Who is invited to the party?

Even when I am not facilitating training or events, I like to walk by and participate or sometimes just listen and observe the employees participation.  This is something that always helps me to measure how well our new lean culture is progressing.

There is one kaizen event on which I am really interested because is impacting one critical area that has the potential to positively affect the areas upstream and downstream in more than one way: safety, OEE, quality product release cycle time, inventory accuracy and WIP (work in process) reduction.  They started building their own value stream current state and identifying all the kaizen bursts.  The team meetings are usually very intense, the participation level is great and the discussion is pretty good.  One day though, something was wrong because the energy was different.

They were working on the future state and the discussion was bit heated.  One of the supervisors was utterly quiet, which immediately calls my attention.  During the meeting, the facilitator asks her about one of the proposed ideas and her answer was:  ” I don’t know! I don’t work there!  Ups, all my alarms went off! Next day, I visited her at the gemba and after some small talking, I asked her about kaizen.  In the beginning, she was a bit hesitant to tell but then she indicated that it is just not right to discuss how to organize the area and change the flow if any of the team members are actually hands-on working on the area.  After that, I felt like a train ran over me!  Gosh!  How right she was!  How in the world I did not notice that!

Right before this event started, we were introducing the concept of “the next process is the customer”, the group have people downstream and upstream, and the team leaders and supervisors from the area but nobody from the actual doers.  We have to invest in our people, empower the people!  How these guys will feel when we call them to show a new process!  Right off the bat, everything will be wrong, and at the end will happen only what they allow to happen.  We can not go to other people house to mess with it!

Thanks to the sharpness of this supervisor we realized our mistake and from the next meeting, new team members started to participate.  We all learn a lesson, the process owners are the first ones to receive the event invitation always!

The Beginning

Is Respect important for Lean Implementation?

People are the most important asset for lean implementation, people is the focus and is the media to make it happen.  Although problem-solving focused on the process and not the people, I believed the Lean Manufacturing focus is the people.  At the end of the day, we are trying to make the processes more efficient to create less effort, better use of resources and more safe from the operator point of view.  Also, we are looking to make customers happy giving them what they need at a reasonable price when they needed.

Nothing of these will happen is our lean journey is not driven by respect.  Respect to the people who are doing the processes, respect to our suppliers that provide the raw material to make it happen and respect to the customers.  At the plant level, while dealing with the early stages of implementation how we present each concept, how we make each question and how follow-up every initiative is very important.

During those early steps what we are trying to do is to sell an idea.  When your company leader is the one who is pursuing lean, it is a little less complicated because regardless they believe on lean or not, all managers at least do a minimum effort to make it happen.  When you are one of the few believers the journey is pretty complicated.

I found that the biggest challenge is with middle and senior managers.  Everybody lined up waiting for something to happen.  They are waiting for you to do everything in their departments:  training, follow-up, and advice; which is not a problem.  The problem is when you are training their people but they don’t even show up at the class or the events.  Active participation in events is a way to show respect.  Lean is about teamwork, what kind of teamwork we have if all company leaders are not rowing in the same direction?  Over and over, for me has been easier to sell the idea to the floor managers than to middle and senior managers.

We don’t need people who “agree” to follow the journey but in reality don’t do a bit of effort.  I would expect involvement, learning, asking, at least go to gemba and see!  We need doers, people who are not afraid to experiment day in day out with the lean concepts.  We need people who roll their sleeves and participate from the events with the operators.  We need leaders that walk the walk and show respect to those that are genuinely trying.


The Beginning

How the Journey Begun

Back in the days when I was working in Ecuador, I had a lot of time on my hands during weekends.  With no family and very little friends around, I spend those days between two of my favorite hobbies: photography and reading.  I do not remember exactly how it was, but the book Gemba Kaizen from Masaaki Imai was on my hands and I start reading it.  I was wondering if such a thing as lean manufacturing exists or if it was just another pitfall to take money from companies already in trouble.

I was not looking for a job but when I received a call from my hometown in Puerto Rico to work as Process Engineer just fifteen minutes away from my house, I could not believe how lucky I was.  After a phone interview, I was invited to the company for an interview in person and it was right there when all my enthusiasm for coming back home was smashed with a simple question:  What is Lean Manufacturing?

I was trying to squeeze my brain to remember the exact words from the book I was reading two weeks ago to be able to give a firm answer that would make my interviewer believe that I knew something about it.  I am not a good liar so I decided to tell the truth, that I start reading about it but I never work with it and I have no idea how to implement it.  Being an industrial engineer and quality practitioner, I had strong ideas and skills about continuous improvement so I talked about how all those skills, my taste for challenges and being autodidact would help me to learn and implement Lean.  I got the job, I guess that the mix between my passion for learn new things and make a difference along with my honesty impressed my former boss enough to give me the chance.

That happened a little more than ten years ago, the minute I signed my acceptance letter, my lean manufacturing journey begun.  Still, I have no clue how each new training or event would be if I will be successful in changing people’s way of thinking and act; but I keep doing it with more or less success.  I do not pretend to be a teacher to nobody, through this posts I just want to share my experiences hoping that I will help somebody;  and also my questions and doubts hoping that somebody out there helps me.