Feb 21, 2017

Shirakawa-go, Japan

We boarded the bus (Gifu Bus) at Meitetsu Bus Center at 9:00am and was expected to reach Shirakawa-go at 11:53am, it took a little longer and we reached Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal 白川郷バスターミナル at around 12:30pm.

Image courtesy of Meitetsu

Located in the Gifu Prefecture, Shirakawa-go is the first place I parked in our Nagoya trip itinerary as it has become an increasingly popular travel destination - I've seen friends posting photos of their trip to Shirakawa-go on Facebook and Instagram back in 2016. It thus became the highlight of our trip this time round and I certainly prayed for a smooth journey there.

Looking out of the bus window on our way up the Gifu mountains and the amount of snow was surely something that reminisce my student exchange experience in Sweden. I was surprised at Kenneth's calmness when he told me that that's his first time seeing snow (well, I would have been overly excited like a little kid if I were him).

The moment I alighted, I regretted that I was pretty underdressed for this harsh weather - merely a long sleeve T-shirt underneath my winter jacket, a pair of gloves, a pair of jeans and a single pair of socks underneath my usual pair of shoes, and it's −2°C.

Pickup point for Tenshukaku Observatory

We started walking southwards and realized there's this spot that people are queuing, and of course, it's the pickup point for the observatory. We boarded and paid ¥200 fare when we alighted at the Tenshukaku Observatory 天守閣展望台.

The view of the village from the observatory was simply mesmerizing.

Jan 18, 2017

Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

I started taking the ASQ Six Sigma certifications in March 2016, to be specific, I took Certified Six Sigma Yellow Belt (CSSYB) in March 2016 and Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) in June 2016.

Unlike Yellow Black and Green Belt, a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt candidate is required to have two completed projects with signed affidavits or one completed project with signed affidavit and 3 years of work experience in one or more areas of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge.

I already have more than 3 years of work experience in Cameron and so I used one of my Six Sigma Green Belt projects (Warehouse Picking Cycle Time Reduction) in Cameron as my affidavit, signed by the Operations Manager, who was my project champion.

I was still a member of ASQ, so I enjoyed the discounted exam fee at US$388 (S$570).
My last day in Cameron was 6 Jan 2017 and I'm joining Seagate as a Lean Engineer, and so I requested to join Seagate on 19 Jan 2017, which is a day after my CSSBB exam, so strategically I have time to study at ease during the period I was jobless.

ASQ has recently phased in computer-based testing, so similar to PMP and PMI-ACP, the CSSBB exam is delivered by Prometric testing centers, and again, Kenneth and I booked our slots at the King's Arcade branch.

Good things about computer-based testing:
  • You'll know your results immediately after submitting the answers.
  • No more pencil marking and erasing.
And also a few bad things about computer-based testing::
  • Unlike pencil-based testing, all materials accompanied (it's open-book exam for CSSBB) into the examination room are strictly inspected by the proctor. To sum it up, make sure your materials are binded, not stapled; and no sample Q&A portion can be taken in - they flip through almost every page to check on that.
  • When it comes to reviewing each question, you have to click one by one as one question is displayed in one screen, so you can't take an quick overview of a section.

Why Six Sigma certifications?

I had my first job landed in Cameron as a Global Rotational Development Program trainee, ever since then, I was exposed to the Six Sigma methodology because Cameron was a Lean Six Sigma enterprise.

I'm thankful that I was given the opportunity to lead the warehouse project which also served as my very first Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project. This first step was important in keeping me motivated further to subsequent Green Belt projects, which in time I closed a total of 3 Green Belt projects, entitling me to be certified as a Cameron certified Six Sigma Green Belt.

I believe it's the success and job satisfaction derived from project results and deliverables that made me persevere in the Lean Six Sigma discipline, to the point that I wanted to take ASQ Six Sigma certifications and considered this field for my future career.

How did I prepare for CSSBB?

You probably don't want to follow my footstep for this, because I only seriously started to study 2-3 weeks before the exam. Do a search online for tips, they'll tell you to start preparing at least a few months before hand.

The reason why I did last minute preparation is because I was busy (actually, lazy... XD). Also, I have read one of the modules in my Master of Science program in NUS last year, titled Applied Engineering Statistics, which comprises of the essential topics in inferential statistics. This saved me a lot of time going through topics in hypothesis testing, ANOVA, regression, DOE etc.

