Where Would I Be Without Lean?
By Andy Wagner:
I've been in industry for a little over ten years now, reading and thinking about lean for at least seven. Thanks to Mark, I've been writing about lean for about two years. I've read about first-time-yield, customer value, eliminating waste, and respect for people and it's truly affected, or perhaps infected, the way I think about and react to things around me. However, until two months ago, I was never on the pointy end of the manufacturing spear. For most of my career, I was a design engineer, first in automotive, then aerospace. Feeling the pull of operational excellence, I scored a job as a process engineer about 18 months ago, working to improve producibility and cost, acting as a liaison between engineering and the shop. Now I'm in a new role as Quality Leader for one of the business units in my plant.
Where would I be without my vision of what this plant could be if it were lean?
I could spin this conversation as a sign of poor flow in our shop, poor heijunka due to our traditional MRP system, batch processing due to long set-up times, or our lack of visual controls, but in light of that talk, I mostly see it in terms of Deming:
Point 12: Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship.
How can this man be proud of the diligent, deliberate, accurate set-up that he did today, knowing that it was completely unnecessary? A waste. And knowing that he'll likely be tearing it down in no time to make room for another whim of our poor production scheduling?
Do these overly frequent set-ups and tear-downs hurt our productivity? Yes.
Our quality? Quite possibly, as each one is a risk for a mistake to be made.
Our delivery? Yes, we're robbing next week to squeak by this week.
But the larger problem here is our lack of respect for people. We're not showing one of our best people respect for his work, for his time, for his experience. We're taking advantage of him.
Reflecting on this in the car, one thing struck me hardest. Exhausted, frustrated, and wondering what to do and how to continue, I had one comfort: I know there's a better way. It's not hypothetical, or a crusader's quest for me. It's real. It's been proven, many times and by many people to one degree or another. There is a better way to run this show and I can see it vividly.
There will be other tools and other challenges, but it starts with listening to Joe. I know that to be true, almost as an item of faith. Why do I know that? Is it because I read the books and the blogs? Is it because I watched my hometown, Detroit, ignore its customers and workers for so long? Was it in the water I drank growing up in Henry Ford's shadow? Is it the good leaders that I've learned to emulate or the bad leaders I've learned to avoid? I don't really know, but I do see if very clearly and it gives me hope on those long and doubtful days.
The biggest challenge, however, for Monday, is convincing others. Convincing my team to spend more time listening and more time respecting those who do so much for us. Where would I be without that lean vision, and how do I teach that to others?
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