Tag Archives: process

Lean Society

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

This quote from George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm, occurred to me recently as I listened to a design engineer explain to me how he was taught in college that engineers have a special responsibility to help their less able co-workers.  Not intending to single out engineers or generalize from one data point, this example demonstrates what I observe to be a longstanding preoccupation with degrees, certificates, and belts.  We may refer to employees on the front line as “value-adding”, but too often it’s the ones with letters after their names that we actually value.

In 1957, Peter Drucker dubbed the latter group knowledge workers, “high-level employees who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal education,” thereby inadvertently differentiating the thinkers from the do-ers, the high level from the low level, the brain trust from the variable expense.

My personal experience with this distinction developed over a period of years as I changed jobs, first from marketing to IT and then to production.  In the eyes of my fellow managers, I morphed in the process from an imaginative idea person into a brainy techno-geek and finally to a slow-witted grunt.  The adjectives are important because they connote associated stereotypes.  I joke that I started near the top and then worked my way down, IQ dropping along the way.  Paradoxically, my knowledge of value and waste increased each time I got further from that theoretical and analytical knowledge and closer to the floor.   John Shook noted at the 2016 Northeast LEAN Conference, the persons who do the work are the real knowledge workers, as they are the ones with a first-hand understanding of the work.   (Incidentally, our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is on the horizon. Check out the agenda.)

Whether in a factory or an office or an operating room, the knowledge is contained in the work.  In that sense, all work should be knowledge work if we are thinking about it and trying to improve it.   Steve Spear refers to Lean transformation as “theory proven by practice.”  Both are essential and should be inextricably linked.   Our Lean transformation should have room for both the theorists and the practitioners.   Unfortunately, when it comes to transformation, some employees are “more equal than others.”   We favor the theorists and mostly ignore the practitioners.  Perhaps our love affair with a college education and degrees and certificates and belts has baked in a two-class society where only a select few employees are heard and seen; the rest fall into that eighth waste category of “lost human creativity.”  I’ve assembled a short list of nouns and adjectives commonly used to describe these classes. Can you think of others?  Please share.

O.L.D.

P.S. GBMP is a licensed affiliate of The Shingo Institute and we are teaching their 5 courses on 17 occasions over the next few months (with new dates and locations being added all the time). I am a certified instructor along with other GBMPers Dan Fleming, Pat Wardwell, Mike Orzen & Larry Anderson. We hope to see you at a workshop soon. Here’s the schedule; visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events to learn more. The Shingo Institute courses are a great way to learn how to embed Shingo Model principles into your Lean program and create a road map to sustainable Enterprise Excellence. Read what past attendees have said about the workshops and GBMP’s instructors.

True North Pole

truenorthpoleMany years ago a small expedition to the North Pole was funded by several American toy manufacturers, anxious to better understand how Santa’s workshop achieved such incredible productivity and just-in-time delivery.

“How can Santa produce all those toys in such a short time?” one manager questioned in disbelief as the small group of managers furtively approached a window of Santa’s workshop. “Be quiet,” the group’s leader whispered to his fellow conspirators as he carefully wiped away a patch of window frost, “we want to learn as much as we can about their process before we’re discovered.”   Through the window, an army of diminutive workers could be seen producing to a cadence such as never before witnessed by these American managers.

“Look how they move these toys down the line without a hitch,” exclaimed one manager.

“Yes and look at the smiles,” noted another, “no entitlement here. My workers are three times the size of Santa’s but don’t produce even a fraction of the volume. All they do is complain.”

A third manager observed, “There appears to be a chart in the middle of the floor that tracks production by the hour. No doubt Santa uses that to crack the whip.”

“Indeed,” noted yet another manager, “and there is some kind of chart above the workers that shows how they optimize their production, and another white board that shows what’s expected of the team.”   “We could never get away with this my plant,” lamented one manager. “It’s clear that the North Pole has a team culture that’s foreign to the U.S.”

Suddenly the production line stopped. Apparently one of the workers had found a defect. Workers swarmed to the area where the defect was found and then gathered to talk about it. “How can these little people be so productive when they stop just because of a single defect?” laughed one of the managers who was immediately joined in laughter by the others.   “Yes, shouldn’t they just call the quality department?” one queried.

Still, the managers agreed there we some unusual new tools that appeared to be central to Santa’s secret. If only they could learn more about how those tools worked.   As if to answer their wish, Santa suddenly swung open the workshop door and bid his industrial spies, “Merry Christmas! Please come in. What would you like to know?”

The startled visitors thereupon entered Santa’s workshop and spent the remainder of the day asking questions about the tools that he had devised to improve productivity.   With cordiality that befit the season, Santa answered every question.   “Even if our employees are not as good as Santa’s,” remarked one of the managers, “at least we can take advantage of these new tools.”

As the shift was winding down, Santa’s visitors thanked him for answering their many questions, and then departed, intoxicated with these North Pole manufacturing techniques. When the visit ended, one of Santa’s employees asked Santa, “Why have you answered all of these questions from our competitors?”   Santa smiled wryly and replied, “Do not worry, what they need to know they will not see.”

Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas. See you next year.

O.L.D.