The two most common preparation materials available are:

I used the CSSBB Primer (2014 Edition) I already had there available from someone else. I personally have not gone through the handbook so I can't judge which book prepares the candidate better. But what I can say is, the real exam questions are pretty similar to the CSSBB Primer Solutions Text.

It's a 165-question, 4.5-hour-long exam, where 15 of them are unscored. I finished and submitted my answer in 3 hours because I just don't feel like wait any longer. It's pretty draining as well for 165 questions, but I told myself that I had worse from PMP, which was 200-question.

As mentioned, the results will show on the screen after the answers are submitted, and thank God, I passed.

I do feel contented with the certifications I've achieved so far, CSSYB, CSSGB, CSSBB, PMP and PMI-ACP, all done within 10 months on first try, while I was still studying for my master's degree. Grateful.

Nov 23, 2016

5 Wonderful Things to Do in Hokkaido

With its rich cultural heritage, spectacular National Parks, beautiful countryside sceneries, and tempting culinary traditions, Hokkaido is certainly a place you shouldn’t miss when you visit Japan. The country’s largest prefecture and second-biggest island offers a whole host of places to see and activities to do for travelers who are willing to look beyond popular destinations like Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, and the Kansai Region.

Here are some the best things that you can see and do while on the island:

Image courtesy of www.outdoorjapan.com

Play Winter Sports – Hokkaido is a premier destination for winter sports enthusiasts, thanks to the powder snow that is created by the winds that blow in from the frigid regions of Siberia every winter. This snow is world-famous for its weightlessness and dryness. On the island, you can experience prime tracks and slopes covered in this snow in any one of Hokkaido’s many luxury ski resorts.

If you’re looking for a place where you can experience the best snow on the island, you can book a stay at the Kiroro Resort. The complex is conveniently located just 1.5 hours’ drive away from the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and offers a wide array of dining, shopping, spa, entertainment, and ski and snowboard training facilities for visitors. It is also just 30 minutes away from the charming fishing town of Otaru. If you’re visiting Kiroro in February, make sure to catch the Sapporo Snow Festival and the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru.

Jozankei Onsen 定山渓温泉
Image courtesy of jozankei.jp

Bathe in an Onsen – Hokkaido offers an alluring array of hot spring baths knows as onsen. Sure, you can probably dip into a hot spa bath in your hotel, but for an even more authentic Hokkaido hot spring experience, you should visit some of the most famous onsen on the island. For instance, the Noboribetsu Onsen, the most well-known hot springs in Hokkaido, is within the spectacular environs of the Jogokudani “hell valley”. It may be called hell, but its natural hot water baths with different chemical compositions are said to provide heavenly relief to various bodily conditions. If you are looking for something nearer Sapporo, consider going to the beautiful Jozankei Onsen hot spring village, which can be reached after an hour-long bus ride from the city.

Sapporo Central Wholesale Market Crab Market 札幌市中央卸売
Image courtesy of www.jyogaiichiba.com

Feast on Seafood – Hokkaido is like seafood nirvana to traveling foodies, and many visitors claim that the island’s seafood offerings are the best in the world. For the freshest sushi, sashimi, kani (crab), ika (squid), hotate (scallops), sake (salmon), and uni (sea urchin), go to Nijo Market in downtown Sapporo or visit the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market Crab Market. In the fishing town of Otaru, you can also enjoy a bowl of kaisen donburi—which is made with rice and seafood ingredients like maguro (tuna), uni, kani, and ikura (salmon roe).

Matsumae Castle 松前城
Image courtesy of www.japan-guide.com

View the Flowers – Hokkaido is an amazing place to see the beautiful blooms of spring and summer. The time between early May and the middle of May is the height of sakura (cherry blossom) season on the island, so this is the best time to see Japan’s iconic flowers in full bloom. You can visit the Matsumae Castle grounds in Matsumae and the Goryokaku star port in Hakodate to see the best clusters of sakura. You can also go to the Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park near Yubetsu to see the tulips in a field known among visitors as “little Netherlands”. If you go to Takinoue Park, on the other hand, you’ll be able to witness the carpets of pink shibazakura (moss phlox) covering entire hills and fields. In July, you also can visit the towns of Furano and Biei in the heartland of Hokkaido to see their beflowered lavender fields.

