Last week, a worker was injured at one of our customers when a piece of plywood fell into one of the racks we use for shipping (rest assured, nothing to be encouraged about there, but, alas, there’s more to the story). The crates are collapsible, and we put carpeted plywood inserts on the sides to protect the furniture in transit. Until now, and even currently, the plywood has been held in place solely by sheet metal screws, and the frequency with which those screws needed replaced due to breakage of the fastener or stripping out the plywood was far greater than I ever fathomed. We started holding daily standup meetings in that plant last week, and when the injury was mentioned, one of the group leaders in that building reported that roughly 50% of those crates required rework before being sent back out to a customer. I had no idea.
Apart from the shameful realization that I had not taken the time to ask these guys what was troubling them, I thought it would be appropriate to ask them more about the problem now rather than never, albeit admittedly long overdue.
What happened next culminated in the attached document being left on my chair this morning when I returned from one of those standups on the shopfloor (“at the gemba” would be appropriate, but I don’t feel as though we’re good enough to use Japanese phrases yet). While most of the notes that are left on my chair cause me to gulp and wonder, “What’s wrong now?,” this one was a nice surprise.
The gentleman in the stocking hat and jeans in the attached photograph is Emmanuel Crace. I’ve always called him Manny solely by virtue of that’s the way I heard everyone else referring to him, but I think I’ll now ask him his preference. It turns out that Emmanuel had quite a contribution to make, and I, for one, had not taken sufficient time to notice. Again, shame on me. Emmanuel met with the other group leads to talk about the problem briefly, and garner their input on countermeasures he could propose at the next standup. However, after making notes of their discussion, he picked up pizza and a Redbox on his way home Friday night. Instead of paying attention to the movie, I’m assuming, he started drawing. He spent a couple of hours on it, and again, picked it up the next afternoon when his wife and young daughter were napping.
What resulted from that initiative was wonderful. Frankly, we were blown away. The work of drafting illustrations of three proposed countermeasures was impressive, especially since we had no idea he was capable of this work. They’re simple, complete, and well-explained – and I appreciate all those attributes pertaining to his exercise, but what I learned most from this was how poor our efforts have been until now at uncovering neglected human potential. It was precisely because of the problem, not in spite of it, that we realized we had another great thinker on our team. How fortunate we are to be imperfect.
As I reflect on this, I am encouraged with every new discovery. I need to get past the gulping and dread associated with someone responsibly reporting a problem to me, and instead embrace the opportunity therein. I know the way I value Emmanuel has changed today.
Here's to his development, and to respect for people!