Jan. 25, 2022

045: DS9: Whispers

The 8 wastes of Lean and how to erode trust

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Deep Space 9, Whispers (Season 2, Episode 14). He will examine the leadership approaches of Commander Sisko.

Strange things are afoot on DS9 - and O'Brien is caught in the middle of it! Sisko's "odd" behavior gives us the opportunity to learn about DOWNTIME; the 8 wastes of lean:

D - Defects O - Overproduction W - Waiting N - Non-Utilized Talent T - Transportation I - Inventory M - Motion E - Extra Processing

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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. In this episode, O’Brien must suffer! Or, at least that’s what this type of episode has come to be called. And in his suffering, we will learn about one of the quickest and most effective ways to erode trust with your team, and, a thing I’m super excited about, I get to introduce you to a key and foundational aspect of Lean.




O’Brien is in a runabout. At this point in DS9 there was no starship; just the station itself. But even when you work at a brick and mortar, you’ve got cars and a travel person, right? They do this with runabouts. Super shuttle, really. They are warp capable and have limited weapons and defensive capabilities. So when someone has to go on an away mission or a conference or something, they take one of these bad boys.


So, O’Brien is in one, alone, and immediately you notice that he doesn’t have a combadge on. He starts recording a personal log “I’ve got to try and set the record straight.” Apparently, “they” are after him and don’t want him to warn a group of people called the Paradas about something. How’s that for specific? We go into flashback mode as he tries to remember when he first noticed that things weren’t right.


He’s waking up and starts eating breakfast with his family, his wife Keiko and daughter Molly. Nothing specific is wrong, but they’re just off, not normal. Molly wants nothing to do with him and Keiko is in a rush to get to the school where she teaches. This doesn’t line up with stuff she was saying earlier about how busy she has been, “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Stories don’t quite jive but he has not reason to suspect anything, so he accepts it. She and Molly head off to school.


He checks in on his team. They’ve gotten to work early on some repair stuff. O’Brien is concerned because they need input from Odo, who won’t be back around till later, before they know what all they need to get done; he’s concerned about rework. Apparently, Sisko gave the order for them to get started early which is very out of character for him.


He heads out onto the Promenade and sees Keiko, who just left in a hurry to get to school, talking with Sisko. They look really serious and engaged. Almost conspiratorial.


Back to real time. He’s headed to Parada. There’s another runabout pursuing him. So, even though this is a flashback episode, there are stakes in real time. He makes it sounds like, once they drop out of warp, there will be a confrontation of some kind.


Back in his flashback, Bashir starts bugging him to do his physical. O’Brien’s been putting it off for some time. Sisko comes out and tells him to get it done. As he talks with Sisko we learn the Paradas have been in a civil war for 12 years. There’s a lot of talk about the extreme security requirements they’ve required. Then Sisko asks a kind of weird question, but not so weird that it turns O’Brien off. “Tell me something that’s not in the report. The stuff we don’t include in them.” Weird, yeah? But also someone that understands the apparent gravity of the situation might ask. O’Brien shares that the Paradas, well…they stink. They smell really bad. So, there’s that.


He asks why he and Keiko were talking earlier. Sisko says that his son, Jake, has been having problems with his grades. O’Brien heads off for his physical.


This is a pretty fun scene. O’Brien just wants to leave but Bashir just keeps asking questions and scanning and then asking more questions. “Headache, yeah, there you go.” A moment of weird where Bashir forgets that O’Brien’s mom died and his dad remarried, but he plays it off like he’s just asking questions. After the battery of tests, Bashir gives him a clean bill of health and sends him on his way.


Jake runs into him on the Promenade. He’s working on a project and wants O’Brien’s help on it. He says he’s happy to help get his grades back up and Jake responds “Oh, my grades are great.” Hmm. Curiouser and curiouser.


He experiences a lot more weirdness and is starting to get more and more suspicious. People not acting the way he’d expect – like Sisko authorizing work out of order and even telling O’Brien exactly what he needs to be doing and when he needs to do it. Even Kira responds weirdly to him. His daughter is spending the night with friends so O’Brien tries express his marital feelings towards Keiko and she responds almost like her best friend just kissed her but she doesn’t, you know, like them like them but doesn’t want to make it too weird. Seems there isn’t anyone he can really trust. “This was not my Keiko.”


