Old-Timey Roller Skate "Productivity"


    Tale of a Warehouse Shows How Chicago Weathers a Decline – WSJ.com

    The article linked to above is OK, about how Chicago is diversifying its economy away from manufacturing.

    What jumped out at me was this picture, though, also shown below (check out the roller skates!!)

    With Lean, it's important to keep in mind that you're not trying to “do stuff faster” (such as Value Added Work or transportation of items) — you're trying to eliminate time delays and waste. Recently, when I've been working with hospital labs, I've been using this example:

    “The point isn't to move stuff back and forth faster. We're not going to put you all in roller skates. We're going to change the layout to avoid the wasted transportation and motion.”

    We always laugh like it's a crazy idea. Well, most everyone laughs (a rare bird momentarily thinks it's a good idea and then is shot down by peer pressure and common sense). But the picture above shows an actual workplace, early in the 20th Century, at a Montgomery Ward catalog warehouse:

    Montgomery Ward “pickers,” who plucked items from shelves, used roller skates to traverse a concrete floor the length of 2 ½ football fields.

    Wow, how times have changed! Thankfully, safety wins out over the false productivity of roller skates, these days. A better approach would have been to change the warehouse layout or job functions so workers didn't require roller skates. They did have conveyors, so it's not like that technology wasn't available yet. Conveyors are another way of automating waste, but it seems like a safer solution than roller skates.

    Do they still put carhops in roller skates in the rare cases that you have them? Sonic Burger doesn't have roller skates at their restaurants here in Texas. Safety concerns (and the threat of lawyers) win out, I bet.

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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.


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