations have a lot of problems), they look at problems as opportunities to improve and get better. Problems, in other words, are not things to avoid or deny, but are things that should be sought after in order to solve them for the betterment of a group of people.

“When We Do Something New” and Standardization

 “When we do something new,

Let's talk about what we'll do.”

In this song, Daniel Tiger is worried about going to the doctor and getting his hair cut because he doesn’t know what to expect in either situation. These new experiences seem scary to him and he wants some assurance that he will have a positive outcome.

Likewise, in OE cultures change needs to occur when problems are found. Sometimes, this requires a change in the way people do work. This change can be scary, especially if employees are unsure of what new behaviors are being asked of them. OE requires that all processes be documented clearly through the concept of standard work so that expectations are understood. In a way, this practice is a communication method similar to talking about what each person will do to perform his or her job. The point of the lyrics of this song as well as documenting standard processes is to minimize unpredictability.

“The Weekend Song” and Regular Meetings

 “I'll be back, when the day is new

And I'll have more ideas for you.

And you'll have things you'll want to talk about.

I will, too.”

These are classic lyrics from Fred Rogers that have been adapted and incorporated into several songs on his show as well as on Daniel Tiger’s show. These lyrics talk about getting back together after a time apart and starting a discussion to learn from each other.

Similarly, in OE cultures communication is crucial. Many organizations have regular meetings (the timing of which depends on workplace characteristics, but they could occur perhaps daily, weekly or between shifts) where key performance indicators are discussed. Key performance indicators are points of measurement that suggest whether or not an organization is working effectively and efficiently. In these meetings, people discuss their experiences and share what went well, what could be improved upon and what they learned. Thus, just as the lyrics suggest, there is a dialogue that occurs to help facilitate a positive well-operating organization.

OE seems like it’s practiced in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe! How might you practice it in your neighborhood? Do you use some of these principles in your role and at your job? Email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu and connect on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/). Or share your thoughts below.

Dr. Mike Urick


Topics: fred rogers, Saint Vincent College, SVC, Michael Urick, Daniel Tiger, Saint Vincent, Operational Excellence, blog, saint vincent professor, st. vincent professor, Faculty Blog, Dr. Mike Urick, svc blog, Mr. Rogers

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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