He goes full YouTube conspiracy guy. He’s digging through scanner readings, sensor records, medical readings, ship manifests, anything he can get his eyes onto. Then he goes through all of the station logs, in chronological order. “Identify which officers are to be included. All officers.” Yeah, dude is digging deep. Seems kind of extreme. But he hits something!! After a certain star date, all logs are restricted. “The day I got back.” He can’t access them, no matter what he does. He even goes digging through systems in Ops. He finds a lot of electronic traps that were laid to stop him from getting through. He was able to bypass them and finally release the restricted logs.


There wasn’t much in the logs, except for records of them poring through all of his logs on the Paradas, including his personal logs during the time he was on Parada. “I hope they enjoyed reading the sexy letter to my wife.” Even with this, he couldn’t tell what was going on.


And then - hope! Odo has returned! Here’s someone that has been on Parada that whole time he was there and longer. Totally uncontaminated. Odo listens to him, takes him seriously and says he’ll launch a quiet investigation. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”


After awhile, they meet in Odo’s office. But things go from bad to worse right away. Odo starts asking questions about the Paradas and their civil war that, given his role, he should already know. And then he tells O’Brien they just need to wait and see what happens. “They got to you.” Sisko, Bashir and Kira come in and they try to capture him. He escapes and he’s on the run.


He tosses his combadge, it can be used to track him, and he makes his way to a runabout. He’s able to engineer and computer his way through all the traps they set to stop him. But he can’t out-engineer people. “This is Jake Sisko.” Jake encourages him to surrender and then runs off. O’Brien climbs into a crawlspace and makes his way to a cargo bay where he uses a cargo transporter to get to the runabout. Pretty slick thinking, and works because of his intimate knowledge of the station. Go back and listen to the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode on Lower Decks, Second Contact for more info on the value of that.


Once on the runabout, he makes like a tree and gets out of there. he reaches out to Admiral Rollan at Starbase 401. She orders him back to DS9, and mentions one of my all-time favorite books, “turn the ship around.” O’Brien hangs up on her, and then we’re back to real time.


He drops out of warp in the Parada system, as do his pursuers. They chase a bit around the system. He pulls some incredible maneuvers, cuts off all main power so he’s on silent running. He’s effectively disappeared. The other runabout looks around a bit, and then heads to Parada 2. All the crew beam onto the surface, so O’Brien heads there and beams down as well.


He finds Sisko, Kira and some Paradas. They lay down their weapons and try to convince him to come through a door where they’ll explain everything. He refuses so one of the Parada shoots him. Bashir comes through the door they were leading him to and he comes to help him. But as he leaves the entryway, an injured O’Brien, a different O’Brien, sits up…there are two O’Brien’s!!!


Ok, it gets a little weird from here, and it goes real fast. The Paradas that Sisko and Kira are with are the rebels. They were going to be meeting with the established government for peace talks to put an end to the 12-year civil war. While O’Brien was there, he was abducted and replaced with a replicant. They assume the replicant was programmed to ruin the peace talks, possibly assassinating someone.


The O’Brien we’ve been following this whole episode was the replicant and everyone on the station was wise to it. They were ultra-cautious, though, because they didn’t know what it was programmed to do or what it was capable of.


Real O’Brien remarks that he is a perfect copy. As the replicant dies, he shows how perfect of a copy he was as he asks real O’Brien to tell Keiko that he loves her. Sisko assumes it was returning to Parada to warn everyone that something was wrong on the station. He acknowledges his sacrifice as the episode ends. “Maybe in some way he was trying to be a hero.”



<<Red Alert>>


This episode really started the DS9 trope of O’Brien must suffer. There were absolutely earlier instances of this in TNG, but DS9 takes it to a whole new level. From here on out, at least once a season, there’s an episode where he goes through nightmarish, unimaginable situations. He nearly loses his daughter, Molly in a cruel, timey-wimey kind of way, Keiko is possessed and forces him to do terrible things, he even serves an unbelievably inhumane 20-year prison sentence. Yeah, dude goes through some stuff.


And this one, while not the real O’Brien, really set the tone for these. And it did it in a really fun, sci-fi, mystery kind of way. It’s like invasion of the body snatchers, but it’s your body that got snatched!


