Following up on my post about my recent experience with metrics and processes being distorted (and my less-than-perfect Lean coaching efforts), I was thinking back to some first-hand experience I had when I started my career at the GM Livonia Engine Plant, circa 1995. It’s the most blatant example of someone intentionally distorting data that I’ve ever seen… but it’s totally understandable. I blame the senior leaders, not the front-line supervisor in this case.
Our engine block line was designed at a throughput goal of 92 blocks per hour. We could machine 92 blocks in an hour if everything ran perfectly, but it was rare and extremely unlikely to ever happen… running at that 100% pace for an entire hour.
Our plant superintendent, Bob (he was the #2 guy in the plant), decided that 60 pieces per hour was an acceptable number (partly based on productivity benchmark numbers that were attributed to Toyota). If you produced anything below 60 blocks in an hour, you’d have to explain why.
Now, Bob wasn’t really the listening, problem solving type. He managed by fear, yelling, and intimidation. There was more yelling involved than listening or problem solving, yet alone any coaching.
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Anyway, at the end of the engine block line was a mechanical counter that recorded the hourly production counts. The UAW workers who unloaded blocks dutifully recorded the number every hour on a piece of paper.
The numbers might have typically look liked this as they were written down:
That’s an average of 48.6 pieces per hour. Not quite up to Bob’s standards, although here we exceeded the goal in three hours and came somewhat close to 92 in one hour.
At the end of each day, before our “4 o’clock meeting” where the plant salaried staff took its daily verbal beating from Bob, Scott, the production supervisor (the technical title of “Team Coordinator” didn’t quite fit) would pick up the counts and do a little daily editing.
He’d take the numbers and turn them into something that looked like this, I kid thee not:
That’s still an average of 48.6 per hour. But it’s much more consistent. Too much so. Unnaturally so. Unbelievably so.
Bad ole’ Bob never questioned these numbers. I know it’s hard to believe that he would believe those numbers, but when reviewing multiple departments at that daily verbal abuse meeting, Scott’s fudgery helped avoid too much attention that a really bad hour would have brought upon him. Rather than asking, “why don’t we have more hours with 86 blocks?,” the upper limit of expectations was set too low, at 60.
I asked Scott once why he fudged the numbers each day, and his answer was simple (image the clipped Michigan accent of a chain smoker):
“Bob wants 60 an hour, he gets 60 an hour.”
Other departments got more than their share of the daily beatings. I had a bet with a co-worker each day if Bob would say the word “pathetic” or “miserable” first in his misguided attempts at “motivating” everybody. Bob always had the same pronouncement for our problems: we weren’t trying hard enough. And apparently, more yelling from Bob was what we needed to motivate us. But, that never worked.
“Not trying hard enough” fell into two categories: 1) urgency and 2) intensity. We didn’t have a sense of urgency. We didn’t have the proper intensity. Like a shorter approximation of Mike Ditka (with a signature bad toupee rather than a signature mustache), Bob would yell and scream and spit would fly. Sometimes we got “we need urgent intensity” or “we need intense urgency,” if things were really bad. All of the yelling and screaming, all of the fear, all of the fudging of the numbers got in the way of true process improvement and true problem solving.
Obviously, situations like this are part of the reason our plant manager eventually got moved out of the way (promoted and put out to pasture at headquarters) for a new, NUMMI-trained plant manager. That started our road to recovery, as a plant. It was never a worker problem, it was a management problem. That’s an important lesson of Lean — what’s required is a change in management practices and management philosophy.
I’ll leave it for another post to talk about that “4 o’clock meeting” and what its goals were supposed to be. The meeting was designed by some internal Lean consultants we had, but was co-opted by non-Lean management mindsets. Why weren’t the lean consultants being listened to? Again, I’ll save that for another post.