Too Happy Too Soon

[Editor’s Note: This post is part 2 of a post from March 1, Do Your Job. If you haven’t already read it, reading it will help to provide context.]

The level of excitement was high in our machine shop as we approached closer to our goal of less than nine-minute changeovers on the BNC lathe.   Set-up improvements had so far reduced changeover time to 20 minutes, cutting the economic order quantity from weeks to days of stock on hand. Our pull system now more closely resembled a supermarket with several containers  on hand for each of the 66 parts in our pilot.  After decades of viewing set-ups as a problem and inventory as a protection from stockouts, this new process was still confounding for many persons.  But, it was working,  which was most apparent to the operators on the BNC and to their internal customers in assembly:   

  • No more expedites and angry demands.  
  • No more breaking down a set-up in mid-run to run a hot part.  
  • No more juggling jobs between machines.
  • No more fiddling with tools and programs to get a good part. 

The BNC improvement team had, as my friend and mentor Steve Spear likes to say, “proven theory through practice”.  The concepts from Shigeo Shingo’s books actually worked.  All that was required was a little coaching from our TSSC consultant and a whole lot of brilliant ideas from the operators. 

Funny thing about good ideas: they tend to spread.  Operators were champing at the bit to take some of what we’d learned from the BNC and spread it to other machines.  I don’t recall how it started or if I  may have selectively forgotten part of  the charter Mr. Oba had given to us for our setup project:

“All of the parts for your model line assembly will be made on this machine and changeover between any two parts must be less than 9 minutes. Work only on this machine.  That is your target”

We were making so much progress with the BNC that I probably rationalized Mr. Oba would be pleased to see us sharing the ideas across other machines.  This turned out not to be the case.

On Mr. Oba’s next visit to the plant, I enthusiastically greeted him with the news, “changeovers on the BNC are already down to 20 minutes and we’re now working on improvement at the LE22 . . . “ (the machine next to it.)   Before I could finish this sentence, Mr. Oba stopped in his tracks and turned for the door.   Incredulous, I followed him outside to the parking lot apologizing, but for what I was not sure.   I recall asking in desperation,  “What did we do?   Oba stopped walking, turned to me and, with a shrug of disappointment, replied “You’ll never be better than 20 minutes.”  I think he was most disappointed that I hadn’t figured this out for myself.   I apologized again, now with understanding. “We’ll work only on the BNC until we hit our target.”   As the two of us re-entered the plant,  I reflected: “Don’t spread mediocre results.  The target was single minutes, not double-digits.”   Six months later we hit 9 minutes on the BNC, and began to spread best practices to other CNC’s. 

My lessons: 1) Don’t be too happy too soon, and 2) Focus your scarce resources to build capability before branching out. 


Speaking of building capability, here are a couple of upcoming events I hope you’ll be able to join:

My monthly webinar, Teatime with the Toast Dude, on March 15 will respond to the current labor shortage by sharing ideas for maximizing the productivity of the folks you already have. It’s free.  Sign up here: Teatime

Our 2nd Annual Virtual Lean Showcase on April 1st will highlight best practices from seven great organizations in one day!   Here’s the lineup:

  • Bausch + Lomb’s Journey to Increase Daily Throughput
  • Comtran Lean Strategy Deployment & Alignment
  • Nuvera Fuel Cells: Using Lean to Transition from Development to Production
  • Abiomed: TWI Creates an Exceptional Training Experience
  • Axcelis Technologies: Improving Every Day for its Customers
  • UMass Memorial Health: 100,000 Ideas Implemented… & Counting
  • SnapCab: A Lean Recruitment System

You can get more info and register here:  Spring Showcase

8 thoughts on “Too Happy Too Soon

  1. Erin Chratian

    Thank you for sharing this post! This highlights a great example of how sometimes we as humans can become so caught up in the details that we lose sight of the big picture. It is also definitely a good idea to reserve excitement and happiness until the end goal has been achieved. It is great to celebrate the daily wins, but even more important to keep in mind the end result.

  2. Mahima Ohri

    I really enjoyed reading this, great post! I think people tend to get ahead of themselves without realizing there is always room for improvement, before moving onto other things.

  3. Ethan Berg

    This post was extremely compelling because it is such a crucial skill to be able to see the big picture when seeking improvement. Also, I definitely agree that the happier moments should come when you finish a process. Great Post!

  4. Greg Boisvert

    Such a great lesson! I have seen this frequently in my every day life where one of my friends will set a huge goal and begin to celebrate and settle as the make even the slightest bit of progress towards that goal. It is important for leaders to recognize where they want to improve and not settle for coming up short!

  5. Annie Sember

    I very much enjoyed reading this post! I found it interesting that one of your lessons was to not be too happy too soon. I think it’s important to be proud when you are seeing improvements, but also realize there is still more work that needs to be done. Great post!

  6. Nichole DeAngelo

    I really enjoyed this post!
    I agree that people should feel happier when they finish a process and continue to learn that there is always more to improve. I also liked how you projected that people should focus on the bigger picture sometimes.

  7. Helena Melchiori

    This is a very interesting post. This really shows how it is great to be excited after improvement is done however there is always more room for improvement in the future. The idea of continuous improvement is there is always something that can be better or faster to make a process more efficient.


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