Quarks – Ads


Just a brilliantly put together and acted episode. The pacing is great, the flashback sequence with him just minutes away from the big showdown is exciting and everyone, especially Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao, are just perfect in their roles.


In the scene where O’Brien is trying to get affectionate with Keiko, her look and her reaction is perfect! I described it as that awkward kiss from your best friend, but, once you know that she knows that fake O’Brien doesn’t know…wow, so many layers and she portrays them perfectly!


I say this in just about every DS9 episode, but that’s because it’s so true. The relationships just really standout. We all know something is wrong, not just because the people are acting weird, but because they’re not acting the way they should in their relationships. Like one of the early red flags, when Sisko and Keiko are talking – that doesn’t normally happen, and the way they were talking isn’t how people in their parent – teacher relationship would behave. We see that, and O’Brien sees that.


My favorite, though, is the physical with Bashir and O’Brien. In the last scene, Bashir shares that he was trying to prove fake O’Brien was fake and ran all the tests and pushed really hard. We saw him pushing O’Brien’s buttons and even acting like he forgot about his parents. All of that worked because the series has been building the relationship between these two, which, as a side note, is the greatest relationship in Star Trek, right behind Kirk and Spock. And this is just the 33rd episode of the series. A season and a half in and they’ve already established these great characters and their relationships.


One thing I do have to touch on. That last scene. It was awesome. I mean, a huge reveal and a super emotional death. I mean, just amazing. And like 3 minutes long. Even after it was done, I had to replay the scene because I couldn’t put all the pieces together - they just flew at you so fast and with so much emotion tied to everything. I also wish they would have spent a little more time kind of wallowing in fake O’Brien’s death. Sisko all but called him a hero and his dying breath was offered to his wife. But we got all of 22 seconds of that. A disappointing way to do an incredible ending to an awesome episode.


<<Command Codes>>


We got two, really meaty things to dive into here. Sisko was trying to keep fake O’Brien occupied and away from anything important. But in doing so, he did what far too many managers do. He told O’Brien what to do, when to do it and how to do it. The opposite of empowerment. We’re going to look at what that does to the trust relationship between worker and manager.


I’m also really excited to dive into Lean! Not like weight loss lean, or even that horrifying meat kind of product from the 80’s. No, I’m talking about a methodology that reduces time, improves quality and works to eliminate waste from processes. It’s very similar to six sigma and, in recent years the two have kind of combined into the thoughtfully named, lean six sigma. They serve different purposes, ultimately, but both can be used to improve service delivery and reduce costs. And I’m going to dive into a key aspect of lean.


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Early in the episode, Sisko does two things that rub O’Brien the wrong way. And these are two things that you’ve likely experienced at some point in your career too. First, he sidesteps O’Brien and tells his team to work on a thing other than the things O’Brien needs them to. Second, he dictates to O’Brien what his priorities are doesn’t give him any freedom in when or how to deal with it.


Now there are situations where both of these things are ok, but those are few and far between, really. People generally know what their jobs are and, if the big picture is shared with people, they understand the priorities. And that second piece is the one that really hit me.


Even with the suspicion that O’Brien was fake or brainwashed or something, had Sisko shared a bigger picture with him, it could have made sense. Like, if he said there were changes to the timelines for the Parada peace talks, or something like that, so he had to initiate work before Odo was back and before O’Brien was ready, things would have been a lot less suspicious. He could have stuck with that story and explained that he needed the pylons taken care of because of something, something Parada ships. Instead, all he says is “I want those upper pylons operational, that’s your priority.”


Taking this out of the context of a fictional story with replicants and suspicion of espionage, this same principle applies to you and your teams. If you need someone to do something that might not make sense to them, or takes away their ability and agency to make their own decisions, you need to explain why, you need to share the bigger picture. Or at least as much of the bigger picture as you’re able to.


Years ago, in one of my early management roles, I was the reports guy. I was pretty good at writing SQL queries, so I ended up doing that quite a bit, mostly to monitor team performance and to look for opportunities for improvements. One day, my supervisor kind of pulled a Sisko. They told me to work on this report that was querying data that another team was responsible for and they told me it was my top priority, above anything else.


