Another Small Company Lean Story


    The Connecticut Post Online – Shelton firm shows off streamlining:

    Here's another story about a small private manufacturing company, Electri-Cable Assemblies, and their lean success. It seems like all I'm able to feature here is small companies. The larger Fortune 500 and public companies seem to struggle with lean — it's probably due to their size and their short-term focus, don't you think? Electri-Cable has 57 employees. It has to be much easier to rally a smaller group around a common lean goal. I'm not saying it was “easy” for them to work on lean, but it's different than rallying 57,000 employees as multiple sites.

    The article talked about how management opened up the factory for a tour with a local manufacturing association:

    While many companies claim to empower employees, Electri-Cable's owners proved they believe in this principle by turning the tour over to workers, including Brandstatter.

    Hayden explained in simple terms why the owners turned the tour over to workers: “They run the factory.”

    That's a nice example of having respect for their workers, letting them lead their tour and explain their own work, allowing them to take pride in what they do and what they have accomplished.

    Now, don't confuse “turning the tour over” with the idea of “turning the factory over” to workers. Management, in lean, has to let workers make decisions, drive improvements, and take responsibility for many things. Employee empowerment doesn't mean that management takes a completely hands off appproach.

    Management can't abdicate their responsibility as leaders. Management still has ultimate responsibility for creating a good working environment and for focusing on safety and quality. Management has to make sure standard work and other standards are being adhered to and that continuous improvement is taking place.

    I'm not saying that Electri-Cable is making that mistake, it's just a more general comment and piece of advice.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. I agree. I have often told a manufacturing manager that he needs to regain control the operation. I do this when I see employees change process settings from shift to shift, or when I see employees rearranging production schedules, or overunning parts to suit their own needs.
      At other times I find myself telling managers that it is not their job to run the day to day operations. Day to day operations should be turned over to the employees. I don’t see these statements as conflicting. Management has plenty to do guiding and steering the organization, facilitating problem solving and improvement, auditing and measuring performance, and, most importantly, defining operations. Management must work with employees to determine how the operation will be run on a day to day basis. Employees should then be empowered to handle the ups and downs of typical daily operations.
      A plant tour led by floor employees is often a sign that management has a good understanding of the proper balance of control and empowerment.


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