Image courtesy of www.huffingtonpost.com

View the autumn leaves – Alternatively, you can also go to Hokkaido in October and November to see the grandeur of Japanese autumn in some of the island’s most famous national parks. These include the Shiretoko National Park, the Daisetsuzan National Park,the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and the Akan National Park.

In Sapporo, there are also many places where you can take in the sights of the fall season. For instance, you can visit the campus of Hokkaido University or stroll down the pathways of Nakajima Koen Park. The Takino Suzuran Hillside National Government Park, with its wide-open spaces and hilly landscapes, is also one of the best places to enjoy autumn in Sapporo.

Hokkaido is clearly one of Japan’s most interesting holiday destinations, so make sure not to miss out on all the wonderful things that it has to offer. If you love expansive natural landscapes and pristine wilderness environments, Hokkaido is sure to be one of the most magical places that you’ll ever visit.

Oct 31, 2016

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

Soon after attaining my PMP® credential, Kenneth and I decided to pursue together the credential of PMI Agile Certified Practitioner, better known as PMI-ACP®, another professional designation, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Agile is an iterative and incremental approach to project management. Despite knowing that its applicability is more towards software development, we are rather more interested in Kanban and Lean which are embodied in PMI-ACP, with topics such as Scrum, extreme programming (XP), test-driven development etc. alongside .

My PMP course was purchased from Udemy, so was my PMI-ACP course. And since we're familiar with Joseph Phillips' course, we continued to purchase his course for PMI-ACP - PMI-ACP Exam Prep, and you won't believe how cheap I purchased it - it was only S$15. Again as a PMI member, I paid US$435 (S$611) for the PMI-ACP exam. So the total cost this time was S$626. Similar to my PMP exam, I didn't get audited for taking the PMI-ACP exam.

It makes sense to get the PMP certification first before applying for PMI-ACP, being a PMP, 2,000 hours of general project experience are exempted, and I only need to clock 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies, where I clocked with one of my JDI (Just-Do-It) projects and one of my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt projects in Cameron.

This time round I didn't use any other reading materials, only the course and some sample exams available online.

Kenneth was supposed to take the exam on the same day with me at King's Arcade (Bukit Timah), but somehow he had issue with his Prometric account due to some discrepancy error from his email addresses, so I headed down alone, took and passed the exam.

My results are as follow:

Domain Results
Agile Principles and Mindset Moderately Proficient
Value-Driven Delivery Moderately Proficient
Stakeholder Engagement Moderately Proficient
Team Performance Moderately Proficient
Adaptive Planning Moderately Proficient
Problem Detection and Resolution Moderately Proficient
Continuous Improvement Moderately Proficient

Results look very average, but my aim is just to pass the exam. Certainly glad that I've added another certification to my collection. This will officially be my 4th and last certification of the year (excluding my JLPT N2, XD). My next aim will be the Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) in January 2017.

Sep 6, 2016

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Project Management Professional, better known as PMP® is a professional designation, a global certification, recognized internationally, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Its respectability comes from a few factors. The PMP® certification scheme is accredited by ANSI against ISO/IEC 17024. Besides, every certification applicants or holders have a chance of randomly being selected for an audit when they submit their application or filing for professional development units (PDUs), where consequence of non compliance can be disastrous.

Kenneth (my colleague from another divisional plant) and I were interested in gaining this prestigious certification in aid of our career progression (hopefully). Together we have already obtained the Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) and Yellow Belt (CSSYB) from ASQ, kinda like my wingman for certification. It wasn't easy - we weren't project manager, but we've executed and closed some projects during our past endeavors in Cameron. As a degree holder, we're required to file 4,500 hours leading and directing projects. Moreever, 35 hours of project management education is a must before applying to sit for the PMP exam. The cumbersome part comes in when you're planning on clocking the project management hours, on top of having 36 months unique non-overlapping professional project management experience (so at the very minimum, one should have at least 3 years of working experience before even thinking about getting PMP).

Kenneth and I were lucky enough to found a PMP course - Project Management Professional: Prep for PMP on Udemy at S$49 taught by Joseph Phillips, which you can use to file for the 35 hours project management education as they are a PMI Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.), so never have to be worried about PMI's audit on the reputation of this course. I recommend this course if you're someone comfortable with online training, rather than spending thousand of dollars for a PMP course outside. I feel that it provides you enough information (not more) for the real PMP exam.
However, besides Udemy, we actually flipped through the most famous reading material - PMP® Exam Prep by Rita Rita Mulcahy, and realized that there are much more things not covered by Joseph Phillips. And the practice questions are so much harder.