A little context is helpful here. I had a decent relationship with my supervisor, but the upper leadership and I did not gel at all. I had zero trust in them and I’m pretty confident they didn’t feel too great about me either.


So when she came to me with this assignment, I was skeptical. It was weird to me that I would be asked to look at this data and that it was going to be my top priority. What was even more weird, though, was that she didn’t usually dictate work to me like this. Sure, she gave me task lists and things like that, but I generally was able to do them whenever and mostly however I wanted as long as I met deadlines and quality metrics. So, even on the surface, this didn’t feel right. Add in my distrust of upper management and felt like I was being set up for something, or maybe worse.


Luckily, my supervisor saw that I had questions and concerns. I never did hear the whole story, but she shared with me that someone had submitted a kaizen sheet – more on that here shortly – that made some proposals that would have essentially led to the merging of the two teams, and they needed data to inform the kaizen. To this day I don’t know why it was such a huge priority, but she shared as much of the big picture as she was able to and I was happy to write up the queries. Had she not shared that, two things would have absolutely happened. First, I would have done a pretty terrible job on the work. Like I wouldn’t have cared about accuracy or checksums or any kind of data hygiene. And second, I would have milked every second of my deadline.


Now that’s probably as much a reflection on me, but I counter that it’s a reflection on the culture the upper management fostered. Because I would have done those two things as a result of distrust of them. Until my supervisor shared what she did, I was sure this was some underhanded scheme to make someone look bad and to somehow tie me them. Instead, I had an idea of why my work was being dictated to me and I did a really good job on it; even got it completed a few days early.


Our takeaway on this point is that when you, as a leader, take a person’s ability make their own decisions about their work away from them without a good reason, you are actively eroding trust. Actually destroying trust. What Sisko did to O’Brien here, if we assume it was real O’Brien and business-as-usual Sisko, was tell him that he neither trusted O’Brien nor believed he was capable of doing his job. Had my supervisor not shared with me the bigger picture of the weird assignment she gave me, she would have been telling me the same things. And if that’s the normal way you do business, just telling people what to do, when to do it and how to do it, I’m willing to bet you have tremendous turnover and a core group of employees that are actively disengaged.


Now, I mentioned a kaizen sheet a little bit ago. Kaizen sheets are a tool that is used in lean. Lean, which was popularized by Toyota is in wide use today, across various industries and sectors. It has, more recently, sort of combined forces with six-sigma so you will often see materials on lean six-sigma.


But, in the 30’s, and more so in the time after World War II, Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno shifted their manufacturing process’s focus from machines and physical tools to process flows and how to improve those. Increase throughput by eliminating wasteful process steps. Lean ultimately seeks to eliminate waste from processes, while six-sigma seeks limit defects and improve quality. Now, I know some listeners are professional lean practitioners or green or black belts in six-sigma; they are probably already screaming at me for dramatically oversimplifying the origins and applications of lean. So please just know that this is the overview, and that’s it.


So, the kaizen sheet I mentioned, is a tool that can help improve processes, identify and eliminate waste and generally comes directly from the people actually doing the work. In other words, these sheets are basically gold-pressed latinum! Kaizen is a Japanese word that is loosely translated as “change for the better,” or “improvement.” Because of this, another term you’ll hear used for lean is continuous improvement.


So, like I said, lean is a methodology to eliminate waste from processes. But what is waste? If you ask me, anytime someone has to ask for an approval that’s waste, but often times the people granting those approvals would disagree. So, luckily, waste isn’t a subjective guessing game. No, waste is clearly defined in lean. In lean there are eight of them. They are: Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. And if your brain works at like mine and is always looking for acronyms, you just found one! You can remember these as DOWNTIME.


Pretty slick, eh?


Let’s look at each of these and then see if you can identify which one O’Brien was most worried about early in the episode when Sisko had authorized work to be done before Odo had a chance to offer his input.


Defects occur when things don’t meet quality standards. This is the waster that six-sigma is hyper focused on. For existing processes that result in defects, a method called DMAIC is used. I wrote a blog post on DMAIC awhile ago that you can find on jeffakin.com. New processes use a similar method called D MAD V which allows you to initiate a new process with minimal defects.


