NUMMI Tour Tale #1: Why Fix the Escalator?
I really enjoyed my tour of the NUMMI plant last Friday. I’ll post my summary thoughts and impressions from the tour, but I wanted to post a few of the more interesting stories first.
In a back part of the factory that led up to some offices, there was a very old looking and HUGE escalator that must have been at least three stories tall. It was bigger than your standard escalator and must have been there since the plant opened in the early 1960’s.
The escalator was turned off and blocked off (we had stairs, and I assume, an elevator for anyone who needed it). There was a small State of California safety notice that had originally shut it down, I assume.
You might wonder at first, this is Toyota, the home of TPM. Can’t they keep an escalator running?
A very large permanent sign above the escalator said something like:
“Sorry for inoperative
escalator. It would cost
$120k to repair. We feel
money could be better
spent on other things.
Please accept our apologies.”
Wow. The frugality and practicality of TPS was illustrated by that sign, our tour group thought. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction of fixing it when broken, somebody asked that powerful question: “Why?”
- Why fix the escalator when it’s in a far back corner of the plant?
- Why fix the escalator when we have a perfectly good set of stairs, which are healthier to use?
- Why fix the escalator when somebody who can’t walk might have to use the elevator anyway?
- Why spend the money there when it could be used to improve safety, quality, or the production process?
This wasn’t the sequential “5 Why’s”, but I think you see what I mean.
How often do you spend money because you “should” or because of history rather than really questioning that spending? “Why” is a very powerful word, a theme that will continue through my stories.
Another question I’m challenging myself with: If this had been a GM plant, would I be criticizing them for being cheap?