I'll just be open with sharing the information of my application, shown in the table below:

Project Hours
Initiating Planning Executing Controlling Monitoring Closing Total
Heat Insulation
To develop a solution of heat insulation to isolate heat convection from heated item from welder and to insulate heat within the item space when performing welding/cladding operations.
100 150 200 100 50 600
Tool Crib 5S Improvement
To introduce and improve 5S standards to tool crib for systematic management of gauges and better visibility.
150 150 300 100 50 750
Production Listing Generation
To develop solution for better visibility of outstanding production listing for return goods for repair and new build products.
100 150 250 150 50 700
Throughput Report Integration
To integrate local throughput report with relevant to reduce manual data integration of master schedule.
100 150 200 100 50 600
Warehouse Picking Process Cycle Time Reduction
To implement warehouse relocation project (new high racking, reach truck training, line marking) with rack relocation, bin number standardization and semi gantry crane installation.
150 200 600 200 100 1250
Gauge Management Improvement
To improve quality of gauge room related activities.
100 150 400 200 100 950
Total 700 950 1,950 850 400 4,850

As you can see, since I come from a manufacturing background, many of the projects I was involved in are more related to process improvement with lean or six sigma driven methodology. Rather than delivering the typical products or services, my deliverables are more channeled to improved and sustained processes. The one with the heaviest load is none other than the warehouse expansion project as it literally involved building a physical warehouse with installation and relocation of racks, which was also my very first Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project.

One good thing about PMI's exam - you don't have to pay when you submit your online application, you only pay after you received the results of your application - either approved or rejected. And the unusual thing (to me) is that you only know if you're randomly chosen for an audit only right after your payment, NOT right after your application submission. For my case, I didn't get audited.

Like the typical way of exam payment, we registered as a member at US$139 (S$192) and paid the exam fee at US$405 (S$559), and my expenditure for PMP amounted at a nice number of S$192 (membership) + S$559 (exam fee for members) + S$49 (course on Udemy) = S$800.

PMP exam is delivered by Prometric testing centers, which are currently only available at NTUC LearningHub (Bras Basah) and King's Arcade (Bukit Timah) in Singapore. We went for the King's Arcade one as the NTUC LearningHub's calendar was fully booked. The testing center would prefer passport as an identification method because it is one document containing all required information including signature. You'll be asked to empty your pocket to perform a full body scan, signing in and out whenever you enter or leaving the examination room.

A 4-hour 200 questions computer-based exam has never been kind - it was simply mentally exhausting to sit in front of the computer answering questions which might contain more than one correct answers (you just have to pick the best one). And you really don't want to go through so many of the questions over again, because one question appears on one page, more clicks are required when you're reviewing more questions. As such, to a certain point I really wanted to submit my exam, it was around 3+ hours spent, and my pulse was so rapid and hard that everything I feel with my body is merely my heart pumping, even when I tried to remain calm while completing the survey after the exam on the screen. And the screen loaded, and loaded, and loaded... "Congratulations! You passed......", I forgot what came next but "Congratulations!" was the only word that caught my eyes. Seriously, no idea when was the last time I felt so relieved in my life.

As you know, PMI won't provide your exact score, neither will they tell you the passing score, passing is rather scaled and based on relativity, but I would say it's safe to get at least Moderately Proficient for all domains. And my results were as such:

Domain Results
Initiating Moderately Proficient
Planning Moderately Proficient
Executing Moderately Proficient
Monitoring and Controlling Proficient
Closing Moderately Proficient

I literally grinned and walked out of the room. 6 Sep 2016 was certainly a celebratory day.

It's actually fortunate to have passed PMP now because in 2017 PMI is releasing the 6th edition of PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), which might include additional material compared to 5th edition.

The next day I received an email confirming the credential bestowal and saying that the certification package will be delivered to my residential address in 6 - 8 weeks (for international shipping). Additionally I ordered the complimentary PMP lapel pin. They actually took 2 weeks to arrive though.

And I am proud to say that
I'm a PMP®

All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
whose plan is wonderful,
whose wisdom is magnificent.

- Isaiah 28:29