Overproduction is basically what it sounds like. Making too much of something. This leads to another waste as it builds inventory. But it also restricts your ability to affect change or innovations because you’re either producing too much to implement the change or, what happens more commonly, the excess production actually masks other inefficiencies in the process. What you want to aim for is just-in-time production. Have a thing ready at the time it is needed.


Waiting is a waste we all experience every day. Wait in line at the grocery store, wait for your check to get deposited, wait for the next episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy to release and so on. But it also connects with overproduction and inventory. If you have things waiting for the next step in the process, essentially just stacking up, that is waste. Eliminating waste allows a process to flow smoothly and without interruption or bottlenecks.


Non-utilized talent is, in my opinion, the most egregious of all the wastes. It is unforgivable. This happens when you waste people. Sisko telling O’Brien what to do and when to do it is an example of this waste! If you don’t trust someone to do their job and are dictating it to them, you are wasting their talent, and probably yours too. People bring a lot to the table and not maximizing your use of what they bring is both wasteful and sad.


Ok, we’re halfway through. Just checking in with you. I’m not diving deep into any of these but I’m curious which one you’re most interested in. Hit the Group up and share it with us. The link is in the show notes.


Transportation waste is useless movement of pieces of work or completed work. Move it over there just to move it over here later, kind of stuff. I worked with a mail room that had a lot of this waste. Process this tub of mail and then move the empty tub to the end of the table just to move the empty tubs again when they stacked to a certain point. Or slice the mail open and stack it here so it can wait until you move the stack to a staging area so it can wait until it gets loaded for distribution. That kind of stuff.


Inventory. We’ve brought it up already a few times, but it’s having more on hand than you need. Excess inventory means you’re wasting space, and if you’re in manufacturing that can mean extra warehouse space. In an office environment, this can mean desks or conference room space. An interesting example of the right amount of inventory is in our recent episode on Enterprise A Night in Sickbay. The ship needs 4 plasma injectors to operate. 5 is more ideal so there is a backup, and 6 is perfect so there is a backup for your backup – I talk about why that’s important in that episode. But 7 plasma injectors would be waste. Too much inventory and no reasonable business plan that says you need that many.


Motion is another cardinal waste, according to me. What makes it and non-utilized talent cardinal wastes? They involve people. Motion is people needing to move around too much. A cool tool to visualize this is a spaghetti map. It’s where you chart how many steps are needed for a person to complete a task. This will often result in a copy machine getting moved, or looking at shared vs individual printers. I remember working as a prep cook at a buffet and we had a table that was set up with utensils and spots for the food we were working with to all be within arm’s reach. Once we gathered our stuff, we barely had to move anywhere else.


And finally, extra processing. This is doing more than is necessary to complete a task. This is the extra approvals waste! It’s also extra and unnecessary quality checks. As an example, AI and Machine Learning have become quite common in data entry shops here recently. Organizations that realize the benefit of these tools are the ones that use them check quality as necessary. Many organizations don’t see the benefit because they refuse to let go of 100% re-checks to try and ensure 100% quality. Because the dirty secret there is that double-checking 100% of the work 100% of the time has never resulted in 100% perfect quality. You need to know your work and your industry to determine the appropriate level of quality checks. And, you can use methods like DMAIC to help fine tune that.


So what was it O’Brien was worried about? He was worried that they would have to redo the work that Sisko had pre-emptively authorized. In lean we call that rework and rework is the result of many of the wastes, but most specifically defects. Sisko authorized work to be done before they had all the information. Once they had all the information, O’Brien was sure some of the work would have been defective, resulting in rework.


So thank you, Commander Sisko, for setting your engineering teams up for a lot of potential rework, and for giving me a chance to introduce the 8 wastes of lean!


<<Hailing Frequencies>>


So tell me, which waste are you most interested in or can really relate to? Do have your own set of cardinal wastes like I do. I can’t wait to hear about it. Join us in our Discussion Group and share. The link is in the show notes.


And you can follow me on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and on all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Transportation, a k i n.


Computer, what are we going to watch next time….


Close to the end a series on this one. Episode 13 of the third season of the Original Series, Wink of an Eye. I think this is one of the episodes that has earned Kirk his, in my opinion, undeserved reputation as a shameless lady’s man. But I’ll have to watch it to see if I remember correctly.


Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!